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The Situation Room

Interview with General John Allen; U.S. Army Sergeant Held for Mass Killing; Romney Leading Obama in New Poll; Iraqi Men Murdered for Wearing Tight Clothes

Aired March 12, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Afghanistan and a vow of revenge from the Taliban, after an American soldier is accused of killing 16 civilians in cold blood. I will speak exclusively this hour with the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen.

And on this, the eve of crucial primaries in the Deep South, Mitt Romney gets a big endorsement from an unlikely comedian. Can that help him in two very tight races?

And is President Obama already in some trouble? A new poll shows him neck-and-neck with his top GOP rivals. James Carville and David Frum, they are both standing by. We will talk about that. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A new wave of fury may be about to explode in Afghanistan after a U.S. soldier allegedly walked out of his base and went on a house-to- house shooting rampage -- 16 civilians are dead, nine of them children. Military authorities say the soldier acted alone and turned himself in.

Vowing revenge for the killings, a statement from the Taliban calls U.S. forces -- and I'm quoting now -- "sick-minded American savages."

U.S. officials are voicing deep sorrow.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Let me say that, like many Americans, I was shocked and saddened by the killings of innocent Afghan villagers this weekend.

We send our condolences to families who have lost their loved ones and to the people of Afghanistan. This is not who we are. And the United States is committed to seeing that those responsible are held accountable.


BLITZER: Let's go straight to Kabul. CNN's Sara Sidner standing by.

Sara, walk us through what's been going on where you are.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This really completes, Wolf, a terrible trifecta in the last couple of months.

We're talking about this incident following what appeared to be U.S. service members urinating on Afghan bodies and then the burning of the Koran by U.S. service members who said they did it mistakenly, but that caused quite a fury in this country and left 40 people dead, and now an incident that the NATO forces say involved a U.S. service member who walked off a base in the early-morning hours Sunday while it was still dark and went on a shooting rampage in two separate villages, killing as many as 16 people, which the Afghanistan officials say involved nine children and three women.


SIDNER (voice-over): Not far from a U.S. military outpost, a disturbing scene. A dead toddler with a blood-stained face lies sandwiched between two dead men in the back of a pickup truck. In another truck, a blanket is pulled back to reveal the charred remains of two more people.

These are just a few of the victims of the shooting rampage. "One guy came in and pulled a boy from his sleep and he shot him in this doorway and then they came back inside the room and put the gun in the mouth of another child and stomped on another boy," this mother says.

U.S. officials, including President Obama, have all expressed their condolences and sadness, but that has little meaning to the victims' families. A local minister said one family alone lost 11 family members in the incident.

"Look at these bodies. They all belong to one family," this villager cries. Men we want openly, barely able to speak through their tears while investigators sifted through the grisly scene, picking up shell casings. The evidence something terrible happened overwhelming, the floors and walls of these homes stained with blood.

As the day went on, the sorrow was replaced by anger at American forces. "This base told us to come back to our villages. They said we won't bother you. This is your land and this is your own village. Then those dogs come and grab us," another mother shouted.

Some of the villagers claim there was more than one soldier on the ground when the massacre happened around 2:00 in the morning on Sunday. But the International Security Assistance Forces refute that, saying that this was the work of a single soldier who walked away from base and was acting alone.


SIDNER: Now, we do know that Afghan officials have asked for this trial, when it takes place, to take place on Afghan soil. There's been a response to that call from the Pentagon, a spokesman telling CNN that if this involves a U.S. service member, they will go through the military court as per the agreement. They will not be tried by the Afghan judicial system -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is going to cause a huge, huge rupture in U.S./Afghan relations. We're going to have a lot more, Sara, on this story.

In a few minutes, I will speak exclusively with the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the head of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen. He's in Washington over at the Pentagon.

We're moving on to some other important news we're following right now. We will get to what is going on in Afghanistan.

But we're only a day away from crucial primaries in the Deep South. Alabama and Mississippi could be make-or-break states for Newt Gingrich, while Rick Santorum is hoping he can force Gingrich out of the race. Meantime, Mitt Romney is doing all he can to court the Southern vote.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us from Jackson, Mississippi, with the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney might be a Yankee, but he's pulling out all the stops to lock down the Southern vote before the primaries here in Mississippi and in Alabama.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is like a sardine can. Look at us in here.

