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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Canadian Protesters Greet Bush Visit; Ridge Resigns
Aired November 30, 2004 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. No, this is not Ukraine. This is Canada. The capital, Ottawa, to be specific. Demonstrators massing their opposition to President Bush's state visit. Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.
BLITZER (voice-over): Ridge resigns.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have to be right a billion-plus times a year and the terrorists only have to be right once.
BLITZER: Who will take on the job of keeping the homeland safe?
Intelligence reform, a last ditch appeal from the 9/11 chairman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give us a vote. Pass this bill.
BLITZER: And 9/11 families.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Delay and bipartisan politics have no place where America's national security is in jeopardy.
BLITZER: Big chill. Can the president melt the ice up north?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave with all five fingers.
BLITZER: I'll ask a Canadian lawmaker who has a beef with Mr. Bush.
Flash floods. Hundreds are dead. Many are missing and a typhoon is on the way.
ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Tuesday, November 30, 2004.
BLITZER: Tom Ridge, who introduced the nation to color-coded terror alerts, resigned today as President Bush's secretary of homeland security. As for why now and who is being mentioned as Ridge's successor, we turn to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Tom Ridge's likely departure was telegraphed well in advance but some were surprised that he made his announcement before the White House had chosen a successor.
RIDGE: Earlier today, I submitted a former letter of resignation to the president.
MESERVE: In his letter, Ridge cited the plane that went down in a Pennsylvania field on September 11. "One of the few consolations for families affected by the tragedy of flight 93 is the fact that the passengers and crew, knowing their fate, fought back to avoid an even greater tragedy. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to fight back." Ridge admitted no disappointments but plenty of accomplishments. One possible indicator of his success, there have been no terror attacks in the U.S. since 9/11.
RIDGE: And can I tell you today there are X number of incidents that we were able to thwart or prevent? I cannot. Am I fairly confident that we probably have? Yes, I am. Today, the United States government raised the national threat level.
MESERVE: Though Ridge has been the butt of jokes for his color- coded threat warning system and his recommendation that the public stockpile duct tape, he is widely regarded as an effective communicator. He has been criticized however for failing to manage his gargantuan department more effectively and for losing some key political battles.
STEPHEN FLYNN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS: His strength of being a very affable and accessible person makes it difficult when you have to take on power centers and basically break the eggs to make the omelet.
MESERVE: Ridge's successor, many names have been mentioned, among them Francis Townsend, the current White House security adviser, Asa Hutchinson now the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) undersecretary for border and transportation security and EPA administrator and former Utah governor, Mike Levitt. But Ridge says he will serve until February 1 or until his successor is confirmed.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that report.
Legislation to overall U.S. intelligence is locked up in a log jam on Capitol Hill right now. The leaders of the 9/11 commission are making a final push for passage, joined by some 9/11 families and now joined publicly, once again, by President Bush. Let's go live to our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been a day of dueling press conferences, but still no deal.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (voice-over): Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton huddled with Vice President Cheney in a last ditch lobbying blitz for the stalled intelligence reform bill. The former 9/11 commission co-chairs are also making their case to Congress, warning of dire consequences if the stalemate isn't broken.
THOMAS KEAN, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: Reform is an urgent matter and reform simply must not wait until after the next attack.
HENRY: The White House says President Bush wants a deal despite the objections of Republican committee chairman James Sensenbrenner and Duncan Hunter.
BUSH: I believe the bill is necessary and important and I hope we can get it done next week.
HENRY: But one Republican lawmaker suggested if House leaders do not bring the bill up for vote next week, the president should get the blame.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: If we don't have a vote on September 11, it would be my feeling that the president didn't weigh in strong enough.
HENRY: Besides the divide between powerful Republicans, there's a split among 9/11 families. Some say this bill isn't strong enough.
DEBRA BURLINGGADE, 9/11 FAMILIES FOR SECURE AMERICA: Why we need to have this passed now. I would rather see it fail than be without these permissions.
HENRY: Others say reform can't wait.
BEVERLY ECKERT, 9/11 FAMILY STEERING COMMITTEE: America will be watching what Congress does next week to see who is really running this country. Is it Congressman Hunter and Sensenbrenner? Is it the Pentagon or is it the president?
HENRY: One woman, who lost her son on 9/11, argued passionately that Sensenbrenner's immigration provisions be included.
