Return to Transcripts main page


Starr reports live from Ramadi, Iraq on General Peter Pace's visit to the region. Whitbeck and O'Brien report on the crash in Sao Paolo, Brazil and the difficulties for large, modern planes landing on short runways built long ago

Aired July 18, 2007 - 17:00   ET


CAFFERTY: And David in Denton, Texas: "Jack, it took me 15 years, two failed marriages, three DWIs and thoughts of suicide before I found the Veterans' Outreach Program. I didn't have a clue what was wrong with me. Nothing -- I mean nothing -- is too good for our troops. They deserve everything and more we can help them with."
Amen, David -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Double A that for me, as well.

Thank you very much, Jack Cafferty.

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

Happening now, a key discovery at that still smoldering site of Brazil's deadliest plane crash ever.

Will it show what caused the disaster that claimed 200 lives?

We're going to take you there live.

Also, a pro-football star charged with taking part in a bloody underground spectacle dog fighting. The Atlanta Falcons Michael Vick accused of helping brutally kill dogs that didn't make the cut.

And U.S. sailors getting life like training for war and terror on a landlocked ship. We're going take you on board the simulator that's so real, it's described as part fantasy, part hell.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Down in defeat, the latest effort by Senate Democrats to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. Lawmakers debated all night and four Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill. But it still fell at eight votes short. Meanwhile, the U.S. military says it's captured a top terrorist in Iraq, the man described as the liaison between Al Qaeda and its Iraqi offshoot. All of this coming as the joint chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visits a city that was once the deadliest, supposedly, in Iraq and now being touted as an example of how the war can still be turned around.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is the only U.S. television reporter traveling with General Peter Pace.

She joins us with a report only that you'll see on CNN -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, three months ago, this was a battleground for U.S. troops. On these streets of Ramadi, hundreds of U.S. troops fought and died over the years in Iraq. But now, the streets are relatively quiet. The U.S. military says they feel they've pretty much chased Al Qaeda out of this area.

And so today, General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came here and walked these streets. There was security for him. No question about that. But ordinary Iraqis came up to him. He said hello to people. He stopped at a vegetable market. Children had their picture taken with him.

Ramadi is a place that the U.S. military hopes becomes an example for the rest of Iraq. U.S. commanders here say they've learned their lesson. They are now working with the Sunni tribal sheikhs. They think that's making a real difference here.

GENERAL PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Exactly. I mean this really is a remarkable turnaround and, you know, again, there are lot of folks have weapons around me, but I don't have one. And I don't -- I don't feel one bit concerned about that. This is just a very -- it's a remarkable turnaround.

STARR: So just how far has the violence decreased in Ramadi?

It's been since February. It was February the last time they had an IED explode here in the city -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting for us exclusively from Ramadi.

Much more on Iraq coming up this hour.

In Brazil, meantime, 158 bodies recovered. The search for dozens more happening now, along with serious new safety concerns in the wake of that country's deadliest plane crash.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck is live in Sao Paulo -- Harris, have investigators found any of the plane's recording devices so far?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, Wolf, they found two of them, the flight data recorder and a voice recorder. They say those black boxes will be in the hands of the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States. The NTSB has said it is also sending a senior investigator to Brazil to aid Brazilians in the investigation of the crash of the TAM Airbus a 320.

Officials here on the ground are saying that nobody survived. They have confirmed that nobody survived that crash. And one airport official says that he believes the pilot was planning to abort his landing, failed to do so, and that's when he flew his plane into TAM Airlines the cargo building, where there were several dozen people, as well. At this hour, rescuers are still trying to account for several people who were inside that building when the plane crashed into it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of reporting going on right now that that runway at the airport there had recently been repaved, but hadn't had the grooves set in. It was raining, the weather was not good, water was piling up and that that could have contributed to this horrible, horrible disaster.

What are the authorities saying to you about that?

WHITBECK: Well, again, they're saying that the final results of the investigation will not be leased for several weeks. But we spoke to an air traffic controller here who spoke on the condition of not being identified. She said that she could lose her job. But she said that she felt that the airport had been unsafe, that the runway is too small for the large aircraft that are using it now, and that the fact that it had been repaved and had been reopened might have had something to do. She felt that the runway had been reopened -- reopened too soon after that work and that work had, in fact, not been completed.

But, Wolf, as you just heard, the airport is now being used by commercial flights. It's been open since about 6:00 this morning. But 60 percent of those flights are not leaving from this airport -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Harris Whitbeck on the scene for us in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Harris, thanks very much.

