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The Situation Room

Assault Against the Taliban; Terror on Trial

Aired February 15, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: a new report just in from the battlefield in Afghanistan. CNN's Atia Abawi is with United States Marines as they mount a massive campaign against the Taliban. We're taking you inside this historic operation.

Disturbing details of a troubled past. We're learning more about the university professor accused of gunning down three colleagues and her ties to a failed mail bombing. What's going on?

And a famous filmmaker pulled off an airliner because of his size. He takes his outrage to Twitter, sparking a public relations nightmare for Southwest Airlines.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We have just received a remarkable report from the front lines of the largest anti-Taliban military offensive since the start of the war in Afghanistan. U.S. Marines, along with British and Afghan forces, trying to oust militants from their last major stronghold in Helmand province, and making some astounding discoveries in the process.

CNN's Atia Abawi embedded with the Marines.




ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In some parts of Marjah, the Taliban are still putting up a fight, as Operation Moshtarak continued into its third day.

We are embedded with the 1st Battalion 6th Marines Alpha Company. These men hit the ground by air assault early Saturday morning. As the sun rose, the Taliban targets were in plain sight and the fighting began. There are still clashes, but, slowly and meticulously, Alpha Company has advanced, the Marines picking their way through wrecked buildings, some of them carrying 100 pounds in equipment, water and weapons. All the while, they scour the streets for improvised explosive devices left behind by the Taliban, helped by the Marines' best friend. Occasionally, civilians come to the Marines' positions for medical help. The Marines say they are getting help from local people.

Coalition commanders suspect there are 600 to 1,000 insurgent fighters scattered across the city. Some of them are clearly prepared to fight on and have several times tried to overrun the Marines' positions.

By using mortar fire, the Marines are able to keep the Taliban under pressure. The detection of roadside bombs has slowed down Alpha Company, but, by Monday, there was better progress.

CAPT. CARL HAVENS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: As of today, we have actually found out some of the routes that the insurgents are using. And then we are using those as well, because we know that they are not IEDed.

ABAWI: The Marines have also discovered large stashes of narcotics and bomb-making materials.

(on camera): In one compound alone, the Marines were able to find $4 million worth of raw opium, which can be processed into heroin. It said, in the city of Marjah alone, the Taliban made around $200,000 a month in taxing the drug trade.

(voice-over): Alpha Company alone has found nearly $17 million worth of opium and over 1,300 pounds of ammonium nitrate, the number- one component in homemade IEDs.

Alongside the Marines are soldiers of the Afghan national army. This operation is meant to showcase the partnership between the U.S. and the Afghans. And some Afghan units seem motivated to play their part, but, for the most part, many of the Afghans with Alpha Company are often spectators.

And it's the Marines who are taking the lead in what could be a turning point in the eight-year war.

Atia Abawi, CNN, Marjah, Afghanistan.


BLITZER: Allied forces are certainly up against guerrilla-type tactics in this battle for Marjah.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us now. He's over at the magic wall giving us a better understanding of what's going on.

Chris, as we have watched this situation now, it has been very intense. How much longer do we expect s operation to continue?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're not talking big, huge battles here, but it looks like there are going to be several fights happening over the next week or two to actually clear it. Take a look at this animation.

What this does is put you in the point of view of a U.S. Marine going through there. You can see booby-traps set up in those areas, also taking sniper fire from some of the areas. They have been slogging through these areas at a very, very slow pace. Today, they only made it only about a few hundred yards.

And, so, with all of those obstacles and the rules of engagement, which say, even if a Taliban fighter is in one of the buildings, if they believe a civilian is inside, they are not supposed to fire. And with the 12 civilians that were killed by American rockets over the weekend, that could make them even more cautious going forward.

BLITZER: Some are making comparisons to what happened in the Al- Anbar Province in Iraq. You were there in 2004. I was there in 2005. I remember what was happening in Fallujah as the U.S. was trying to clean out that area. Is this a similar situation?

