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THE SITUATION ROOM

Saddam's Co-Defendants Executed; Interview With Bill Richardson

Aired January 15, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, a grisly surprise as two former Iraqi officials are hanged, including Saddam Hussein's half-brother. Something went terribly wrong again and it's causing new controversy and raising new questions. We'll speak about it with the "New York Times" correspondent John Burns. He's one of the few reporters who has now seen the video of this execution.

Also, is President Bush looking to a little known war in North Africa decades ago for ideas on how to proceed in Iraq right now?

We'll have details of that book that's said to be having an impact on the president.

And he's a possible presidential contender in '08, but right now he's trying to put an end to what the U.S. government says is genocide. The New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, just back from Sudan, will talk about the crisis in Darfur and more.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Two more executions and a new controversy in Iraq as President Bush struggles to build support for his deployment of more troops to the front lines. Saddam Hussein's half-brother, on the left, was one of the two former Iraqi officials hanged before dawn. But something went terribly wrong in the gallows. We'll speak with an eyewitness in just a few moments.

First, though, CNN's Arwa Damon begins our coverage this hour from the Iraqi capital -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this time the Iraqi government took extra precautions when carrying out the execution of Saddam Hussein's two co-defendants.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): Sixteen days after Saddam Hussein was hanged, two of his co-defendants, Barzani, his half-brother, the widely feared former intelligence chief; and Awad al-Bandar, former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court; met the same fate.

The Iraqi government was quick to assert the conditions that made a debacle of Saddam's execution had been avoided.

ALI AL-DABBAH, IRAQI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There was no violation of procedure, no chants and no insults were directed at the convicts and the convicts were not subjected to any mistreatment.

DAMON: But the execution didn't go flawlessly. Barzan's head severed from his body. The man reputed to have carried out gruesome acts of torture...

(VIDEO CLIP FROM TRIAL)

DAMON: ... infamous for his courtroom antics -- showing up in his pajamas, outbursts, even sitting on the floor and turning his back to the judge -- decapitated as he and co-defendant Awad al-Bandar fell to their death at 3:00 a.m.

According to one witnesses, the two appeared to have resigned themselves to their fate.

BASAM RIDHA, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER ADVISER: They were very apologetic. They said, "Please don't execute me. I want to ask god for forgiveness. I want to do whatever you ask me for."

They were very apologetic. They were very given (ph) in this time. They did not really give us or give the committee any -- any problem whatsoever.

DAMON: The government enforced a clampdown to avoid any post- execution fallout and said it might not release the official video of the hangings and only showed the video of the execution with no audio to a select group of individuals.

According to witnesses, the men wore orange jumpsuits, black hoods and trembled with fear.

The aim, according to the Iraqi government, to dispel rumors that Barzan's body had been mutilated after he died, unless illicit video is once again leaked, as it was in Saddam Hussein's case.

The executions of Ibrahim and al-Bandar will be a story told only by the Iraqi government.

On the streets of Baghdad, muted reaction. Predictably, in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, residents expressed approval. Among others, sorrow and disgust.

In parliament, a heated debate with the speaker, Mahmoud al- Mashhadani, a Sunni, saying the government had rushed the executions and turned Saddam into a hero.

(END VIDEO TAPE) DAMON: Iraq's president had also urged the government not to rush to hang Saddam Hussein's two co-defendants, especially in light of the increasing sectarian tensions following the spectacle that was the execution of Saddam Hussein.

For many, these hangings only serve to underscore that this is a nation where brutality rules -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, thank you.

Arwa in Baghdad. And this note -- coming up this hour, we'll go live to Baghdad once again. I'll speak with the "New York Times" Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Burns. He's among a few of those journalists who have actually seen the videotape of the execution.

I'm going to ask him what he saw on that tape. He'll join us live with more on this controversy.

Meanwhile, President Bush is making a concerted effort to gain support for the increase of U.S. troops he's ordering and there's a distinct change in his tone.

