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Lebanese Capital Under Curfew; Will Noriega Be Brought to Justice in Panama?

Aired January 25, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And 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 tonight's top stories.
Happening now, new fear of civil war in the Middle East, sectarian divisions boiling over in Beirut, the Lebanese capital right now under curfew for the first time in a decade after deadly clashes.

Also this hour, before the U.S. took on Saddam Hussein, it toppled Manuel Noriega. Now after years in the U.S. prison, will the former dictator of Panama be brought to justice at home?

And it seems like something out of a science fiction movie. But it's about to become the U.S. military secret weapon against angry mobs.

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

Chaos spreading in the Middle East -- right now in Beirut, there's a curfew in effect meant to stop the blood from flowing in the streets. Today, crowds dodged bottles and bullets as furious mob- supporting Hezbollah battled those who support the pro-western Lebanese government. Now, after the flaring tensions, three people are dead. Many, many others are injured.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Beirut with the latest. Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, since the war with Israel last summer, tensions have been rising here between Hezbollah and the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Just less than two months ago, Hezbollah called for a peaceful demonstration surrounding the prime minister's office.

A few days ago they called for national strikes; violence ensued on the street here. The Lebanese army calmed that down. More than three people killed. More than 100 wounded -- Now the situation violence again, triggered by an altercation at the Arab University.


(SHOTS) ROBERTSON (voice-over): Armed with rocks and intent on a fight, hundreds of ferocious and angry young men converged on Beirut's Arab University.


ROBERTSON: Violence sparked in the late afternoon by clashes between pro and anti-government factions inside the campus.


ROBERTSON: As the situation escalated, vehicles were set on fire. Anyone who could scrambled to save them. Then black smoke billowed up from the university. Lebanese army soldiers, on foot and in armored personnel carriers, pushed forward towards the rock- spraying youths from the tops of vehicles in the midst of the chaos, appealing for calm.


ROBERTSON (on camera): Right now the army is holding back here. The violence is...


ROBERTSON: ... where the students, there's is a lot of gunfire going on. For the moment the army is holding back, measuring what they should do.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): At one point a crowd of young Sunni men setting fire to a Hezbollah flag. As inflammatory an insult as any can be here. From within the battle zone, both soldiers and civilians stretch it out as the confrontation continued to flare.


ROBERTSON: At least three people killed and more than 150 injured.


ROBERTSON: Volley after volley of gunfire, blasted into the air by soldiers, in an effort to calm and separate the rock-throwing crowds. In nearby side streets and on highway, the Lebanese army flooded the area with troops to contain the violence close to its epicenter at the university. Not long after they called a curfew, from 8:30 in the evening until 6:00 in the morning.


ROBERTSON: Wolf, despite the curfew, very real fears here that another spark could trigger violence, violence that could spread. Violence that even the political leaders here and the Lebanese army cannot control cannot put that genie back in the bottle. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see what daybreak brings. Nic is on the scene for us.

So how might chaotic crowds similar to the ones we just saw in Beirut be better controlled? The United States military has a brand new weapon that does that by actually zapping its targets with rays of pain.

Let's get some details from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with U.S. troops getting more nontraditional missions; everything from peacekeeping to pacification, the U.S. military is looking at giving them some nontraditional weapons in their quiver.



MCINTYRE (voice-over): Troops confront an angry rock-throwing mob. This scene is real today, in Lebanon, where at least four people were killed.

MCINTYRE: This scene is not real. At Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia, the U.S. military simulates a hostile crowd to show off the latest thing in non-lethal, crowd-dispersal technology. Enter the active denial system, a sort of souped-up microwave blaster mounted on a Humvee.

Its invisible beam actually uses millimeter waves, less powerful than microwaves but able to create an intense burning sensation on skin from as far away as five football fields. The idea is to force people to flee, while inflicting no lasting harm.

COL. KIRK HYMES, JOINT NON-LETHAL WEAPONS DIRECTIORATE: The sensation of the active denial system is much like opening your oven and getting hit with a blast of hot air. Your response is to want to move out of the way, move back.

MCINTYRE: To make the point, the military gave some reporters a chance to feel the heat, which is roughly 130 degrees Fahrenheit.