The crash comes just 10 months after what was Brazil's deadliest air disaster. An executive jet flown by two American pilots clipped a Brazilian 737, sending it crashing into the Amazon rain forest and killing all 154 people on board. The American pilots were detained by Brazilian authorities for two months before being allowed to return to the United States.

Last month, a Brazilian judge charged Jan Paladino and Joseph Lepore with negligence. Their attorney says current U.S. treaties with Brazil don't allow extradition in this case.

The kind of accident that happened in Brazil is more common than you might think, although rarely as deadly. But there's relatively easy ways to try to prevent runway overruns.

Our chief technology correspondent, licensed pilot Miles O'Brien, is joining us -- how can these kinds of accidents, Miles, be avoided?


There are many factors -- it's difficult to really single one out -- that can force an airplane off the end of a runway. And the consequences of that action can vary greatly depending on where you are landing.


O'BRIEN: (voice-over): When pilots land at Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport, they must stay on their toes and watch their instruments carefully. The runway here is short and the teeming city is just outside the fence -- precious little margin for error.

WILLIAM VOSS, FLIGHT SAFETY FOUNDATION: There has to be extreme care taken the aircraft is put down at the right place on the runway and there has to be due care to make sure at that runway has the appropriate surface on it, that the level of braking that's available to the pilot is being properly reported.

O'BRIEN: The TAM Airlines crash proved the point in a very tragic way. Runway overruns are a persistent problem in aviation.

VOSS: These things are fairly common around the world, but they don't normally make big news.

O'BRIEN: In the U.S. airports built within the past 20 years are required to have 1,000 feet of buffer at the end of every runway.

But what about the older downtown airports like Logan, La Guardia, Midway or Burbank?

All have seen frightening overruns in recent years.

But there is a solution for them, as well -- a bed of concrete rocks that collapse under the weight of an airplane.

KENT THOMPSON, ZODIAC ESCO: When an airplane runs off the end of the runway, the wheels crush the material. And as they do that, they sink in. That produces a drag load that gradually brings the airplane to a safe stop.

O'BRIEN: The system is now in place at 19 U.S. airports, including Midway and Burbank, where, last fall, it worked for the fifth time, stopping a Gulfstream as it left the runway.

The notable passenger?

Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. That's one dinger he won't forget.


O'BRIEN: Now, that airport at Sao Paolo did not have those arresting devices, Wolf.

It may not have mattered in this case. As Harris Whitbeck just reported a few moments ago, much of the evidence right now suggests that crew was once trying to once again take flight and it pushed those throttles all the way forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what about that notion that it was a slick runway and the grooves had not been put in? Do you think that could have caused that plane to slip off and go into that building?

O'BRIEN: There is plenty of evidence that the grooves in those runways increased the braking action, the friction on those tires, significantly. Those grooves were developed by NASA in the early '60s. They have improved the safety of runways all around the world and are used on many interstate highways.

So, if those grooves weren't there, as we have been reporting and as has been suggested, that would have been a very dangerous scenario there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miles O'Brien reporting for us.

Thank you, Miles, very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is that time again. The Department of Homeland Security out with a new round of federal anti-terror grants totaling, this year, $747 million.

The results are a bit of a mixed bag. New York and Washington, D.C. Both cities that have been targeted by terrorists before, are getting slightly more money this year. Nevertheless, leaders in both towns are complaining it's not enough.

Some cities showing big gains this year -- San Diego, Phoenix, Denver. Others are getting cut. Cities like Miami, Milwaukee, Sacramento.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is defending this year's grant levels as being appropriate.

As for whether all the money should go to the cities most considered at risk, he says that the recent London threat shows that a smaller town like Glasgow could be targeted.

The current balance reflects the majority of the grants going to the highest risk cities and the smaller portion going to the lower risk cities.

But that's not much consolation for local officials, who see their share of these anti-terror funds plummeting.

So here's the question -- what's the best way to go about giving out homeland security grants to the different cities?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to

I guess they could just maybe ask Allen Chertoff what he's feeling in his gut. BLITZER: You mean Michael Chertoff.


What did I say?

BLITZER: You said Allen.

BLITZER: Allen Chernoff is our reporter at CNN. Michael Chertoff is the -- although, you know, we might swap them out some time and see if there's not an improvement on both ends.

BLITZER: Maybe Allen could do a better job.

Who knows?