LAWRENCE: Well, good question, because a lot of the same officers are involved in this operation. They say they learned a lot from Fallujah and they say they don't really want this to end up another Fallujah.

If you take a look here, what we are seeing here -- let's see -- here we go. What we're going to see here is this is how they came into Fallujah. They all came from one direction, pouring down from the north.

The difference was that here, when you look at Fallujah, what you are going to see is a much more urban area, larger roads, much more big clusters of buildings, about five times the population of Marjah.

It was a success, in that they cleared Fallujah of insurgents, but they also destroyed the town in the process. What they are telling us now is that, when you look at Marjah and you look at Helmand province, the goal is not to save the city or save the area by destroying it. They want to minimize the damage.

And when you look at the -- some of the other differences, here in Marjah, instead of coming down from one area, they tried to avoid the IED belt around that area and instead did several airborne assaults directly into the center to try to bypass that.

Also, when you look at the area, what you're going to see is a very different geographic outlook than what we saw in Fallujah. When you look at some of these areas, take a look at that. You can see smaller clusters of buildings separated by larger fields, really, only one major road in and out of the town.

Fallujah didn't have some of these farmlands. And what we're being told is that a lot of the opium farmers in this area are starting to hedge their bets, planting some wheat fields, trying to see how this plays out between, you know, the NATO forces and the Taliban and really trying to see which way they want to go. Wolf, bottom line, this isn't a game-changer, no matter how Marjah comes out. But what it is, because of that opium crop and the money that the Taliban gets from it, it's like a bank to the Taliban and the military is trying to shut down that bank.

BLITZER: But a good description.

Chris, thank you.

Let's zero in a little bit more on this Taliban stronghold of Marjah. It's in Helmand province, as I said, about 380 miles southwest of Kabul. Some 80,000 people live in what is largely a farming community. A major crop, as Chris said, poppies, used for the very lucrative opium trade that helps fund the Taliban. Marjah, by the way, is the last town under Taliban control, with up to 1,000 militants holed up there. We are watching this battle and all of its ramifications.

Civilian court trial or military tribunals, which is the best bet for the U.S. as it puts terror suspects on trial? The vice president, Joe Biden, says one is vastly preferable, but do the numbers back him up? Stand by.

The troubled past of a university professor accused of killing three colleagues -- new details of her tie to a failed mail bombing that targeted a Harvard professor.

Plus, spectators get closer to a surfing competition than they expected, more than a dozen injured by a giant wave.


BLITZER: Terror on trial, but where? The Obama administration is facing some unexpected backlash to its plans to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York City federal court. Now the administration says it is open, open to a military tribunal, in part because there is no guarantee you can get the money for a civilian trial from Congress, at least not without some major political strings attached.

The vice president, Joe Biden, says civilian courts are more effective than military tribunals when it comes to terror suspects.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There have been three people tried and convicted by the last administration in military courts. Two are walking the street right now. There have been over 300 tried in federal courts by the last administration and by us. They're all in jail now.


BLITZER: So, is the vice president right?

We asked our own Brian Todd to do a fact check for us. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, whether he's right or not depends on whose numbers you go by.

The Justice Department says 319 people were convicted of terrorism-related charges between 2001 and 2008 in federal courts, but they are counting people like FARC guerrillas from Colombia and Tamil Tigers from Sri Lanka.

Now, the group Human Rights First comes up with a number of 195, but they say that's only Islamic terrorists. Another report from New York University says more than 500 were convicted of terrorism-related charges in civilian courts since 9/11. But they count everything, including passport violations, Wolf, so these numbers do kind of go all over the place, depending on who you rely on.

BLITZER: What about the conviction rate?

TODD: Well, that is one percentage there where most studies agree. Most studies put the figure at around 90 percent. This is Human Rights First and New York University.

Now, no matter whose numbers you go by, federal civilian courts have convicted and jailed far more alleged terrorists than military tribunals. Those commissions set up at Guantanamo Bay since 9/11 have produced only three convictions.