JOAN MOLINARO, 9/11 FAMILIES FOR SECURE AMERICA: No bill should pass the Senate, the House, anywhere unless it contains immigration reform. You secure our borders, you keep my girls alive. You allowed the murder of my son. I will not allow you to kill my daughters.
HENRY: Republican Congressman Chris Shays today challenged President Bush to come to Capitol Hill next week during the lame duck session of Congress and make his case behind closed doors to Republican lawmakers. Shays is convinced that a direct appeal from the president will sway a majority of Republicans and get this bill done -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us. Thanks very much. To our viewers, here is your chance to weigh in on this story. Our web question of the day is this. Should the intelligence reform legislation, now stalled in Congress, be enacted? You can vote. Go to CNN.com/wolf. We'll have the results later in this broadcast.
The Pentagon is flatly denying allegations it's using interrogation techniques bordering on torture at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is live with that story -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Pentagon officials are not commenting on the specifics of the report, but they say if the charge is torture, the plea is not guilty.
(voice-over): The International Committee of the Red Cross has privately complained about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba according to a confidential memorandum obtained by the "New York Times." The document says the psychological and physical coercion used in interrogations by the U.S. amounts to an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment that is tantamount to torture.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: That's one group's opinion. And you have to remember, by the way when you read this -- and I'm not -- we certainly don't think it's torture. We have been over this very carefully. It's not just U.S. military. It's the U.S. government.
MCINTYRE: A statement issued by the Pentagon said, "we vehemently deny any allegations of torture and reject categorically allegations that the treatment of detainees is improper." Human rights advocates say the Pentagon denials are not credible, citing reports that prisoners have been stripped to their underwear and forced to endure bright lights and loud music in highly air conditioned rooms.
SCOTT HORTON, AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION: There is a paramount authority in the world on these questions. That paramount authority is the Red Cross. If the Red Cross concludes that conduct is tantamount to torture that's good enough for me.
MCINTYRE: The leaked document also alleges U.S. doctors advised interrogators on the mental vulnerabilities of prisoners calling that a flagrant violation of medical ethics. In response the Pentagon said, "the allegation that detainee medical files were used to harm detainees is false." And some legal experts argue that doctors don't have to put privacy ahead of national security when it comes to getting vital intelligence from captured enemy combatants.
BRUCE FEIN, CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER: They would be derelict in their duty to stand by idly and passively with that knowledge and ability and do nothing to save people's lives.
(END VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE: Now, the International Red Cross has granted access to the prisoners on the condition it shares its findings only with the U.S. government, but in light of the leaks a spokesman for the ICRC in Geneva today did concede that, quote, "there are significant problems regarding the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo that still have not been addressed by U.S. authorities" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Jamie, thanks.
President Bush is making his first official visit to Canada trying to thaw a relationship that's turned frosty over issues ranging from Iraq to timber. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president in Ottawa. She's joining us now live -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Despite the efforts to mend fences between these two countries, these two leaders, this visit attracted thousands of protesters, essentially demonstrators protesting Iraq policy, the Iraq war. Also a number of other issues as well, including a U.S. ban on Canadian beef as well as the U.S. tariff imposed on softwood Canadian lumber. Now all of these disagreements, of course, the two leaders addressing them. They personally have a good relationship, but realize there are quite a few disagreements, but the two of them side by side decided to emphasize the positive. The president, instead of talking about the disagreement over Iraq, emphasized Canada's cooperation and its peacekeeping role in Afghanistan, its humanitarian aid that it has provided in Iraq and also its willingness to forgive some $450 million in Iraqi debt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Canada and United States share a history, a continent and a border. We also share a commitment to freedom and a willingness to defend it in times of peril. The United States and Canada fought side by side in two world wars, in Korea and the Persian Gulf and throughout the Cold War. Today, we're standing together against the forces of terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Now while the leaders disagree on Iraq policy, both of them coming out very strongly, agreeing on Ukraine's elections, calling for the fact that they need -- it needs a peaceful resolution on the disputed election result, calling for both sides to come together. President Bush also acknowledging the Polish president, Kwasniewski, for his initiative in those negotiations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux in Ottawa, thank you, Suzanne, very much. The president will continue his talks in Canada tomorrow.