CAFFERTY: Right. He might be able to. BLITZER: He's a good guy.

Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Sorry about that --

BLITZER: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: -- Allen and Michael.


Up ahead, a terror leader captured in Iraq.

But will others just step in to fill his role?

I'll ask the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

Also, out of prison and off to France -- we're going to have details of what some people say is a secret deal, as Panama's former dictator is about to get out of a U.S. prison.

Plus, the Navy exposing new sailors to frightening scenarios. We're going to show you a new high tech simulator recreating some of the military's worst disasters.

Stick around.



BLITZER: The U.S. military has captured a top leader of the group that claims responsibility for attacks like this one on the Iraqi parliament building back in April. Khalid al-Mashadani is thought to have been the highest ranking Iraqi in Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The U.S. military says he was seized two weeks ago and has been providing what they describe as valuable information about the group's inter-workings. Among his other duties, he claims to have relayed messages between Al Qaeda In Iraq and its leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

And joining us now in Baghdad, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, chief spokesman, Multi-National Forces In Iraq. General Bergner, you suggested earlier that Khalid al-Mashadani, the man you captured, was a major conduit between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Osama bin Laden.

How do you know that?

BRIG. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Well, Wolf in his own words, Khalid al-Mashadani has -- has explained the role that he had, which included being the media amir for Al Qaeda In Iraq, the senior Iraqi in the leadership circle surrounding --

BLITZER: What kind of contacts did he have with Osama bin Laden?

Did he have specific contacts with the Al Qaeda leader?

How did that work?

BERGNER: Well, Wolf, he says that he was the conduit for information coming from the senior leadership, including Zawahiri and, obviously, Osama bin Laden, to the Al Qaeda in Iraq network.

We're still developing the intelligence that will come from that, as well.

And so what we can share with you this evening is the acknowledgement that that was a role that he had and that it was an important channel that was used for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

BLITZER: Is he cooperating in these interrogations?

Is he telling you what you want to know?

BERGNER: Wolf, we're learning a great deal about the nature and the circumstance of Al Qaeda in Iraq from Mashadani. One of the things that he has -- has specifically shared with us is how he and al-Masri created this pseudonym called Islamic State of Iraq in order to cloak Al Qaeda In Iraq as more of an Iraqi-led entity and to cloak the foreign nature of the leadership of AQI.

The other thing that he shared with us is this -- is idea that this Omar al-Bagdadi, the political leader, so to speak, of the Islamic State of Iraq, is really something else that they created to give someone an Iraqi name. And, actually, this person is a -- is just a pseudonym for al-Masri. He has someone speak in a different voice, but it -- all of the messaging and all of the information that you hear from this Omar Al-Bagdadi is actually, according to Mashadani, it's coming from al-Masri.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say, general, that when you capture or kill one of these guys, somebody else springs up almost immediately thereafter?

In other words, you can whack one guy right now, but there's another one waiting in the wings, or maybe two or three? BERGNER: Well, their ability to regenerate is -- is -- it is a fact. They do -- they do find somebody else to step up periodically.

But what you have seen in this case -- and what you've seen him talk to us about is the effect that this is having on -- on the network. The increasing pressure that our coalition forces are putting on and our focused operations against Al Qaeda are creating disunity. They're creating disagreements. They're creating distrust between the leaders.

In fact, Mashadani told us that he left Baghdad and went to Mosul because of the pressure being put on the network there. And, as you know, only to be captured by the coalition forces in Mosul.

BLITZER: General Bergner, thanks very much for joining us.

BERGNER: Thanks, Wolf.

It's good to be with you.

BLITZER: Almost 18 years in a U.S. prison about to come to an end for Panama's former dictator, Manuel Noriega. But there's growing controversy as his release approaches and allegations of a secret deal to keep him out of Panama.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's watching the story.

Who's making the allegation -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Noriega's attorney, Frank Rubino, believes there have been all kinds of winks and nods between the U.S., Panamanian and French governments to keep Noriega incarcerated far from his homeland.


TODD: (voice-over): Manuel Noriega, classified by a federal judge as a POW. Under part of the Geneva Conventions, he is supposed to be repatriated to Panama when he's released in September. But the Justice Department has asked another judge to send Noriega to France to serve time on a money laundering conviction.

Noriega's attorney says this is a backroom deal violating the Conventions.

FRANK RUBINO, MANUEL NORIEGA'S ATTORNEY: Panama has asked France to make this request because Panama does not want General Noriega back in Panama.

