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Broward County Chief Medical Examiner Holds Press Conference; Iran Expands Uranium Enrichment Activities

Aired February 22, 2007 - 17:00   ET


We want to go back to Fort Lauderdale.

The Broward County chief medical examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper, is speaking now about the disposition of the body of Anna Nicole Smith.

DR. JOSHUA PERPER, BROWARD COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER: This is the decision of the judge at this time. There is an appeal. You never know the results of an appeal, but I would say that it's very unlikely, in my opinion, that the appeal will be successful.

QUESTION: So how long will the body remain (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PERPER: I cannot hear.

QUESTION: How long will the body remain here?

PERPER: The body would remain here until a final decision of the court is valid. At this time, I have a court order but the court order is under appeal, so I'm not going to rush anything. Anyway, the things cannot be rushed because there are bureaucratic procedures which have to be carried out.

QUESTION: And how is the body holding up right now, because it seems like this is going to be a long process?

PERPER: The body, at this time, has been viewed, was in excellent condition at the time when it was viewed. It was viewed as well as in any regular funeral home.

However, I asked the embalmer how long it's going to be kept in the same condition. And they told me basically that it's impossible to say. The rate of change, you know, depends upon nature.

QUESTION: What about the results of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what else can you tell us about that?

PERPER: I cannot tell you anything because we didn't complete our very extensive investigation, both in depth, extent and in scope. So it's going to take probably another 10 days to two weeks.

QUESTION: Can you tell us...

QUESTION: Can you tell us what you think is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you've been standing out here talking to me every day almost for two weeks now. It's been two weeks now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) talk about this process, how it's played out.

This must be one of the more bizarre things that you've been through or you've seen in...

PERPER: Well...


PERPER: ... there was a lot of issues in this process. Some are pure legal issues and those were handled by the judge, who issued today the final decision.

My duty is to make a determination of the cause of death. In other words, I had to say what caused the death, this unfortunate, sudden, unexpected and initially unexplained death. So I have to come on an explanation why she died.


PERPER: Then, once I do that, I have to make a second determination what is the manner of death. In other words, it's a natural death, it's an accident, it's a suicide or it's a homicide. All the possibilities are there, but at this time, we don't have any evidence of foul play.

But this doesn't mean that things cannot be different in the final determination.


PERPER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Have you ever traveled to another country with the body, the oddity of this situation?

PERPER: Yes. This is a verbal order. It is not in the recent decision. And we are always cooperating with judges. With are part of the administration of justice system. So definitely I am going to honor the decision and the request of the judge.

QUESTION: Pardon me for any redundancy, but when do you expect her body to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PERPER: The body is going to be moved as soon as the appeal is decided. At that time, Mr. Milstein is going to direct me and tell me when this should be done and according to the request of the judge and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the judge (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mr. Milstein can have time to make sure that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: Do you expect it will be today or tomorrow?

PERPER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Do you expect it to be today or tomorrow? PERPER: No. No, I don't expect it today and tomorrow because, as I said before, there are certain bureaucratic procedures which have to be followed and they take time.

QUESTION: Is there anything you can tell us what you've learned so far about Anna Nicole's death?

PERPER: No, because if it's a half-baked conclusion, it's a bad conclusion, and I'm not going to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you talk about just the oddity of the situation?

PERPER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: The strangeness of this situation.

Can you talk about how bizarre this whole thing has been, this -- these whole series of events?

PERPER: Right. You know, certainly it's an unusual case. Even your numbers here shows that. You don't rate cases by that. I am sure that there were cases in which you had as many reporters and perhaps more.

Certainly it's a situation which is unusual in many ways. It's very unfortunate that you have the death of a young person who has a very young child, just a few months old.

It's a situation in which we were not able to make a determination immediately upon the completing of the autopsy. But I am confident -- I am very confident, based on what we -- what we know so far in our investigation, that we are going to be able to make a final determination, which is going to be solid enough so this is not going to be any valid or reasonable (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: Dr. Perper, have you ever traveled with a body before?