MCINTYRE: Even non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets, tasers and tear gas can be deadly if misused and in theory the heat ray could cause serious injury if people were subjected to prolonged exposure. But the military insists the whole idea is to give troops an option to prevent casualties from a safe distance away.

COL. JOHN DECKNICK, U.S. AIR FORCE: Rubber pellets, pepper spray, riot batons involve getting closer and if you are close, THEN you are at danger and in danger. Distance and shielding is the key.

MCINTYRE: Human rights activists contacted by CNN say they want to see more data about the health effects and worry about the technology falling into the wrong hands. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon says more than 10,000 people have been exposed to the weapon since testing began over a decade ago, and not one has required medical attention. Still, fielding this weapon is still years away because production hasn't even started -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Jamie is at the Pentagon.

Now there's no word tonight that President Bush is about to ask Congress to spend billions, billions more dollars to strengthen security in Afghanistan, while extending the tours of duty of U.S. military forces there, and it comes amid fresh criticism that the Iraq mission has already taken valuable resources away from what some are calling the forgotten war.

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. What's the latest, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it certainly is a stark reminder of this forgotten war, that of course the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, also in trouble. That's what this figure is saying. It is at $10.6 billion that we have learned the president is going to ask Congress in additional aid for this U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

It is 8.6 billion. That is for helping with security, Afghan police and security forces, two billion for reconstruction. This is in addition, in addition, to the 14.2 billion that has already been spent over the last five years since the United States routed out the Taliban and crippled al Qaeda.

The reason this is coming out today, Wolf, is because Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to be meeting with her NATO counterparts in Brussels, Belgium. They want more troops. They want more help for this mission. It is seriously in trouble. Wolf?

BLITZER: You're also getting some new developments tonight on what's happening in Iraq. What are you learning?

MALVEAUX: Well, President Bush, of course, is going to continue his campaign to sell his new Iraq strategy. Tomorrow at the White House, first thing, he is meeting, with, of course the incoming commander, Petraeus as well as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, Secretary Gates.

After that meeting on Iraq and the strategy, he's going to come to the cameras and make the case saying, look, he has seen progress even in the last week or so. He is going to point specifically to this oil-sharing deal that's getting close among the Iraqi people.

And also Maliki's speech that he made today in public in Arabic, saying that no one was safe, no safe haven for terrorists inside of Iraq. But, Wolf, it is notable that just hours after Maliki's speech, there was a suicide bomb that went off, killing many. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, we're going to have more on that coming up. Suzanne is at the White House. We'll wait to see what the president has to say tomorrow morning.

Let's hear what Jack Cafferty has to say right now. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, call it a preemptive strike. Democratic senator Robert Byrd has introduced a resolution that would keep President Bush from launching military action against Syria or Iran without congressional approval. Senator Byrd says he's worried the machinery may have already been set in motion for an attack inside Iran or Syria.

But the White House insists the administration's not planning for a wider war. Senator Byrd isn't the only one who is concerned, either. The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Rockefeller says the administration is building a case against Iran even though intelligence agencies still don't know that much about what Iran is up to.

"The Los Angeles Times" report in the piece yesterday that actual evidence of Iran's involvement in Iraq's troubles is limited. Rockefeller thinks it's reminiscent of the kind of stuff President Bush was saying about the Iraq war before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

So, here's the question. What are President Bush's intentions, do you think, when it comes to Iran and Syria? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, see you in a few moments. Thank you.

Coming up, a nightmare scenario, we'll have some new developments following my exclusive interview yesterday with the vice president, Dick Cheney. Cheney says the Shiite-led Iraqi government will not turn on the United States. But how can he be so sure? We're taking a closer look.

Dictator walking, Manuel Noriega set to be released from prison, will the only POW held in America walk free or will he be tossed right back into prison?

And alleged rape by a president -- who's blasting the media for the demise? The political scandal that has a head of state coming unraveled.

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


BLITZER: Tonight a glimpse into the vice president's inner circle and that CIA leak trial that's under way here in Washington. Cheney's former spokeswoman took the stand today, and contradicted the defendant, the former Cheney chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Let's get the latest from our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli. KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know Wolf what was so remarkable today was that this witness, Cathie Martin, gave a unique look into the inner workings of the vice president's office and its efforts to control information. Now, Martin worked in the vice president's press office. She talks about how the vice president personally dictated talking points in dealing with the press regarding Joe Wilson and his trip to Niger.

