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Damage Found on Endeavour; Camera to Search for Trapped Miners Soon; Shuttle Tile Damaged; Breakthrough Possible Tonight to Pierce Mine Cavity; Mine Safety Accusations; Confronted on Gay Issues; Testing Republicans in Iowa

Aired August 11, 2007 - 19:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, some breaking news. Damage aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. NASA is now investigating a tile seriously dinged by a piece of ice. Engineers are ordering some focused inspections this weekend to see if the orbiter and the crew are in any danger.
Also tonight, a possible breakthrough in the search for the trapper miners. Any moment a big drill could punch into a place where the miners may be dead or alive. But so far no signs or sounds of life beneath the surface.

And a catastrophic warning of a massive earthquake. We'll tell you when and where. Top scientists think the big one will strike for sure with devastating consequences.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin tonight in Houston where NASA engineers have just released some troubling video which shows the signs of damage on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. It happened 58 seconds after its launch earlier this week. And if you look behind me, you can see exactly what we're talking about. That sort of flash of an image, that wisp of image, that spray, if you will, which occurs right in this area is apparently caused by a piece of ice hitting the tile at the area down near where the main landing gear are.

Take a look at this imagery captured from space. We'll show you exactly what the tile damage looks like in this next picture, and give you a sense of why NASA is ordering a series of more concerted focused inspections.

The damage, which is located on a piece of tile in between the two main landing gear may be -- there we go. There's the shot right there. If we could put it through the telestrator, I'll point it out for you. And we'll take a look at that damage, which is -- it's unclear, given this particular image, exactly what -- how the depth is. We do know this, it's three inches by three inches, and NASA is going to take a more focused inspection on it. Joining us on the line right now is NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.

Kelly, good to have you with us. First of all, three inches by three inches. How deep is it? KELLY HUMPHRIES, NASA SPOKESMAN: Well, we don't exactly know. We have a two-dimensional image, Miles, and you can't really tell how deep it is from that image.

O'BRIEN: OK. What do we know about the ice, where it came from, how it happened?

HUMPHRIES: Well, we don't know whole lot yet. What we know is that we were tracking it about 58 seconds, as you mentioned, after launch. A piece of something in this area. We saw a spray come off of the underside of the shuttle in one of the cameras that was covering it during the launch.

At first, it looked like -- we thought it might be ice, then we looked at it more closely, we thought it was some foam, and now we have got some radar tracking data that indicates to us that it was more likely a denser material, which would more likely be ice.

O'BRIEN: All right. I want you to stand by for one minute, Kelly Humphries. I want to bring in a quick comment from the head of the mission management team, one of the flight directors, engineers, at Mission Control, John Shannon.

Here's what he had to say about putting this whole damage into some perspective. Here's John Shannon.


JOHN SHANNON, MISSION MANAGEMENT TEAM: We have a rich flight history of tile damage, some of which is more significant looking than what we have right here. But I won't know exactly what the -- instead of guessing, we'll go and get the right characterization of what exactly the damage is, and then run the thermal models and then we'll know. You know, in the past, we didn't even know we had damage and we flew back home.


O'BRIEN: Kelly, that's a good point. There has been damage in the past prior to Columbia. These sorts of inspections never even occurred. Space shuttles have survived reentry with this sort of damage, have they not?

HUMPHRIES: Yes, we have. We actually survived reentry with entire tiles missing.

O'BRIEN: OK. So at this point, though, if it is determined for whatever reason that it is deep enough, or in a place that it would be of great concern, what are the options for the crew?

HUMPHRIES: Well, I want to point out, first of all, it's way too early to go there. We're going to get some additional inspection data on Sunday using that three-dimensional orbital boom (ph) sensor system to collect some detailed data that should give us the depth and a better idea of the scope of the damage. If it is determined it is something we've got to go off and do something about, there are three different tile repair techniques we have onboard the shuttle. One is basically a black paint. It is called (INAUDIBLE) wash that will improve the thermal rejection characteristics of the damaged tiles. You just paint it on with a kind of a shoe polish dauber.

