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British Marines Seized by Iran; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Will Not Speak at UN

Aired March 23, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, we're going to have a lot more on this incident at sea. British Marines grabbed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

With nuclear tensions already high, why is Iran right now raising the stakes?

Donald Trump says America needs someone who can do more than simply wave.

As Condoleezza Rice starts a new Middle Eastern mission, can she close a deal?

And authorities pinpoint the poison in that deadly pet food.

How did a banned chemical end up in the bowls of America's cats and dogs?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A dramatic and dangerous escalation in the Persian Gulf today. Fifteen -- 15 British Marines from the HMS Cornwall inspecting a merchant vessel were surrounded and seized by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. There are already hair trigger tensions over Iran's nuclear program.

Our Brian Todd is standing by.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Tehran.

But let's go to the Pentagon and our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie, what's the sense?

Is this a deliberate provocation or was there simply some sort of miscalculation?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's the question that a lot of Pentagon officials are asking today. The U.S. is not directly involved, but Great Britain is an ally and obviously the U.S. is very interested in how this all turns out.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) MCINTYRE (voice-over): The last time Iran captured British seamen, back in 2004, it paraded them blindfolded on television and made them apologize before releasing all eight after just three days.

Then, as now, the Iranians claim the British Navy violated their territorial waters near the Iran-Iraq border. This time, the British frigate, HMS Cornwall, stopped a merchant ship suspected of smuggling cars and dispatched 15 Royal Marines in two small boats to inspect the cargo.

The British commander on scene insists it was a routine boarding.

COMMODORE NICK LAMBERT, BRITISH ROYAL NAVY: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were in Iraqi territorial waters.

MCINTYRE: But what happened next in the northern Persian Gulf took the Marines by surprise. As many as six vessels from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, not the regular Iranian Navy, captured the Marines and took them away.

Experts say Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is only loosely controlled by Iran's central government and often has its own agenda, such as smuggling arms or oil.

JON ALTERMAN, CSIS: But there certainly are economic interests that the IRGC has in smuggling, that they are very, very jealous about protecting.

MCINTYRE: After hours of silence, Iran's state television eventually claimed the British Marines were captured in Iranian waters. That was long after the British Foreign Office lodged a formal protest with Iran's ambassador.

MARGARET BECKETT, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: I understand the meeting with my permanent secretary was brisk, but polite. But as I say, we have left them in no doubt we want our personnel and equipment back.


MCINTYRE: Iran's provocative actions comes at the U.S. military has been flexing its military muscle in the Gulf, dispatching a second carrier strike group there and as the U.S. has been holding as many as five of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iraq, where it's suspected of aiding Shia militias, and as the U.N. is considering further sanctions for Iran's refusal to give up its uranium enrichment.

But the State Department today says it doesn't think any of those things should be connected -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a real tense situation.

Jamie, thank you.

Brian Todd, what can these -- these British Marines right now being held by the Iranians expect based on past experience? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, to find that out and learn how the Royal Marines may be dealing with that experience, we spoke with former British and American military officers, some who have trained servicemen for this experience, some who have gone through it.


TODD (voice-over): Blindfolded and huddled, one indication of what the British Marines might be facing. These British servicemen, seized by the Iranian Navy off the coast of Iraq in 2004, later released.

A retired American Special Forces officer, who was briefly detained in the Middle East, says the Royal Marines in this case are likely being held in a police or military facility.

Their possible interrogation?

COL. PATRICK LANG (RET.), FORMER SPECIAL FORCES OFFICER: You bring somebody in in isolation from his comrades, sit him down and start asking him detailed questions and asking him over and over again, have several people ask the questions in the hope of tripping the person up.

TODD: In 2001, Shane Osborn piloted a U.S. reconnaissance plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet. After managing to land in a Chinese island, Osborn and his crew were held for 11 days.

He says they weren't tortured, but...

SHANE OSBORN, FORMER NAVY PILOT: They used sleep deprivation on myself and tried to get certain information that we weren't willing to give up. And the crew stuck together and made it through. But it was a pretty -- pretty scary situation.

TODD: How to prepare?