ACOSTA (voice-over): After days of tells voters in Mississippi and Alabama about his newfound love for cheesy grits, Mitt Romney picked up an endorsement that might as well be the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in the South. Make that "Field and Stream."

JEFF FOXWORTHY, COMEDIAN: I looked him in the face. And I said, I want you to answer one thing. Can you fix this? And he did not blink and he said yes, I can.

ACOSTA: There, in a steady downpour in Mobile, was comedian Jeff Foxworthy, them an who coined the expression you might be a redneck and hosted the game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" a contest Romney suggested the president might lose.

ROMNEY: Raising taxes on small business, do you think this will create jobs for small businesses?


ROMNEY: I'm afraid the president has failed the show. Now, obviously, I know he's smarter than a fifth grader thing, but I sometimes wonder why it is he does the things he does. ACOSTA: It was Romney doing the stand-up routine admitting to Foxworthy he's not exactly ready for the cover of "Guns and Ammo" magazine.

ROMNEY: I'm looking forward to going down and hunting with you some time and you can actually show me which end of the rifle to point.

ACOSTA: The liberal Web site ThinkProgress came out with a list of why Romney might not be a redneck. Top of the list, "If your wife drives a couple of Cadillacs, you might not be a redneck."

But Democrats are seizing on another Romney disclosure. On Romney's 65th birthday, his campaign revealed unlike the vast majority of senior citizens who reach the same age, the GOP contender has decided to forego Medicare and stick with his private insurance plan. That's despite the fact Romney has proposed dramatic changes to Medicare, including raising the eligibility age to join the program.

But the best birthday gift of for Romney would be to see Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich split the conservative vote in Alabama and Mississippi. That scenario has dawned on Santorum, who is jumping on a comment Romney made last week, when he called the South an away game.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're just not focused on one region of the country. I don't consider this an away game. This is home for me just like it is everywhere I go in this country.


ACOSTA: Mitt Romney is spending the rest of his 65th birthday in Miami. That's a nice place to spend your birthday, not exactly a place to order some cheesy grits.

But, Wolf, I wanted to share with you we had a chance to catch up with Jeff Foxworthy here in Jackson, Mississippi, and asked him about Romney's offer to go hunting. He said -- quote -- "That sounds even more dangerous than Cheney, if you ask me. We may start with a BB gun and work our way up to a rifle."

So even though there are some serious stakes in play for tomorrow's primaries, Wolf, the candidates and their surrogates are keeping their sense of humor, Wolf.

BLITZER: Keep their powder dry, at least for now, as well.

Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Every bowl of grits may be important right now to Mitt Romney. Those Deep South races are looking very, very close right now.

Let's assess with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, look at these American Research Group polls. In Mississippi, likely GOP primary voters tomorrow, Romney 34, Gingrich 32, Santorum 22, Ron Paul 8 percent. In next-door Alabama, Gingrich 34, Romney 31, 24 Santorum, 6 Paul, 4 percent plus or minus sampling error.

So right now it's a tie if you believe these polls.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. I think the races are too close to call and I think one reason, Wolf, is you see Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich splitting the voters they have been splitting throughout this entire process, which is the evangelical voters, the voters who say they're very conservative, the Tea Party voters.

And that of course helps Mitt Romney.

I was talking to someone in the Romney campaign. They believe what also helps them is Romney has really been emphasizing his business experience again. He's going back to the basic message. They believe in the South in particular, which has been hard-hit, given the problem with gas prices, this is a message that resonates.

As you know, Newt Gingrich has also been talking about getting gas back to $2.50 a gallon. But Mitt Romney seems to be doing better than they anticipated. So we will have to see what happens.


BLITZER: If Romney wins one or both of these states, for him, that would be huge.

BORGER: I think it would be huge and what would it allow him to do is sort of pull away from the pack.

Right now, he has a big psychological hole in the middle of his campaign. That is, people say, OK, you can't win in the South. That's where the base of the Republican Party is headquartered. You have to win in the South.