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, White House aides acknowledge this is going to be a very tough sell for the president. And that is why part of the strategy, of course, is to go around members of Congress and take his message directly to the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): As violence threatens to plunge Iraq into all out civil war, President Bush continues to sell his unpopular new plan to send in more U.S. troops. As part of Mr. Bush's P.R. offensive, over the weekend he appeared on CBS News' "60 Minutes." He said Iraq's leader, Nouri Al-Maliki, had been put on notice that his government could no longer restrict who troops could go after.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A killer is a killer and we expect them to go after both Shia and Sunni murderers in order to provide the security for Baghdad.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush also issued a stern warning to Iran's leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that U.S. forces in Iraq would not hesitate to go after any Iranians aiding the militias.

BUSH: If we catch your people inside the country harming U.S. citizens or Iraqi citizens, you know, we will deal with them.

MALVEAUX: Faced with fierce opposition to his Iraq strategy, the president described the stakes in familiar dire terms.

BUSH: If we do not succeed in Iraq, we will leave behind a Middle East which will endanger America in the future.

MALVEAUX: But President Bush is now beginning to take more responsibility for some of his administration's past failures, a move his aides say they hope will lend him more credibility.

BUSH: The temptation is going to find scapegoats. Well, if the people want a scapegoat, they've got one right here in me, because it's my decisions.

MALVEAUX: Decisions President Bush's former chief of staff, Andy Card, says have carried a unique burden.

ANDREW CARD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The job is very lonely because the decisions are lonely decisions. And they're not decisions that are based on theory or philosophy or politics. They end up being decisions that end up -- are quite frequently very personal.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, of course, Wolf, the president will continue to try to explain those decisions. Tomorrow, another interview in "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and then also hosting the new secretary- general of the United Nations here at the White House to try to garner more international support -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thank you for that.

Suzanne at the White House.

As strategies for Iraq are tested and tried, some say that one key approach should involve dealing with so-called rogue elements from one of Iraq's neighbors.

Our senior political correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, has got more on this part of the story -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. is getting ready to flex more military muscle in the Persian Gulf. But as you noted, it's not necessarily aimed at Iraq, but at Iraq's bigger, more powerful and, many in the Pentagon say, more dangerous neighbor, Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The U.S. aircraft carrier John Stennis is still at its home port of Bremerton, Washington, but a month from now, when it's scheduled to be plying the waters of the Persian Gulf, it's meant to send a message of strength. That's the explanation for sending a second carrier to the Gulf offered by Robert Gates in Brussels at his first NATO meeting as U.S. defense secretary.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we're going to be there for a long time. MCINTYRE: Ditto the extra Patriot missile defenses pointedly deployed to the region to reassure America's jittery Gulf allies the U.S. can still protect them from Iran even as it struggles to get Iraq back on track.

GATES: The Iranians clearly believe that we're tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they are in a position to press us, in many ways.

MCINTYRE: But for now, the offensive against Iran is being pressed on the ground, in Iraq. U.S. troops are targeting Iranians, like the five men arrested in a raid last week, who are suspected of being members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Al-Quds Brigade.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: That is in the organization that has a role, a direct role, in the transfer of weapons and working with extremists that together coalition forces.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: We have statements made by people in detention and we have records that give us great confidence that these are, in fact, intelligence operatives.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: And while the show of force is aimed at Iran, the U.S. says it's not planning to attack Iran, at least not for now. This last week, before Congress, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the president would not rule out anything to protect U.S. troops and Defense Secretary Gates, the next day, said any attack against Iran would be "a last resort" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much.

The rhetoric, though, clearly picking up against Iran.

Let's check in with Jack once again for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Vice President Dick Cheney defended efforts by the Pentagon and the CIA to obtain the financial records of men and women in this country who are suspected of terrorism or espionage after the "New York Times" reported an increase in that practice yesterday.

The Pentagon has issued hundreds of letters to banks and credit card agencies. These institutions are not required by law to hand over the information. But this will comfort you -- most of them reportedly do.