Now Joe Wilson, you remember, harshly criticized the administration's justification for going to war with Iraq. Martin says that she was told to call her counterpart over at the CIA, to find out which reporters were covering the story. She says that she was instructed to not only monitor print articles but news broadcasts as well, and Wolf in essence she describes a vice president and his chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, as being obsessed with Joe Wilson at the time.

Now, this is damaging, because Libby's defense has argued that he had so many other issues to deal at the time that Wilson wasn't really very important and that's why Libby couldn't correctly remember what happened when he testified before the grand jury. Now, remember the basis of this whole case, Wolf, is that Libby is charged with lying to a grand jury.

Martin also hurt Libby's case by telling the jury that she told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA about a month before Libby says that he found out. And she's the fourth witness to describe conversations with Libby about Plame. Pretty -- pretty amazing day, Wolf.

BLITZER: I think this trial is just getting started, too. We'll stay on top of it, thanks to you, Kelli. Kelli Arena reporting.

Let's go to that political scandal and it's a huge one now that's rocking Israel. Israel's president is giving up his official duties but refusing to outright quit. President Moshe Katsav faces rape and other sex assault allegations. He says he's innocent, the victim of conspiracy, and he is lashing out at his critics.

Our Atika Shubert is in Jerusalem.



ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If there were any doubts that Israel's president, Moshe Katsav was temporarily incapacitated, this appearance did little to dispel them.

PRES. MOSHE KATSAV, ISRAEL (through translator): You shut up, I have been quiet for six months.

SHUBERT: Local station channel two was singled out for a verbal thrashing in a 50-minute tirade attacking the police, the press, and his accusers. He blamed the media for leading a, quote, "witch-hunt based on false charges". Channel 2's news director takes the criticism in stride.

SHALOM KITAL, NEWS DIRECTOR, ISRAEL, CHANNEL 2: Let's be frank about it. His problem is with the legal system, not with the press.

SHUBERT: But as long as Katsav is president, he is immune from prosecution, even during his leave of absence, which by law, could last up to six months. But, if the attorney general does indict him, Katsav has promised to resign. After this performance, media polls show more than 70 percent want Katsav to resign now.


SHUBERT: The one thing most Israelis agree on they want what has become a national embarrassment to end as soon as possible.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: And still to come, nightmare scenario, a follow-up to my exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. He says the Shiite-led Iraqi government will not turn on the U.S., but does history support that take. We're going to take a closer look.

And Stephen Colbert, not invited. White House reporters take even the sting out of their annual dinner with the president. Jeanne Moos is on the story.

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello's in New York monitoring stories from around the world. She's joining us now live with the latest headlines. Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Wolf. Hello to all of you. The nation's first statewide ban on a popular dry-cleaning chemical is on the books now in California. The state's Air Resources Board plans to begin phasing out the chemical next year. The plan is for it to be completely eliminated by the year 2023. Environmentalists have embraced the move. California cleaners say banning the solvent will drive them out of business.

A bond hearing set for Monday in a case dating back to the early days of the civil rights movement. A 71-year-old reputed Ku Klux Klansman has been charged in connection with the 1964 abductions and deaths of two young black men. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez today announced that James Seale is charged with kidnapping rather than murder. Gonzalez says after all this time that is the charge they're most likely to be prove in a court of law. Seale has pleaded not guilty.

A dangerous and deadly chain reaction on Interstate 90 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Authorities say at least one person died in a multi-car pileup. Fifty cars involved in this. Whiteout conditions, as you can see, happened there this afternoon, the cause of the accident. Police closed I-90 in both directions over approximately 10 miles east of Erie stretching all the way to the New York border.

And if you just can't kick the habit, more hope for you tonight. Researchers have pinpointed an area deep inside the brain that appears to control the urge to smoke. Their study was inspired by a longtime heavy smoker who had a stroke. The resulting damage to that area of his brain completely killed his urge to light up.

That's the headlines for now, Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope people can quit before that happens to them as well. Thanks for that, Carol. We're going to get back to you.