She made it clear she has opposed President Bush on the issue of missile defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CAROLYN PARRISH, CANADIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: We are not joining the coalition of the idiots.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now this Canadian lawmaker is raising eyebrows again. She will join us live. Also, one of the deadliest months yet for U.S. forces in Iraq. Why the cost of American lives is surging.
And a life or death decision process beginning in the final phase of the Scott Peterson murder trial. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Will President Bush mend that long fence along the 49th Parallel?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I want to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave with all five fingers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He has his work cut out for him. Joining us now from Ottawa is the Canadian parliament member, Carolyn Paris. She was expelled from the Liberal Party for what Prime Minister Martin called "unacceptable behavior," which included a recent stomping of the George W. Bush doll. And here in Washington, Tucker Carlson, he is the Canada-baiting co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE." He has suggested that our northern neighbor, in his words, is a third-rate country. We'll get to Tucker in a moment. Let's begin with Carolyn Parrish.
Thanks very much for joining us. We're going to show our viewers that picture of you stomping that George W. Bush doll. What were you trying to prove?
PARRISH: Actually, I was making fun of myself. We have a program up here called "This Hour Has 22 Minutes." And they love to get politicians to do bizarre things, like put rollers in their hair and jump into bed with strange people. And they kept giving me direction and I kept following it.
BLITZER: So, you apologize for that?
BLITZER: Why not?
PARRISH: Because I was making fun of myself. It was a parody on me and my anti-Bush position. And if you can't make fun of yourself in this business, then it's time to get out of it.
BLITZER: What about the sound bite that -- we'll play it right now. I want you to listen to what you said about this coalition the president has been trying to put together.
PARRISH: I've heard it before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARRISH: We are not joining the coalition of the idiots.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Give us the context of that.
PARRISH: Well, I was speaking to a large crowd on the steps of the House of Commons. There were a lot of people there protesting against Canada's joining missile defense and I happened to agree with them. General Gard (ph) came up from the States, representing 48 former military people, and I had spoken with him about it. We also had Professor Postal (ph) from MIT telling us this isn't going to work. And I think it is an increase to weaponization of space. I think it's a very bad idea. And the coalition of idiots I was referring to I think were mostly the politicians in my own government.
BLITZER: All right. So you don't consider President Bush an idiot?
PARRISH: No. How could he rise to the top job in the country by being an idiot?
BLITZER: Tucker Carlson, what do you think of this latest twist in the U.S.-Canadian relationship?
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Oh, well, I mean, it's part of an ongoing sort of battle that the U.S. doesn't really participate in. I think you get the sense that Canadians think much more about the United States than the United States thinks about Canada.
I think, you know, Canadians are nice people, it's a nice country, but it's a country in the grip of a national insecurity complex. Canada needs the United States for trade, for a lot of reasons. Without the U.S., Canada is essentially Honduras, but colder and much less interesting. And I think that that makes Canadians -- the dependence that Canada has on the United States makes Canadians understandably resentful.
BLITZER: Carolyn Parrish, those are fighting words.
PARRISH: Oh Tucker, you're way out to lunch on this one, my friend. Most of the top six things you buy from us are raw materials: hydro, gas, oil. You need us more than we need you.
CARLSON: We exploit your natural resources, that's true. But in the end, Canadians with ambition move to the United States. That has been sort of the trend for decades. It says something not very good about Canada. And I think it makes Canadians feel bad about themselves and I understand that. PARRISH: No. I don't agree with you, Tucker. I think Canadians who have a good social conscience and are more European in their outlook live here quite happily.
CARLSON: I bet.
PARRISH: Those who want to make huge bucks and not worry about where they're coming from go to the States. And we're glad to be rid of them.
CARLSON: Well, with that attitude, no wonder they leave. I concede that.
PARRISH: No wonder.
BLITZER: What is the attitude now, Carolyn Parrish, in Canada, President Bush has been re-elected, there's a bigger Republican majority in the House as well as in the Senate, has there been an accommodation, if you will? Are Canadians ready to accept this American president?
PARRISH: Listen. We accept the democratic process. And that was why I was interviewed the day after the election. And I said the people of the United States have clearly spoken. I think this was a non-controverted result and I think as good neighbors, we will wait patiently for another four years.