The CIA has sent out similar letters, but on a smaller scale.

Congressman Silvestre Reyes, the Texas Democrat who now heads the House Intelligence Committee, has expressed concern over this practice and said in a statement yesterday that his panel is going to investigate possible civil rights violations resulting from these efforts. So here's the question -- should the government have the right to ask for Americans' bank and credit card statements?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that.

And still ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a botched execution in Baghdad leaving Saddam Hussein's half-brother, the one on the left, decapitated. A handful of reporters have now seen the video of that execution. I'll speak with one of them, John Burns of the "New York Times," in Baghdad. That's coming up.

Also, the New Mexico governor and possible presidential contender, Bill Richardson. If he wins the White House, would he pull the troops out of Iraq?

Plus, what clues could be found online in the story of those two Missouri boys rescued?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

President Bush is drawing his line in the sand regarding Iraq, refusing to budge on the issue of sending in more American troops.

Might Democrats respond by cutting off some funds for the war?

Here to talk about that and other important issues is a potential presidential candidate, Bill Richardson. He's the Democratic governor of New Mexico.

We'll get into politics a little bit later; also, your important visit to Darfur in Sudan.

But first let's start with Iraq, Governor.

Are you in favor of using the power of the purse that Congress has to try to stop this war?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Yes. I believe because the president has not listened to the Congress, he hasn't listened to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and to the American people, that overwhelmingly want a change of course, I believe that's the function of the Congress, to deal with the appropriations process, find ways to at least this surge, to deny the funds to make it happen, because this is going to add to sectarian violence.

I would support a phased withdrawal, tie it to a political solution. There is no military solution. I would also organize a regional conference to get other states to help with the security and civil administration. I would talk to Iran and Syria to try to get the situation to at least a stable level.

I just believe that this is an ultimate decision by the Congress. But since the president doesn't listen, he's off in, I think, his own bubble. Unfortunately, that's the course I believe the Congress needs to take.

BLITZER: What do you say to those who would then come back and say you know what, you're going to undermine the U.S. fighting men and women in Iraq by denying them the bullets, the military equipment they need, by cutting off funds?

RICHARDSON: Well, I would say that you don't cut off the military equipment. You don't cut off the armor or their weapons. But you basically say to the 20,000 surge of troops that it can't happen without an adequate explanation and that it shouldn't happen because the American people don't believe this is the right course of action.

Again, Wolf, I do believe that what is important is to redeploy those troops that are in Iraq. Use them in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda and the Taliban are getting stronger. Use them against the fight on international terrorism. Use them to deal with nuclear proliferation and a loose nuclear weapon on the black market.

Use it for our ports. Use it for our subways. Use it in homeland security protection in this country.

BLITZER: What about Saddam Hussein?

You went there on a diplomatic mission years ago. You met this guy. He has now been executed. You know the situation in Iraq, given your own diplomatic experience at the United Nations, when you were Energy Secretary.

It looks like this Iraqi government of Nouri Al-Maliki, the prime minister, is, at best, lukewarm to what the U.S. is trying to achieve.

RICHARDSON: Well, it is. It's not supporting us in our efforts, at least with Iran and Syria. I noticed that they opposed our objective, which was to find some way to deal with those Iranians that are coming into Iraq. They don't support our efforts in terms of turning over the security functions for a date certain.

You know, this is -- this is unfortunate. If the Iraqi government were strong and stable and had a wide political base, then I'd feel a lot better. But it's as if a very weak government is pushing us around.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your latest assignment. You went to Darfur in the Sudan. You're trying to ease that humanitarian nightmare, the genocide that is going on. You've negotiated a 60-day cease-fire. But I take it, based on some of your comments, you're not very optimistic that that's going to last.

RICHARDSON: Well, I am optimistic. I had a chance to talk to the administration's special envoy, Andrew Natsios and I've worked with the administration to try to make sure the 60-day cease-fire sticks, so that there is a peace conference on March 15th, so that the rebels all respect the cease-fire. There are three groups of rebels. They're very fragmented.