Just ahead, taking stock of Iraq. The vice president, Dick Cheney, says the U.S. is achieving its objectives. Could he be right? One harsh critic reacts to our interview and calls the vice president, and I'm quoting now, "delusional".

And later, he was once-feared as a tyrannical dictator. Now he says he wants only to be with his grandchildren. Panama's Manuel Noriega prepares to return home, after almost two decades in a U.S. prison. What awaits him there?

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


BLITZER: He's a 14-term U.S. congressman, former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, now California Republican Duncan Hunter is also officially a presidential candidate, making that announcement earlier today. He stands with President Bush when it comes to Iraq, but he strongly opposes the president in one key area.


BLITZER: Immigration, border control, that's one of the key issues you're running on. And that's one of the issues where you disagree with the president. Is that right?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: That's right, Wolf. I built the border fence in San Diego. We knocked down crime by 50 percent. Knocked down smuggling in that area by more than 90 percent. And I wrote the provisions in the bill that the president signed that would extend the border fence across Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, some 700-plus miles. That will have a salutary effect on border control, and I think since 9/11, border control is now a national security issue, primarily, not just an immigration issue.

BLITZER: The president, though, says that's important, border security, but you need a temporary guest-worker program. And you need a pathway for citizenship for millions of -- millions of the illegal immigrants who are here right now. I take it that's where you strongly disagree.

HUNTER: That's where I disagree, Wolf, for this reason. Every time the president talks about amnesty or guest worker, massive arrests take place or the arrests go up at the border, because people think they have to come in and get in under the wire, and they overwhelm the border patrol and the National Guard that he sent down to try to stem the crossing.

So, we've got to get the sides up on the house before we decide how to adjust the front door. Right now there's no sides on the house, and once -- once we get the fence up and we have a secure border, then we can address how we're going to adjust that front door and let folks in legally.

But right now, the idea of creating another magnet that will make people, human nature being what it is, think I have to rush for the border, because the U.S. is giving benefits and if I get in under the wire, I'll get there before they have a secure border, that -- that defeats our purposes of the border patrol and the National Guard he sent down and the whole idea of securing this border.


BLITZER: Duncan Hunter is the second Republican to declare his presidential candidacy formally after Senator Sam Brownback. Others, including Senator John McCain, Congressman Tom Tancredo, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson have all formed what are called exploratory committees.

And CNN, remember is a partner in the first presidential debates of the campaign season, which will occur April 4 and 5, this year, in New Hampshire.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, people in cars not allowed on the streets in Beirut. A curfew in effect after deadly clashes between people who support the pro-western Lebanese government and people who support Hezbollah. Three people are dead, more than 150 are wounded.

The United States has given more than $14 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2001. Now, a request for even more. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the administration will ask Congress for $10.6 billion in additional funds.

And a staggering, staggering loss for one of the world's largest carmakers. Ford reports a $12.7 billion-loss for last year. And Ford warns it will continue to bleed cash for two more years. Last year's loss amounts to almost $2,000 for every car and truck Ford sold in the country.

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

Tonight, a leading Democrat is taking direct aim at Dick Cheney's unapologetic defense of Iraq, saying the vice president is in his word "delusional". This comes on the heels of my exclusive, sometimes heated interview, with Mr. Cheney.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's watching this story. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, your interview with the vice president certainly is stirring some controversy here on Capitol Hill, especially when he said the administration has achieved some enormous successes in Iraq. First, let's listen to what the vice president said.


RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Wolf, if the history books were written by people who have -- are so eager to write off this effort, to declare it a failure, including many of our friends in the media, the situation, obviously, would have been over a long time ago. Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes.


BASH: Now, this morning, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate lashed out at the vice president about those comments. Tonight he wanted to make those comments official, an official part of the congressional record, and went to the Senate floor.


SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) MAJORITY WHIP: If the president says our continued course of action is a slow failure, you have to wonder where the vice president is receiving his information. Earlier this morning, I said that he was delusional when it came to this issue. To be delusional is to be out of touch with reality, and I believe the vice president has been out of touch with reality when he makes comments like that. At the least, the American people expect an honest answer about the situation in Iraq.


