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Baghdad Braces for Terror; Can Fire Crews Gain Upper Hand in California?; Interview With Johnny Cochran

Aired October 31, 2003 - 17:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: On alert as Baghdad braces for terror. Who's calling the shots sealing off Saddam's hometown?

Counterattack in California, can fire crews gain the upper hand?

The Peterson case, letters from jail, witnesses in court, I'll speak with defense attorney Johnny Cochran.

Holocaust reunion, survivors and rescuers gather, is it the last time?


ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Friday, October 31, 2003, substituting today Judy Woodruff.


We begin with Iraq where there are fears of a weekend of terror. Violence has already begun. An American soldier was killed today and four more wounded in a bombing west of Baghdad.

Baghdad is ripe with rumors of looming attacks on schools, mosques, and hotels. U.S. intelligence is taking these reports seriously. Americans have been put on high alert.

There are fresh reports that Saddam Hussein himself is directing the latest violence but U.S. officials say the ex-leader is too busy trying to stay alive. U.S. troops have thrown up a ring around Saddam's hometown near Tikrit where every car is searched and every individual must register for a new ID card.


COL. STEVE RUSSELL, U.S. ARMY: We have provided security. We have provided cordon and we are not limiting the movement of those that register in the town. Once they have a pass they have complete freedom of movement as they would at any other time.


WOODRUFF: Security has been stepped up in Baghdad where the U.S.-led coalition warns that this week's wave of bombings may be followed by another round. Iraqis too are feeling threatened. They've been hit hard by the violence and are bracing for me.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from Baghdad.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Firemen douse the smoldering remains of a demolished building on Rashid Street, the heart of old Baghdad. It's not clear what caused this destruction. Cooking gas, the coalition says, a mortar or a missile according to eyewitnesses.

Whatever the cause, for the people who live and work here, a week of car bombings and killings have eroded what had been a slowly developing sense that things were beginning to improve.

(on camera): Baghdad is now awash with rumors of more bombings to come. In the words of one Iraqi I spoke with this is just the beginning.

(voice-over): Coalition officials say their intelligence points to a possible wave of suicide attacks on or around November 1, Saturday, targeting police stations, schools, markets, mosques, hotels, and international organizations. Security has been heightened around the city.

Ominously, the U.S. consul here acknowledging rumors of a day of resistance Saturday or Sunday has warned Americans here to be on a high level of vigilance. Iraqis who have taken the brunt of the recent mayhem are left wondering what that means to them.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Baghdad.


WOODRUFF: An Iraqi policeman was killed when rioting broke out today near Baghdad's airport. One Iraqi civilian is also reported dead. Iraqi police say the clashes began when U.S. troops tried to clear a market area. The U.S. Army says the fighting lasted for several hours.

And now here's your turn to weigh in on this story. Our web question of the day is this. "Is the Iraqi resistance gaining or losing strength"? You can vote right now at We'll have the results later this broadcast. And while you're, we'd like to hear directly from you. Send us your comments anytime and we might read some of them at the end of this program.

Now we turn to the war on terror and an exclusive interview with someone who is all too familiar with al Qaeda. Larry Mefford retires today as the FBI's counterterrorism chief. He sat down with CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena to discuss how al Qaeda is changing its tactics to remain America's top terror threat.


KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Give us the clearest definition that you can about what threat exists right here within our borders.

LARRY MEFFORD, FBI COUNTERTERROR CHIEF: While we think they're clearly degraded and their capabilities are not what they used to be they're still a very, very serious threat and the reason they're a threat is because they are absolutely focused and committed to attacking America.

For a number of different reasons they have not attacked us in the homeland but we're very concerned about that. Now, we see no specific threats on the horizon but we can't let our guard down and everything we do is focused on finding the potential sleeper cell in the U.S.

Now, if you're looking at the 19, the model of the 19 terrorists that attacked us back in '01, we haven't seen them here in the United States but, as our basic premise of our strategy, we assume that they're here but we haven't found any evidence of their presence. We have found members linked to al Qaeda or sympathetic to al Qaeda though in the last two years.


WOODRUFF: Well, there is a disturbing report meantime on how Americans may not be prepared for terror. Last spring, thousands of homeland security and emergency workers were deployed for what was called Topoff 2, mach dirty bomb and plague attacks meant to test the nation's readiness.