David Hicks, he is an Australian who after being held nearly six years at a Guantanamo pleaded guilty, served a nine-month sentence, most of it back in Australia. David Hicks is now free.

Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver, he was convicted of material support for terrorism, sentenced in 2008 to 5.5 years in prison. He had already served most of it. He's now back in Yemen. And one other, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, he is the alleged al Qaeda propaganda chief. He boycotted his commission trial, was convicted without mounting a defense, sentenced to life in prison.

He is the one that is still incarcerated. So Joe Biden is right on that point, only three convictions in military tribunals and two out of those three men are free, many more convictions in civilian federal courts, but, Wolf, it is worth mentioning that these military tribunals, at least the latest incantation of them, are a fairly recent phenomenon. And they have been challenged several times in federal court, including the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: All right. Well, that's the track record. That's the history.

TODD: Right.


BLITZER: Let's take a look right now. What are the arguments being made for a military tribunal or a commission as it's called vs. a civilian trial?

TODD: Here are the main arguments for tribunals. Now, advocates say they would not allow defendants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to have a platform for their extremist views, like federal courts might.

They say that military tribunals would be cheaper and they would eliminate the objections of politicians to holding trials in their districts. We already know that's been objected to in New York.

And according to one former White House lawyer, national security secrets would be much more easily revealed in a civilian court than a military one. He cited the case of convicted 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.


DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Zacarias Moussaoui is an excellent example. He ended up pleading guilty in the end, but he was on the threshold of having the judge compel the government to disgorge a lot of information about results obtained during the interrogation of various high-value detainees.


TODD: Now, for the counterargument, we went to David Kelley. He's a former federal prosecutor who worked on the cases of the first World Trade Center, Ramzi Yousef, the John Walker Lindh case, and several others. Those were all in civilian courts. Here's what he says about national security secrets being revealed in civilian courts.


DAVID KELLEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: And I think that we can safely presume that the Justice Department has gone through very carefully the evidence in determining to bring these in civilian trials and made an evaluation as to which, if any, information, when brought in as evidence into a civilian courtroom, will pose a danger to national security.


TODD: Kelley also says on that propaganda argument, some military courts have about the same access for journalists as federal terrorism courtrooms do. They have closed courtrooms to cameras, et cetera. You can't really report, Wolf, on what's said until afterward. It's that kind of thing. So, they have the same kind of restrictions at military tribunals.

He argues they are going to have the same platform to spew their extremist views in a military commission as they do in a federal civilian court. That could be debated a little bit. Moussaoui clearly did that quite a lot in his trial.

BLITZER: Right. All right. Thanks very much, Brian.

I want to dig a little bit deeper right now beyond the numbers.

CNN legal analyst Lisa Bloom is joining us now from Los Angeles to share some of her sight in what's going on.

Lisa, forget about the politics right now. Let's talk about the law. What's the basic difference or differences between a military tribunal and a civilian court?

LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, to oversimplify a bit, a military court is more pro-prosecution and a civilian court is going to always have to be concerned about protecting the rights of the defendant. That's the U.S. Constitution.

So, a defendant tried in a federal court is going to have, for example, a Fifth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him. That means the witness, the defendant himself, not just his attorney, but the defendant himself can have access to witness statements, evidence against him, statements of others.

And so in that sense there is a national security concern that's a valid concern, because if this is a confessed terrorist -- and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not just an accused terrorist, but he has confessed -- and he is getting access to the government statements of other terrorists and other evidence, that is a concern.

The military trial is going to be much shorter, much more of an abbreviated trial. Hearsay evidence can come in, which means one law enforcement official can take the stand and essentially lay out the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other accused terrorists. And that can be basically be it. That can be most of the trial.

In federal court, the prosecution is going to have their feet held to the fire by the defendant and his defense attorney. They are going to have to lay out all of the evidence against him. He is going to have the right to cross-examine all of the witnesses and of course to present his own defense.

BLITZER: There's only been three military commissions or military tribunals. There have been a few hundred civilian trials of suspected terrorists. Based on what we know, which would take longer to reach a conviction?