BASH: And, Wolf, tonight, another Democratic leader joined in here. The House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel issued a statement a short while ago saying, "The vice president may think the country just can't stomach the war anymore, but the reality is, the country just can't stomach the vice president's position on the war." Wolf?

BLITZER: Dana, thanks for that.

In that exclusive interview I had with the vice president, he discounted concerns that the training and the delivery of weapons from the United States to Iraqi forces could eventually backfire with Iraqi Shias turning against the United States. But some say it's a nightmare scenario that certainly cannot be ignored. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's been investigating this part of the story today. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told that in the Haifa Street battles and throughout Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are fighting side by side, but at the same time there are signs that many of those Iraqi troops are having trouble putting their sectarian loyalties aside.


TODD (voice-over): Every day, they fight alongside Americans. With the world's best military resources. Could some of these Iraqi troops come back to haunt U.S. interests in Iraq? A question posed to the vice president by Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: How worried are you of this nightmare scenario -- that the U.S. is building up this Shiite-dominated Iraqi government with an enormous amount of military equipment, sophisticated training and then in the end they are going to turn against the United States?

CHENEY: Wolf, that's not going to happen.

TODD: But several military and political analysts say it very well could.

AARON MILLER, FORMER U.S. MIDEAST NEGOTIATOR: Without a political compact, without an agreement that creates a national identity for an Iraqi army and a national police, I would argue it's a virtual certainty.

TODD: Observers in Baghdad tell CNN many Shias in Iraq's armed forces have strong alliances with Iran. Major powers have been bitten before by armies they've supported. The United States once backed Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran. In Afghanistan, the U.S., through intermediaries gave Islamic rebels sophisticated shoulder- fired missile launchers to use against Soviet forces in the 1980s.

STEVE COLL, AUTHOR, "GHOST WARS": A lot of the high technology weapons ended up in the hands of Islamist rebels who ended up joining the Taliban later and some who were protecting Osama bin Laden at the time that he formed al Qaeda.

TODD: In the early 1980s, Israeli forces trained and equipped the South Lebanon Army made up of Christians and Shias to fight Palestinians in Lebanon. That army later disintegrated.


TODD (on camera): Still, one former U.S. military adviser says if the U.S. forces don't train Iraqis someone else will, namely Iran. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, thanks. So there are some precedents for this kind of situation where U.S. forces wind up helping forces that eventually turn against the United States. But how likely is this nightmare scenario in Iraq?


BLITZER: And joining us now, our Baghdad-based correspondent, Michael Ware, he's in New York for a few days. Bottom line, Michael, this nightmare scenario that we've been talking about, how realistic is it that it could happen? MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's absolutely no doubt whatsoever, Wolf, that America is essentially, if not training and arming its enemies, it's certainly training and arming elements that don't share American interests or, indeed, are opposed to American interests.

Be that Iranian-backed or Iranian sympathetic Shia government forces or even potentially future Sunni members of al Qaeda.

BLITZER: So, the United States is trying to strengthen the Iraqi army, and you're saying, elements of there could eventually turn against the United States. So what would be better right now, to simply continue training and arming them or dump them?

WARE: Well, that's a very difficult question to answer. I mean, as you know, the entire American exit strategy rises and falls upon the strength and capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. Someone or something has to be able to fill that vacuum when U.S. forces pull out. So, there's very little alternative, other than training these people and -- and just dealing with what may result or what comes of it.

BLITZER: What do you see happening in the immediate period ahead? And in terms of defining the immediate period, over the next six months.

WARE: I -- I think that we're going to see a situation that is very similar to what we've got now. I mean, that's one thing about this war. I presume like many, it's constantly mutating. It constantly redefines itself.

So while we see an influx or as the administration calls it, a surge of American troops into Baghdad, that's going to change the nature of the battle in the capital. Will it destroy the enemy? No. It may displace the enemy. It will force them to adapt and change their tactics.

But, is there going to be an overall improvement? Either in the life of the Iraqi people or in American interests represented in Iraq? The short answer is no.

BLITZER: So what should the U.S. be doing right now?

WARE: Well, that's a difficult question. I mean, I think America needs to be very clear about what the situation is on the ground. I mean, it's certainly the administration says it's putting a lot of its faith or maintaining its faith in this Maliki government. If that is, in fact, the case, then I think that faith is poorly placed.