PERPER: No, I -- that's not part of the -- of the activities of the medical examiner. But, look, we never had a viewing in the medical examiner's office ever. But we believe that it's our responsibility to assist the court and it's our responsibility to make things easy for the family, as easy as possible.

So, all the time they are going to meetings which I did not do before -- that's one of the interesting things in my field.

QUESTION: And, again, today, what is the condition of Anna Nicole's body? Is it...

PERPER: The condition at this time is very good. However, the embalmer cannot guarantee that this condition is going to be maintained over an extensive period of time or something (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: So still you want the body to be buried as quickly as possible?

PERPER: I think that, you know, we -- we have a certain responsibility for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) expect and they should be buried as soon as possible. There's no need for them to stay on the surface of the Earth when our culture requires (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: How do you feel about traveling with the body to the Bahamas? It's got to, you know, from a human standpoint, how does it make you feel that you have to undertake a task like that?

PERPER: The judge asked me to do so.


PERPER: I don't see that it's nothing important. He wants to make sure that everything is done right. And I'll comply with the decision of the judge willfully. I think that that's something which I can help, I'm always ready to do.

QUESTION: Mr. Perper, what are the -- where did the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) delayed some of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Where is that coming from (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PERPER: I really don't know who's really appealing that decision. I really don't know who is appealing the decision. At this time, I just was told that there is an appeal. It doesn't matter who is appealing, the fact is what's going to be the fate of the appeal.


QUESTION: Is it your best estimate, Saturday? Sunday? Monday?

PERPER: I am not a magician. I cannot predict what's going to happen. But I believe that within the next day, we'll have a final decision.

QUESTION: Is anybody else...

QUESTION: So maybe Saturday...



QUESTION: Maybe Saturday the body could be...

PERPER: I -- I really wouldn't tie myself to any day, because I don't know.

QUESTION: Is anybody else going to be permitted to come and view the body before it's moved?

PERPER: At this time, we don't have such requests. And I think that all the people who had a reasonable right or a legal right to view the body have viewed it.


PERPER: Not at this time.


QUESTION: Thanks very much.

BLITZER: All right, that's Dr. Joshua Perper, the chief medical examiner -- the chief medical examiner from the Broward County, making two important announcements there, that the judge has asked him to accompany the body to the Bahamas, presumably for burial, together with the court-appointed guardian for the little baby, Dannielynn. Richard Milstein is the attorney who is the court-appointed guardian.

The judge in this case, Larry Seidlin, deciding that the guardian should have custody of the body. He wants the body buried in the Bahamas.

We had heard earlier from various family members and friends and attorneys saying they had agreed that the body would be buried in the Bahamas next to her son, Danny, who died some six months or so ago. But now Dr. Perper is saying that there is an appeal to Judge Larry Seidlin's decision, an appeal that is going to require some time for adjudication.

And, as a result, it's unclear when he and Richard Milstein, the court-appointed guardian, will be able to accompany the body to the Bahamas for burial.

So this is a new twist, a new wrinkle, in this case.

Let's go to the courthouse.

Susan Candiotti standing by -- Susan, I don't know if you can hear me.

I think we just lost Susan Candiotti, unfortunately.

Jeff, let me play for our viewers who may have missed it earlier, a clip of what this very emotional judge, Larry Seidlin, said earlier today.


JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, BROWARD COUNTY DISTRICT COURT: I want her buried with her son. I want her -- there's no -- there's no shouting.


SEIDLIN: This is not a -- this is not a happy moment. I want her buried with her son in the Bahamas. I want them to be together.



BLITZER: An emotional moment, indeed, for a lot of people in that courthouse.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is watching this.

This is a new wrinkle, a new legal wrinkle, that we just heard Dr. Perper, the chief medical examiner, say, that someone has come forward with an appeal to Judge Seidlin's decision.