The other is this STA-54 (ph) material, it's a room temperature vulcanizing goo that the crew has, nozzles that they can squirt some and smooth it out and it has almost the same heat rejection properties as the tile.

The third is an overlay, which is for large damaged areas, where they actually have an overlay piece that they put over the area and screw it into the healthy tiles around with augurs (ph). And they've done a lot of testing in our (INAUDIBLE) here to show that that would survive.

So they have multiple ways to go off and fix this. But it is too early to determine whether we're going to need to do any of that.

O'BRIEN: All right. Kelly Humphries, NASA spokesman, thank you very much. Just to sum up, you're looking at the picture, this shot, 58 seconds after launch, a long-range tracking camera, and you see sort of a spray right at that moment. That spray is ice hitting a portion of the Space Shuttle Endeavour orbiter, causing some damage to a tile. Unclear how serious that damage is. If it is considered serious, the crew has some options for repair, if that becomes necessary.

Remember, this all hearkens back to Columbia, the breach of the heat shield there, much larger, the size of a manhole caused by a big piece of falling foam, ultimately led to the disintegration of the space shuttle and the loss of that crew. This heat shield is crucial, because as the space shuttle returns to Earth, it endures temperatures upwards of 3,000 degrees. More than 20,000 tiles cover it. And those tiles need to be intact in order to protect that crew.

So we'll keep you posted as NASA attempts to get a better handle on how serious this damage is.

Now, on to Utah and the mine collapse. As crews drill into that mountain there, the loved ones of those miners endure an agonizing wait. CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman is joining me now.

Gary, you've been talking to some of these families. How are they doing?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not that great, Miles. It hasn't been a great day here. But the families and rescuers are not giving up hope, because within hours, a key, I emphasize key, piece of equipment is going into a hole where the miners are believed to be. And that is a video camera. That's expected to happen within hours.

But another piece of equipment that was key, a microphone -- not quite as key, but important, that has proved to be the disappointment. They lowered a microphone 19 feet into a hole that was drilled. It was believed to go into the cavern where the miners are. But it picked up no sound. Complete silence. They stopped work inside the mine so they could hear someone even move their foot. But there was no sound whatsoever.

So now the rescuers are hoping that perhaps they made a mistake, and they hope they made mistake because they hope what happened is that the microphone ended up in the wrong part of the mine. And that's why they're not picking up sound.

They say they have some evidence that might show that happened. They say because when the microphone got in, and the sensor that is also in the drill, it showed there was 20.5 percent oxygen. That is enough oxygen to survive. But after about an hour, the oxygen went down to 7 percent, which you cannot live, with 7 percent oxygen.

So they believe there is a possibility the microphone twisted while it was going through the rock and ended up in a closed part of the mine. At least that is what they are hoping.

Tonight, or tomorrow, another hole will be completely drilled, and a camera will be lowered into them. And when a camera goes in, this should be definitive proof of what's going on. That camera will either show living miners, which would be amazing news, or it would show lots of rocks and coal, and that would be very poor news.

Either way, that camera is expected to be in either tonight or some time tomorrow.


RICHARD STICKLER, ASST. SECY. OF LABOR: I think we all should continue to have hope. We have no indication that there's any indication that we should not have hope. So we're going to continue to work as hard as we can, as fast as we can, doing everything we can to achieve our goal. And that is, to rescue the miners.


TUCHMAN: If that camera went in there and showed living men, it would be one of the great survival stories of our time. It's something we can certainly hope for. What is happening right now inside the mine, they are continuing to work, that if they are found alive, they can rescue them.

It will take at least another several days. We were in the mine two nights ago. It is painstaking work, drilling the coal and the rock, taking it outside the mine and doing it over and over and over again.

Right now, we have to be very honest with you, there is zero proof these men are alive. But there's also no definitive proof that they're dead -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Gary Tuchman, in Huntington, thank you very much. Tune in to Anderson Cooper tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for Gary's full report, plus a closer look at what went wrong inside that Utah mine.