I mean, by now surely the administration knows that this Iraqi government, for what it is, which essentially an alliance of militias, is either not willing to or not able to deliver what America wants. So, at some point, even more difficult decisions are yet to be made by the American government and military commanders, and unpalatable alternatives are yet to be confronted. BLITZER: I've heard some U.S. officials and analysts suggest that maybe Nouri al Maliki should be dumped and someone else emerge as the prime minister.

WARE: Yeah, well, there's certainly a lot of support for that amongst certain quarters of the American intelligence community and perhaps even among military commanders on the ground.

It's clear that so far Maliki hasn't delivered. No matter how many times the administration or American commanders have chided him, lectured him, I mean, even President Bush, as soon as saying we're going to rely on this government, immediately in the State of the Union address turned around and said, yes, but you need to deploy forces and confront the radicals and remove these unnecessary restrictions. So as a partner, what do they offer?

So, yeah, a lot of people would like to see an alternative. The question is, who is it? How do you put them in there? America's committed this. We created this democracy. We created this government, goes the line (ph), how can you then destroy it?

BLITZER: And as Nouri al Maliki himself told "The Wall Street Journal" last month, he hates the job, never wanted it, and can't wait to be done with it. Michael Ware, safe journeys back to Baghdad.

WARE: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, a former dictator toppled by the United States and imprisoned in Florida for years. Soon, Manuel Noriega will be released. Is it justice, or is it outrageous?

And why is the CIA right now coming through a Web site that is very popular with college students? The answer could surprise you. It probably will. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is scheduled to released from a U.S. prison in just a few months almost 18 years after an American invasion ousted him from power, but his legal problems are far from over. Let's go to our Carol Costello. She's in New York with details. Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yep, he is in for more legal trouble. But, Wolf, looking back on what led American troops to invade a country and topple its leader, it wasn't fear of weapons of mass destruction or harboring terrorists groups, it was, in large part, the fear of cocaine.


COSTELLO (voice-over): In September, Manuel Noriega will be going home, to Panama, a prisoner of war, jailed on U.S. soil since the early '90s, he'll be released from a Florida prison to go home and be a grandpa.

FRANK RUBINO, NORIEGA'S ATTORNEY: He wants a return to Panama, not, and I overemphasize this, not re-engage in politics or any kind of a public life. He wants to quietly retire, enjoy his family, enjoy his wife, his children, and especially his grandchildren.

COSTELLO: Hard to imagine the former dictator as a grandfather. Back in 1989, he, not Saddam Hussein, was the brutal dictator behind not the war on terror, but the war on drugs.

The attorney general at the time, Dick Thornburgh, calls him today, "the kind of oppressor we were trying to fight for democracy."

So in December of '89, American troops invaded. The goal? To topple Noriega, arrest him, and try him on drug trafficking and racketeer charges in Florida. Noriega managed to escape, fleeing to the Vatican's Panama City embassy. U.S. troops used the rock band Styx's "Renegade" to drive him out.

Finally, victory.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's a major victory against the drug lords, and I hope it sends a lesson to drug lords here and around the -- around the world, that they'll pay a price if they continue to poison the lives of our kids.

COSTELLO: Noriega denies to this day he was a drug lord. But his lawyer says he feels he got a fair shake when he was tried and convicted in Florida. When he gets back to Panama, Noriega is likely to face murder charges for crimes committed during his regime. It's something his lawyer says he's ready to face.

RUBINO: Not everybody likes him and not everybody hates him, but I think his popularity rating in Panama is much higher than George Bush's rating is in the United States. So he'll probably do much better in Panama.


COSTELLO (on camera): Now, most everybody except Noriega's lawyer says he was an oppressive leader who was accused in the death of his political opponents and a U.S. Marine. President Bush's attorney general at the time, Dick Thornburgh, says he has no regrets about the invasion, calling Noriega a genuine threat to the supporters of democracy. Wolf?