Osborn and other former U.S. servicemen tell us about a program called SEAR -- Survival Evasion Resistance Escape. Trainees dumped in the wilderness. Those who can't evade capture taken to a mock POW camp -- bound, hooded and...

LANG: And they locked you up in little cages and very, very hostile interrogations with people screaming and yelling at you. And they hung people up by the thumbs for a while.

TODD: How are British servicemen trained to resist in captivity?

COL. BOB STEWART, BRITISH ARMY (RET.): They make you very cold. They take your clothes away. Sometimes they take your clothes off. They leave you out in the open. They chain you to -- to the ground. They make you kneel with a sandbag over your head, with your hands on your head, for a very long period.

(END VIDEO TAPE) TODD: That British officer says in his training, if he gave away any information beyond name, rank, serial number and date of birth, he was considered broken.

The Americans say they were given fake intelligence and when put through all that mental and physical torture, they were tested to see how long they could hold it in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, a serious situation.

Thank you.

By the way, this is the region where tensions have suddenly escalated. The Shatt Al-Arab is a river that flows to the Persian Gulf, forming part of the border between Iraq and Iran. A source of dispute for centuries, it was the flashpoint for an all out war back in the 1980s, during which Iran and Iraq attacked international shipping.

Two decades later, the allies now patrol the area with the blessing of the United Nations.

Tehran is already in a tense standoff with the world community over its nuclear program and now there is word that Iran's president will not, after all, be flying to New York ahead of the United Nations sanctions vote.

Let's turn to CNN's Aneesh Raman.

He's joining us in the Iranian capital.

Why the change of plans -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a confusing situation at best. But out of the Iranian ambassador at the U.N. information is coming out that while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did have a visa that would have gotten him to New York in time to speak to the Security Council, the cabin crew for his presidential plane did not.

Because of that, he is unable to make the trip. Iranian officials say the country's foreign minister is going to travel on a commercial airliner to try and make it to New York in time to speak ahead of this vote.

Iran has said it put these visas in some time ago. But U.S. State Department officials have said incomplete visa applications among some -- and we presume the cabin crew to be among them -- were the reason for the delay. And, in the end, that stopped this trip by the Iranian president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what are they saying there in Tehran where you are, Aneesh, about this 15 captured British Marines who were taken into captivity today?

RAMAN: Well, hours passed, the entire day passed before we got any comment from the Iranian government. They say it was an arrest because they passed illegally into Iranian waters.

In terms of how long they will be held, we only have the past to look to as a predictor. In 2004, they were held for three days.

Because this is a territorial dispute, we expect it to be a matter of days, not weeks. There had been some speculation it could have been a tit for tat scenario because Iranians continue to be held in Iraq. If that was the case, this could get prolonged longer.

But, again, the sense on the ground is this will be a matter of days, not weeks, before these British military personnel are released -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting from Tehran.

Aneesh doing an excellent job, as usual.

Thank you.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're doing a fine job yourself, there, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thank you.

You, too.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba during his first few weeks on the job. The "New York Times" quotes senior administration officials who say that Gates argued that GITMO has such a negative image abroad, that the legal hearings for the detainees held there would be seen as illegitimate.

Guess who said no?

None other than Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, backed, of course, by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The "Times" report says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice actually agreed with Gates that GITMO ought to be shut down. But those discussions came to an abrupt halt when President Bush turned them down.

However, it may not be over. Some think that if Gonzales steps down as attorney general or if he's weakened some more by this federal prosecutor controversy, then the debate over Guantanamo could be revived. GITMO currently holds close to 400 prisoners, including 14 senior leaders of al Qaeda.

So here's the question -- is now the time for the United States to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay? E-mail us, or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, who is the decider when it comes to withdrawing troops from Iraq?


REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: I am not a general. Neither is -- is General Pelosi, even though she thinks she is.


BLITZER: An outspoken congressman lashing out as House Democrats for setting a troop withdrawal deadline. My interview with Tom Tancredo. That's coming up.

Also, assassination attempt on a top Iraqi leader. Who's gunning for him and why it may be an inside job.