BLOOM: Well, there is no question in my mind that the civilian court is going to take longer, because the defense is going to have every opportunity to make all of their objections at trial as to each piece of evidence that comes in, as to each witness who is testifying. There will be pretrial motions called motions in limine that will be extensive.

There will be motions throughout the trial. It will be a stop- and-start kind of trial, as we saw in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. In the end, however, Moussaoui did plead guilty and was convicted. And I would expect that is what is going to happen here as well.

But there's no question in my mind civilian courts are going to take a lot longer. BLITZER: But isn't -- correct me if I'm wrong, but there are ways in -- even within civilian courts to protect classified information, national security.

BLOOM: Yes, Wolf, you are correct, to protect all of us from learning about it. Documents can be sealed. Evidence can be admitted under seal. The courtroom can be closed for national security concerns. So, that information can be kept from us, but it cannot be kept from the defendant himself.

And I think that's the concern of some law enforcement and government officials, because the defendant would have the right under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to confront and cross- examine witnesses. That means the defendant has the right, like any of us if we were on trial in American courts, to learn about all of the evidence against us before trial, to learn about all of the witness statements, all of what law enforcement has done. He would absolutely have that right in a civilian court.

BLITZER: Is there a case where the defendant's attorney would learn all that information, but not share it with the defendant? Is that an option out there?

BLOOM: That is not an option in a civilian court.

And, by the way, of course, all of the conversations that the attorney has with the defendant are protected by attorney-client privilege. The government can't into the attorney-client relationship and tell the attorney that you may discuss A, but not B, with your client. That would be another violation of the defendant's constitutional rights.

BLITZER: Lisa Bloom, thanks very much.

BLOOM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tough talk from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, about Iran. We're getting details of what she's saying about that country's military. Stand by.

And first he was stripped of his Tour de France title, now new trouble for American cyclist Floyd Landis.



BLITZER: There's another way, by the way, for you to follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter, as many of you know. You can get my tweets at -- WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

Police in Huntsville are trying to piece together what led to last Friday's deadly University of Alabama shooting spree. The more they dig, the stranger the alleged shooter's story becomes. We are going to tell you what they have turned up now. And kicked off a plane for being too big for his seat. The director Kevin Smith stirs up a hornet's nest on Twitter. Now an advocacy group is getting into the feud.

And a jailed pharmacist struggles with a deadly mistake.


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

Happening now: It could be a break in the battle against al Qaeda. We're examining the treasure trove of information supposedly discovered by U.S. intelligence. Stand by.

It's customary for Vice President Biden to travel in a motorcade, but the convoy has had an uncustomary string of accidents, the latest at the Olympics in Vancouver.

And another Democrat bows out. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana decides against running for reelection.

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

More bizarre twists in the case of that University of Alabama professor accused of shooting three colleagues to death. Now we're learning of a link to an attempted mail bombing against another professor on top of her brother's shooting death more than two decades ago.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin is digging deeper for us on this story.

Brooke, tell our viewers what you're discovering.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I actually just got off the phone with the Huntsville Police Department. They have now added new charges. So, Amy Bishop Anderson now is facing one count capital murder and three counts aggravated -- or rather three counts attempted murder.

Add to that a mother here in Boston who's incredibly distraught. You have a Boston suburb police department who's missing some of their police records and a husband who's sitting in Alabama wondering, why?


BALDWIN (voice-over): In the days since the fatal shooting at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, new revelations into Amy Bishop Anderson's past. Her husband confirmed to CNN that, in 1993, the couple was questioned in a case involving a pipe bomb targeting one of Dr. Bishop's colleagues, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

A former lab partner at the time remembers her being questioned.

SYLVIA FLUCKIGER, FORMER LAB PARTNER: Police interviewed her. She told me about it. I really wondered if she may have had, you know, some more knowledge, although I'm not accusing her of anything.