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

Moving on, now, to another story we're following. Get, this are spies ready for social networking? The CIA is using, that hugely popular Web site for college students, to go ahead and try to recruit new officers. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is looking into this story. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can only apply for the CIA online, and they have a pretty impressive career Web site, but they also do send recruiters into the field and they had a couple that were at a college career fair recently and they noticed that students were talking about their presence on campus through Facebook, the popular online social networking site, so the CIA decided that perhaps they should have a presence on Facebook, too, and they went ahead and set up what amounts to an ad buy, essentially. It's called a sponsored group. This is running for a couple months.

They are promoting the National Clandestine Service, which is their most popular division, it's the stuff of the sexy Hollywood spy movies. They say they are not gathering any information on students, they are just giving students more information on themselves.

Now if you take a look at the group now, it's actually working pretty well. They have more than 3,000 members of this sponsored group so far, and they say that Facebook says that these groups are very popular with students as a form of self-expression and company's are starting to use them for recruiting.

The CIA Clandestine Service, rather, is their first agency. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, the CIA wants a lot of new people. Thanks for that.

Up ahead, guess who is coming to dinner? The annual White House correspondents' dinner that is. We'll give you a hint. It won't be Stephen Colbert again. CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us.

And Jack Cafferty wants to know this, what are President Bush's intentions when it comes to Iran and Syria. Jack standing by with THE CAFFERTY FILE and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has certainly inspired ill-feeling from many people around the word with his venomous anti-U.S. comments, but it also appears he's also inspired some resentment among some, some, in his own country. Has he now gone too far? Let's turn to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee. She's watching this potentially significant story. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a powerful voice inside Iran, with a strong message, talk to the West.


VERJEE (voice-over): He's been laying low since he lost the 2005 presidential elections. But Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential Iranian voice is now speaking out on the nuclear issue. In a meeting with a British diplomat, he says Iran is not after any nuclear ambitions.

He added that talks with the United States on the dispute over Iran's nuclear program are possible. He added, too, that Iran would not tolerate any attempt to resolve the issue by force. Analysts say Iranian leaders are fearful of a military showdown with the United States or Israel over its nuclear program and the explosive rhetoric from the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not helping.

AFSHIN MOLAVI, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: And there is very serious concern that Ahmadinejad is not the man to be the front and center, the face of Iran, at this very delicate time.

VERJEE: Rafsanjani has criticized Ahmadinejad's economic policies that have failed to create jobs. A hundred fifty lawmakers want to grill the president before parliament on the economic situation.

MOLAVI: Ahmadinejad is losing his base. And when you lose your base, not only are your wings clipped, but your legs are being clipped as well. And I think that's the real danger that Ahmadinejad faces.

VERJEE: A newspaper owned by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei recently criticized Ahmadinejad's vocal posturing on Iran's nuclear program. U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on the internal bickering.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: There was for quite some time some suspicion that debate was taking place behind closed doors, but now it's broken out into the public, which is certainly interesting.


VERJEE (on camera): And Wolf, with pressure from Iran's political elites it is going to be really interesting to see if Ahmadinejad tones down his explosive rhetoric. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain, thanks for that.

Also this item, Mohammed el-Baradei says an attack on the country two be catastrophic. The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency says attacking Iran, attacking Iran, he says, would encourage it to develop a nuclear bomb.

Jack Cafferty is joining us from New York with "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: One of the unanswered questions on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, Wolf, is what are President Bush's intentions when it comes to Iran and Syria?

Jeff in Sims, North Carolina writes, "I don't think President Bush has any intentions ins to Iran and Syria. He is going to give the Israelis the green light to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and when the Iranian retaliate, we'll come to their aid, the Israeli's aid. In this way, we didn't start it but we'll be in it."

Renea in Plymouth, Michigan writes, "I believe he will start a war before he leads office. They are part of the Axis of Evil, after all. President Bush's job is to start World War III before he leaves. The president believes America's safety depends on it."

Wayne - Ron in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. "After the surge fails I expect President Bush to launch air attacks against Iran. If I were cynical I would think the surge is designed to fail so he can attack Iran and maybe Syria at a later date in order to save the world from terrorism and promote the spread of democracy."

The people are very cynical.

Cathy in West Fargo, North Dakota. "I think he is looking for a confrontation with both that could escalate into another invasion of their country by ours. Mr. Bush doesn't seem to think that having a dialogue is important. Instead, he wants to go in guns blazing. We can't afford to do that."