TODD: Frank Rubino says Panamanian authorities are fearful that Noriega still has popular support in his homeland. Panama's ambassador to the U.S. says all Rubino's allegations are false.

FEDERICO HUMBERT, PANAMANIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: We have the documents, the (INAUDIBLE) your Department of Justice of request of extradition and we insisted on it. We will immediately process an extradition request to whichever country he goes to, because we believe that justice must be served in Panama for the crimes that he committed.

TODD: Panama convicted Noriega in absentia on murder charges, human rights violations and extortion. A U.S. Justice Department official would only say the Department consulted with Panamanian and French authorities before asking the federal judge to extradite Noriega.

But U.S. and French officials won't comment on his lawyer's allegation of a special deal.

As for the Geneva Conventions, experts say there's wiggle room.

BARRY CARTER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: We can transfer him to France and he can have to stay in France to serve out his punishment there for acts committed before he was a prisoner of war.


TODD: Still, Frank Rubino is preparing as we speak to challenge this in court. He says he'll file the documents by Monday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are his legal chances if he's sent to Panama, Brian?

TODD: That's up for debate. Frank Rubino believes that he has a right to reopen his case there. Panamanian officials that we talked to say that they've consulted their own legal experts and they don't believe he has that right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Brian Todd, watching this story for us.

BLITZER: Still to come, her reporter husband was killed by terrorists. Now she's suing Al Qaeda. We're going to have details of Mariane Pearl's case.

Plus, detained Americans shown on Iranian TV. We're going to find out what may be behind their alleged confessions.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?


The widow of slain "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl is suing Al Qaeda over the abduction and murder of her husband. Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002 and later beheaded.

In a district court in New York today, Mariane Pearl sued for unspecified monetary damages. Now, the suit names al Qaeda and other radical groups, as well as banks and other organizations allegedly involved in terrorism financing.

In Vancouver, Washington right now, a gunman is holed up in his house after shooting a police officer. A SWAT team and hostage negotiators are now on the scene. The standoff began this morning when police say they to a house as part of a drug and firearm investigation. Authorities say one man may be held hostage.

And just hours ago, Florida's governor signed the death warrant of a convicted child killer, ending a temporary halt on lethal injections in the state. The moratorium was imposed last year after prison officials botched an execution, causing it to take more than a half hour and requiring a second dose of legal drugs. New execution procedures are now in place.

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

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

Still to come, American citizens paraded on Iranian TV.

What's behind the scenes?

We're going to talk to someone who has experienced the horror firsthand.

Plus, a new endorsement for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. We're going to tell you who's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us why she supports Senator Clinton.

Stick around.



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

Happening now, President Bush establishing a high level panel to recommend steps to guarantee the safety of food imports into the United States. The White House says the move is not aimed at China.

Newly released FBI documents show that the mob may -- repeat -- may have plotted to murder America's highest ranking chief justice. The alleged plot dating back to 1979. The target would have been the then chief justice, Warren Burger.

And 11 major food and drink companies are voluntarily agreeing to limit advertising aimed at children under the age of 12. The move will restrict the use of popular movie and television characters. It's aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


New intelligence reports are raising fear Al Qaeda may be using Iraq as planning a staging ground for another attack on the United States.

Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about that, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California.

She's the chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence. Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I want to get to that in a moment.

But you're also here because you're endorsing Hillary Clinton for president of the United States. And I wonder what made you come up with this inclusion.

Why is she better than Barack Obama, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson?

HARMAN: Well, first of all, congratulations on being nominated for an Emmy for your coverage of politics.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

HARMAN: It's well deserved.

My endorsement of Hillary Clinton actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but this is its public outing. And she's my candidate for two reasons.

Number one, I think she's most qualified to be commander-in- chief. And in these times, when the National Intelligence Estimate tells us we're more likely to be attacked than we were a few years ago, we need a steady hand with great expert and a wonderful team. And I think she will bring all of that.

But the other reason is she understands how to work as a member of a bipartisan institution. Not enough people do in the Senate or the House, as we saw last night.

BLITZER: But are you -- are you afraid, though, that she's --

HARMAN: And I think she'll hit the ground running.

BLITZER: -- she's been very divisive over the years and she's got some high negatives out there with some of the voters?

HARMAN: There are high negatives to everyone who is a leader. But I think she has very high positives as a member of the United States Senate. I think many members, both Republicans and Democrats, think she is -- she works as a team. She has been successful, I note at 4:00 in the morning she was talking about the Levin-Reed bipartisan resolution on Iraq, something that I voted for in the House. There was a companion bill authored by Ike Skelton. And I think that's our best way forward.