The president of Sudan has accepted the peace conference and the cease-fire. So we're moving forward.

This is one of the great tragedies of all time -- 300,000 deaths, close to three million human beings displaced, rapes, famine, war. The world needs to pay attention to Africa. The United Nations is coming in. There is follow through to our 60-day cease-fire. The administration is pushing the rebels to respect a cease-fire. So is the United Nations.

But here, Wolf, this was a private effort. This was the Save Darfur Coalition, a very effective American humanitarian group. A philanthropist by the name of Danny Abraham, who funded this initiative of mine, and it's working.

And so there's hope in Darfur. There's at least a potential for a cease-fire, a peace conference, an ending of the killing there that has really devastated this country and thousands and thousands of people that need help.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does achieve something.

Thanks for doing this, governor.

Before I let you go, I've got to get into presidential politics a little bit.

You may not know this, you may know it. We're going to be co- sponsoring the first presidential debates April 4th and 5th in New Hampshire -- Democratic presidential debates, Republican presidential debates.

Do you plan on being there?

RICHARDSON: Well, I'm going to make a decision this month, as I always have said, Wolf, whether I'm going to run or not. And if I make the decision to run, of course I will be there, especially if you're going to be there.

BLITZER: we will be there. And we'll take you up at that.

Do you have a specific time line when this month? Next week? This week?

Because we're hearing a lot of candidates getting ready imminently to make those major announcements.

RICHARDSON: Well, I just said that I would do it this month. And I have the opening of my legislature in New Mexico starting tomorrow. And I've got a very broad agenda of increasing the minimum wage, health care, better schools, clean energy initiatives. I've got to get that done, just get my State of the State address out of the way tomorrow and then we'll have a little chance to make the decision.

But I've got a lot of initiatives I want to pursue here. It's a 60-day session, so I've got to concentrate on that, too, Wolf.

BLITZER: You've got a full-time day job, is that what you're saying?

RICHARDSON: Yes, I've got to work. I've got to earn my pay.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

And as we head deeper into the 2008 presidential race, remember, CNN is a partner in that first presidential debate of the campaign season. CNN, WMUR Television and the "New Hampshire Union-Leader" will sponsor back to back debates among the Democratic and the Republican presidential candidates on April 4th and 5th of this year, an unprecedented early kick-off to a wide open race for the White House. The first debates in the lead-off presidential primary state.

Coming up, the Pulitzer Prize winning "New York Times" journalist John Burns. He's standing by live to join us from Baghdad with the latest on the controversy surrounding the botched execution of Saddam Hussein's half-brother, the man on the left.

Plus, details of the book that's said to be having a significant impact on President Bush as he weighs his options in Iraq. You might be surprised at the subject matter.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, in Iraq, it's happened again. A carefully planned execution sees an unplanned occurrence. Weeks after Saddam Hussein was executed, his co-defendants were put to death in Iraq today. But one of them, Saddam Hussein's half-brother, was decapitated by the hangman's noose. Now many are questioning what happened in this botched execution.

Also, Robert Gates makes his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary. Gates is meeting with Afghan government officials and military officials from the U.S. and NATO to discuss how best to crush a resurgent terrorist presence in that country.

And we're learning fresh details regarding every parent's nightmare -- the two boys who endured captivity, one of them for more than four years. They're now safe and police are detailing their harrowing ordeal.

We'll have the latest.

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

A botched execution -- the hanging of Saddam Hussein's half- brother turning into a beheading. Iraqi officials insist it was an accident. They've been showing the video to a small group of reporters, including the "New York Times'" John Burns.

John is joining us now from Baghdad with his eyewitness account of what has happened.

John, thanks very much for coming in.

I know you saw this videotape.

Walk us through what you saw.

JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, first of all, this videotape, we were told, a one time only showing.