It's going to, presumably, cause some delay.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, perhaps. It's almost certainly the mother, Virgie, who will appeal, because she is the clear loser in this. She was the person who was asking the judge to send the body to Texas. And even though the judge's ruling is somewhat peculiar in that he didn't specifically order the body to go to the Bahamas, he awarded custody of the body to Mr. Milstein, who is the guardian of the baby, Dannielynn, and then essentially advised him to send the body to the Bahamas.

That ruling is basically satisfactory to everyone, except Virgie, the mother, who is presumably the person who is appealing.

But I think she's going to need to get a stay from the appellate court in order to stop this body from being -- leaving. And the mere filing of an appeal doesn't necessarily stop the effect of a trial court ruling.

So I expect that there will be clear legal rights to move -- move the body tomorrow or the next day.

BLITZER: Is it surprising that the judge asked the chief medical examiner, Dr. Perper, to accompany the body to the Bahamas, together with Richard Milstein, the court-appointed guardian of this little baby?

TOOBIN: Well, I've been pretty critical of Judge Seidlin all along. But I think this is actually a smart thing to do.

This situation has been so chaotic, there are so many people, not least those of us in the press, trying to, you know, get access to the body, trying to interfere with the process, in some cases, that assigning these -- this top person, the top medical examiner, Dr. Perper, to make sure things go smoothly in this unusual transfer of a body from one country to another -- after all, I mean the Bahamas is a separate country -- it does seem like a prudent decision to make sure things go smoothly, that you have a high ranking official there with the body, as Dr. Perper is.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

Thanks very much.

Let's move on to other news we're following.

Fresh evidence today of a frightening new insurgent weapon, a chlorine bomb. The U.S. military says a raid near Falluja uncovered a car bomb factory complete with deadly chemicals. A car bomb loaded with chlorine canisters blew up in Baghdad yesterday, killing six people and unleashing a poison cloud, which sent dozens of coughing, choking people to the hospital.

Tuesday, a chlorine tanker truck rigged with explosives blew up near Taji, killing at least six people, sickening -- and sickening scores more.

Last month in Ramadi, a suicide bomber blew up a dump truck loaded with chlorine -- a chlorine tank.

The U.S. military says that with these dirty chemical bombs, insurgents are changing their tactics, trying to raise the terror level among the Iraqi people.

So have the insurgents found a new way to strike fear and spread death?

And joining us now in Baghdad, our correspondent, Michael Ware -- Michael, what's going on with these chlorine gas bombings, these trucks filled with this poison gas exploding, killing lots of people in the Baghdad area?

Is this a new technique?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing, Wolf, is two kinds of attack here. Let's get started with that.

One is your ordinary car bomb packed with explosives, but they're putting in some chlorine gas tanks that will go off with the detonation.

The second kind of attack, which is of the kind that we saw a couple of days ago, is actually a -- a gas -- chlorine gas cylinder tanker rigged with explosives that was detonated.

This -- these are two of three we've seen in recent weeks. We saw a car bomb version in Ramadi, as well.

Now, in these attacks, in Ramadi 16 people were killed. In Baghdad, here, there were six killed. And in Taji, I believe it was five.

However, it's not known how many people died from the explosions themselves and how many died from the attacks of the -- the effects of the chlorine.

What we do know, that in these two attacks in Baghdad and Taji, more than 200 people were hospitalized with respiratory illness.

What we need to be aware of is that chlorine is a very difficult thing to use as a weapon. Indeed, if you don't get it just right, a lot of it just burns off harmlessly in the explosion and becomes non- toxic.

You need to concentrate this stuff. But I can tell you this, Wolf, the insurgents have been experimenting with these things since 2003, 2004. I was with them when they were trying to fill mortars with various types of chemicals, mainly blister agents left over from Saddam's regime.

Indeed, an example that was sent to me at one point, I had to have removed from my house by an American military HAZMAT team.

So these guys have been dabbling with these things. There just seems to be a surge in it in the past three or four weeks.