And a flurry of afternoon news conferences about that recalled pet food that's killed more than a dozen animals and panicked pet owners across the country. We have some new details for all of you.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A deadline for withdrawal -- the House narrowly passing an Iraq spending bill that requires U.S. combat troops to pull out of Iraq by the end of August 2008.

But President Bush is vowing to veto that bill, accusing lawmakers who supported the bill of abdicating their responsibility to protect U.S. forces.

Two Republicans crossed party lines to vote in favor of the measure. Fourteen Democrats voted against it.

Could Congress be undercutting the president's new strategy in Iraq?

Is the troop increase already reaping results?

And joining us now in Baghdad, our correspondent, Michael Ware -- Michael, a very important vote in the House of Representatives here in Washington today. The president reacting very firmly, suggesting that some of the initial signs this new U.S. military strategy in Baghdad and the Al-Anbar Province seems to be working, at least right now.

You're there on the scene.

What's your assessment? MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, like many operations we've seen in the past on such a scale, it is definitely having an impact on the nature of the war as it's being waged today. I mean this has been a war of great flux, as are all cfcs.

So what we've seen is with this new strategy, the influx of American troops, them babysitting their Iraqi Army and police partners, essentially keeping the death squads in their barracks at night, has seen the levels of sectarian violence in the capital, at least, lower.

However, we're still finding 30, 33, you know, executed bodies on the streets each morning.

What we're also seeing, however, is displacement, the violence moving outside the capital. In Diyala Province, for example, just to the north, General David Petraeus had to send an extra battalion of Stryker troops because things were getting so bad.

In Al Anbar, again, it's in a state of flux. We're now seeing a war within a war as American-backed Iraqi Baathists and tribal chiefs are attacking al Qaeda.

So everything is in play right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the question is can they sustain any progress that might be taking place.

What's your sense, also, on this assassination attempt that we saw today involving the Iraqi deputy prime minister?

It looks like there was an element of an inside job there.

WARE: Oh, without a shadow of a doubt. And in most of these bombings, there's inside jobs. I mean there's inside jobs within inside jobs in this country.

But here, clearly, what happened is we had a suicide bomber wearing a chest vest penetrated right into the compound of the deputy prime minister, detonating himself, killing nine, wounding at least 15. A second car bomb reportedly explodes on the outside of the perimeter of the compound.

Now, this fits into a much broader dynamic, Wolf. Now, the investigation is underway, but this is a Sunni prime minister. He has been a part of marshalling these very tribes we just talked about who are pro-U.S. who are doing America's dirty work in hunting and killing al Qaeda with full license and authority of the coalition forces in Anbar Province.

So, I think that we will find that it would not be surprising if this turns out to be al Qaeda striking back.

BLITZER: The accusation being this deputy prime minister, himself a Sunni, being "a collaborator with the U.S."

Is that -- is that why they would go after a fellow Sunni?

WARE: Absolutely.

Absolutely, Wolf. And we've seen time and time again, from the Islamic State of Iraq, essentially the broad umbrella group or construct that al Qaeda has put together here in Iraq, condemn over and over and over this deputy prime minister because, in their eyes, he's sold out. He's sold out Islam and he's sold out Iraq by cooperating, working with -- not just the occupying force, but the crusader infidel occupying force.

So to al Qaeda, this man is worse than anything. He is a traitor.

BLITZER: All right, Michael, thanks very much.

Michael Ware reporting from Baghdad.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And this additional note.

The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, visited his wounded deputy prime minister over at the hospital. There he was informed that Salam al-Zobaie was in stable condition and would not have to be transferred outside of Iraq for further treatment.

Coming up, she's a tireless diplomat.

But is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice getting anything done?


DONALD TRUMP, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: She waves, she sits down with some dictator, a 45 degree angle. They do the camera shot. She waves again. She gets back on the plane. She waves. No deal ever happens.


BLITZER: We're going to have details of what other critics and her supporters are saying as she gets ready for a major mission to the Middle East.

Plus, a crucial day for a city official who may lose his job over his plans for a sex change.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Fredericka Whitfield for a quick look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, Wolf. A Guantanamo Bay detainee indicted in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tanzania says he unwittingly delivered the explosives used in the deadly attack. That's what a Defense Department transcript of his hearing reveals. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani says he was first told that the TNT he was carrying was soap for washing horses. He says he was later told it was explosives for diamond mining in Somalia. Ghailani says he's sorry for what happened.