After the disaster of the illicit filming on a cell phone camera of the Saddam Hussein hanging, Iraqi officials were absolutely determined that this botched hanging is not going to get on the Internet and be replayed a million times, especially across the Middle East.

So we were given a one time showing, a three minute video, very grim, as, of course, any execution is. Two frightened men, two deeply frightened men in orange jumpsuits, Guantanamo style, standing on the trap doors, black hoods being put over their heads as they intoned the Muslim Jihad or the prayer before death -- there is god -- there is no god but god.

And then the drop. And as Mr. Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, the former head of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) security police under Mr. Hussein and his younger half-brother dropped the eight feet that was allowed by the coiled rope as his feet, his head just snapped off, just like that, in an instant.

The camera then -- the video camera moves forward and looks into the pit beneath the gallows, where we saw him lying face down, headless, a pool of blood accumulating around his neck and his head, still in the black hood, about five feet behind him in the pit.

It seems what happened was that the Iraqi officials, who had worked hard to try and get this one right, just got it wrong when it came to their drop charts, as the hangmen call them. And this man of medium build, medium height, was just dropped too far and too fast.

BLITZER: As you know, John, there's going to be skepticism, especially among Sunni Arabs, that this was an accident.

Did it look like an accident based on the video that you saw?

BURNS: It did look like an accident and the pains to which Mr. Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister's officials went, to lead us through this step by step and what they described as intensive consultations with Western humanitarian organizations after the Saddam hanging to make sure that this one was done with dignity, respect for the condemned men, I must say, left me feeling that these people -- this is a blighted government.

It just seems like everything they touch somehow goes awry.

So I don't think this was intentional. I think it was botched. And to be fair, they did tell us that in making their calculations, the hangman's calculations, what they wanted to do was to make sure these two men died instantly.

Now, this is a pretty grim macabre science, but you only have to go to the Internet and look at the American Military Handbook for executions signed by Dwight Eisenhower when he was chief of staff of the Army in 1947 to look at the drop charts. And you'll see that a man of about 5'8", 5'9", as Mr. Tikriti was, about 170, 175 pounds, by American military calculations needed a good deal less than eight feet of free rope for the hanging.

In other words, they gave him too much rope. He accumulated too much speed and momentum, and it just ripped his head right off his body.

BLITZER: Was there audio on the videotape that you saw, the three minutes of this execution? Did you hear anything in that room?

BURNS: Well, yes, that's a reporter's question, Wolf. Coming from you it doesn't surprise me. Of course, it's a crucial question, because it was the audio on the illicit camera phone recording of Saddam's execution that told us all we now know about the sectarian taunting and mockery of Mr. Hussein.

No, there was no audio, and it was a point that we pressed on the prime minister's officials. But they did say that the execution party had been reduced severely from about 25 who attended Saddam's execution, many of them just sightseers, to tell you the truth, down to about 10 or 12.

And the prosecutor in the trial that sent these men to the gallows, Jafa al-Moussaoui (ph), who wasn't here in Iraq at the time of the Saddam execution and is a rather superior individual, I have to say, he attended the press conference and he seemed quite distressed about this. But he did say that every precaution had been taken to deal with this execution with dignity and with respect.

And it only goes to show that, you know, when things go wrong they go very badly wrong indeed in Iraq.

BLITZER: We saw Saddam Hussein. He was wearing an overcoat when he was executed. He didn't want the hood put over him.

I take it these two, they did want the hood, or at least they accepted the hood being placed on their heads. They were wearing these orange jumpsuits. And unlike Saddam Hussein, based on your eyewitness account of this video, they were certainly nervous and scared and cowering, fearful. Saddam put on a very stoic, almost courageous attitude when he was about to be killed. BURNS: Yes. You know, courage before death is an illusive thing. My guess is psychoanalysts would say that Saddam Hussein's lack of conscience was in some way related also to his lack of fear at the end. But these two were distinctly frightened men.