If you talk to the campaign, they will say, even if we come in a close second in these two states, we're doing better than we have any right to do so we will consider that a victory. And, as you know, the delegates are proportional anyway and they also predict victory in Hawaii.

BLITZER: Yes. They will get delegates. And the delegates are key right now because the popular vote is one thing, but he has a significant advantage on the delegate count right now, Romney.

BORGER: Right. And the Romney campaign is spending an awful lot of time talking about math and talking about inevitability, saying that Rick Santorum, for example, would have to win 65 percent of the remaining delegates in order to become the nominee.

But take a look at this in the "Washington Post"/ABC News poll. They asked who do you expect to be Republican nominee? And they asked this of Republican and Republican-leaning independents. And you will see 74 percent, 74 percent say Mitt Romney. That also helps him, because a lot of time when you're in a race that is in the thick of it, people decide they want to be with the winner.

And if they believe that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee, that might sway some people to vote for him. So it's becoming part of their campaign mantra.

BLITZER: On my blog post at the SITUATION ROOM Web site, I write about a lot of the Romney supporters and they are already sense that it's theirs to be had. They are very, very close and they're beginning to think about vice presidential selections maybe because of the movie "Game Change" and Sarah Palin. They want to make sure...


BORGER: They might be in the same situation as John McCain was if he wins.

BLITZER: We will see what happens.

Check it out. Thank you, Gloria.

Drug tests and unemployment -- one state moves towards a controversial requirement. Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

And what former President Bill Clinton thinks about President Obama and his decision to take out Osama bin Laden. Is that an ace up the sleeves for the Democrats?

And more on the massacre of Afghan civilians, allegedly by an America soldier. I have an exclusive interview coming up in a few minutes with the man in charge of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. General John Allen, he is standing by live.


BLITZER: My exclusive, live interview with General John Allen, the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, that's coming up in a few moments. Stand by. Lots to discuss.

Other news we're following: women and children allegedly -- allegedly targeted in Syria.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What is going on, Lisa?


Well, Syrian opposition groups say at least 45 women and children were massacred in the city of Homs late Sunday. They claim children were stabbed to death in front of their mothers, and girls and women were sexually assaulted and then shot to death by Syrian forces and thugs. Opposition leaders have declared an official day of mourning tomorrow. CNN cannot independently confirm reports coming from inside Syria.

And the worst violence in months is flaring in Israel and Gaza as the two sides trade weapons fire. Israeli police say militants in Gaza have fired more than three dozen rockets into Israel and more than 200 since Friday. Israel has responded with air strikes that have killed at least 23 people, including five today.

Authorities in Indianapolis are investigating a deadly school bus accident. The driver and a girl of about 5 years old were killed when the bus hit an overpass abutment. No other vehicles were involved, and witnesses say they saw nothing unusual before the wreck. Officials say the driver may have had a medical condition that contributed to that accident.

And Whitney Houston's only child is speaking out publicly for the first time about the singer's sudden shocking death last month. Nineteen-year-old Bobbi Kristina Brown, tells Oprah Winfrey she can still feel her voice and can feel her spirit. Here's part of the interview that aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: They actually come to you in your dreams?


WINFREY: You've had that?

BROWN: Oh, yes.

WINFREY: Really?

BROWN: Yes. And especially throughout the house. Throughout the house, you know, lights turn on and off, I'm like, mom? What are you doing?

I can hear a voice, you know, in spirit talking to me and telling me, you know, keep moving, baby. You know, I'm right here. I got you, you know. But --

WINFREY: I got you. That's what she said all the time?

BROWN: She's always with me. I can always feel her. I can always feel her with me.

WINFREY: Is that what you feel in your head? I got you? Yes.

BROWN: That's all I hear. That's all I hear.


SYLVESTER: Yes. Houston died in a Beverly Hills hotel room on February 11th. No word on the cause of death, but a toxicology report is expected next week. And I got to tell you, Wolf, I watched that interview last night and it was riveting. There's no question about it.

BLITZER: I'm sure it was. My heart goes out to that young lady.

Thanks very much, Lisa.