BLITZER: And one of the most dangerous parts of it, the plume, this cloud that develops. You don't know which direction it's going to move and you don't know, if you're in the vicinity of one of these explosions, which way to run.

WARE: Well, from what we've been told by the experts, is that essentially a chlorine gas cloud is invisible. So you can't see it anyway. But you need it in a high concentration, certainly for it to be lethal.

However, it doesn't have to be in that kind of a concentration to cause respiratory problems or other kinds of irritations.

So it may not kill, but as we all well know with weapons of this sort, their true power is the ability to instill terror. And let's have a look at it, Wolf. Let's be frank. You and I are now talking about these three attacks in Iraq. The people of Iraq are now talking about it.

Ignorance -- people unaware of the true impact or limitations of these weapons, are talking about this and the fear spreads. That's the real power, not the damage the bomb itself causes.

BLITZER: A real weapon of terror.

Michael, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Up ahead, Vice President Dick Cheney besieged at home and now abroad. We're going to have details of what's becoming a fast moving political pile-on.

Also, shows of force and sanctions -- but tensions still growing between the U.S. and Iran.

What steps can Washington take next to end a potential nuclear standoff?

And is President Bush changing his tune when it comes to global warming?

I'll ask his energy secretary, Samuel Bodman. He's standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's an act of defiance. Iran is expanding its uranium enrichment activities and moving ahead with programs that could help it build a nuclear bomb. That's what the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency has just reported to the United Nations Security Council.

But can the U.S. or anyone else do anything about it?

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's joining us from New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, how to respond is now the question for the U.S. and members of the U.N. Security Council, which did vote to impose sanctions on Iran in December.


SNOW (voice-over): With Iran defiant and expanding its nuclear program, what is the next step for the U.S.?

The Bush administration has two aircraft carrier teams in the Persian Gulf region. Officials say it is a reminder of how quickly they can move other ships into the region.

There is a call for stiffer economic sanctions against Iran. But one former diplomat says there must be carefully targeted.

CARNE ROSS, DIRECTOR, INDEPENDENT DIPLOMAT: I think the lesson from Iraq is that you need to be a lot more intelligent about sanctions. You need to design very carefully targeted measures that hit the people in power, don't hit the civilian population.

SNOW: One idea is to target businesses -- engineering and construction companies, for example, that are controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

MATTHEW LEVITT, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: The IRGC holds billions of dollars in resources and enjoys billions of dollars in no bid contracts that it gets from the Iranian regime.

SNOW: Experts say for the U.S. to put economic pressure on Iran, it will be more complicated than sanctions imposed on North Korea. Those sanctions were focused on the elite.

LEVITT: Denying Kim Jung Il and his cronies the ability to import the cigars and caviar they wanted was an easy way to put economic stress on that elite without impacting the average North Korean at all.

SNOW: A big difference?

Iran has oil. Experts say oil sanctions can be very damaging, but are a double-edged sword.

ROSS: If Iran's oil was taken off the market, oil prices would presumably spike and the pain would be felt much more broadly than just in Iran. And that, arguably, is something that few people want to contemplate. And I think Iran knows that.


SNOW: Now, one big obstacle is getting broad international agreement on tough sanctions, since Russia and China would likely resist -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks for that.

Mary Snow reporting from New York.

Let's get some more now on what the United States might be able to do to pressure compliance from Iran.

Joining us now is the energy secretary, Samuel Bodman.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: What else can you do? Is there anything you can do to try to stop the Iranians from going forward with what the U.N. -- the International Atomic Energy Agency and others are saying is steps that could lead to a nuclear bomb?

BODMAN: Well, we've said all along that we are very concerned that their intention is to build a bomb. I mean that's our view. And...

BLITZER: They deny that.

BODMAN: They deny -- I understand that. But our view is that that's -- that we're correct and they are incorrect.

Therefore, we have also said that we're going to work very hard to have a diplomatic solution. So it will -- we'll go back to the United Nations and I am sure there will be a situation where we will -- we will seek additional sanctions.