New technology will soon be available that could help prevent deadly accidents on runways. It will allow pilots to see if they're on the wrong runway. They'll have a moving map display on their laptops in the cockpit. That will show precisely where their plane is on the airport's surface. The technology is expected to be available by the end of the year.

And a bittersweet day for former crew members of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. A ceremony was held in Mayport, Florida today to commemorate the decommissioning of the ship after almost 40 years of service. The Kennedy's launched aircraft into hot spots around the world and was active in both Iraq Wars. The carrier will be towed to Philadelphia, where it will be placed on inactive status.

And checking the bottom line, modest gains for the three main stock indexes today. The upturn capped a week long rally on Wall Street. The Dow finished the week up 3.1 percent. The Nasdaq and the S&P each gained 3 1/2 percent. And this is the S&P's biggest gain since March of 2003. That's good news -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very good news for investors.

Thank you for that, Fredericka Whitfield.

Coming up, a Republican congressman calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to step down.


TANCREDO: He has not enforced the law. He has, in fact, ignored the laws that are on the books with regard to illegal immigration in about 10 different ways. That's why I believe he should be gone.


BLITZER: What does Tom Tancredo think about Congressional subpoenas for White House officials in the case?

I'll ask him.

Also, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, under fire from critics who are wondering what she can accomplish.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the former chief of staff to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, now set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. Kyle Sampson resigned two weeks ago amid the controversy over the firings of those federal prosecutors. His attorney says Sampson's committee appearance is voluntary.

Also, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow announcing he's having surgery Monday to remove a small growth in his abdomen. No word yet what that growth is. Snow was treated for colon cancer two years ago, before coming to the White House.

And the U.S. Senate approving a spending plan that promises to balance the federal budget in five years. The almost $3 trillion plan extends some tax cuts. Some Republican critics say it has too many spending increases.

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

Can she go from the meet and greet handshakes to the kind of handshake that seals a deal?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice begins yet another Middle Eastern mission today, but there are growing doubts in the region about her chances for success.

Let's go live to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

She is watching all of this unfold.

The odds clearly are stacked against her.

How is she doing -- Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's certainly making an effort. Condoleezza Rice keeps a pretty hectic travel schedule. But critics are wondering what results she's getting.


VERJEE (voice-over): She's logged more than half a million miles as secretary of state. Now, she's heading back to the Middle East for the third time this year.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Israeli politics are in freefall. Palestinian politics are in freefall. The president of the United States is so preoccupied with Iran and Iraq.

VERJEE: She's looking to nudge Israelis and Palestinians toward a final peace deal, give them hope and keep America's Arab allies happy. Rice has come under fire from critics, including former secretaries of state, accusing her of only talking to friends, not enemies.

Even diplomatic outsiders are taking shots. TRUMP: She waves, she sits down with some dictator, a 45 degree angle. They do the camera shot. She waves again. She gets back on the plane. She waves. No deal ever happens.

VERJEE: Some experts say hold on, the administration does deserve credit.

ALTERMAN: They engaged with the Libyans diplomatically. They've been engaging with the North Koreans. They've been engaging very impressively on Iran sanctions and keeping a very unlikely coalition of diverse countries on board with Iran.

VERJEE: The secretary of state remains the most popular member of President Bush's cabinet, even more popular than her boss.


VERJEE: But the diplomatic clock is ticking with only 21 months on the dial left for Rice and the administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain watching all of this for us.


Let's get some more now on the relationship that the president has had with the secretary of state, among other issues.

Zain, I want to come back to you for a moment.

The secretary is going to be gone for what?

How long?

VERJEE: She's gone for a few days. She'll be traveling to the region, really, to try and get the Israelis and Palestinians to move closer. She'll be meeting with leaders on both sides and also dealing with the Arabs and meeting Arab leaders also.

And, really, what she's been trying to do there is to get a united front, an alliance with what they view as a mutual threat, which is Iran.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much for that.