Jack Cafferty is here. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Arizona could become the first state to require drug tests for applicants for unemployment benefits. This was part of the deal when Congress agreed last month to extend jobless benefits through the end of the year. Legislation allows states to require drug testing for people who lost their jobs because they failed an employer's drug test or for those applying for jobs where drug testing is common.

The Arizona state Senate passed the bill. It's on its way to the House now. The bill sponsor told "The Huffington Post" he would have pushed for the legislation even if Congress hadn't pave the way. Republican State Senator Steve Smith says the unemployed are fortunate to live in a country where there are programs to help people survive when they're looking for work. He says the least that applicants should do is prove that they are of sound mind to get a job.

Supporters of the drug tests say businesses shouldn't have to subsidize illegal activity and suggest workers could also increase their chances of getting hired if they prove they're drug-free. But critics of drug testing say it's costly, that it would cost millions of dollars for the states to administer and they also say that drug test stigmatized the jobless as drug addicts.

Arizona could also go into some resistance here because Congress left it up to the Labor Department to determine how many unemployment applicants actually get drug tests.

Here's the question: should applicants for jobless benefits have to pass a drug test? Go to or post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

My exclusive interview with U.S. General John Allen is coming up next. He's in charge of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. We'll get the latest on the alleged civilian massacre by an American soldier and the fallout of what's going on now.

Plus, Bill Clinton's surprising first reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden.


BLITZER: There are dramatic developments happening in Afghanistan right now, in the aftermath of the U.S. Army sergeant who apparently, allegedly, went on a shooting rampage, killing 16 Afghan villagers -- nine of them women and children. He allegedly left his base, went in a house to house search for regular Afghanis. And he wound up killing so many of them.

The Afghanis are understandably -- they are furious. There's a vow of revenge not only from the Taliban but from others in Afghanistan as well.

Let's discuss what's going on and the ramifications are enormous for the U.S. and its NATO partners.

Joining us in an exclusive interview is U.S. General John Allen. He commands all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the allies' International Security Assistance Force as it's called.

General, thank you so much. I know you're very busy. You're visiting the Pentagon now. You'd be going back to Afghanistan soon. But, briefly, walk us through, based on all the information you have and that you can share -- what happened here?

GEN. JOHN ALLEN, COMMANDER, U.S. AND NATO FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: Well it would appear, Wolf, that we had a single soldier depart one of our combat outposts in the Panjwai district of the province of Kandahar. And while I won't go into the specifics of his actions, it would appear that he acted as an individual and did, in fact, shoot a number of Afghan civilians, causing fatalities as many as 16, a number of others were wounded. We're providing medical care to them as well.

Let me emphasize, first, Wolf, that I want to offer my sincere condolences and regrets to the victims of the shooting, to the Afghan families and certainly, to the noble Afghan people as a group. This is tremendously regrettable.

We're investigating it aggressively and we will hold the individual accountable should the evidence point to his culpability here.

BLITZER: General, can you release this individual's name?

ALLEN: No, not at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the reason being?

ALLEN: We want to protect the investigation at this point.

BLITZER: How do you know he acted alone? Because there are a lot of Afghanis out there who think he was part of a bigger group.

ALLEN: The evidence at this point, both in terms of observations and reports and interviews, lead us to believe that he acted as an individual at this point.

BLITZER: Was he by himself? Because this was about a mile from his base. He supposedly left the base, walked for a mile and allegedly started killing these Afghans. Were there other troops with him or was he all by himself?

ALLEN: Again, this is under investigation, Wolf. But it appears that this was the actions of a single soldier.

BLITZER: When you say the investigation is under way, who is taking the lead in the investigation?

ALLEN: We'll take the lead within my command.

BLITZER: And will the Afghani government have any role in this? Because as you know, there are already calls among Afghani parliamentarians and others close to Hamid Karzai, the president, they would like to be in charge, not only of the investigation but for them to have the judicial review, if you will, for them to have justice, as opposed to having this soldier under U.S. command.

ALLEN: We will certainly keep the Afghan government informed throughout this investigation. We will keep the Afghan government informed throughout the process of adjudicating the outcome. But this individual will be investigated and the outcome will be in accordance with U.S. law.