Well, joining me now is CNN National Security Analyst Ken Robinson who was an adviser for the previous Topoff exercise. Ken Robinson, this report today in the "Wall Street Journal" sends a completely different picture it seems to me about how the United States is prepared or not. What's your take on this? At the time, we were led to believe we were in good shape. Reading this makes you wonder.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: One of the things that they tried to do with Topoff 2 was take the lessons learned from the first Topoff experience in 2000 and then add to that what they found out with the reality of 9/11. They took those events together and they added into this Topoff 2002 exercise enormous friction points and those friction points were exercised over two years.

There were 15 separate exercises that were done over two years to a total sum of $16 million culminating with the Topoff 2002 exercise and they specifically intentionally put into it enormous friction points so that they would pit department and agency together in an extreme situation and find out where there were still places where things were broken down.

WOODRUFF: So, you argue that progress was made? ROBINSON: Absolutely. It is not a test. It's an exercise and by design it's designed to find out and validate where they need to put more resources, where we need to put more money, where we need legislative relief in terms of laws at the state and local level and how we need to task organize for an event which will likely happen again.

WOODRUFF: How could it have been so misinterpreted though in this report do you think?

ROBINSON: Well, I think that what's happening is, is we're hearing from a few individuals who are reflecting the reality of their experience in Topoff and I don't believe it's reflective of the entire exercise.

There were communication problems. There were leadership problems. There were command and control problems but there will always be those in human exercises like this.

WOODRUFF: When Topoff 2 happened we have to think back to remember this, the Department of Homeland Security was basically brand new. It was only, what, 70 days old. The department has changed presumably since its origin, since its beginnings.

ROBINSON: Several things have happened. When President Bush gave Governor Ridge this responsibility and he accepted it he did a couple of things. He gave him the power to hire, the power to fire. He gave them the power of budget and he gave the power of having fixed responsibility.

WOODRUFF: That was very controversial.

ROBINSON: Yes. It was very controversial but now the responsibility is fixed in one place. Now, the problem that we have is we've never done it that way in the federal government so departments and agencies now are having to look at things differently in terms of their budget, their authority, who is responsible for what? Who's the lead federal agency?

There's been a reorganization and that reorganization has caused frictions but identifying those frictions in this exercise, Governor Ridge took a lot of guts to enter this exercise with only 70 days in his office.

WOODRUFF: So, Ken, if you step back and you look realistically at the preparedness in this country right now, gaps in security are how big in your mind?

ROBINSON: Well, it's hard to measure that because a nation that guards everything doesn't guard anything and so what they have to do is they try to identify where are the points of uncertainty and they find that out through exercise and then they need to find a specific way to go forward to streamline the communications, the intelligence sharing, and I think we are better prepared today than we've ever been because it's a bipartisan effort in the Congress and in the Executive Branch. WOODRUFF: Some words of reassurance from Ken Robinson, CNN National Security Analyst. Thanks very much.

ROBINSON: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you. We appreciate your coming by.

Reduced to rubble...

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken in San Diego County. You can see that rubble behind me, rubble that just a short time ago was a very wealthy home. Now it's going to be a very expensive rebuilding project -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, the Scott Peterson murder case, today some of the last people to see his wife Laci alive take the stand. I will talk with veteran defense attorney Johnny Cochran.

Remembering victims and survivors of the Holocaust on the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, I'll talk live with a man who lived through the horror.



WOODRUFF (voice-over): The American "Trick or Treat" tradition is related to what Gaelic practice, begging for gifts, believing in ghosts, giving out cakes, or decorating graves, the answer coming up.



WOODRUFF: Thanks to a major change in the weather crews are now making significant progress fighting the Southern California wildfires but their work is not over yet.

Large fires, some now a week old, continue to burn from north of Los Angeles all the way down to San Diego. With damage estimated to top $2 billion, the fires rank among the worst catastrophes ever to hit the state.

President Bush will get to see it all firsthand. The White House says he's planning to visit Southern California on Tuesday.

In some fire ravaged areas attention is turning to salvaging what's left and rebuilding. CNN National Correspondent Bob Franken is in the hard hit Scripps Ranch neighborhood of San Diego. Bob, what is going on there?