More now on the House passing that spending bill that calls for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by next September. The vote underscoring just how divisive the issue is, even among those opposed to way President Bush is handling the war.

And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

He's a Republican presidential candidate.

Congressman, I'm a little confused. I know you have told me in the past you opposed this increase in U.S. troops going to Iraq, but today you still stood by your party and voted along basically partisan lines in favor of the president's position.

What happened?

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: Well, I'll tell you.

First of all, of course, the supplemental, which is what we are talking about, the supplemental vote for Iraqi funding, includes now a whole bunch of things that when we were in control, you used to call pork. They were thrown in here in order to get the votes by the Democrats, because they couldn't get them otherwise. That's number one.

Number two, I am absolutely concerned, and I opposed the surge when it first happened. But I'm telling you, I am willing to give the president his due in terms of this: He said that by November, we will establish benchmarks. He established a benchmark for November for all of Iraq to be under control of the Iraqi government.

I'm saying, OK, Mr. President. We will -- I will go with you that far. I am not a general, neither is general Pelosi, even though she thinks she is. You know, the folks here in this building are not the people who should be micromanaging this war.

BLITZER: All right.

TANCREDO: And so that is why I'm going to vote against the supplemental today.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on, talk about Alberto Gonzales. You parted ways with the White House on this issue, suggesting it's time for the attorney general to go. I want you to hear what he's just said. Listen to the attorney general.

TANCREDO: All right.


ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I accept responsibility for the mistakes that were made in the implementing of the decision, but at the end of the day, what I want to reassure the U.S. attorney community, and the American people, is that -- is that there was nothing improper. No improper motives in connection with the removal of these political appointees.


BLITZER: All right. Are you ready to reconsider?

TANCREDO: No, I want him out of there, and it has absolutely nothing to do with that particular issue. As I said, I don't care -- I wish he would have fired nine, at least, one more would have been OK with me, the U.S. attorney down there in the Texas area that's been prosecuting the border patrolmen and the deputy sheriffs down there.

No, the reason I want Mr. Gonzales gone has got nothing to do with that, because I think this is all a very political issue. I don't think that there's been any wrongdoing here.

What I'm saying is, he has not enforced the law. He has, in fact, ignored the laws that are on the books with regard to illegal immigration in about 10 different ways. That's why I believe he should be gone.

He has misused the resources of his office. He has used the money in his office to actually go after drug dealers in Mexico, bring them back here to testify against border patrolmen.

That's, I think, completely against what his oath of office really demands of him. So, that's why I wanted him to go. It's got nothing to do with these eight people who, you know -- you know what? If he did anything wrong here, it was probably because he mishandled the way he fired them, not because he fired them.

BLITZER: I know you believe in congressional oversight. You believe in the responsibility of the legislative branch in making sure the executive branch does what it's supposed to do.

How do you feel about this potential constitutional showdown between the White House and congressional Democrats who want not only testimony from White House officials like Karl Rove, but they want it done in public, with transcripts, under oath?

TANCREDO: Well, I think that they can get all of the information that they want. I believe they have everything that -- certainly that we can provide for them, or that the White House can provide for them in transcript form, and I believe they can get everything else but not in a show trial format.

BLITZER: But let me interrupt, Congressman, because the White House is saying no transcripts, no public coverage of this. Only a private interview, if you will.

TANCREDO: OK. I believe that all of the information Congress wants can be obtained under the -- under the provisions that the White House has set out. This is -- it's just for show. That's all it is.

It's not really to gather information for the sake of letting the people know where we are on this issue. Believe me, everything, all the information they want can be gathered.

BLITZER: But if there were a Democratic president -- and there were plenty of congressional subpoenas involving Bill Clinton during the Monica impeachment issue, as well as Whitewater...

TANCREDO: Hey, I wasn't here.

BLITZER: But your fellow Republicans...

TANCREDO: I wasn't here.

BLITZER: ... were all other those subpoenas. And in the end, the White House had to comply. TANCREDO: Well, I know this, that if, in fact, you know, a judge rules in this fashion, they will do exactly what you've just said. They will have to comply. But otherwise, all I'm telling you is, I believe all of the information that the Democrats have requested can be obtained, ad they can bet obtained in a way that the White House has laid out.