BALDWIN: Jim Anderson told me, "The ATF gathered a dozen subjects. There were never suspects, never anyone charged, never anyone arrested. Five years later we got a letter from the ATF, you're in the clear."

That's not the only part of Amy Bishop's past that's come to light since the Alabama shootings. Police also revealed she shot and killed her younger brother when she was 19 in an incident in which a shotgun was fired twice. This is the Braintree home where the 1986 shooting happened. You see the bay window up there? That was Amy's bedroom and according to this Massachusetts state police report that's where she was first unloading the family shotgun when it first went off. According to police she ran down the stairs into the kitchen where she accidentally shot her brother. She then took off out the home's back door and the last two words she told police she heard her brother say, oh god.

Now 23 years later the current Braintree police chief is raising questions.

CHIEF PAUL FRAZIER, BRAINTREE, MASS. POLICE DEPT.: I don't want to use the word cover-up. I don't know what the thought process was of the police chief at the time. I believe it reflects poorly on the department at that time.

BALDWIN: Chief Frazier says Amy Bishop was arrested but released in the midst of the booking process. The man who was police chief at the time denies making the call.

JOHN POLO, FORMER BRAINTREE, MASS. POLICE CHIEF: Reports were made, reports were submitted. Where they are, I don't know. Cover- up? That is really a new word for me.

BALDWIN: Adding to the questions the 23-year-old Braintree police report is now missing and at the time, Amy Bishop's mother served on the Braintree police personnel board. We tried talking to Judy Baker in her suburban Boston home. She didn't come to the door but she picked up the phone. The 69-year-old mother told me, through tears, we're very distraught. Please leave us alone.


BALDWIN: Now Braintree police, the mayor and the Norfolk county DA are investigating, trying to get to the bottom of the missing police records from 1986. And also Wolf, just so people are clear, in Alabama since Amy Bishop is facing capital murder, that means she is eligible for the death penalty. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You spoke to her husband today, Brooke. Was he even aware that his wife had a gun?

BALDWIN: You know, I talked to him this morning and asked him that question. He said, absolutely not. I was unaware my wife had a gun. But it's interesting it's just developed in the last hour or so, apparently this husband, Jim Anderson spoke with a reporter with a newspaper for educators called the Chronicle of Higher Education and he told them she borrowed a gun recently, was thinking about buying the gun and had recently gone to a local firing range in Huntsville. I picked up the phone upon reading that, tried to confirm it with Jim Anderson and, unfortunately, he's no longer picking up the phone.

BLITZER: She was denied tenure at the University of Alabama. Is there some suspicion that this is related to that?

BALDWIN: That's one of the questions and when I spoke with Jim Anderson said she was frustrated by the process. He told me, yes, she was denied tenure, she appealed that. Apparently she won, but still she was simply frustrated that she was outright denied and frustrated with the process.

BLITZER: Brooke Baldwin digging deeper on the story for us. Thank you, Brooke. She's in Boston.

Violence is a huge part of the war going on right now among Mexico's drug cartels. What you may find surprising is where the guns used to wage the war are coming from. CNN's Ed Lavandera went inside the U.S. agency that tracked the gun trail across the border. Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when you talk about the drug trade you hear stories about drugs flowing north and guns and weaponry flowing south. We wanted to give people an idea of how weapons from the United States make their way into the hands of drug cartels south of the border.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of firearms somebody's purchased --

LAVANDERA: We're driving the streets of Houston with an agent from the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, ATF. We can't tell you who he is because he's in the midst of the biggest case he's ever worked battling lethal Mexican drug cartels on American streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We started seeing them popping up in Mexico and then further down into Guatemala it opened our eyes that we're onto something big.

LAVANDERA: They found a trail from Houston to Guatemala littered with almost 340 guns purchased by so called straw buyers, 23 Houston area residents, all with clean records and legally allowed to buy guns. Investigators say almost a hundred of the guns have since turned up at crime scenes south of the border in the hands of the drug cartels.