FRANKEN: Well, Judy, of course everybody is hoping that the weather conditions will make the fires go away but, of course, even if they do for many areas, including this area, as you can see from the rubble, those fires will have gone away way too late.


FRANKEN (voice-over): In one sense, the wildfire has played no favorites. These are multimillion dollar homes in the Scripps Ranch area. Some are intact saved by last minute shifts in the wind. Others, often next door, are now skeletons, ash, and memories.

CARY MEYER, HOMEOWNER: It's not the house, it's the mementos. It's the baby clothes. It's the videos. It's the pictures, you know, the material things can be replaced but it's the things that can't be replaced that's the hardest.

FRANKEN: As the unlucky ones sift through the debris of their lifetimes they need to look past their shock and hope they see their insurance adjuster.

TIM KASSEN, INSURANCE CONTRACTOR: If they want to build back just like it was they'll have that option. Most people want to make some change anyway when it's like this and they'll have that opportunity now.

FRANKEN: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is expected within the hour to tour this devastated area, to check out the operations of FEMA here, the Federal Emergency Management Agency that is now part of his department. FEMA has already set up shop offering financial help, advice, and if things work well hope.

DAVID FUKUTOMI, FEMA COORDINATOR: Nothing we do can replace everything they've lost unfortunately but we want to make it as painless as possible for them to get the help that they're entitled to.

TONY MEYER, HOMEOWNER: Everything in this house is what you've lived for for -- we've been married for 26 years and everything we own and everything that we worked for was in that house.


FRANKEN: Now what's remarkable, Judy, is the spirit that you see. A lot of these people have lost what was the entirety of their lives but it's amazing. This is the homeowner Dan Luka who owns this and typically I said to him would you like to be on television and he said to talk about what? You've...

DAN LUKA, LOST HIS HOME: Excuse the mess.

FRANKEN: You and your family are, you know, you're really taking this with a sense of humor but it's obviously something that's very profound.

LUKA: Well, sure. I mean I think -- I think it's beyond emotion in a way and so I don't know we've always been lighthearted people so you fall back on what you always are and that's, you know, good humor and that's the way you do it, so that's how we've been dealing with it so far.

FRANKEN: And this is your son here? LUKA: This is my son Christian.

FRANKEN: Christian, may I talk to him for a second?

LUKA: Sure, sure, his name is Crash. He goes by Crash.

FRANKEN: He goes by the name Crash, well what do you think about this?

CHRISTIAN "CRASH" LUKA, SON: I was scared when I heard about the fire but I was not expecting it to come to our house. I was just expecting to sit down on the couch watching TV but now that this happened I'm all happy that I'm safe.

FRANKEN: And, of course, everybody is. Now, as I understand it you were on a camping trip when this happened and you didn't even really have a chance to take stuff, didn't even take anything out of your car. Your car looks like something out of the "Beverly Hillbillies" right now.

LUKA: Yes. It's loaded with, you know, donations and things like that. But, yes, we were camping. We have a Cub Scout pack. I'm the cub master and, yes, so we got nothing. Our dogs were in the house so that's pretty tragic but, yes, we made do with just the four of us. That's all we really have that and our dirty car.

FRANKEN: And you're going to rebuild?

LUKA: Oh, of course, yes. We'll start right away. We have a meeting tomorrow with the homeowner's association and we're just going to, you know, make plans and we'll start as soon as we can.

FRANKEN: And that's kind of the typical spirit here. There have been a lot of people who have lost everything who are still finding the ability, Judy, to be dignified and to have a sense of humor in the face of quite a bit of a loss here -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bob, we certainly wish them the best. I am speechless at their great sense of humor and just equanimity over the whole thing. Thank you Bob Franken, appreciate it. We can all the rest of us only imagine what it must be like.

Well here now are some of the latest facts on the fires. Seven of them continue to burn in four Southern California counties. More than three-quarters of a million acres of land have now burned, along with them more than 2,800 homes.

Justice in question, how a man suspected of killing 48 women could strike a deal to avoid the death penalty.

Fatal prank, child's play turns deadly for one Florida teen.