BLITZER: Tom Tancredo, thanks for joining us.

TANCREDO: Thank you.


BLITZER: Up ahead, a major announcement in that pet food recall. What's killed more than a dozen pets and panicked owners across the country?

Mary Snow has some updated information.

And he wants to become a she. Now a career hangs in the balance. We're going to have details of a crucial decision.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's been a major new development in that massive pet food recall. Authorities now saying the pet food may have been tainted with rat poison. The product leaving at least 16 dogs and cats dead, many more seriously ill.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in Mew York.

Mary, how did this happen?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question, Wolf. And so many investigators trying to figure that out.

The Food & Drug Administration just held a briefing. It says it's still looking to other possible causes, but it's very interested in the discovery of rat poison by labs in New York.


SNOW (voice over): How did rat poison wind up in pet food? That is still uncertain. But investigators in New York say what they do know is that they found a toxin called aminopterin in samples of pet food suspected of being tainted. The toxin is not a legal pesticide in the U.S. Doctors say it can be found in some forms of cancer treatments.

PATRICK HOOKER, NEW YORK STATE AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER: This is one step in a long process that will lead all of us to know what has happened.

SNOW: The CEO of Menu Foods, the company that recalled over 90 brands of dog and cat food, says he's both relieved and happy investigators found the problem during what he called an unprecedented search.

PAUL HENDERSON, CEO, MENU FOODS: Our hearts go out to the thousands of pet owners across Canada and the United States for their losses and their worries.

SNOW: But the CEO says he is at a loss to explain where the toxin came from, and he says the campaign will test raw products to trace the origin. Veterinarian Dr. Ann Hohenhaus says knowing that rat poison is involved can prevent animals from dying if they are suffering kidney failure.

DR. ANN HOHENHAUS, NEW YORK ANIMAL MEDICAL CENTER: Well, it sounds to me like giving fluids intravenously or maybe by other routes is going to be key to trying to prevent or fix this problem.

SNOW: But, she adds, there are a new set of worries.

HOHENHAUS: We don't know what the long-term effects are on their kidney function, and only time is going to answer that question.


SNOW: And in terms of compensation for pet owners who lost a pet, the CEO of Menu Foods says the company will take financial responsibility and reimburse medical costs if it can be proven that the illnesses were directly tied to that pet food -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do they think they've contained the problem, Mary?

SNOW: The company at this point is saying that it believes it has contained it to the items that have been recalled. But also, officials are saying they can't really put a number on just how many pets have been affected, became sick, or possibly died from this pet food.

BLITZER: Mary Snow watching this story for us.

So, how do you know if your pet food is actually safe or potentially deadly? All the information you may need is online.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She's watching this story for us.

Do you have information our viewers who have pets need to know, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: I do, Wolf. It's easy to find, too.

All you have to do is start at the Menu Foods Web site, They have all of their recall information there.

There are 42 different brands of cat food and 53 different brands of dog food. If you click on the link, it's going to give you the names and the serial numbers of those cans. And what you need to do is hold your can up to that and make a comparison.

If you think that you have fed your pet one of these tainted foods, you need to call your local vet. That's the number one thing the vets told me today, is get in touch with your local vet.

The other thing you can do is give a call to Menu Foods. Let them know.

You can also get in touch with the FDA. They have information on their Web site. You can call and let them know if your pet turns out to be ill. They want to be able to collect these numbers and this information.

And one more thing available for you online. This is from the Pet Institute. This is the organization that takes care of pet food products. And what they say is, keep in mind that more than 99 percent of products have not been affected by this, they have not been recalled.

So, don't panic. They say that everything that is affected has been recalled off the shelves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks for that. Information our viewers who have pets need to know.

Up ahead, Steven Stanton is about to become Susan Stanton. Why is this such a big deal? Carol Costello has the gender-bending controversy. That's coming up next.

And later, an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at a dangerous rescue mission.

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



BLITZER: A city official planning a huge life change finds out definitely tonight if it will cost him his career.

CNN's Carol Costello is following the story.