BLITZER: What was his job, this sergeant, on a day-to-day basis in Afghanistan? I've heard conflicting accounts.

ALLEN: Well, he was supporting a village stability platform operation, which supports the Afghan police and he was providing support to one of those platforms in the Panjwai district of Kandahar.

BLITZER: Would it be normal for a U.S. soldier to be able to walk off the base by himself and not be detected by others?

ALLEN: He was detected. In fact, an Afghan soldier detected his departure and reported it. So he was detected and it is --

BLITZER: Did anyone try to stop him?

ALLEN: A search party was being put together immediately. There was a head count done among the American soldiers recognized that he was missing, unaccounted for. We put together a search party right away and it was as that search party was forming that we began to have indications of the outcome of his departure.

BLITZER: I've read reports that he had three previous tours of duty in Iraq. This was his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. Is that true?

ALLEN: That's correct.

BLITZER: So is there -- was there any evidence looking back, of any mental illness or posttraumatic stress disorder or anything along those lines?

ALLEN: We're going to look into all of that, Wolf, in the course of the investigation.

BLITZER: What is the initial conclusion that -- you as the commanding officer, the commanding general of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, have drawn from this horrible incident?

ALLEN: Well, it is, in fact, deeply regrettable. And we are going to do all we can to do right by the wounded and do right by the families. We're, of course, respecting the three days of mourning.

But, Wolf, it's really important to understand that the relationship that the American people have and the ISAF troops, the 50 nations of ISAF, have with Afghanistan is a deep relationship, forged over years and years of combat. There's a lot of resilience in this relationship and we're seeing that today. Afghan leaders took charge immediately in the aftermath of this event. And exerted, I think, extraordinary leadership, both in leading the people through the tragedy, but also, in setting the conditions ultimately, for the ability to do a good investigation.

And the campaign remains on track. Nothing has changed with respect to the campaign. And across Afghanistan, every single day, Afghan soldiers, Afghan police and ISAF troops are serving shoulder- to-shoulder in some very difficult situations. And our engagement with them, our shoulder-to-shoulder relationship with them, our conduct of operations with them every single day defines the real relationship. This is an isolated act. Tragic as it is, Wolf, it is an isolated act. And the relationship will only grow stronger between Afghanistan and the U.S. and Afghanistan and the international community, and the campaign remains on track, Wolf. It remains on track.

BLITZER: I hear what you're saying but as you know this comes on the heels of the aftermath of a very bloody aftermath of the accidental burning of those Qurans, and we saw what happened. Some U.S. troops were working at the ministry of interior in Kabul, in Afghanistan. They were shot in the back of their heads by Afghan soldiers who had been trained by the United States. What kind of message, general, does that send?

ALLEN: First, Wolf, we don't know specifically who shot those troops. As tragic as that is, we're going to be very careful, obviously, and purposes of force protection in the aftermath of this. But once again, we are close partners with the Afghans. And while these kinds of regrettable incidents will occur on both sides, we should look at the overall relationship. We should look at what we're accomplishing every day.

We're going to continue to work through this. That we are going to do thorough investigations. We are going to hold this individual accountable and we're going to move on. And this relationship is too deep. It is been going on too long. We have all sacrificed too much that for us to permit this to be the single event that unhorses this relationship.

And I think I can speak for the Afghans, I can certainly speak for the ISAF forces, the U.S. forces. We remain committed to this relationship and we remain committed to the campaign.

BLITZER: Let me button up one issue, that sensitive issue of injury. Is there any evidence that this sergeant who allegedly killed these Afghanis, himself, had been injured, suffered from some sort of brain injury in earlier tours of duty?

ALLEN: I can't comment on that, Wolf. We'll look at all of this as factors associated in the investigation.

BLITZER: Are U.S. troops, NATO troops, American diplomats, others working in Afghanistan, now effectively confined to their respective bases out of fear of retaliation?

ALLEN: No. We're going to continue to be very cautious and very careful. We're going to be attentive to the operational environment around us but we're not confined to our bases and we're not cowering in our homes in Afghanistan.

We're going to continue to work very closely with our Afghan allies, our Afghan friends. We are going to engage with them. And it's very important to understand, that the relationship on the whole, with Afghanistan and the United States and Afghanistan with the international community, is positive.