In Indiana this hour, another mine tragedy, another investigation under way. Three construction workers are dead at a coal mine in Princeton, that is near Evansville. Details sketchy, but we do know they were working on an air shaft at the face of the mine when it happened. There are reports they were in a basket used to travel up and down the shaft. But it's unclear if they fell. Apparently no cave-in or explosion there, though.

Breaking news from space. As we just told you about. The space shuttle will have much more on the developing story as we find out just how dangerous this is. We'll hear from the former shuttle commander, Eileen Collins, in a little while.

Plus, Barack Obama on why he keeps being asked if he's black enough.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're still locked in this notion that somehow if you appeal to white folks, then there must be something wrong.


O'BRIEN: The presidential hopeful gets candid about the question that has been dogging him on the campaign trail.

Plus, a monster truck crashes into a crowd. Home video that shows how a sporting event went so terribly wrong.

And when you think of people escaping from Cuba, you think of this, right? Rickety rafts. Well, more refugees now are walking to freedom to the United States. We'll explain. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. We're watching the Space Shuttle Endeavour closely. NASA officials in Houston just a little while ago releasing some footage from launch. Not this picture. There you go, right there, 58 seconds after launch a few days ago in Florida, showing a piece of ice striking the bottom of the orbiter and causing some damage to the crucial heat shield.

NASA has ordered up some more focused inspections over this weekend to determine how serious the damage is. We are tracking it for you very closely. We'll hear a little bit later in the program from Eileen Collins, the former shuttle commander. We'll talk about what the options the astronauts have, if it is in fact a serious ding in that tile.

O'BRIEN: On to other things now. The man vying to be America's first black president knows he can't take the African-American vote for granted. Democrat Barack Obama is in Las Vegas tonight, fresh from a speech to black journalists. And even there, his race was an issue. CNN's Don Lemon spoke one-on-one with Obama.

And, Don, it's all about that question. The question is, are you black enough? It's an interesting question.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a weird question to ask a black man. But I think the psychology behind it is that because he has a white mother, a father from Kenya, does that qualify him as being traditionally African-American? And that's a question that has been dogging him throughout the campaign. And you know what? He answered it today definitively, I think, the most concisely he has ever answered it, and it started with a joke.


OBAMA: I made a joke at the beginning about this whole notion of, is he black enough? This is a puzzling question.



OBAMA: And the fact that it has been perpetrated through our press I think is interesting. We should ask ourselves why that is. It's not because of my physical appearance, presumably. It's not because of my track record, because there's nobody in this race who has a stronger track record on the issues that directly pertain to the African-American community.


OBAMA: If there's somebody else out there who has actually passed racial profiling legislation or actually taken political hits because he voted against crime legislation that created unequal treatment among black and white youth, if there's somebody else out there who has reformed the death penalty or organized in public housing projects or devoted their entire lives to civil rights, then I can understand why people would ask the question. So it's not my track record.

It's not that I can't give a pretty good speech, from what I heard. I can preach once in a while. So what really does I think lay bare is, I think, in part we are still locked in this notion that somehow if you appeal to white folks, then there must be something wrong.

And we're still kind of working that through.


OBAMA: I think there is some of that, is he keeping it real because he went to Harvard, whole issue, which a lot of you in the audience had to deal with. And you'd think that we would be over that by now. And part of it has to do with fear, which is, you know what? We don't want to get too excited about the prospects here, because we feel like we'll be let down in the end. And I guess my attitude is, let's try. Let's see.



LEMON: Let's see, and the he went on to say, why not? And the joke that he started with, Miles, was sort of a stereotype for black people that black people are always late or often late. So he came into the room and told this group of 3,000 black journalists, which was packed, by the way, he said, you know, you guys have been asking me, am I black enough? Well, you know, I've decided to show up about 10 minutes into the program, and then sort of he got a big laugh from that. But he took it seriously in the end and answered it.

O'BRIEN: It was a very serious answer, definitely. And a well thought-out answer. Let me ask you this, you caught up with him afterwards and asked him a little bit more about it, what did he have to say?

LEMON: I did. And one would think that, wouldn't you be tired of this? And that's sort of the question I asked him. Let's take a listen and you'll see.


LEMON: Are you sick of answering that question?