You couldn't feel -- help feeling, despite all we know about their own brutalities -- and they were very brutal. I mean, Mr. Bandar, the one who did get hanged in, if you will, the appropriate way, he was the head of the Revolutionary Court who sent 148 men and boys to their deaths on the gallows in the events that occurred in Dujail in 1982 after there was a failed assassination attempt against Saddam.

His trial was a mockery. There was no defense. No opportunity for these people to argue, make any kind of argument.

Tikriti, who was decapitated, was head of the secret intelligence service, and the evidence at the trial against him was that he had personally supervised torture, including hanging one naked woman upside down and beating her personally. So it's hard on that basis to feel too sorry for them, but they were -- they were frightened men. And I would say particularly Mr. Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, the half- brother, who had shaved his head and his mustache, and he looked -- he looked just scared half to death standing there, as well he might have been, especially if he had in sense at all of how it was going to end.

BLITZER: One final question, John, before I let you go. In your front page dispatch in today's "New York Times," you quote one U.S. official as saying, regarding the Iraqi government's reaction to President Bush's latest Iraq strategy -- and I'll quote it now -- "We are being played like a pawn. We are being played like a pawn."

What's going on in terms of the Iraqi government's willingness to do what they are supposed to do to make sure this latest U.S. strategy works?

BURNS: Well, we heard today General George Casey and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made a pretty brave showing at a news conference of saying it's an Iraqi plan, they have an Iraqi buy-in on all the details. But if you took away from what they said, what we in England refer to as "Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?" That is to say, the pro forma recognition of, you know, the willingness of the Iraqi government to go along, and you looked at the undertones from both men, but particularly from General Casey, you heard the same thing -- no guarantees, this government doesn't have a very good record in fulfilling its promises about non-sectarianism. We'll have to see where this goes.

George Casey will be out of here within the month, as you know, to be replaced by General Petraeus. And he sounded, I have to say, a very cautioned man.

BLITZER: John Burns in Baghdad for us of "The New York Times."

John, thank you very much for that excellent, excellent account of what happened. Coming up, who is President Bush looking to for guidance when it comes to the situation in Iraq? We have some new details of that book that's said to be having a profound impact on the president.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, you might be surprised at who's calling for a change to the U.S. Constitution so that California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, can run for president.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's almost impossible to imagine what it might be like right now in Missouri. A boy is getting to know his family all over again after being held captive for more than four years.

We're learning fresh details in the bizarre kidnappings involving 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, and 13-year-old William Ben Ownby. Both discovered Friday. They're now safe with think families and police are trying to piece together what exactly happened.

Forty-one-year-old Michael Devlin is charged with one count of felony kidnapping and is being held on $1 million bond. But officials say he'll likely face other charges as well. Devlin has not yet made a public statement.

Did the abducted teen Shawn Hornbeck leave clues online to his whereabouts over the last few years? Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has the story -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the family of Shawn Hornbeck for years maintained this search and rescue site through the years of Shawn's disappearance, and now it's their guestbook at that Web site where people went on through the years to leave messages that's in the spotlight.

Take a look at these couple of posts from December 1, 2005. The first one here in the name of Shawn Devlin, "How long are you planning to look for your son?" Michael Devlin has been charged now with kidnapping.

Another post from the same day, just an hour or two after that asks whether he could write a poem for the Hornbeck family. That one, just in the name "Shawn."

Now, we have no idea whether these were written by Michael Devlin or Shawn Hornbeck. We just have no way right now of confirming that, but blogs are going around compiling posts, profiles in the name of Shawn and putting them all in to one post, trying to track down just what was going on.

Social networking sites, for example, this one here, it appears to show Shawn. It says his location there is St. Louis, Missouri.

Another one -- this a gaming site -- appears to show Hornbeck standing in front of the apartment where he was found. Again, we cannot confirm whether these came actually from Shawn Hornbeck.

But the search and rescue site that was maintained throughout the disappearance of Shawn Hornbeck now updated to show that he's been found -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi. Thank you very much for that.