Jonathan in Tampa, Florida writes, "Clearly, President Bush is up to no good. Congress should cut off funding for the White House electric bill. Mr. Bush might as well be left literally in the dark as well as figuratively."

And Drew in Fairfax, Virginia writes, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran, to be sung to the tune of 'Barbara Ann' by the Beach Boys."

That's very sick, but funny. If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and read some more of them online.

BLITZER: Those of us of a certain age, we remember that song quite well.

CAFFERTY: We do indeed.

BLITZER: Very clever. Thanks very much.

Paula Zahn was just in elementary school and she has no idea what we're talking about. But she's standing by ...

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Oh yeah, you want me to hum it?

BLITZER: ... to tell us what's coming up.

ZAHN: Barbara Ann. I was kind of disappointed you didn't make Jack sing for his supper.

BLITZER: His voice is not very good.

ZAHN: Now that's forever sealed in his mind. Thanks, Wolf. Yes -- no, actually I was in kindergarten.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we shine a light on America's hidden secrets bringing intolerance out in the open. Tonight the controversial new film called "The Bible Tells Me So." It looks how some people use scripture to justify bigotry and sometimes even violence against gays.

Plus, Muslim cabbies say it's against their religion to stop for people who carry alcohol. Freedom of religion and accusations of intolerance coming for you at the top of the hour. See you in about seven minutes. BLITZER: We'll be watching, Paula. Thanks very much. I want to hear some more singing coming up as well.

Still ahead, singe, don't burn. Washington reporters take the bite out of their annual dinner with the president. Find out why Stephen Colbert won't be coming back this year. Jeanne Moos is on this story. You're going to want to see it. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The president of the United States is often the butt of some stinging jokes at the annual White House correspondents' dinner, but this year party planners are planning on playing it safer. They hired an old-school funny man who opted to shed the 21st century edge, at least that's what we're being told. Here's CNN Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From acid-tongued Stephen Colbert to Rich Little, who rarely belittles. What a difference a year makes. At last year's White House correspondents' dinner, president bush seemed amused, then un-amused, then bored as Stephen Colbert mocked him.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares.

MOOS: Some thought Colbert was a hero. Some thought he was rude. So this year they turned to a comedian some thought was dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The legendary Mr. Rich Little.

MOOS: Wait a minute, that's an impersonator, pretending to be Rich Little impersonating Ronald Reagan talking about Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That country is in worse shape than Dean Martin's liver.

MOOS: But don't expect that from the real Rich Little.

(on camera): Are you going to mention the word "Iraq"?

RICH LITTLE, COMEDIAN: Probably not. I don't find anything funny about Iraq.

MOOS (voice-over): Rich Little does some 200 impersonations from Andy Rooney ...

LITTLE: Why do they sterilize needles for lethal injections?

MOOS: To the first President Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do you think a fetus becomes a human being?

LITTLE: When it votes Republican.

MOOS: And the presidents he imitates seem to love it. But is Rich too little, too late in his career? Critics suggest organizers wimped out.

(on camera): The president of the White House Correspondents' Association didn't want to do an on-camera interview, but he summed up the goal of the evening's entertainment in three words, singe, not burn.

(voice-over): "You can't invite the president to dinner and then turn him into a political pinata," says Steve Scully. Besides Billy Crystal wanted $500,000 to do the gig. What they don't want is another Imus. At a different press dinner in 1996 he made jokes about Bill Clinton's womanizing tendencies.


MOOS: That left the president stone-faced and the press at the head table almost staged a walkout.

IMUS: By the way, watching Dan Rather do the news, he looks like he's making a hostage tape.

MOOS: Now Rich Little is hostage to his nice reputation.

(on camera): Everyone seems to think, oh, he's going to be too tame. Maybe you should zing them now?

LITTLE: No, I'm not a zinger.

MOOS (voice-over): After-dinner insults are a little too rich for Rich Little.

LITTLE: Give me best to Wolf, you know, gosh, I haven't seen him in a couple of wars, you know?


BLITZER: I love Rich Little. I always loved Rich Little. I'm looking forward to seeing him at the dinner. Let's go to Paula in New York.


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