BLITZER: The Iranians, President Ahmadinejad and all of his top officials there, they insist the only thing they want to do is build peaceful nuclear reactors.

BODMAN: Right.

BLITZER: The president supports peaceful nuclear reactors.


BLITZER: Listen to what he said only today on this issue.

This is the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I happen to believe that if you're concerned about the environment and want to deal with renewable sources of energy, that we need to pursue nuclear power. It -- those power plants emit zero greenhouse gases.


BLITZER: All right, so I assume if you can get the guarantees from the Iranians, then you wouldn't have a problem with them building peaceful nuclear reactors?

BODMAN: They've been offered peaceful nuclear reactors. The Russians offered that. And they declined it. And so I think that they seem to have a desire to move forward with their own enrichment technology.

And that's really been where the rub has been before.

BLITZER: Do you have an assessment of how much time the U.S. and it allies has before the Iranians actually have a nuclear bomb?

BODMAN: That's not something I can discuss here.

BLITZER: But you -- you've received some assessments?

BODMAN: Well, I have not...

BLITZER: You have a timeline, but it's...

BODMAN: I have received assessments. Yes, I have.

BLITZER: But it's classified?

BODMAN: That's correct.


I won't press you on that, therefore.

Let's talk about global warming right now. John McCain -- he said this the other day: "I would asses this administration's record on global warming as terrible."

He says it's improving, but it's been terrible.


BLITZER: What do you say to Senator McCain, a Republican presidential candidate?

BODMAN: I would say this to Senator McCain, that with all due respect, I disagree with him. I think that this president has put us on a path of reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of our economy by 18 percent between -- I think when we started in 2002 for 10 years, up to 2012.

We're on that path. We are -- we are, I think, making excellent progress on that.

This has been something this president has taken very seriously, since back in the year 2001. I think he was correct to reject the Kyoto agreement because it didn't include developing nations, particularly China and India.

Those have to be a part of anything that we do.

BLITZER: Is there any doubt, any lingering doubt in the administration, in the Department of Energy, about global warming right now?

Because, as you know, some critics have suggested the science still has not been 100 percent proven.

BODMAN: Well, I think it's -- it's been proven to my satisfaction, for sure. And it's been proven in large measure because of investments that this president has made. That's what's something that doesn't seem to get in the story.

BLITZER: So Al Gore's concern -- he's about, potentially, to win an Academy Award Sunday night for his "Inconvenient Truth," his documentary...


BLITZER: But is he right when he issues these alarming calls saying within a decade this could be the worst human -- this -- the worst natural disaster ever?

BODMAN: I don't believe that it's that serious. I do believe that it is serious and it's something that is not going to be the worst disaster that this world has -- has confronted, in my judgment.

But we are continuing to learn. This president has committed $30 billion over the last six years to studying both the climate science and the climate technology in order to develop a better understanding.

Of the six fastest computers in the world, Wolf, four of them are owned by the Energy Department, by my department.

BLITZER: And you're evidence shows...

BODMAN: And we...

BLITZER: ... that there is a serious problem here.

BODMAN: And we believe that it's a serious problem and that it is a -- it is a concern, and that the president has put us on a path that has led to our having a better environmental record insofar as greenhouse gases are concerned than most of the -- of the significant countries in Europe.

BLITZER: I'm just curious, did you see Al Gore's movie?

BODMAN: I haven't. BLITZER: All right.

Let's see what -- let's see if he wins that Academy Award Sunday night.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.

BODMAN: Happy to be here, sir.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

BODMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, American military officials fear it's a concerted effort. Insurgents in Iraq are bent on shooting down U.S. helicopters. We're going to tell you how the U.S. military is trying to adapt right now.

Plus, rape as a weapon of war -- there is outrage in Iraq right now, as the country is forced to confront one of its biggest taboos.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Amid the death and dread delivered via that new tactic of insurgents using so-called dirty chemical bombs, militants in Iraq are flaunting another deadly tactic -- they're shooting down American helicopters.