And, is he off the hook, a California judge decides whether actor Robert Blake will stand trial for the killing of his wife.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: There were reports today that prosecutors in Seattle will close the book on the notorious Green River killings without going to trial and (AUDIO GAP).


WOODRUFF (voice-over): (AUDIO GAP) alone are staggering. Forty- eight women murdered all linked to one man. The notorious Green River killer case may finally be drawing to a conclusion.

A source close to the case tells CNN that this man, 54-year-old Gary Leon Ridgway, a truck painter, will plead guilty next week to killing 48 women. Authorities in King County, Washington believe that many and possibly more women were killed in the Seattle area by one person starting in the early 1980s ending with the discovery in August, 1998 of the body of Patricia Yellow Robe.

JOE YELLOW ROBE, VICTIM'S FATHER (voice-over): I find it incredible that, you know, an individual was able to cause that many deaths, perpetrate that much suffering and misery on so many people.

WOODRUFF: Gary Ridgway was not arrested until November, 2001. He was originally charged with seven murders but local media reports that he's been cooperating with authorities in recent months leading them to remains. Asked about the deal by CNN affiliate KING, Ridgway's attorneys were evasive.

It's our understanding that he is going to take responsibility for 48 murders, some of them quite recent.

TODD GRUENHAGEN, GARY RIDGWAY'S ATTORNEY: You know I watched the news and I understand that that's your understanding.

WOODRUFF: Is it true?

GRUENHAGEN: I don't have any comment on that.

WOODRUFF: CNN made several calls to the Green River investigation task force of the King County Sheriff's Office and to the King County prosecutor's office to confirm the plea deal. Neither office would comment on the case but a source close to the case tells CNN Ridgway will admit to 48 murders, avoid the death penalty, and face a sentence of life without parole.

Veteran prosecutors say if true this agreement would make it much more difficult to obtain death sentences in other murder cases in Washington State.

GERALD HORN, PROSECUTOR, PIERCE COUNTY, WASHINGTON: And so the question will come up, well if Ridgway didn't get it how could somebody else get it, so of course it's a concern.

WOODRUFF: In the meantime, dozens of families may finally get some resolution on the fate of missing loved ones.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: Another notorious serial killing case leads off today's justice report. The prosecution in the first Washington area sniper trial is trying to link suspect John Allen Muhammad to a note left at the scene of a fatal shooting outside a Ponderosa restaurant. The threatening note demanded $10 million.

Prosecutors in Boca Raton, Florida say they are waiting for a police report before moving on the case of a prankster shot to death on his 16th birthday. Mark Drews (ph) was running from a neighbor's house after ringing the doorbell at midnight a week ago. Police sources tell CNN that he was shot in the back.

Well, this is one clown you wouldn't want to hire for your child's birthday party. Virginia Beach Police are looking for her after a bank robbery caught on surveillance video yesterday. Police say the woman didn't accessorize her clown costume with a visible weapon but they still consider her armed and dangerous.

Emotional testimony today in the case against Scott Peterson, find out what happens when the sister of Laci Peterson takes the stand. We're live from Modesto.

Thousands of homeowners in Southern California face their new reality. We're live from the front lines of the fire war, plus...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know it's a really slow news day today. You want to knock over a 7-Eleven?



WOODRUFF: What Wolf Blitzer really does when he's away from CNN, more top ten moments ahead.


WOODRUFF: What's it like to be Scott Peterson? Coming up get an inside glimpse from the man himself.

Also ahead, Wolf Blitzer collaborates with David Letterman. You'll see the result just ahead.


WOODRUFF: Welcome back to CNN.

Scott Peterson speaks out, hear what the man accused of killing his pregnant wife says about his current life in jail, but first a quick check of the latest headlines.

The State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information that helps catch the perpetrators of an attack on a U.S. convoy in Gaza. The roadside bombing killed three private security personnel October 15th.

A judge in Los Angeles has let Robert Blake's murder charge stand but dismissed conspiracy counts against the actor and his handyman. Blake faces trial February 9th in the shooting death of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley.

OSHA is investigating why a parking garage collapsed in Atlantic City, New Jersey yesterday killing four construction workers. Searchers today pulled the fourth worker's remains from the ruins of the day. It had been under construction at the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

A warning this evening about a real Halloween horror, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving says of all single holidays last year Halloween had the highest percentage of traffic deaths that were alcohol related.