OBAMA: No, no, I just -- I'm not sick of it, I think it's kind of silly. That's why I brought it up. I figured everybody here might have that on -- apparently it was raised yesterday, even with Senator Clinton. So I figured I had better go ahead and dispose of that early.


LEMON: So yesterday, my colleague, Suzanne Malveaux, you know, since Barack Obama has been getting this question, if you were watching THE SITUATION ROOM, you saw that she asked Hillary Clinton the same question, was she black enough to deal with issues that have to do with African-Americans? And she answered how she answered it.

O'BRIEN: Now you've been asked that question. What's your response?

LEMON: I think a lot of African-Americans have been asked that question, especially African-American men who are educated and who speak proper English. I used to get upset by it, but I just don't answer it anymore. I ignore it. And I don't really have to answer it. I'm not running for president. So my life isn't, you know, an open book in the sense that Barack Obama's is.

O'BRIEN: Don Lemon in Las Vegas. Fascinating, thank you very much.

Republicans go after a presidential front-runner over abortion.


SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do we believe that the child, the child in the womb is a person or a piece of property? I think that's something we ought to fight for. And I think it's hard to lead the country if you've been moving back and forth on that topic.


O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney being targeted as a flip-flopper by fellow candidates. Find out why he's getting sick of them acting, his words now, holier-than-thou.

And catastrophic earthquake predictions. Is Los Angeles long overdue for the big one? Find out why a top scientist says it could kill thousands, collapse bridges and cost billions in damages. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


O'BRIEN: Imagine parts of Los Angeles skyline destroyed, freeways ripped apart and thousands of people dead. That's the grim scenario earthquake experts are exploring right now. Our Brian Todd has been looking into this.

Brian, these are dire predictions. They've been talking about the big one there for years. What's different this time?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, this time, a team led by one seismologist from the U.S. government has been working with computer models, meeting with local officials in Southern California to prepare for the big one. They emphasize this is one possibility, but they say it has got pretty strong odds.


TODD (voice-over): A catastrophic new outlook for California. A top scientist forecasting a massive earthquake along the San Andreas Fault that would be devastating to people and property near Los Angeles.

LUCY JONES, SEISMOLOGIST, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVERY: We are reasonably certain that we are going to have substantial damage to our buildings. It has got to be in the range of hundreds of billions of dollars and there will then be a significant loss of life, probably in the thousands.

TODD: Lucy Jones, from the U.S. Geological Survey, warns that region is 150 years overdo for the big one. A likely scenario, she says, the epicenter in the Coachella Valley, the quake that moves northwest towards L.A. with a possible magnitude of about 7.9. Compare that to the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, collapsing part of the Bay Bridge and killing 63. Or the Northridge quake near Los Angeles in 1994 when 57 people were killed. Both measured about 7.0 or lower.

Jones says it's not just the size that will be more devastating, but the amount of time the earth actually shakes.

JONES: Northridge, 6.7, had a duration of seven seconds. And this earthquake is going to be two to three minutes.

TODDS: Roads, railways and pipelines, she says, will be gone. The massive damage, experts say, is partially due to urban sprawl creeping east of Los Angeles, right along the danger zone. Within the next 20 to 50 years, when this quake is forecast...

JONES: The communities that are within 10 miles of the San Andreas Fault are going to be doubling in the same time period.


TODD: Now, again, this is all under one scenario where the earthquake reverberates northwest toward Los Angeles. But Lucy Jones and her team say there is another scenario where it moves southeast. In that scenario, L.A. does not bear the brunt, but the Mexican city of Mexicali, population 2 million, would bear the brunt -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. But Los Angeles has had a tough building code. And a lot of the buildings there are built with earthquakes in mind. Is she reasonably confident that these buildings will do OK?

TODD: The buildings built after 1990 probably will do fine. But they're worried a lot about concrete framed buildings that were built earlier. They are very vulnerable and those buildings were not required to be retrofitted, very, very tough to shore up those buildings.

O'BRIEN: I can imagine that would be tremendously expensive.

TODD: Right.