Let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. commanders are convinced that the unusual number of U.S. helicopters shot down in Iraq is no fluke.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): There's not much debate anymore about whether this February 7th attack in which a Marine Corps helicopter was shot out of the sky is part of a trend. Eight helicopters downed by hostile fire in just four weeks is a trend. In fact, more helicopters have been shot down so far this year in Iraq than in all of 2006.

It's a pattern that's making the already dangerous mission of flying over Iraq even more deadly, according to one veteran Army pilot.

CWO5 RAY JOHNSON, BLACK HAWK PILOT INSTRUCTOR: I don't know if they've changed their tactics or what's happened over there, but obviously something's gone wrong.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. thinks tactics are the same, but the level of effort is greater.

LT. GEN. RAY ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: There were probably some sort of ambush sites that were set up by -- by some of our foes. We are studying those intently and we're trying to learn from those, and we will learn from those. And we will adapt our tactics.

MCINTYRE: In Iraq, the vast majority of casualties are from roadside bombs. And that's forced the U.S. to rely more on helicopters to get around. In fact, the military says the number of helicopter flying hours has jumped nearly 70 percent since 2005. That makes for what the military calls a target-rich environment.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: They're watching what we do. They're paying attention to it. They're very patient. And we, in turn, are modifying our flight routes, our tactics, our formations, our altitudes, our time of flight, and a lot of other things in order to offset what they're intending to do against us.


MCINTYRE: And Wolf, the U.S. is also on a counter-offense of hunting down cells they believe are targeting these U.S. helicopters. At least two suspects have been taken into custody. One the U.S. military says has admitted his role in targeted those U.S. choppers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's the dilemma that I have heard U.S. military experts say the military in Iraq faces right now. If those Black Hawks, those Apaches, those helicopters fly too low, they're vulnerable to small arms fire or rocket-propelled grenades. If they fly higher, they're vulnerable to Stinger missiles or shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.

What's the -- what's the in between? Or what's the -- what's the strategy - the new strategy they have to come up with?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, the key is unpredictability. The problem is, if they're engaged in a firefight, they may have to stay in one place for a while. That could be a problem.

But the general rule is, fly low, fly fast, be unpredictable. Fly at night, if possible. And what they're trying to do is just vary their tactics and target the people on the ground who are going after the helicopters.

BLITZER: A serious problem, Jamie. Thanks for that report.

Meanwhile, hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants, along with the top bosses at a janitorial firm, are now caught up in the latest government crackdown on undocumented workers.

Let's get the specific details from our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the three top executives at a nationwide cleaning company were charged today with fraud and tax crimes. Investigators also taking into custody at least 200 of the company's illegal employees.


ARENA (voice over): They worked at places like Hard Rock Cafe and ESPN Zone as janitors, all employed by Florida-based Rosenbaum- Cunningham International, or RCI, a cleaning contractor. According to the indictment, RCI's two co-owners and its controller allegedly supplied its illegal workers with fake green cards and paid them under the table in cash, avoiding more than $18 million in taxes.

JOHN IMHOFF, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: They bought luxury boats and homes, lavish vehicles, race horses, and even paid for their kids' college tuition.

ARENA: They now face various criminal, immigration and tax charges. As for their cleaning employees, officials say they will enter deportation proceedings.

JULIE MYERS, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, ICE: Over 220 people were arrested at 63 locations in 17 states and the District of Columbia.


ARENA: Wolf, so far only one executive is in custody. The other two are expected to turn themselves in pretty soon. And it's important to note that this investigation remains ongoing.

BLITZER: And what happens, Kelli, to the company involved?

ARENA: The company involved is kaput. We called them today, there's an answering machine message that says, "We are no longer in business."

BLITZER: I guess that will do it.

Thanks very much, Kelli, for that.

Coming up, using rape as a weapon of war. Two Iraqi women are now speaking out. We'll have this important and disturbing story. It's rocking not only Iraq, but so much of the Arab world.