And to our viewers, stay with CNN throughout the night tonight as we keep the spotlight on America's missing children.

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, "PAULA ZAHN NOW" will look at the role race plays in the news media coverage of missing children cases.

At 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Larry King sits down with the officers who found Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, as well as the attorney for the alleged kidnapper, Michael Devlin.

Then at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Anderson Cooper takes an in-depth look at the kids, the suspect, and the investigation.

Up ahead, a winter blast is hitting a big chunk of the country. Middle America is glazed in ice.

Carol Costello will be along in a minute to bring us up to date on this deadly storm.

And what's President Bush reading these days? Brian Todd has some insight. Here's a hint -- it has to do with insurgents.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I'm going to talk about that winter blast.

At least 36 people now dead. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses still without power. All the result of a strong storm and an arctic blast that brings ice, sleet and snow and plunging temperatures to parts of the country. The freeze stretches all the way to California, where officials warn the state's billion-dollar citrus industry is now at risk.

In east central Kentucky, a train derailment and chemical spill has authorities telling residents to stay indoors and seal off windows and doors. Four runaway railcars hit two parked locomotives in the town of Irvine, spilling a chemical which then caught fire. Residents in the immediate area have been told to evacuate. No injuries reported.

What are you doing to make Martin Luther King's dream a reality? That question came from Atlanta's mayor, Shirley Franklin, speaking a short time ago at a ceremony to honor the birthday of the famed civil rights leader. Franklin says King's work for peace and justice remains unfinished.

Earlier speakers paid tribute to King's children and their mother, Coretta Scott King, who died almost a year ago.

CNN will broadcast a special documentary on the writings of Martin Luther King. -- "MLK: Words That Changed a Nation." That airs February 17th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be a very special hour indeed.

Thanks, Carol, for that.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs. He's getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. Lou is standing by with a preview -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

We'll be reporting tonight on gaping holes in new port security initiatives designed to protect this country. Is the federal government outsourcing some of our most vital security measures to foreign nations?

We'll have that report.

And hundreds of Americans rallying in support of two former Border Patrol agents about to go to prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler given immunity by the U.S. Justice Department.

We'll have that story.

And Iran spreading its message of hate and anti-Americanism in Latin America, forming new alliances to thwart what Iran calls U.S. domination.

We'll have a special report and one of the world's leading authorities on Iran's nuclear and terrorist threats.

Join us here. All of that, a great deal more, all of the day's news, at the top of the hour. We hope you'll join us.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. Thank you very much.

And still ahead, Jack Cafferty will be back with your e-mail.

Should the government have the right to ask for Americans' bank and credit card statements?

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can't run for president. Or can he? We'll have details of a drive to try to change the Constitution and clear the way for a White House run. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush may be looking to history for some guidance when it comes to the war in Iraq right now, but not Vietnam, as many people might assume. Instead, it's believed he's finding some parallels in a conflict few Americans know much about.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's following up on a story we first reported Friday -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, could this book written 30 years ago about a war that occurred 50 years ago have an affect on how the United States will fight in Iraq from this point? Believe it or not, as we found out in our exclusive interview, the 81- year-old British historian who wrote it now has the president's attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): A Western power escalates its troop presence during a bloody engagement in a Muslim country. A messy conventional war that spiraled in to vicious insurgency and counterinsurgency: Iraq, 2007, and Algeria in the late 1950s.

As President Bush reads "A Savage War of Peace," about France's war in Algeria, the author tells CNN what he thinks of the current conflict.

ALISTAIR HORNE, AUTHOR, "A SAVAGE WAR OF PEACE": And I have the highest regard for your -- for your Army, your soldiers. I think they're fantastic. But it just simply to my mind -- well, everybody has said this, haven't they, that it just wasn't thought through.

TODD: But Sir Alistair Horne says America should not pull out of Iraq. Too much potential he says for the region to fall apart.