Day three of preliminary hearing in the Peterson murder case and today we heard from some of the last people who saw Laci Peterson alive.

CNN's Rusty Dornin is covering the hearing in Modesto, California -- Rusty.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, after two days of some very slow moving testimony five witnesses testified today over a four hour span including those closest to Laci Peterson and some of those who talked to and saw her shortly before she disappeared. The one unifying factor is that it appear that Scott Peterson had a secret boat that neither Laci nor Scott's family knew that he had purchased, a fishing boat, in early December.

Lee Peterson, Scott Peterson's father, took the stand. He first said he was proud to say Scott was his son. He went on to say that he did not know Scott had a boat, although he said it is not uncommon for his son to make purchases and not tell his father. But a very interesting note was that he said that his son called him between 12:00 and 2:00 on December 24.

Now that's the day he says he went fishing. He said he told police he was fishing between 12:00 and 2:00. Apparently Scott did not tell his father he was fishing, although they talked about plans for Christmas Eve and plans for Christmas.

Sharon Rocha took the stand also, said she did not know about the boat. She talked about her very close relationship with her daughter and how much she thought of Scott Peterson before the 24th.

Amy Rocha, Laci's sister, took the stand. She talked about when Scott and Laci came in on the 23rd, the day before she disappeared. Scott got his haircut. And they talked about Scott and Laci picking up a basket for their grandfather, a gift basket. Scott told her he would pick it up between 12:00 and 3:00 on the 24th. He says he was going golfing. He would be in the area. He did not pick up the basket. Amy Rocha tried to call him. He never answered his cell phone.

The first witness up on the stand today was the maid, Marguerite Nave (ph). She cleaned the house on the day before Laci disappeared. She described Laci as seeming happy and content, although she was very tired, she said. On cross-examination, Mark Geragos asked her, Didn't she carry groceries from her car? The maid said, indeed, that she did.

She also talked about the blinds in the house. Now apparently a neighbor had said the blinds were always open in the morning, that Laci Peterson opened them. Very early in the morning on the 24th, they were not open. The neighbor thought that was strange. But the maid testified that she opened the blinds on the 23rd, that Laci had not opened them even by mid-morning. So that was another interesting note.

Also, that bleach -- the prosecution asked her if she used bleach anywhere in the house. She said she used it only in the bathroom. Now we don't know where it's going. But it sounds like it may be setting the stage, perhaps, whether there was bleach used in the kitchen.

That was a short hearing today. It lasted only four hours. On Monday, we will be back again talking about that single strand of hair found on the pliers at the bottom of Scott boat. The defense expert will take the stand. He will try to poke holes in the reliability of mitochondrial DNA. That is the DNA that's extracted from hair. And the judge is expected to rule on whether that hair will be admitted to the case -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Some significant developments today. Rusty, thank you very much.

Well, there has been no word from Scott Peterson since his arrest, but letters that he allegedly wrote to an unidentified friend shed some light on his frame of mind. They were obtained by CNN affiliate KTVU. Now, in one -- in one of those letters, Peterson talks about learning that his wife and child were dead saying, "I was told that they were on the car ride back to Modesto by the detectives. I didn't believe I wouldn't believe them. I only knew it was true on the next morning when I saw a paper."

He goes on to say, "I am finding it so difficult to grieve for them here. At night I have my head buried in a blanket. I don't want other inmates to see the tears."

And, in another letter, Peterson complains about his conditions saying, "The highlight of the day was the shower. You get to move around a room that is 8x20 without chains on. I try to spend as much time there as possible."

The preliminary hearing is offering a glimpse of the legal strategy both sides may be planning to use, if there is a trial.

Joining me now to share his insight on what we're seeing and hearing, attorney Johnnie Cochran, a veteran of many high profile cases, including that of that O.J. Simpson.

Johnnie Cochran, today -- I want to ask you first about what the housekeeper said. She, in effect, said that Laci Peterson -- she didn't know her to be someone to walk the dog. And yet, this is something that -- that her husband says did happen. Is this something that's going to hurt her, hurt his case, or not?