BLITZER: I was in Ottawa 10 years ago or so, then-President Clinton spoke before the parliament.
PARRISH: Yes, he did.
BLITZER: He was pretty warmly received. You noticed this time, Tucker and Carolyn, the president of the United States is not speaking before the parliament in Ottawa. Carolyn Parrish, why is that?
PARRISH: I think Mr. Clinton shared a lot of our values. He talked about Medicare and he talked about banning weapons. He said that he envied us our gun laws. So he was more simpatico with the Canadian people. And he was very warmly received. He's a very terrific guy?
BLITZER: Would you have heckled President Bush had he come into the parliament?
PARRISH: Absolutely -- no, no, no. I'm not a heckler. I don't heckle anybody.
BLITZER: Would your colleagues have heckled him?
PARRISH: I don't think so either. I think the reason Mr. Bush didn't address the parliament is was they were having a hard time finding common ground that he could talk about. We do not support the war in Iraq. We are not impressed with 100,000 dead Iraqis. We're not impressed with 1,000 dead American soldiers. So, what would be the basis of the conversation? We couldn't solve softwood lumber in a speech in the House of Commons. We couldn't solve the beef problem. So there was no common ground for a speech.
BLITZER: What about -- Tucker, I was going to say to you, what does it say that the president of the United States on an official state visit to Canada, the first time in a decade, doesn't address the parliament?
CARLSON: Well, you know, he doesn't want to get heckled. That's right. I'm glad to hear Ms. Parrish is not a heckler, merely a person who stomps on dolls. You've got to have standards. And I appreciate yours. No, look. Just simply because the United States and Canada disagree about the war in Iraq and they do doesn't mean they can't have productive conversations. I mean, the United States and China talk about all sorts of things. We're major trading partners. And I think in the end, it only hurts Canada, these attacks on the United States. Again, just to restate a pretty obvious point that I know is foremost on your mind, Ms. Parrish, Canada needs the United States. The United States does not need Canada. But you need us. And so to alienate our administration is probably not such a good idea.
PARRISH: Tucker, that's a really bad attitude, my friend...
CARLSON: It's true.
PARRISH: I think we need each other. I think we have got a long-term trade partnership. I think both countries benefit from that partnership. And when you say to us, we don't need you, that's not a way to make friends...
CARLSON: In fact, it's not even a value judgment, it's simply a recognition of economic reality. Of course it's good for the United States to trade with Canada, but it's vital for Canada to trade with the United States. So you gain nothing by alienating the administration.
PARRISH: It's pretty vital for California to take our hydro-oil (ph). I think it would be dark the next day. I think this is not a productive conversation. I think we're long-term friends, we are long-term trade partners. And we will weather this recent storm. We are fundamentally opposed to might is right and brute force and preemptive attacks on other countries. That's fundamental in Canada.
CARLSON: Well, you have the benefit of being protected by the United States and you can say that. But I think if Canada were responsible for its own security -- you would be invaded by Norway if it weren't for the United States and so you...
PARRISH: We're a very secure nation because we haven't ticked off the rest of the world. We march with the world. We're not out of step.
BLITZER: Tucker, don't you believe that this 3,000-mile border that the United States shares with Canada that it's imperative that the U.S. has a friendly ally on the other side?
CARLSON: Oh, of course. In the end, the countries are friendly. There are some French politicians who get something out of...
BLITZER: But when you say the United States doesn't need Canada, the United States has a 3,000-mile border with Canada.
CARLSON: My only point is as a matter of trade, Canada is far more dependent on the U.S. than the U.S. is on Canada. That's simply a fact, again, not even a value judgment. But of course the United States needs a good relationship with Canada and I suspect it will always have one unless some separatist government comes to power and the country splits into two, which is always possible. But short of that, no, absolutely the countries will remain allies and there will always be politicians who see it to their benefit to stomp on Bush dolls. But no, I don't think the average Canadian feels -- the average Canadian is busy dogsledding. You know that.
PARRISH: That is such -- that's such a caricature and you have to understand from this lowly backbencher that shouldn't even be on your show, I am of total insignificance within my own party and within the country, you're sure putting up a lot of fuss and putting a lot of attention on this. It shows a very weak ego, in my opinion. I think if you're as strong as you say you are, anything I have got to say can't hurt you.