Many good things have occurred over the last ten years. We're pursuing a strategic partnership with Afghanistan on the case of the United States and Afghanistan where we're going to push toward a future. It is the future that the Afghans desire with the United States. It is a future that the Afghans desire with the international community and we desire that as well.

And, yes, this is a setback. Yes, this is a tragedy. Yes, we'll hold an investigation. We'll hold people accountable. But we're going to push. We are going to ensure that this relationship, which is resilient and possesses a lot of shock-absorbency that this relationship is the one that defines the success of our campaign that we are going to push on.

BLITZER: Is it at your assessment though, having said all that, that it accelerated U.S. NATO pull out from Afghanistan in advance of the end of 2014 might be something that the president of the United States should take a look at right now?

ALLEN: We're not contemplating that at all. The campaign is sound. It is solid. It does not contemplate at this time, any form of accelerated drawdown.

BLITZER: What would justify such an accelerated drawdown?

ALLEN: That's not for me to decide, Wolf. That's for someone else's to decide. I think that the operational environment today supports the campaign as we have outlined it.

BLITZER: How many troops, U.S. troops, NATO troops, do you still command in Afghanistan?

ALLEN: It's slightly less than 91,000 at this point.

BLITZER: 91,000 American troops or total.

ALLEN: U.S. troops. And another -- BLITZER: How many additional NATO?

ALLEN: Another 37 or so, NATO, 34or 37, depending on the day.

BLITZER: And it's your desire at least for now, to maintain that level, more or less with, for some time?

ALLEN: Well, we'll be executing the second phase of the drawdown of the surge recovery. And that will be occurring over the next several months. Its 23,000 troops, 33,000 total. The first 10,000 came out at the end of 2011 by the 31st of December. And so over the next several months we'll begin to see those lead elements of the 23,000 come out. And those forces will come out over the summer and will be completed. The drawdown will be completely the end of September.

BLITZER: General, good luck to you, to all the men and women you command. Our heart goes out to the Afghani families, of course, who are distraught as a result of what happened.

But we will stay in very close touch with you. Appreciate you joining us.

ALLEN: And our condolences go to them as well. And it is a great honor to command the great young men and women of the U.S. forces and of course, all the NATO and ISAF forces as well, Wolf, and my best to you as well.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. General Allen is the commander of all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Appreciate it very much.

So is President Obama already in some political trouble? A brand new poll shows a possible trouble for him and for the Democrats. We'll explain.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session.

Joining us, our CNN contributor as Democratic strategist James Carville and David Frum of

Guys, look at these "Washington Post" ABC new poll numbers. Hypothetical matchup, who would you vote for. This is all Americans.

Romney right now gets 47 percent. President Obama, 46 percent. Look how close it is also, with Santorum, 48 percent, 45 for Santorum sampling a four percent.

James, very, very close in March right now. Even though the Republicans are beating up on each other big-time, look how close this is. How much trouble potentially is the president in his bid for re- election?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is always going to be a close race. You know, probably attributable to high gas prices in large part. But look, I mean, the president was four points ahead, he's one down. He's floating around a certain zone. Once Romney secures the nomination I mean, it's become it's apparent that he gets it but once he acknowledges as a nominee then campaign will get engaged here.

But I don't think anybody suspects that it will be anything other than a close election and to some Democrats that were getting overconfident I think this poll has kind helped for us. It's like a splash of cold water here. So, I think it's necessary and healthy for the party.

BLITZER: In terms of electability on the Republican side, it doesn't show a whole lot of difference, David right now, between Santorum and Romney in a hypothetical matchup with the president?

DAVID FRUM, FRUMFORUM.COM: Well, I wonder about that. Romney is a pretty well-known factor at this point. If you were to say those people who are saying, yes, I feel for Santorum, how I want to tell me one thing you know about him. I think he would be vulnerable the way that Romney is not.

The president is in trouble not just because of the gas prices. That may be the last wiggle in the story. He's in trouble because this has been an unrelenting grind for the American public for five bad Christmases in a row, four hard years. And the pace of recovery is too slow and it's traceable to decisions that the president made and could have made differently had he wanted to.