JOHNNIE COCHRAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, it depends at how they tie it together. Of course, the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor is trying to build his case step by step. And, of course, as you are aware, there's also an indication that, you know, she really couldn't really go walking that dog. And that, hence, was a lie from Scott Peterson.

On the other hand, she was able to go shopping and bring the groceries out. So it depends, Judy, on how they link it up. But it's a building block process, you know? This case is about circumstantial evidence. And ultimately, the prosecutor wants to show that the circumstances point, inevitably, to the conclusion that Scott Peterson was involved in his wife's death.

WOODRUFF: What about some of the testimony today from Laci Peterson's sister, Amy Rocha? We heard just a moment ago some of her testimony. Is that likely to weigh on either side?

COCHRAN: Well, it might, if he made a promise to pick up the basket the next day on December 24 and he never did. She couldn't reach him by phone. Again, you know, why didn't he do that? If he ever takes the stand, he's got to explain that. And we don't know what statements he's made about that in the past. So each of the things will take on new meaning as the evidence unfolds. And, you know, when you can show lie after lie after lie, that certainly aids the prosecution, it seems.

WOODRUFF: Are we talking about a case here that could end up being entirely or almost entirely circumstantial?

COCHRAN: I'd be very, very surprised if they have any eyewitnesses. Certainly, I don't think they'll be much direct evidence.

Of course, now, you have the question of the hair and that evidence and whether or not the MT DNA will be admissible. You know, that would be further evidence because there may be an explanation why the hair would be in that boat. But, you know, certainly, that's another step.

It's kind of like piecing together a puzzle. And at the end of the day, the prosecutor wants, you know, the judge to make a determination that these circumstances certainly point to the fact that he's some way involved in the killing.

WOODRUFF: You're obviously known to everyone as a defense attorney. What do you think right now is the best card the defense has to play in this case? COCHRAN: Well, I think the fact that there -- you know, as I understand it, that there, apparently, is no real direct evidence, as I understand the evidence. I think that's going to be important. And I think also the fact that Geragos is a very, very able lawyer. He knows these facts. I mean, he, apparently, you know, wanted to be involved in this case, as you know, early on. So he got on it. And I think that he -- he's, you know, he's prepared. He knows what he has to do. And I expect that he'll it's going to be a major, major battle.

This case will not be a plea. This will be a trial, I would suspect, somewhere down the road. And I think that his knowledge of the facts, experience will weigh heavily on a case like this, where it is a circumstantial evidence case.

WOODRUFF: If you were handling Scott Peterson's defense, how would you handle the testimony of the former girlfriend, Amber Frey?

COCHRAN: Well, I think that he's going to have to be honest about that. I think that, you know, she's, apparently, going to testify they had a relationship. And I think you got to -- the point has to be that he could be unfaithful, that he could have had this relationship but not have killed his wife. And I don't think that would necessarily give him -- make it -- you know, you could infer there's a motive to kill her because he had this girlfriend. It would make him seem like not a very good husband. That's a far cry from being a not a good husband and being murderer. And I think that's going to be the issue, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to leave it right there. Johnnie Cochran, renowned defense attorney. Thank you very much. Good to see you.

COCHRAN: My pleasure.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

A living memorial. Thousands of Holocaust survivors gather in Washington for what could be their last reunion.

And waging war on the fire lines.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Miguel Marquez in Cedar Glen, California. Folks who lived through catastrophe may finally be in for some good news.


WOODRUFF: Also, a special late night appearance by our own Wolf Blitzer.


WOODRUFF: But first, a quick look.... (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Tension at a checkpoint in Bethlehem. Israeli soldiers turn back Palestinians trying to attend the first Friday prayers of Ramadan at a Jerusalem holy site. Israel cites security concerns. Palestinians call it collective punishment.

Farmers in northern Afghanistan are sowing next year's poppy crop. Opium production is still a huge part of the country's economy, despite international efforts to curtail it. One small field can bring in $3,000, as opposed to only $10 for wheat.

In the Mediterranean, a stomach virus spread on a British cruise ship sickening more than 400 people. When the ship reached Athens, it was quarantined offshore and doctors and medical supplies were brought onboard.