BLITZER: I will point out to our viewers as well as to Carolyn Parrish that Tucker Carlson often speaks with tongue in cheek. Is that a fair assessment, Tucker? Just want to make sure our viewers don't literally believe that every word that you're saying.
CARLSON: I don't think every Canadian is dogsledding at all times but I do think there's a lot of dogsledding in Canada. Yes, I do think that's true.
PARRISH: Very little, my friend.
CARLSON: You know that's true, Carolyn. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But there's a lot of dogsledding.
PARRISH: No, there's not a lot of dogsledding. There's a lot of dog walking, my friend. Not a lot of dogsledding.
CARLSON: Welcome to our century.
BLITZER: There's some dogsledding in the United States as well, including the beautiful state of Alaska. Tucker Carlson speaking tongue in cheek sometimes, not always. Sometimes.
Carolyn Parrish, you're an important guest. All of our guests are important. Thanks very much for joining us.
PARRISH: Thank you, Wolf. I've enjoyed it. Thank you, Tucker.
CARLSON: Thanks. Thanks a lot, Carolyn. See you in Canada.
BLITZER: U.S.-Canadian relations, a very, very important subject to all of our viewers, both south and north of the U.S. border.
Iraqi elections another important subject, with almost daily bombings, can U.S. forces make the country secure enough for democracy? I'll ask a top U.S. general in Baghdad. That's coming up.
Also, hundreds killed, more than 150 missing, now survivors bracing for more flooding.
And a young teacher accused of having sex with a student. Now a twist in the case. Stay with us.
BLITZER: In the Philippines, flash floods and landslides unleashed by a powerful storm have taken a deadly toll. Hundreds are dead, dozens are missing. The latest now from CNN's Zain Verjee, she's joining us from the CNN Center -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, most of the deaths happened in a region still reeling from a typhoon last week. Many residents returned to damaged homes, wading in waste-deep mud and water just to get to safety. But some were not so lucky.
VERJEE (voice-over): Amid fallen trees and coconut leaves, the dead are piled onto a muddy roadside. Surrounding them, survivors signaling for help.
Flash floods and landslides have killed at least 300 people in coastal towns in eastern Philippines. One hundred and fifty more are reported missing. Bridges have been washed away, passengers stranded by buses, cars toppled, rice fields swamped with water.
The powerful flood waters thundered through homes, battering them and shattering lives. As the rain water drips down, it seems only a fake flower at this home still stands. A man floats around, almost leisurely, perhaps taking in the extent of the destruction.
Even animals have not been spared. A pig lies dying in the mud, chickens drown. On this cart, a few of the family's belongings.
"It's painful to lose your home," says this flood victim. We don't have anywhere to go. We need help.
But bad weather and blocked roads are preventing rescue teams from reaching those who need that help. Officials say the current is still strong and the water still high. Hovering helicopter crews can't find places to land. Instead they're air-dropping food to those who manage to climb onto roof tops.
This family tried to cross a flooded river in the middle of the night, rescuers were able to pull them to safety.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: It's not over yet, Wolf. Filipinos are bracing themselves for yet another lashing. A new typhoon is predicted to hit the region as early as tomorrow.
BLITZER: What a tragedy, Zain. What are some of the other ways the rescue teams are trying to reach these desperate people?
VERJEE: Well, one of the plans, Wolf, authorities have is to send a coast guard boat to the towns that have been affected to deliver supplies or when they get there to assess the situation and evacuate people if necessary. What officials are also doing is to tell people, look, get to higher ground, because a lot more floods and landslides are likely -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain Verjee, reporting for us. Thank you, Zain, very much.
It's a matter of life or death in a California courtroom. Coming up, the penalty phase in Scott Peterson's double murder trial getting under way today. We'll tell you what has happened so far.
Also, a conclusion in a case that stirred anger in Israel. We'll tell you what the Israeli army now says about that violin-playing incident at a security checkpoint.
Plus, the man who has led the nation's oldest and biggest civil rights group is stepping down.
Those stories, much more, just ahead. First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.
BLITZER (voice-over): Cuba's communist government has freed renowned writer and dissident Raul Rivero from prison. Rivero, who was rounded up with dozens of other dissidents last year, was sentenced to 20 years on charges of working with the United States to undermine Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Deadly plane crash. A Lion Air passenger plane crashed on landing in central Indonesia, killing more than 30 people on board. It happened as the plane landed during heavy rain and skidded off the runway.