DEWEY WEBB, ATF, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: They're fighting each other for turf in Mexico and, unfortunately, many law enforcement and civilians are being killed in that fight.

LAVANDERA: The man in this photo shared exclusively with CNN is John Philip Hernandez. Investigators say he was at the center of the straw purchasing scheme. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't stand out in a crowd, regular guy in his 20s.

LAVANDERA: According to ATF investigators, Hernandez recruited a crew of 23 people to purchase firearms for drug cartels at gun shops across Houston. Court documents show Hernandez bought six weapons and ammunition at this gun shop. One of those weapons was later connected to the kidnapping and murder of a Mexican businessman. Hernandez also admitted to buying weapons used in the infamous 2007 Acapulco massacre where seven people including four police officers were slaughtered by a dozen armed drug traffickers.

WEBB: It has a long range capability.

LAVANDERA: ATF special agent in charge Dewey Webb showed us some of the group's favorite hardware.

WEBB: There are probably over a dozen different versions of each of these weapons on the market today.

LAVANDERA: According to court documents Hernandez purchased four weapons at this shop. We spoke with the owner. He didn't want to go on camera but he told us that a few weeks later Hernandez returned flashing $20,000 in cash ready to buy 20 more weapons. The owner says he rejected the sale. Investigators say the cartels paid Hernandez $100 to $200 each time they bought a firearm.

WEBB: People buying drugs in the United States have just as much blood on their hands as people pulling the trigger in Mexico.

LAVANDERA: John Phillip Hernandez is now serving an eight-year prison sentence after pleading guilty but this ATF agent says as one ring is broken up, new rings can quickly emerge on Houston streets on the gun trail from America to Mexico.


LAVANDERA: ATF investigators tell us they didn't realize how big the group was until they sat down one day and compared notes. That's when different investigative teams looking into different members of the group realized the group was all working together. Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Ed.

It was an error that destroyed multiple lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a stigma now. I'm a felon. I have hurt somebody. It's hard.

BLITZER: A former hospital pharmacist speaking out about the one day of his life he wishes he could do over.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. A top Somali defense official reportedly survived a suicide bomber attack. Police say the state defense minister safely escaped the path of the bomb- laden vehicle in Mogadishu. One bystander was killed and two bodyguards injured. The attack comes as Somali's U.N.-backed government prepares to launch an offensive against insurgents with al Qaeda ties.

A tiny village in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia is mourning the loss of the Olympic luger killed Friday. A steady stream of neighbors dressed in black made their way through the family home today paying tribute to Nodar Kumaritashvili. The athlete's father says he spoke to his son before the fatal run saying he was worried about the track speed.

When it comes to buying cool iPhone apps it may seem Apple is the only game in town but that could change. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and other communications companies are teaming up to take on the champ. They made the announcement today in Barcelona that the mega store would sell apps. For the techies out there, something to look forward to. Wolf?

BLITZER: Every day there's something new. It never stops and won't for a long time. Thanks Lisa.

The director Kevin Smith is fuming after being kicked off a Southwest plane. How does an airline decide someone is too big to fly?

And spectators on the beach suddenly swept up by a giant rush of water. What happened? We'll tell you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The film director Kevin Smith kicked up a firestorm in a feud with Southwest Airlines. The carrier made Smith get off a recent flight and Twitter has been buzzing ever since. CNN's Mary Snow joins us with more on this story.

Mary, is this more to this than one film maker's snit over being told he was too fat to fly?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There certainly is, Wolf. Some call it a twitter time bomb that unleashed a debate over airline policies considered sensitive that need to be addressed. Kevin Smith isn't shying away from it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Jay. This is my hetero lifemate, Silent Bob.