You're going to want to see it.

Also, the storm came, and legions of African-Americans went. Yet, long after Hurricane Katrina, many black Americans have stayed away from New Orleans. Are they losing their influence in the city's politics?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's one of the most taboo subjects in the Arab world -- that would be rape. But it's now being used as a weapon in Iraq. And with victims now coming forward, Iraqis are now being forced to confront rape in truly unprecedented ways.

Let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, this is astounding. This is a region where honor killings are still practiced. A claim of rape could cost you your life.


COSTELLO (voice over): They have become the last pawns in the ugly war between Sunnis and Shiites. Two Iraqi women have come forward with very public claims they were raped.

The first allegation came Monday, when a Sunni Muslim woman appeared on Al-Jazeera TV and declared three Iraqi police officers raped her. The Shiite-led Iraqi government was quick to react.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calling her allegations fabricated propaganda aimed at obstructing law enforcement. What some say is Maliki's rush to judgment sparked protest in support of the alleged victim, heightening tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and causing concern in the United States about Maliki's leadership.

Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.

REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it's kind of shocking. If you can imagine having the head of state in any other country speaking about what should be a local criminal manner -- he should not be involved in this other than as the head of state to demand that the rule of law and the kind of due process that this woman should have should be followed by the local jurisdiction.

COSTELLO: Iraqi newspapers are closely following the story. It's being debated on Arab TV. Some commentators challenging the U.S. military doctors who treated the alleged victim to release her medical records.

CALDWELL: She was released with her medical records. What she does with those is her own decision. But nothing out of the multinational force would be released from us.

COSTELLO: So far, U.S. officials are staying out of it. But now another Sunni woman has come forward, this time accusing Iraqi soldiers. Her story, again on tape and very public.

And while four Iraqi soldiers were arrested on this complaint, some U.S. lawmakers say there have been other victims of such abuse in Iraq who are keeping silent.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: And if more alleged victims do come forward, it will create a real challenge for a government already under fire for not protecting its people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What else do these concerned members of Congress like Ellen Tauscher and others, what else do they want to see done?

COSTELLO: Well, they really want the Iraqi government to step up. As for any U.S. involvement, they say the United States should stay out of it. This is local matter, and it should be handled professionally by the Iraqi police.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks for that.

A sensitive subject, indeed, but an important one.

Up ahead, "Uncovering America." Has Hurricane Katrina killed the African-American soul of New Orleans. We're going to show you how the storm has changed the political landscape there, some say possibly forever.

Plus, problems mounting for Vice President Dick Cheney. Are they costing him his clout in the Bush administration?

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


BLITZER: "Uncovering America." Today, as part of our in-depth series on the conflicts, the controversies impacting minority groups, we take a closer look at what's happened to the African-American soul of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, has the story -- Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was the center of African-American life in New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward, nearly swept away by the big flood. But also nearly swept away now is the African-American influence in New Orleans' politics and culture.


ROESGEN (voice over): This is a New Orleans tradition that goes back more than 100 years, African-American men who parade as Mardi Gras Indians. But after Hurricane Katrina, half the Indians are gone. Too many African-Americans all across the city evacuated and haven't come back, in spite of the hope that they would.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS: This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.

ROESGEN: Last year, Mayor Ray Nagin predicted that African- Americans would be the dominant majority again in New Orleans. But so far, it hasn't happened. Before Katrina, African-Americans made up 67 percent of the city's population. Today, that number is just 52 percent. And what used to be the most powerful voting bloc in the city is missing.

SILAS LEE, POLITICAL ANALYST: That Democratic base is now dispersed, whereas before it was centralized in specific areas of the city. Now that base is dispersed between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well as Texas and Georgia. Therefore, the ability to do the traditional get-out-the-vote activities is not there.

ROESGEN: Political analyst Silas Lee says more white moderate candidates will have a much better chance of getting elected now. And although the city has had only African-American mayors for 29 years, Lee says Ray Nagin may be the last for a while when his term is up.