Italians on strike. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Rome and other Italian cities to protest government economic policies. The demonstrations coincided with a strike of Italy's three biggest trade unions that brought transport to a standstill across the country.
Day of the locusts; 100 million locusts have invaded Spain's tourist hot spot of the Canary Islands. But officials say millions have been killed by heavy rain and strong winds. The insects arrived from West Africa.
And that's our look around the world. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: Welcome back.
It's been another violent day in Iraq. I'll speak with a brigadier general in Iraq about the coalition's efforts and why he thinks things are going well in that war-torn nation. We'll get his reaction.
First, though, a quick check of some other stories now in the news.
President Bush's trip north of the border sparking a big protest. Several thousand demonstrators turned out today on the streets of Ottawa to protest the president's first state visit to Canada. Some of them scuffled with riot police. During his visit, the president held private meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Relations between the two countries have been strained by a number of issues, including the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which Canada opposed.
The NAACP president, Kweisi Mfume, has resigned. The former U.S. congressman who took over as head of the civil rights group eight years ago says he needs a break. Mfume denies his decision had anything to do with an internal struggle in the organization. The NAACP's legal counsel, Dennis Hays, will serve as interim president during the search for a new leader.
This update on a story we told you about yesterday. The Israeli army says its soldiers did not -- repeat, not -- force a Palestinian man to play a violin at a checkpoint this month. The incident, which was filmed by a human rights group, drew harsh criticism in Israel, with some comparing it to Jewish musicians being forced to play at Nazi death camps.
In its investigation, the Israeli army says the man was asked to open his violin case for a security check, but was never ordered to play the instrument. The Palestinian, however, is refuting that version, telling the Israeli newspaper "Haaretz" he was asked to play the instrument.
In Iraq, insurgents have been on the attack again, as they are virtually every day. And this day marks another grim milestone. The U.S. military says that November is now the second deadliest month for U.S. troops since the war started.
CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Baghdad with more.
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The deadliest incident of the day took place in the city of Baji, a little over 100 miles north of Baghdad.
A suicide car bomber rammed a vehicle into a U.S. combat patrol. A U.S. military spokesman has told us seven civilians were killed and 20 more were wounded, he said. We understand that the combat patrol had been passing through a crowded market area at the time that the explosion took place.
Baji, as you know, is one of the major oil refining centers in Iraq. In a second incident in Baghdad, another suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into passing a U.S. military convoy on the road that leads from downtown Baghdad to the airport. Five U.S. soldiers were wounded in that. This is the third time in at least four days that there has been an explosion on that road. Each time, the road closes to allow explosion investigators to move in and give them also time to move the debris.
With all these incidents and the deaths and casualties that there have been over the last few days, U.S. military now says that November has been the second deadliest month since the end of the war in terms of U.S. military deaths. They calculate that 135 troops have been killed this month. That would put it almost on a par with April of this year.
Of course, numbers this month have been increased by the effects of the U.S. offensive on the city of Falluja, in which around 50 U.S. soldiers died.
Karl Penhaul, CNN, Baghdad.
BLITZER: Earlier today, I spoke about the continuing deadly violence in Iraq with U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Erwin Lessel. He's the deputy chief of staff for communications for the multinational forces in Iraq.
BLITZER: General Lessel, thanks very much for joining us.
The bottom line question right now, can there be enough security on the ground to go forward with the elections scheduled in Iraq for January 30?
BRIG. GEN. ERWIN LESSEL, U.S. AIR FORCE: Well, I think that we're on our campaign plan.
We're on schedule. We are working with the Iraqi security forces to provide the security that is essential and necessary to conduct those elections in January. I think the recent success in Falluja has helped pave the way toward ensuring that all Iraqis who wish to participate in and vote in the election will have that opportunity.
BLITZER: General Lessel, the number of U.S. killed in this month of November seems to be the highest so far or maybe the same as April, when the initial battle in Falluja was going on. A lot of people looking at this from the outside think the situation is going from bad to worse. Do you agree with that? LESSEL: Well, I think if you look over the last several months, we've made great progress in this war on terrorism here in Iraq and helping the Iraqi people.