SNOW: A quiet character in the movies, yes, but director Kevin Smith isn't holding back about being kicked off a Southwest flight because of his size. He took to a twitter page with this picture and messages like, I know I'm fat but was the pilot justified for throwing me off the flight for which I was already seated? Southwest admits it erred by asking him to leave a flight after he was seated First and foremost to Mr. Smith, it said in a statement, we would like to again offer our heartfelt apologies. We're very sorry for how his night played out. But Southwest points to its customers of size guidelines, saying passengers need to lower both armrests to fit in one seat. "Our employees are responsible for the safety and comfort of all customers on their aircraft and therefore made the determination that Mr. Smith need more than one seat to complete the flight comfortably." The airline said Smith had bought two seats for his original flight but when he decided to catch an earlier flight, there was only one seat available. Smith says in a podcast on his Twitter page, when he bought the two seats it wasn't because he needed them.

KEVIN SMITH: If I have to, I could fly one seat in Southwest.


SMITH: I opt not to because it's way more comfortable and I have enough money to do it.

SNOW: Who decides when someone is too big for a seat? Basically the airlines. The FAA requires passengers to sit with seat belts and both armrests down, but airlines make the judgment call.

RICK SEANEY, CEO, FARECOMPARE.COM: I think they needed to look at the policies really close and hopefully maybe get an agency to define it so they are more transparent and somebody above the airlines who really don't want to touch it with a ten-foot pole can make the policy.

SNOW: One group that wants to talk about it is the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. With more than one-third of Americans considered obese, Brandon MacSata advocates bigger seats in one row of the plane.

BRADON MACSATA, ASSOCIATION FOR AIRLINE PASSENGER RIGHTS: We don't think it should be the size of a person's rear end but the size of the seat that's the issue.


SNOW: Southwest isn't alone when it comes to requiring larger passengers to purchase a second seat. The airline does say it will refund the passenger for the second seat if the airline isn't fully booked. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary thanks for the update. The story is getting a lot of buzz out there.

In northern California, a crowd that came to watch surfing pros ride giant waves got more than they bargained for when one of the waves crashed ashore injuring more than a dozen people at the Mavericks Surf Contest. Now to Chad Myers to explain what's going on. Was there any warning? What happened here? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There was not a warning. In fact, the loudspeaker system that could have been used to warn someone got wet. So they couldn't warn people on the beach that this wave was coming. This is the buoy offshore a few miles. This is what it was doing on Thursday. The waves were four feet offshore. On Saturday during the competition, the waves for 2 feet high. Eventually the water kept coming and coming onshore and it moved water. It held water on the shore and then one wave built on another and that right there was the ultimate wave during the middle of the competition. The waves out in the water were enormous. The surfing competition was something to see. Then all of the sudden, then it was something to try to survive. 11 people were injured, two were injured and taken to the area hospital. 11 were just treated there. You can tell that leg is not really going in the right direction. That's hard to watch sometimes. Like that Joe Montana football play. But it was one of those -- we don't call them rogue waves because rogue waves happen out in the ocean and affect ships. This was just a harbor wave, almost a tsunamiesque wave, but there was no earthquake. There was nothing out there we know of that would have caused this other than the giant waves that were offshore and one finally made its way on shore, Wolf.

BLITZER: Can we call it a freak wave?

MYERS: Absolutely. No question about it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Chad. A deadly mistake and a farm a cyst in jail -- pharmacist in jail. What's next for the man who says his one wish is to redo that day.


BLITZER: One fatality that destroyed multiple lives and raised serious questions, new questions about safety in hospital pharmacies across the United States. CNN's David Mattingly has the story.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He lives behind concrete walls and steel bars. But Eric Cropp isn't sure if he's a criminal, a victim or both. Are you a killer?


MATTINGLY: In 2006, Eric Cropp was a pharmacist at a Cleveland hospital when 2-year-old cancer patient Emily Jerry was killed by the medical error of a pharmacy technician. She was given a chemotherapy drug mixed with a salt solution 23 times more concentrated than the normal dose. But because Eric Cropp was the supervising pharmacist and should have caught the mistake, he was sent to jail. And that's where I found him, confused, and struggling with regret.

Do you think it was your fault?

CROPP: In a way sometimes. Because I've been called everything in the media, from the way my co-workers have treated me, it's been hard. MATTINGLY: But not as hard as it has been for Emily Jerry's mom.