Carol, what do we expect to happen tonight?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Wolf, this is unlike any political story you have probably ever heard about. The city manager of Largo, Steve Stanton, is in the process of becoming a woman. That's right, Steve wants to become Susan.

Now, the city commissioners voted to fire him three weeks ago. Tonight, he will appeal his firing. Just moments ago, he arrived with his wife, his doctor, his attorney. He will go inside city hall, where he'll speak for three hours, and then literally hundreds of people, some of whom are still waiting outside, will stand up and ask him questions. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): After 14 years as manager of Largo, Florida, Steven Stanton could face the end of his political career tonight.

STEVEN STANTON, FIRED LARGO CITY MANAGER: It's real important to me, whether I win or not, the opportunity to have this discussion in an environment that's educational and not hysterical.

COSTELLO: But whatever happens, the person emerging on the other end of this once-in-a-lifetime political showdown will be called Susan.

STANTON: Two years from now, I see myself as a very happy, well adjusted person that is going to look back upon all of this, and knowing that it was all worth it.

COSTELLO: By all accounts, Stanton has been a beloved public servant who had recently gotten a raise. He was a husband, a father, an honored public citizen. But it all fell apart when the media forced him to reveal his secret.

This 48-year-old man was planning to become a woman. Public reaction was fierce.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... terminate Mr. Stanton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ethics bother me a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And everybody in this city of Largo is just supposed to roll over and accept that?


COSTELLO: Although several commissioners had promised their support, they voted to fire him.


COSTELLO: Now, he only needs to convince one commissioner to change his or her vote, and he will remain the city manager of Largo. And Wolf, he's been on sort of a media tour. In fact, just this morning, he taped a segment with "The Daily Show," with Jon Stewart.

BLITZER: What about his wife? How is she dealing with this?

COSTELLO: Yes, you know, it's really interesting about his wife, because she has been in hiding ever since this was leaked to the press. She showed up with him today. But she wasn't by his side. She was probably three people back from him.

So, she's showing he support but not so much, which probably means she won't stay with him after all of this is over, although he says they still love each other very much.

I'll tell you what happens a little later -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol. We will watch this story unfold with you. Appreciate it.

Up next, is now the time for the U.S. to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? Jack with your e-mail and "The Cafferty File," that's coming up.

Plus, a downed pilot prompts a daring and dangerous rescue mission by a special military force. We're going to show you what happens behind the scenes.

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


BLITZER: We're just learning now that the White House press secretary Tony Snow has just received a phone call from Elizabeth Edwards, a phone call of encouragement, after the White House press secretary told all of us earlier today that he'll undergo surgery on Monday for a small growth to be removed from his lower abdomen.

Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, as you know, is the wife of John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate. She announced yesterday that there's been a return of her cancer from her breast cancer. It has returned.

She called Tony Snow, himself a colon cancer survivor, to offer some kind words for him and his family over at the White House. A nice gesture on the part of Elizabeth Edwards.

Let's get to a CNN exclusive right now. An American pilot shot down in Iraq prompting an urgent and very dangerous rescue mission. It's the kind of real-life scenario a special military unit trains for every single day.

CNN's Alex Quaid shows us what happens behind the scenes.


ALEX QUAID, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Combat search and rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can roll into anything, because we train in so many different scenarios.

QUAID: Each based on real war zone events.

Urban rescues...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rescue, rescue.

QUAID: ... water rescues...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone is willing to, you know, give their life and the ultimate sacrifice to go try to save someone else's life. QUAID: ... ground rescues...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those two aircraft coming in to pick us up, that was one of the best sights I've ever seen in my life.

QUAID: ... and special covert missions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Troops in a tree line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of this is geared towards getting back one person.

QUAID: Like A-10 pilot call sign Chocks. His head's up display or cockpit video seen now for the first time.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is some breaking news out of CENTCOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An A-10 Warthog or tankbuster, the one that was seen or like it over the skies of Baghdad this morning, has crashed.

QUAID: Chocks, hit by a (INAUDIBLE) surface-to-air missile during Shock and Awe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was, pow! I mean, it hit. It was like a big hand was out in the sky and just swatted the airplane.