In Japan, the woman believed to be the world's oldest person has died at age 116. Kamato Hongo was born in 1887. She was known for her peculiar habits. She would sleep for two days at a time, then stay awake for two days.

And meet Festus (ph), the star attraction at this zoo near Berlin. At eight weeks old and less than 20 pounds, he's very people friendly. But that won't last. Festus could top out at more than 600 pounds and grow to more than 10 feet long.

And that is our look "Around the World."



WOODRUFF: More now on the California wildfires.

The mountain town of Big Bear is one of the last major population centers still threatened by flames.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in nearby Cedar Glen -- Miguel

MARQUEZ: Big Bear is certainly the best known and the most famous, Judy. But the whole mountaintop here in the San Bernadino national forest is still under evacuation notice.

But the Old Fire seems almost to be history. Firefighters saying that by November 8 is the day that they will have full containment. It could happen before that. But that essentially means that by November 8, which is still a week away, people may be able to get back in their homes.

This is Cedar Glen, one of the worst hit areas of the fire, about 300, maybe 350 homes were lost in this little canyon. It came from the east and just rolled up here right through very thick forest and vegetation and destroyed just about everything.

We've seen firefighters all day today. They have been a little more joyful today, a little better showered and a little cleaner and a little better fed.

We talked to one woman who is a grandmother and a mother of four. And she is looking forward to seeing her kids. Here's how she explains her job.


TERRY ISRAEL, WINDSOR FIRE DEPT.: This is a dangerous job, as we found out this past week. It's what I love to do.


MARQUEZ: Now, firefighters say that if conditions hold -- that is, if the snow continues to come in, the precipitation we've had the last couple of days, and these winds stay calm they've had it, they can cut their line south of Big Bear, to the north of Lake Arrowhead, and south of places like Running Springs, and, they think they can get a whole line a literal line, around the entire fire and then they will consider it contained -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Gosh. Hard to believe the people in that area have to put up with it for another week. All right. Miguel, thank you very much for that report.

An important gathering. Thousands of Holocaust survivors reunite to recognize the museum that will keep their important stories alive for future generations. I'll talk with one of those survivors next.


WOODRUFF: This weekend, 2,000 survivors of the Nazi Holocaust will gather here in Washington along with some of their rescuers. Six decades after World War II, this may be the last such gathering.

The event marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. And joining me now Sara Bloomfield, who is the director of the museum; and Benjamin Meed, who made it through the Warsaw Ghetto who founded the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors.

Mr. Meed, Miss Bloomfield, thank you both for being with me. I appreciate it.

Miss Bloomfield, first of all, how -- how did this gathering come about and how many people are you expecting? What's going to happen?

SARA BLOOMFIELD, DIRECTOR, U.S. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM: Well, it's the museum's 10th anniversary, and it is a transition to the post-eyewitness generation, as we think about the museum going forward.

We are the safeguard of the survivor' memories. And we have over 7,000 people coming. Survivors are bringing grandchildren, great- grandchildren from 38 states. And we're really deeply honored that they're coming to this museum to, if you will, pass the torch.

WOODRUFF: They're coming from where?

BLOOMFIELD: All over the country, other countries, Canada, South Africa, Europe. It's probably -- probably the final time that this generation is going to get together in such a large gathering.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Meed, why is it important for survivors and families to get together?

BENJAMIN MEED, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR: It's important for survivors, but it's also more important for the listeners, people who will listen to the testimonies of the survivors. And this spontaneous coming together you know, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the museum, from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is just was one letter. There was no repetition. And 7,000 people answered we are coming. And they made sure that families are coming.

Myself -- you know, my sister came from Israel to be here for this event. Many people come with families, children, and nobody discuss it.

It reminds me something what happened during the Holocaust in the ghetto. We had a language which nobody spoke, but only we understood. A silent language. And the same thing here. I cannot grasp exactly what brought out all these people. Possible the time, the ages, and the understanding, but that came. Nobody organized this. It came spontaneously.

WOODRUFF: It is a spontaneous thing. Tell us a little, Mr. Meed, about your story. What happened to you?

MEED: My story is probably similar to many stories like this. But each story is different. Although they are all the same, they are different. And what happened to me...