KELLY JERRY, EMILY'S MOTHER: She would go up and down the slide. Her swing was in the middle. It was one of those child safety swings.

MATTINGLY: After Emily's death, Kelly Jerry pushed for laws in Ohio requiring new training and certification for pharmacy workers. And she was in the courtroom when the judge handed down Cropp's sentence. What kind of message do you hope is be sent by that conviction?

JERRY: That patient safety needs to be first and foremost on everybody's list.

MATTINGLY: Is this going to make for fewer mistakes, or more mistakes?

CROPP: I think it's going to be the same amount of mistakes. It's just going to be covered up better.

MATTINGLY: Cropp says the mistake that killed Emily Jerry came on a day when he was overloaded and rushed. These are common complaints throughout the nation's medical system. Patient safety advocates warn that cases like this might actually make it harder to change the conditions where tragic errors are made.

MICHAEL COHEN, INSTITUTE FOR SAFE MEDICAL PRACTICE: People are going to be afraid to come forward and identify problems that they've been involved with. Because of fear for losing their license, or, you know, in this case, even have criminal charges brought against you.

MATTINGLY: Michael Cohen for the Institution of Safe Medication Practices was among the advocates calling Cropp an easy target, saying the greater good is served by focusing on system issues that allow tragedies like this to happen. But in the court's eyes, Cropp had no excuse for missing the mistake that killed Emily Jerry. He's serving six months for involuntary manslaughter.

CROPP: I have the stigma now, I'm a felon. I've hurt somebody. It's hard.

MATTINGLY: In terms of Cropp's probation will include speaking publicly, telling a story of caution to others in health care. He will never work as a pharmacist again.

David Mattingly, CNN, Cleveland.


BLITZER: Since David filed that report, we've learned from Cropp's attorney that Cropp was released from prison on Friday. We're told he remains on probation, and will continue to speak out publicly about the dangers of prescription mistakes.

Details of the dog napping that has tongues wagging at a world famous dog show. CNN's Jeanne Moos is on the case. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's the first day of the popular Westminster dog show. Leave it to CNN's Jeanne Moos to dig up a most unusual angle to an already unusual event.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the show where the people tend to look like the dogs and the dogs tend to look like people. From the hairless to the hairball, they are sprayed, powdered, petted and given mouth-to-mouth treats. The jaws dropped here at Westminster when they heard the story of an alleged New York dognapping. How much will you give me to bring your dog back? It happened during last week's blizzard. A Brooklyn family was out in Prospect Park with their beloved 3-year-old dog Sugar when she managed to take off. Their phone number was on Sugar's collar and soon after the family got home, a man called.

DRUCIE BELMAN, SUGAR'S OWNER: He said, how much are you going to give me for her? And I said, I don't know, $50. What is it that you want? And he hung up.

MOOS: A rescue group has offered a $5,000 reward. But Sugar is still missing. Here at Westminster with all the pricey show dogs, they practice low-tech security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't let her out of my sight.

MOOS: And high-tech.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do have him chipped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's microchipped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're all chipped.

MOOS: Some don't worry about dognapping.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think you could steal a dog like that?

MOOS: And some hire a security guard to keep an eye on as many as a dozen dogs. Are you armed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I love dogs. I have two of my open.

MOOS: No, are you armed? Do you have a weapon?


MOOS: She was watching one of three breeds new this year to Westminster.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Perioni and shepherd.

MOOS: Then there's the --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Norwegian boohound.

MOOS: Which means farm dog in Norwegian. The third new breed is the Irish red and white setter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bit of a clown.

MOOS: Some of the dogs here are famous.


MOOS: Star of dog food commercials. This bulldog is the character in "Law & Order." He would be a breeze to steal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would walk off right now if you took the leash.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you doing?

MOOS: When he shakes, Munch has a secret weapon and it landed on me.


MOOS: A slinger?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll give you a baby wipe. You've been slung.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.