BLITZER: You know there's new 15-minute documentary that the Obama campaign is releasing. Very slick, James. In it, they've also got a nice clip from the former president, your former boss, Bill Clinton. Let me play it for you.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: He took the harder and more honorable path when I saw what had happened, I thought to myself, I hope that's the call I would have made.


BLITZER: it's entitled "The Road We've Traveled." He has talking about the decision the president made to go ahead and kill bin Laden. How important do you think President Clinton will be in the re- election process in terms of how active will he be, how important will he be for President Obama's re-election campaign?

CARVILLE: Well, President Clinton is possibly the most popular national political figure in the country right now and I think if get his testimony helps out. I have reminded Bob Gates is hardly a democrat, said it's a gustiest call, he's ever seen in his life in public service. And I think the president made a courageous and difficult decision and I think he's entitled to some credit for that decision. I think people will give him that credit.

I don't know. That doesn't assure his re-election any more than World War II did to assure Churchill got elected and win in the first Gulf war with Bush. But it certainly was a courageous call. Everybody acknowledges that and I think it's something that is very appropriate for him to take credit for.

BLITZER: I think it is fair, David, I think you'll agree that if Bill Clinton is actively out there campaigning on a day-to-day basis or several times a week in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Florida, a lot of these battle ground they say that will dramatically help the president.

FRUM: Clinton is pretty popular. And so, would one thing Republicans can do is avoid relitigating the 1990s. That's one of the reasons that Newt Gingrich, for example, would be such a dangerous candidate because it means you're no longer talking about President Obama's record. You're now talking about President Clinton's record versus Newt Gingrich's record. And who needs to revisit that?

If -- with Mitt Romney who was not a Washington figure in those years you can talk about the president's record. On the bin Laden killing, I mean, yes, tremendous credit to the president. The easy decision would have been to drop a big bomb on the compound and then we'd never know for sure what happened. He took something very risky. It would have been gates to him if it failed. It succeeded so credit.

But let's also remember, that this is that we're in a deep commitment in Afghanistan as you were just covering, that is with the president chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan, promising that it would lead to a security benefit and we're 100,000 troops later, all these years later, we're no better off in Afghanistan than we were when President Obama made the decision in the spring of 2009.

BLITZER: Yes. Afghanistan, still, very much an open question, I think it's fair to say.

All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Young men targeted for killing because of their looks, a wave of very disturbing slayings in Iraq, In Iraq. What's going on? We're digging deeper.


BLITZER: There is a growing concern about a number of killings in Iraq, apparently targeting young men over their appearances.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, disturbing reports we are getting about the targeting of gays and of other young people sporting western clothes and hair have human rights activists and others asking others about what America's nine-year investment in blood and treasure in Iraq has really brought.

We have to warn viewers, this story contains images some might find disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): On the streets of Baghdad, this is a very different and dangerous look. A western style with longer hair, tighter clothes, it's called Emo. And if you're a young man in Iraq who wants to look like this, it could get you killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a very strong wave of killing people who are such called, Emos or gays. You know, people who look different than the usual Iraqi people. You know, tight jeans, long hair, maybe a goatee.

TODD: We spoke to a human rights activist who didn't want us to use his name or show his face. He says he's not gay or Emo but has longer hair, listens to heavy metal music. He said he shaves his goatee out of fear.

What is the atmosphere in Baghdad for people like yourself, just to walk around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When basically as - when I was coming to the CNN bureau here in Baghdad, there were two checkpoints who told me to cut my hair unless there is -- they will kill me with a block of it. Not them, but they were alike, you know, advising me so people won't kill me with block cement, cement blocks.

TODD: A senior Iraqi interior ministry official, not authorized to talk to the media, tells CNN at least 14 young men perceived to be either gay or dressed in Emo style have been killed in Baghdad in recent weeks. Human rights activists put the number much higher and they provide graphic evidence. Photos posted online show people believe to be victims because of their appearance.

It's not clear exactly who's killing them but activists have given CNN copies of warning letters and lists like this one, distributed in conservative neighbors like southern city in Baghdad, lists identifying potential gay or Emo targets. There are also serious questions about whether the Iraqi government is able or willing to protect these men.