HORNE: You've got the domino theory that really means something there. Domino in terms of oil, Saudi Arabia, Iran... The spreading of chaos in to Saudi Arabia. I see Saudi Arabia as very vulnerable.

TODD: As in Algeria, Sir Alistair says a major power is faced with an Arab insurgency that has targeted police, public servants, innocent civilians. All of that has preoccupied the Americans, as it did the French. France had 500,000 troops in Algeria at one point.

What does Horne think of President Bush's plan to increase the U.S. troop level to about 160,000?

HORNE: It must succeed. You can't have too little too late. It's got to be big enough to be effective.

TODD: When I asked what he would say to President Bush if he sat down with him, the author says he wouldn't presume to tell the president what to do, but then says... HORNE: Wind up Guantanamo Bay as quickly as you can.

TODD: Although U.S. officials deny torturing detainees, images like those at Abu Ghraib, Horne says, led to a similar backlash in the U.S. that the French experienced after abuses in Algeria became public.

HORNE: But it cost them the war, because the revulsion that it caused when it got to France was such that opinions swung violently against the war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another cautionary tale from Horne about Algeria, the chaos the French left behind when they extricated themselves in 1962, leading to decades of civil war and tens of thousands of deaths. But Horne is not lecturing. He says he wouldn't want to be President Bush, who he says is "in the most difficult position" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers who recommended to the president that he read this book, "A Savage War of Peace"?

TODD: Well, the author told me that it was none other than the former secretary of state, Dr. Henry Kissinger, who the author is actually doing an authorized biography of. He says that in his dealings with Kissinger, I believe Kissinger found out about this book and he personally sent a copy of it to President Bush recommending that he read it.

BLITZER: What does Sir Alistair think of the president reading his book?

TODD: He says he's flattered. He says, you know, it's a high honor, actually.

I think he actually found out that the president was reading it, Wolf, from hearing of your broadcast on Friday. And he says he's honored by it, he's flattered by it. He says he hopes it's of some use. That maybe a little bit of a British understatement there.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you very much.

Brian Todd reporting for us.

Up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know, should the government have the right to ask for Americans' bank and credit card statements? Jack standing by with "The Cafferty File."

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Here's some comforting news, Wolf. "The New York Times" reports that the Pentagon and the CIA have been sending letters to banks and credit card agencies in an effort to obtain the financial records of Americans suspected of terrorism.

The question we asked is, "Should the government have the right to ask for Americans' bank and credit card statements?"

Chet in Dallas writes, "The government should have to no right to ask for information about Americans' banks and credit card statements. What's the guarantee that the information will not be misused and end up in the wrong hands? Time and again the government goes into an initiative without thinking about the repercussions, contingencies, or the proper oversight."

Barbara writes from South Carolina, "As much as Bush craves to be a dictator, at the president time we are still American citizens under democracy. So, no, we should scream about Bush and Cheney getting into our bank accounts and credit card statements. Our banks are telling us that our accounts are safe."

D.L. in California writes, "Your question is misleading and does not get to the point. The individuals who are a threat to the U.S. are not using legal credit cards or other legal financial venues. There are 20 million Mexicans in the United States who use bogus financials."

Ryan in Philadelphia, "Absolutely. The government should have the power to collect financial records of suspected sub-humans. There are 300 million people in this country. The left media tries to play the war on terror as a big joke."

Amy in New City, New York, "You've got to be kidding. Ben Franklin said anyone who gives up civil liberties for security deserves neither. I agree. Keep the prying eyes of the government out of my bank account and credit card records."

Ken in Chicago writes, "The question ought to be: Do financial institutions have the right to divulge our private information to the government without our prior expressed written consent?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can check out cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, I'll see you back here in one hour, when we come back.

Jack Cafferty in New York.

And this note to our viewers. Tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, our CNN exclusive interview with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's on a trip right now to Latin America. He's trying to make friends with leftist leaders. But what does he have to say about the United States?

That interview coming up 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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