Also, the shift to a more conservative political base could mean trouble for liberal white politicians like Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and U.S. senator Mary Landrieu. Unless more African-Americans return, their political hold on this city, like the Mardi Gras Indian, is in danger of fading away.


ROESGEN: Something else to consider is what political effect New Orleans evacuees might have now on their adopted homes in places especially like Texas and Georgia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Susan. Thanks very much.

Susan Roesgen on the scene for us in New Orleans.

Up ahead, it's getting ugly early. The Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama food fight continuing today. Is anyone coming out a winner? We'll have a new report on this presidential campaign showdown. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

And Vice President Dick Cheney, is he facing some new problems? He may be compiling quite an enemy's list these days. Is it a political pile-on? What's going on?

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


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up right at the top of hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": We've got a lot coming up, Wolf.

We'll be reporting on corporate America's new effort to push amnesty legislation for illegal aliens. Corporate elites launching a new assault on the war on this nation's middle class.

Also, federal agents arrest top executives and 200 cleaning workers in a nationwide crackdown on a company employing illegal aliens. Is the federal government beginning to enforce immigration laws?

We'll have that story.

And you won't believe how many of our children are drinking liquor. Each and every day, 13,000 children are taking their first drink of alcohol.

We'll have that special report in "The War Within."

And among our guests here tonight, the president of a liberal advocacy group, Jonathan Cowan, who believes all is well with our beleaguered middle class despite all the evidence to the contrary. He and I will have a frank and open discussion about that.

I'll have a few words for Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Diocese. He wants you to give up something for Lent.

And a few thoughts as well about a Bush administration version of foreign policy that is emboldening, not weakening, this nation's adversaries.

Please join us for all of that at the top of the hour.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lou. Sounds like an important show coming up in a few minutes.

His poll numbers are persistently low. I'm referring to the vice president, Dick Cheney. He's speaking live right now in Australia. Some have called his credibility into question.

Now the vice president is experiencing some stinging side-effects from all of that, even as he travels abroad.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us with more -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the vice president could not possibly be any further from Washington than he is now. But he cannot escape what's become a political pile-on.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Cheney is to be recognized as a war criminal that he actually is.

TODD (voice over): At Australia, at home, a once invincible vice president is besieged but defends a U.S. path in Iraq that still bears much of his signature.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all it will do is validate the al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The vice president's statement are beneath the dignity of the debate that we are engaged in.

TODD: Dick Cheney also returns fire against Senator John McCain for this attack on another architect of the war...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.

CHENEY: Well, I disagree with John. John said some nasty things about me the other day, and the next time he saw me, he ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld.

TODD: McCain last month said, "The president listened too much to the vice president. He was very badly served."

Also hanging over Cheney's head, his former chief of staff awaiting a jury's verdict on perjury and obstruction charges. A trial that's pulled back the curtain on the vice president's office, showing a coordinated effort to publicly strike back at a high-profile critic and vicious infighting with the CIA over who should take blame for faulty prewar intelligence.

Despite this trail, Mr. Cheney still has committed support.

FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: Dick Cheney remains a very active and generally very effective player inside both the administration and inside Washington. Reports of his political demise, I think, have been greatly exaggerated. Reports of his incompetence are exaggerated as well.


TODD: And the facts remain -- Dick Cheney still has the president's ear and is still on message, never straying from his belief that this administration is on the right course in Iraq and the war on terror -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Brian Todd reporting here in Washington.

Meanwhile, as we said, the vice president's poll ratings remain low. A recent "USA Today"-Gallup poll shows only 37 percent of Americans view him favorably, 58 percent view him unfavorably.

Up next, the flights to space with a seat for you. We're going to show you why they could now be one step closer to reality.

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


BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol. She's monitoring all of the developments coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM. She's got some other stories making news.


BLITZER: We'll be back in an hour. Let's check in with Lou in New York.


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