WOODRUFF: And I have some pictures, by the way. While you're speaking, I want to hold these up. Tell us who this is.

MEED: That's myself. This is Benjamin Meed, under the name of Czeslav Pankevic (ph). That was my legal document, which the next -- this picture is taken from the document. I couldn't save the document because that was (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WOODRUFF: And this picture?

MEED: This picture is my girlfriend, my wife, my -- cooperation -- we have children together. We have a daughter, a son, and five grandchildren. All of our children, married now, are doctors. And we are -- for me, that is not such a big thing because I live with it.

WOODRUFF: Sara Bloomfield, as you listen, you've heard so many of these stories. You helped put this important collection together at the museum. Why do you think it matters that we bring (AUDIO GAP) ceremonies, these gatherings together, if you will?

BLOOMFIELD: Well, I think they've always been important, but I think we're now, again, facing evil in this country. Democracy is feeling threatened. We're understanding the consequences of apathy and indifference, and if there's ever a generation who can prove to us that evil is an enduring part of the human condition and we must always be vigilant, it's the survivor generation.

WOODRUFF: Benjamin Meed, there is another picture here that I want to ask you about. This is you. It says at the bottom, standing...

MEED: That is Warsaw. Warsaw not the Jewish area, it was before the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jewish area, during the time of the ghetto, just Polish people lived in the area. They were still safe. But 90 percent of the city of Warsaw was destroyed.

WOODRUFF: Is it still easy for you to remember, still painful for you to remember?

MEED: It's as easy as is for anybody else. It's not easy, but we are doing it for a purpose. We are doing it because we do not carry this within ourselves. We want to bring that message. And we are not organized for doing this, but we are doing it in a very organized way. And it is the most important thing that people should understand. Today, when I'm in the United States and I read about anti-Semitism, I read about what's happening in the Middle East or all the other countries, France, others. And I said to myself, we thought that would be an end to it.

WOODRUFF: And this, Sara Bloomfield, this could be the last gathering for many of these Holocaust survivors. Is that right?

BLOOMFIELD: Yes. And I think that's for having it at the museum, and having it with their descendants, the people who will carry on their cause after they're gone is so important, along with the museum.

WOODRUFF: Sara Bloomfield, who is the head of the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, Benjamin Meed, who was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, we so appreciate both of you being with us. We will be thinking about you this weekend.

MEED: Call us more often.

WOODRUFF: We will do it. If you want to come back, we will have you back.


WOODRUFF: He's not bashful. Thank you very much. It's wonderful to see both of you.

Our hot Web question of the day is this. Story. I can't read. Is the Iraqi resistance gaining or loses strength? Vote now at The results for you when we come back.

Plus, he gets around. A special late-night appearance by Wolf Blitzer. Stay with us.


WOODRUFF: Well, if you happened to catch David Letterman's last top 10 list, you may be wondering what Wolf does on his days off. If you missed it, here's your chance.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Top 10 things never before said by Wolf Blitzer. Number 10.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: For $100, I'll mention your name on CNN tonight.

LETTERMAN: Number nine.

BLITZER: Have you seen Peter Jennings around here?


BLITZER: That sumbitch (ph) owes me money.

LETTERMAN: Peter Jennings owes him money.

Number eight.

BLITZER: You know, it's a really slow news day today. Do you want to knock over a 7/11?

LETTERMAN: Why not? Number seven.

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein is in that Starbucks over there. Just keep it quiet.

LETTERMAN: Number six.

BLITZER: Once I got drunk at the CNN Christmas party, and let's put it this way: The next day I woke up wearing Larry King suspenders.


WOODRUFF: OK. All right. We'll cut to the chase. Here's number one.


LETTERMAN: And the number one thing never before said by Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: The wolf is on the prowl, ladies.


WOODRUFF: We can't top that. There's nothing we can say.

All right. Now, on to serious things. Here is where you are weighing in on our Web question of the day. The question is, is the Iraqi resistance gaining or losing strength? Seventy-seven percent of you say gaining, while 23 percent of you say losing.

A reminder, this is not a scientific poll.

A reminder, you can always watch WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays at this time, 5 p.m. Eastern. And be sure to join Wolf on Sunday at noon Eastern for LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.

Thanks for joining us. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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