BLITZER: You heard the comments in recent days by Elizabeth Edwards that on women's issues, her husband, John Edwards is actually better. Even though Hillary Clinton is a woman, she's trying to pretend, or she's acting as if she were a man?

HARMAN: I don't understand those comments. I've known Hillary Clinton since 1992 when Bill Clinton and I were first elected to federal office. That was the year of the woman. I think the year of the woman will really be 2008 when we elect a very qualified candidate who happens to be a woman as president.

But nonetheless, I've seen what she has done. An organization like Vital Voices, which she founded as first lady, is something that I think makes a huge difference to women in leadership around the world.

BLITZER: Let me ask you some questions on this latest National Intelligence Estimate question on al Qaeda, al Qaeda in Iraq. You've been briefed on this. Are you confident that this time the intelligence community actually got it right?

HARMAN: Well, I read the entire NIE today. It's a classified document, 50 pages long. And first of all, the declassified summary, which was released yesterday, is very accurate. Second of all, the document is excellent. I've read a lot of intelligence products, many of which are not good.

This is sound and thoroughly researched. The only thing it doesn't have is names, dates and serial numbers. We don't know exactly when these attacks will happen. But we do know that homegrown terror cells are a real risk. That al Qaeda has the intent to attack us. That operatives are being trained as we speak in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

I've actually been there. That's a pretty rugged place. And that al Qaeda in Iraq, which was not in Iraq before our military operation in Iraq, is coordinating...


BLITZER: But they're there right now. Al Qaeda is in Iraq -- or t least a group calling itself al Qaeda, claiming to have links with Osama bin Laden. What do you do if the U.S. pulls out and they then establish a real sanctuary, a real base in Iraq as they once had in Afghanistan?

HARMAN: Well, my view, and what Levin-Reed and Skelton authorize is that we should end our combat mission over the next months. But I think we should continue our counterinsurgency mission...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: So keep how many troops in Iraq?

HARMAN: Well, as many as our commanders say are needed. Clearly a much smaller footprint, specifically dedicated to stopping al Qaeda. The biggest threat in Iraq is not al Qaeda right now. It's this civil war that's raging and our troops are target practice in the middle of it.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there. Jane Harman endorsing Hillary Clinton for president of the United States. Thanks very much for coming in.

HARMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: An alleged confession by two detained Americans shown on Iranian television. But it's likely what's behind the scenes that is most disturbing. Our Zain Verjee spoke to someone who knows firsthand.

Zain, what did you find out?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the images seen on Iranian TV today reminded one woman of her own traumatic experience.


VERJEE (voice-over): Iran rolls out its heavily promoted and heavily edited show declaring what it says are confessions by Iranian- Americans: scholar Haleh Esfandiari, and urban planning consultant Kian Tajbakhsh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My role was the identification of the orators.

VERJEE: Both apparently admitting they were part of a U.S.-led covert effort to undermine the Iranian government. Iran experts say the way it's edited makes the confession look forced. Though their surroundings appear comfortable, both are in jail at the notorious Evin prison.

Mehrangis Kar, a visiting scholar at Harvard University, knows the prison. She was thrown in there, she says, along with murderers and drug dealers in 2000 for criticizing Iran's constitution.

MEHRANGIS KAR, IRANIAN VISITING SCHOLAR: I was in solitary confinement about two months. And I was very lonely.

VERJEE: She, like Esfandiari, had no access to a lawyer. Kar says she was dragged from prison to court every day and interrogated.

KAR: I felt that everything is destroyed in my life. I felt that I am losing my job. I felt that my family is in danger.

VERJEE: She was finally freed. And in the summer of 2001, left Iran for cancer treatment. Just months later, she says her husband, a prominent journalist, was jailed, tortured and forced to make a similar TV confession.

She says, now seeing Esfandiari on TV is hard.

KAR: I could feel, and I could understand that they could break Haleh. And it was not Haleh. It was somebody who was isolated and who was sad and who could believe that nobody support her.

VERJEE: Kar hasn't seen her own husband in six years. He is in Iran, restricted in his movements. But she doesn't want to go back, fearful she would face this same fate.


VERJEE: The State Department has previously called Iran's allegations ridiculous. It says the U.S. is appalled at the mistreatment of the American citizens and outraged that they would be paraded on TV, apparently reading statements under duress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story, Zain. Thanks very much for that.