Last month, Iraq's interior ministry released a statement saying it was following the Emo phenomenon or devil-worshipping. Also, saying we have the approval to eliminate it as soon as possible and that the so-called "moral police" would enter schools in Baghdad.

The ministry later issued a statement saying it received no reports of Emos being murdered. It warns vigilantes from attacking and says those dressed in Emo style will be protected.

One young man says he's not gay but wears tight jeans and shirts, says he's not taking chances.

SAMI, GIVING UP EMO LOOK: I can't do, like the Emo thing and the clothes. I can't do that anymore. I'm afraid I might get killed.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, a state department spokesman says it is monitoring this closely and has expressed concern to the Iraqi government. Also, the state department says, quote, "we strongly condemn the resent violence and killings in Iraq by groups who appeared to be targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or personal expression."

The spokesman also points out that in recent days, Iraq parliamentarians and religious leaders including the Grand Ayatollah Sistani have been have denounced these attacks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Shocking story. All right, Brian, thank you.

Stunning new details about the U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 afghan civilians. Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon with the latest, that's coming up at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with the Cafferty file -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is should applicants for jobless benefits have to pass a drug test? A piece of legislation moving through the Arizona legislate that would requiring it.

Pat of Michigan writes, "Absolutely. I had to take a drug test to get my job. Why should I pay to fund a slacker's drug habit?"

Larry in Houston, "it all depends on who is paying for it. Most employers require it nowadays and they have to pay for it. On the other hand, where's the money going to come from to test the unemployed? Bottom line is somebody has to pay for the drug screening."

Ed in California, "For once I agree with the liberal media. Drug testing for unemployment benefits is an excessive intrusion into one's personal life. Don't forget employees pay in to the unemployment insurance fund so they ought to have some say in distribution of benefits."

Metal worker in Illinois, "No, these benefits feed children cloth them and put a roof over their heads. Aren't these people being punished enough?"

Morgan writes, "Yes, if they are asking for an extension of the benefits. Most employers require drug tests and those who are clean can find some sort of work within eight to 12 week. Beyond that, there's a reason for chronic unemployment and often drugs or alcohol are the reasons.

Lynne in North Carolina writes, "No, because the money was paid in by the employees and they are entitled to it when they are out of the job. This does nothing but stigmatize a whole group of people."

And, Jerome in Kentucky writes "Of course, not. Leave the unemployed alone, for God sake's. Drug test Congress instead!"

You want to read more about this, go to my blog, or through our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will do, Jack. Thank you.

We're just learning some important new information about that soldier suspected of the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians. We have new details right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Millions of people took a little time today to fill out their NCAA brackets, I know I did. It's a big money maker for college sports and anything associated with it.

CNN's Erin Burnett is taking a closer look into the business of March madness. Erin, what are you finding out?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, OUT FRONT: All right. So, Wolf, this is pretty amazing. You know, the FBI has an estimate on how much money is bet on March madness. Why? Well, the FBI is involved because the vast majority of something like 80-plus percent of the money is bet illegally in the country and it's about $2.5 billion. So, we're talking about serious money.

So, if you're betting in your office pool and I'm not saying that you are, Wolf, I would never imply such a thing, I'm just saying it's probably illegal. But everyone else is doing it. Two million people are going to be watching online which is actually - it adds up to big numbers. People watch online and all these funky screensavers so that you can hide the fact that you're actually wasting time watching March madness, that adds up to $175 million in lost money for businesses in the first two days alone which is a pretty stupendous number, adds up to a billion on April 2nd when we get to the final game.

By the way, Wolf, I don't know who you bet for your final but I have into the final four, a little Cinderella story. Southern Mississippi, the golden eagle name Seymour, I think he'll get to the final four.

BLITZER: Good. I have Syracuse going all the way.

BURNETT: I'll knock them out to UNC Asheville, day one, Wolf. You and I are --

BLITZER: That's why this is so much --. You can go to and fill out the brackets there as well.

Erin, thanks very much. There you can see it. Join the CNN group in the NCAA March Madness.