You can look at the fight in Najaf and the freedom that it brought to the people of Najaf and the reconstruction that's taking place there since then, the fight in Talifar and Samarra, the success in Thawra, Sadr City, which is now enjoying nearly a half a billion in reconstruction that has begun in that area, and now in Falluja, to free the people of that city from a terrorist safe haven, from the terrorist acts, to allow them the opportunity to participate in the elections in January.
BLITZER: But here is where a lot of people are confused, General. And maybe you can explain why you see these success stories unfolding, because, a year ago, journalists, American diplomats, U.S. military personnel, they could basically walk around Baghdad and not fear for their life. Now they can't do that. They're scared they will be kidnapped and beheaded.
How can you say there's been all these success stories unfolding when the practical on-the-ground movement for Americans in Iraq seems to be getting more hazardous on a daily basis?
The situation is still difficult in various parts of Iraq. Certainly, getting around in Baghdad and in Ramadi, Falluja and some areas of Mosul are not as easy as it was a year ago. But, certainly, in 15 out of the 18 provinces here in Iraq, people can move about freely. The elections could be held today without difficulty. Each of those provinces experiences less than four terrorist acts in any given day, on average.
So, a great deal of the country of Iraq and the citizens of Iraq are enjoying a relative peace and quiet. But, certainly, there are some areas in Iraq that give us great pause and concern. Certainly Ramadi, Falluja, the intimidation that is going on now in Mosul are very problematic and we are continuing to focus our security efforts on those areas.
BLITZER: But those three provinces, that's where most of the Sunnis live. Can there be free and fair elections, effective elections, if the Sunni minority in Iraq feel disenfranchised?
LESSEL: Well, I think the Iraqi government has gone to great extents and continues to take efforts to include all ethnic and all religious groups within Iraq and to try to unite the country in heading toward these elections. I think they're making progress in that area.
Recently, over 240 different entities have registered to participate and to be candidates in this election in January. And there are many Sunni groups that are participating in that as well.
BLITZER: One final question, General. Do you have enough troops to get the job done now?
LESSEL: Well, certainly, the issue of troops is something that we look at continuously. We have said for many, many months that we need more troops.
And those troops would come from the Iraqi security forces primarily. We continue to add to those security forces every month. On average, 3,500 graduate from police academies. In the next several weeks, three new army brigades will come on operational duty. So, we continue to evaluate the requirement.
We have a window of opportunity now that Falluja is no longer a safe haven. We're continuing to pursue the terrorists across the country. And with the additional forces that can be provided by the Iraqi security forces and the forces that will be coming in during our troop rotation in the coming months may provide us the opportunity to stay on the offensive and continue to pursue these terrorists across the country.
BLITZER: So, is the answer yes?
LESSEL: Yes, but we can always use more to go on this offensive and to take advantage of the opportunities that we have. That option is being looked at.
BLITZER: General Lessel, good luck to you. Good luck to all the men and women under your command. Appreciate it very much.
LESSEL: Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: Convicted murderer Scott Peterson back in court today. Coming up, a live report on Peterson's sentencing hearing. The issue, simply put, life or death.
Also, the case of a Florida schoolteacher charged with having sex with a young student. She is in court. We'll tell you what's going on.
BLITZER: Checking some other stories now in our justice file, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case involving a basketball coach who lost his job after complaining that his Alabama high school girls team wasn't being treated equally. The case will decide if the gender equity law known as Title IX protects coaches who complain about alleged bias.
In another case, a federal appeals court has ruled that colleges can bar military recruiters from campus without risking the loss of federal money. Some colleges bar recruiters because of the military's ban on gays. In some cases, the government has threatened to withdraw funding to those schools and, in doing that, the court said it infringed on free speech rights. The deer hunter charged with murder in the deaths of six other hunters was in a Wisconsin court today and waived his right to a preliminary hearing within 10 days. The judge scheduled one for December 29. Chai Vang is also charged with two counts of attempted murder.
The sentencing phase in the Scott Peterson murder trial is under way in California.
CNN's Ted Rowlands is standing by in Redwood City. He has got today's developments -- Ted.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very emotional day here in Redwood City, as the prosecution begins their penalty phase case by bringing on Laci Peterson's family members.