Still ahead, training for disaster at sea. Our Keith Oppenheim takes us aboard an $80 million high-tech simulator warship. You're going to want to see this.

Also, star NFL quarterback Michael Vick is indicted on charges of being involved in the blood sport of dogfighting. Carol Costello is standing by to take a closer look at why someone would want to get involved with something so gruesome. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just hours ago, a federal court in Richmond, Virginia, announced that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick will be arraigned on dogfighting charges next week. CNN's Carol Costello has been going over a grand jury indictment detailing the gruesome, gruesome allegations.

Carol, here is a question, how could a football star making literally millions of dollars allegedly, allegedly get involved in something like this?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Such a good question, Wolf. And it is astounding. Generally speaking those involved in these kinds of blood sport enjoy watching. They have a dark side, difficult to understand. At least one congressman, Tom Lantos, is threatening congressional intervention if the NFL doesn't educate its players on dogfighting.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Rumors about Michael Vick and dogfighting have been circulating for years. Now a U.S. attorney in Virginia says he has the goods. Michael Vick, who has a $130 million contract with the NFL, has been indicted along with three others for running the Bad Newz Kennel, a brutal training ground for fighting dogs. WAYNE PACELLE, PRESIDENT, U.S. HUMANE SOCIETY: This was not some random little act that was occurring in some rural area. This was a multi-state operation.

COSTELLO: Prosecutors say Vick and the others ran Bad Newz Kennel out of property that Vick owned in Smithfield, Virginia. Vick claims he was seldom there. But he's charged with a felony, staging dogfights in Virginia and participating in fights in other states.

At Vick's property, investigators say they found bloody carpet and training equipment. Vick and his alleged accomplices are also accused of executing dogs who did not perform. The indictment charges that on one occasion: "After consulting with Vick about the losing female pit bull's condition, Purnell Peace executed the dog by wetting the dog down with water, and electrocuting the dog." And on other occasions, killed dogs by "hanging, drowning, and slamming at least one dog's body to the ground."

The brutality described in the charges fits the clandestine world of dogfighting. Witnesses say dogs are often deliberately abused to make them vicious and are held in secret locations. Vick has not commented on the charges, but earlier this year after rumors started to fly about Vick, one NFL player said the accusations weren't fair.

CLINTON PORTIS, WASHINGTON REDSKINS: If that's what he wants to do, do it, you know? I think people should mind their business, you know? You take somebody who is doing positive in the community, you take a positive role model and put him behind bars for no reason, you know, over a dogfight? I'm from Laurel, Mississippi, so I know a lot of back roads that got a dogfight if you want to go see it, you know?

COSTELLO: The NFL has issued a statement saying it would closely monitor developments and would cooperate with law enforcement authorities.


COSTELLO: Allegations about what went on at Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennel could mean very bad news for him. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine. And, of course, Wolf, if he's convicted, he could lose his career as well.

BLITZER: What a story. Thanks very much, Carol, for that. By the way, according to the Humane Society, dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states and a felony in all but Wyoming and Idaho. The group says American pit bull terriers specifically bred and trained to fight are used most often in dogfighting. These are very aggressive and powerful dogs. Their jaws are so strong they can cause broken bones, deep flesh wounds and severe bruising. Dogs often die during the fight or a short time later from blood loss, dehydration or exhaustion.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Thank you, Wolf. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight we're reporting on yet another troubling example of our government's failure to secure our borders. Overseas criminals are now selling U.S. visas, giving foreigners the right to enter this country and disappear without trace. We'll have that special report.

Also, leading Democrats launching what is a new attack against our middle class. Those democrats are trying to reintroduce their failed amnesty legislation in Congress piece by piece, in amendments to other legislation, hoping no one will notice. Well, we've noticed. And we'll have the report for you.

Americans worried about the safety of food imports are now demanding country-of-origin labels on their food. But powerful lobbyists are fighting them, defying the will of the people, even though country-of-origin labels are required by law. We'll continue our special report.

And three of this country's top radio talk show hosts join us to assess the political theater in Washington, presidential election politics, and whatever else is passing for partisan politics these days. Please join us for all of that and much more. All of the day's news coming up at the top of the hour right here on CNN.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Lou, we're with you. Thanks very much. Up ahead, drawn from disaster, worst case scenarios U.S. sailors could face literally at anytime. We're going to show you the new high-tech way they're training for that.