QUAID: His wingman, Donno (ph)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen an airplane do this before, but he's actually flying sideways, the airplane rolling over inverted, straight into the ground. And this big explosion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CENTCOM saying that the pilot did eject from the plane before it crashed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's wow, you know. You pull the handles and, you know, it's gone. The canopy pops off, there's a big pop, and then the rocket motor ignites, and you are out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't know if he was alive or dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You hit the ground, pow! You know, hard.

QUAID: Behind enemy lines, Chocks hears gunfire and yelling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Initially, they're going to go to that plane. But now they're going to see the footprints across the field. And I just thought to myself, oh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED), because now they are going to know where to come looking for me.

QUAID: His SERE, survival, evasion, resistance and escape training, kicks in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy just ejected. We've got to go. QUAID: Rescue helicopter pilot call sign T.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody came over the radio and said that others may live. And we're like, "That's it, we're going. Rock on. We're out of here."

QUAID: U.S. soldiers fighting nearby found Chocks and alerted T.C.'s team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told PJs, if you have to, you take him by force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came busting in. He's like, "We are out of here."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CENTCOM saying the pilot has been safely rescued.

QUAID: But not before getting shot at again. This time in T.C.'s rescue helicopter, or Jolly (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, you know, beep, beep, beep, beep, and boom, things start flying off the airplane. And you're jinking (ph) and jiving to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The battle doesn't end just because you get to sit down in the Jolly (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told me -- he says, "The only thing that was going through my mind was, 'Oh, lord. Everything that happened to me today, I'm going to die in the back of this helicopter with these guys.'"

QUAID: Chocks' wingman, Donno (ph)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he got off the helicopter, I was just so happy to see him. Just to see my best friend come back was amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone's having their worst day, we need to be having our best day.

QUAID: Combat search and rescue men, so that others may live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bottom line is, they're coming home.

QUAID: Alex Quaid, CNN, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.


BLITZER: These are tough guys. They work real hard.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

Jack, you've got "The Cafferty File".

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. The question, Wolf, this hour -- Is now the time for the U.S. to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay? Apparently, the new secretary of defense, Mr. Gates, thought early on when he took the job that maybe we ought to close that place. Gonzales and Cheney, among others, said, no, we've got to keep it open. So that's where we got the question.

"It's certainly time," writes Bruce from San Diego, "to start planning the reduction of use and removal. But there is still a number of terrorists held there that should be not on U.S. soil until or unless there is some assurance that they won't have U.S. citizens rights."

J.T. in Phoenix, "Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney were right. The prison at Gitmo should not be closed. It holds the distinction of housing some of the world's worst vermin. When al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Birgade, et cetera, give up and go home, then the prison at Gitmo will have no further use."

M writes from Columbus, Ohio, "Gitmo should have been shut down long ago, but now would be good. We have done nothing but damage the reputation of the United States with this awful detainee center. We should also try any possible criminal detainees in an open court with all the appropriate legal protections afforded every citizen."

"The idea of holding people without charges and without trials is barbaric and should be stopped, no matter what the country of their origin. Hopefully Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice, who agreed with him, will prevail soon."

Balazs writes, "CIA imprisonment and/or torture and imprisonment and Gitmo without legal representation and quick and speedy trials are unacceptable regardless of what crimes are being investigated. The armed forces of the United States should not have the opportunity to use a constitutional loophole due to being offshore. The prison at Gitmo should be shut down."

"I'm a naturalized citizen from communist Hungary, and I abhor illegal activity by the U.S. government."

Joan in Illinois writes, "Jack, you ask that question like it matters what we think. The decider has said what will be and what won't be. It doesn't make a lick of difference what we have to say."

Steve in Las Vegas, "I don't understand why we'd shut down a prison with more than 300 lead terrorists. The way I see it, you have three options with these people: let them go, keep them in prison or execute them. Until that issue is solved, you need to keep the place in business."

"And by the way, Jack, I think your attitude on just about everything sucks."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them there. There are also clips of this nonsense available for your viewing pleasure -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that. See you back here in an hour.

We're here at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Lots more news coming up.

In the meantime, let's go to Lou Dobbs. He's in New York.


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