Right now, at this hour, Ron Grantski, who is Laci Peterson's stepfather, is addressing the jury. A few minutes ago, about 15 minutes ago, Laci Peterson's half sister, Amy Rocha, broke down on the stand and said at one point -- quote -- "I can't imagine the rest of my life going on without her," referring, of course, to Laci Peterson.
Earlier this morning, Dave Harris, the prosecutor handling opening statements, told the jury that, after they had heard the evidence in this penalty phase, that they would only come to one just conclusion, and that is that the just verdict here should be death. Harris went on for about 15 minutes and spoke very calmly during his presentation to the jury. It is expected that this phase of this -- the length of this phase will last about five days.
That's what the judge told the jury originally. However, the prosecution said today they only have four witnesses, and now we are into the third witness. So, it may not take the entire five days. Of course, the jury will have to come up with the one decision here, either life or death, for Scott Peterson, life without patrol or the death penalty. And it will be up to them. This is the same jury that convicted him of the murder of his wife and unborn son -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ted Rowlands reporting for us in Redwood City -- thanks, Ted, very much. We'll be checking back with you.
New information, meanwhile, on that Florida schoolteacher accused of sleeping with a 14-year-old student. There's been an unexpected development in the case today. We're standing by for details. Please stand by with us.
BLITZER: There has been a twist in the case of that young Florida schoolteacher accused of having sex with a student.
CNN's Brian Todd is covering the story. He is joining us now with the latest -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you remember, we first reported this story back in June, when Debra Lafave was arrested. Now a new strategy announced by her attorney has observers looking toward her upcoming trial with renewed interest.
TODD (voice-over): She didn't say a word in court. And the lead prosecutor wouldn't give us his gut reaction, but he did tell CNN he wasn't surprised by this statement from Debra Lafave's attorney.
JOHN FITZGIBBONS, ATTORNEY FOR DEBRA LAFAVE: I anticipate that, in the near future, I will be filing a notice of insanity defense.
TODD: Lafave is facing two counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child allegedly having sex with a boy last summer when she was 23 and he was 14. She was arrested in June, police say after the boy told his parents they had encounters.
At the time, Lafave was a remedial reading teacher at a middle school near Tampa. The boy attended the school, but was not her student. Her attorney wouldn't comment when we called for an explanation of the insanity defense. Earlier, he told reporters he was gathering her medical records and there's some work being done by doctors.
FITZGIBBONS: Debbie has some profound emotional issues that are not her fault. I think once anyone reads what the doctors have to say, they will understand a lot more about what happened here.
TODD: Police and sheriff's offices in two Florida counties have an idea what happened. They tell CNN Lafave began approaching the boy at various school events earlier this year and that they began a physical relationship in June. Authorities say the boy then went on vacation at the home of his cousin, north of Tampa, in Ocala, Florida, and Lafave followed him.
The sheriff's office there told CNN, on at least on two occasions, they had sex in the back of an SUV while the boy's 15-year- old cousin was driving.
TODD: Debra Lafave now faces two trials in two Florida jurisdictions, Hillsborough and Marion counties. If convicted just on the two counts in Hillsborough County, she could face up to 30 years in prison. That trial is scheduled to begin in April.
Lafave is now suspended without pay from the Hillsborough County school system, where she had consistently received good evaluations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd following the story for us -- thanks, Brian, very much.
The results of our Web question of the day, that's coming up next. Plus, this. They're not your typical police officers on patrol. We'll show you Tokyo's kimono cops and we'll tell you why they have decided to join the fight against crime.
BLITZER: Here is how you're weighing in on our Web question of the day: Should the intelligence reform legislation now stalled in Congress be enacted? Look at this: 70 percent of you say yes; 30 percent of you say no. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.
In our picture of the day, Tokyo's world famous Ginza now has a new crime-fighting force to be reckoned with. Some of the city's women bar owners, known as mama-sans, have gone out of their bars and into the streets to help police officers patrol the huge entertainment district. The women say they're making a stand against what they say is a rising tide of pickpocketing and muggings in the area.
A reminder, you can always catch "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" weekdays at this time, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Tom Wolfe, the author of the best- sellers like "The Right Stuff" and "Bonfire of the Vanities," will give us the scoop on his latest project effort. This time, it's back to college for the man in the white suit. Tomorrow, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll see you then. Until then, thanks very much for joining us.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.
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