Plus, will celebrity backing bring in more votes for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama? Stay with us, you're in THE SITUAION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's one of the most high-tech ships in the United States Navy fleet. But you'll never see it on water. The lock-land (ph) vessel is being used to train sailors for disasters at sea. CNN's Keith Oppenheim is live at the Naval Station Great Lakes north of Chicago to take us onboard.

So what's this simulator called, Keith?

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's called Battle Stations 21. As I take a walk here on the deck, you can see that this looks very realistic. But this is really the front facade of a huge indoor training facility. Battle Stations 21 is the way the Navy teaches recruits and teaches them what to do when a real disaster happens onboard.

We're going to take you on a little journey now so you can see what this final test is like through the eyes of a recruit on his way of becoming a United States sailor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open and get out of the way! Fire! Fire! Fire! Water on!

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): It's 5:58 in the morning. Louis Regus and his fellow recruits are fighting to save their ship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your ship is burning and you are wasting time!

OPPENHEIM: Regus is aboard the USS Trayer, a huge simulator designed by the Navy and entertainment industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been hit by a missile, (INAUDIBLE) hits on the starboard side.

OPPENHEIM: Sound, smells, flickering red lights, it's all part of an exhausting overnight drill which all Navy recruits must endure.

REAR ADM. ARNOLD LOTRING, NAVAL SERVICE TRAINING COMMAND: It prepares them to be -- play a vital role in the global war on terrorism. But this simulator prepares them to be a sailor.

OPPENHEIM: The recruits are graded on how they respond to a number of mock crises.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to think.

OPPENHEIM: Disasters and terrorist attacks, all based on real events such as the assault on the USS Cole in 2000, mannequins with sound effects represent the wounded.

LOUIS REGUS, NAVY SENIOR RECRUIT: I mean, even the dolls were moaning and groaning, and I found myself talking to it, like hey, calm down a little bit. It's OK, we're going to get you out.

OPPENHEIM: At one point, the recruits rush to seal a burst pipe overhead while at the same time water rushes up from the floor. In the chaos the recruits must rescue heavy rounds of ammunition. It's a scenario that recalls what happened to the USS Tripoli during the first Gulf War, hit by an Iraqi mine.

CHIEF TIM MCKINLEY, BATTLE STATIONS 21 FACILITATOR: They absolutely have a sense of bad things are happening in the world right now and that they are very soon going to be a part of the fight against that.

OPPENHEIM: One military accountability group applauds the Navy's new simulator, but believes the best training happens out on a real ship.

RICHARD MAY, CENTER FOR DEFENSE INFORMATION: I think the simulator has provided them an experience that they didn't have before. How good it is compared to the real thing, it's probably only maybe a 10 percent solution.

OPPENHEIM: Louis Regus says the simulator approach works for him and connects with a generation raised on video games.

REGUS: You read something, you forget about it. You hear something, you hear it again, you might remember it. But when you do something, you can actually say, I did that before.

OPPENHEIM: Louis Regus passed this final test. He's now a sailor. And because of the simulator, he can say he attended dress rehearsals for war even before being shipped out to sea.


OPPENHEIM: Back live on the USS Trayer, also known as Battle Stations 21. And, Wolf, you can see from Louis Regus' face that getting through this test and getting to graduation was a very emotional experience. But it's not just a formality. The Navy tells us that some recruits will fail Battle Stations 21, a very small percentage. But the consequence for that is they have to go through the drill all over again.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: That could be scary as hell, as you point out. Thanks very much, Keith Oppenheim, with that exclusive reporting for us.

Let's get back to our top story, at least one of them right now, that fiery plane crash in Sao Paulo, Brazil, that killed at least 200 people. Witnesses are sending images from the scene of the crash through CNN's I-Report. Let's go back to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, images from a man who was actually inside the airport when this crash happened last night. I talked to Terry De Souza right after he left the airport, he'd been inside, he heard people screaming and ran out to this scene.

He said the only part of the plane that was visible, you can see the end there, the tail, he said rescue workers were trying to bring people out of that building, the TAM warehouse next door. But they couldn't get near to the plane because it was so engulfed in flames. He sent these pictures into I-Report on his cell phone. That's

You can see the intensity of the blaze here in this YouTube video from Eduardo Rambaldi (ph), he has told that he recorded this also on his cell phone. It shows not just the blaze and the fire rescue workers there, but also the growing throng of people there in Sao Paulo trying to work out what was going on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, horrible, horrible tragedy in Brazil.

Up next, the Department of Homeland Security dolling out almost $75 million in anti-terror grants. But some city officials around the country are not happy. Is there a better way to divvy up the money? Jack Cafferty and your e-mail coming up.

Also, Oprah Winfrey says she's going out on a limb. We're going to tell you which presidential candidate has inspired her to do something she has never done before. Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Oprah Winfrey's influence, can the talk show host's endorsement do for a presidential candidate what it does for brooks? Democratic Senator Barack Obama likely hoping so. Let's go to Mary Snow, she is watching the story in New York.

So what is Oprah planning on doing for Senator Barack Obama?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Oprah Winfrey is lending her star power to Barack Obama by opening her home to help raise money.


SNOW (voice-over): The name Oprah Winfrey brings cache, for a presidential campaign, her cache could translate into cash. That's the plan when Winfrey hosts a fundraiser for Senator Barack Obama this September. She told Larry King in May that she has never endorsed a candidate before until Obama.

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Because I know him personally. I think that what he stands for, what he has proven that he can stand for, what he has shown was worth me going out on a limb for.

SNOW: Even before Obama announced his candidacy, Winfrey helped boost his exposure by having him on her show along with his wife Michelle.

WINFREY: So if you ever would decide to run within the next five years, I'm going to have this show for five more years, would you announce on this show?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I don't think I could say no to you.


SNOW: Whether Winfrey's popularity translates into politics is unclear, as it's untested. The question remains as to whether she'll have the same effect on votes as she does on book sales. Some say she can appeal to groups Obama needs.

LARRY SABATO, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Oprah could help him with women and could also help him to do better with African- Americans. In addition, she can help him raise money.

SNOW: Winfrey's fundraiser at her Montecito, California, home is sure to make a splash, something that some Democratic strategists say Obama needs in Hollywood. Rival Senator Hillary Clinton has touted big-name endorsements like Steven Spielberg in recent months.

CHRIS LEHANE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think strategically, the Obama campaign is rolling out Oprah right now to try to seize back some of the momentum that they've lost here in Hollywood and in Los Angeles.

SNOW: And just to get a foot in the door to Oprah Winfrey's fundraiser requires a $2,300 donation to the Obama campaign. Obviously some will be donating a lot more than that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what she can do for Senator Obama. Thanks very much, Mary. Let's go back to Jack Cafferty, he is in New York with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Couldn't hurt, right?


CAFFERTY: The question this hour, is what's the best way to give out homeland security grants to different cities? They're doling out the money and all the towns are complaining, I didn't get enough, I didn't get enough, so we figured we'd let you sort it out.

Mike writes from Lake Jackson, Texas: "No money for sanctuary cities. They want to invite the problem, they can darn well pay for their own solutions. Watch the city council scurry around to change their status. The legal citizens will impose their will on their elected officials."

Jerry in Florida writes: "Jack, Homeland Security should put the funds in a big pile and then let the cities come in all at once and fill up bushel baskets with the money, just like in Iraq."

Peggy in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania: "Dole it out to the cities with the fewest numbskulls, sort of make it "financial Darwinism." Salt Lake City would get nothing."

I don't know what that means, but I thought it was funny.

Jeff in West Hollywood, California: "It's simple, give the most homeland security money to the communities who have donated the most money to Bush and his causes. Geez, it's a no-brainer."

Ben in Ohio writes: "The grants should be distributed according to what functions their systems were trying to protect, not what city. For example, we should have funds distributed to secure airports, train stations, nuclear power plants, chemical plants, storing hazardous materials, ports, electrical infrastructure, so on, regardless of where these things are located. Let's get the local politics out of this."

Rod in Seattle: "The best way to determine who gets DHS anti- terror funds, Mayoral Mudwrestling! It's less political and more entertaining."

And Jay in New York writes: "That's easy, give the money to the first city that agrees to build a fence around Michael Chertoff."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to where we post more of them online along with video clips of the "Cafferty File."

He's not very big, it wouldn't take long to build a fence around him.

BLITZER: Remind me about the grant -- was there a grant a few years ago given to a pet zoo or something like that?

CAFFERTY: Yes. A petting zoo, that's true. We actually talked about that here. And I don't recall what town it was in, but presumably that petting zoo is still safe today from terrorist attack.

BLITZER: Let's hope it is, Jack. See you back here in an hour. We're in THE SITUATION ROOM 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Let's go to Lou Dobbs, he's in New York -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.