O'BRIEN: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

We're following breaking news about the Shuttle Endeavour. A heat shield tile on the shuttle is damaged. The question is, does it need to be fixed? And if so, can it be? We'll bring up to date.

And a terrifying crash into a crowd. A monster truck loses control. We have some video that shows how a day of fun ended at the hospital for some.



O'BRIEN: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. NASA engineers pondering a damaged piece of tile on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. It happened 58 seconds after launch on Wednesday. Take a look at this picture as it loops through here. And at that point, the shuttle going up this way, there's the rocket plume. You'll see what appears to be a spray. Notice it right there. A spray, and we'll loop it over again and again.

That is a piece of ice, presumably from the external fuel tank. We don't know for sure yet. That external fuel tank contains liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Liquid hydrogen is the coldest substance on Earth. The reason that there's that foam on the tank is to protect against ice. But ice can form there.

In any case, it caused a rather significant gouge in the tiles at the base of the shuttle. Take a look at the picture and I'll point out exactly where it is. It's right over here in this corner. It's about three inches by three inches.

Now to put that in perspective, the hole which caused the loss of the Columbia orbiter and her crew of seven back in 2003 was about the size of a manhole. So this is not the kind of damage that would lead one to think of a catastrophic loss.

Having said that, depending on how deep it is, NASA may decide the crew should go out there and attempt to repair. Let's listen to the head of the mission management team, John Shannon.


SHANNON: We have a rich flight history of tile damage, some of which is more significant looking than what we have right here. But I won't know exactly what the -- instead of guessing, we'll go and get the right characterization of what exactly the damage is and then run the thermal models and then we'll know. You know, in the past, we didn't even know we had damage, and we flew back home.


O'BRIEN: That from John Shannon. On the phone with me now is Eileen Collins, former shuttle commander. She flew the first mission on the space shuttle "Discovery" after the loss of "Columbia" in July of 2005. And on that mission, there was a little problem with a gap filler between some tiles and the astronauts there had to perform a repair.

Eileen, good to have you with us.

First, on broad brush here, when you hear about a three-inch by three-inch ding in tiles, on the surface of that, can you make any conclusions about how serious that might be?

EILEEN COLLINS, FORMER SHUTTLE COMMANDER: Well, hi, Miles. First, I'd like to say that I'm very confident that the teams back in Houston will be able to figure out exactly what is in there. They have great imagery. They've come a long way since the "Columbia" accident. I think they'll find out exactly what's in there. And they have several options to take care of it if they need to do something. O'BRIEN: What are the things among the options?

COLLINS: First of all, they're going to do an inspection on Sunday. So we should know Sunday what the depth of that hole is. Or the damage is. I shouldn't call it a hole. But we'll find out exactly what's there.

And then the crew has, I think they have about three options onboard where they can actually go out and do a space walk. They can either put a black type of paint material in there to -- it's a thermal material. They have what we used to call a goo that they could spray in there. Or a type of padding that they could pack in there to help, you know, prevent any heat damage on entry. So I'm actually pretty confident that they'll be able to figure this one out.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting, though, all those methods, they've been tested but never really tested on the real McCoy. Is NASA pretty confident, are you pretty confident that these techniques would do the job when they need to, which is enduring tremendous amounts of heat during reentry?

COLLINS: Well, you know, it's too early for me to say that right now. It depends on the type of damage they have. But I know that a lot of work has continued to take place since I flew my mission two years ago, to make these methods even better. And they have been very thoroughly tested on the ground.

There's also another option. You know the mission is going very well and they have a space station power transfer system, so the crew may get an extra three days and they may get an extra space walk. That will help a little bit.

And then if the damage was so bad, you know, I don't want to speculate, but if it was so bad, the crew is at the space station so they're at a safe place.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Well, of course, which is sort of the last-ditch option.

Listen, one final question here. The fact that ice fell off, you know, I know NASA goes way out of its way right before launch, they have a whole team out there to look for the build-up of ice. But it does happen occasionally. In many respects, it can be more dangerous than the foam itself.

COLLINS: Well, ice is definitely more dangerous than foam. It's more dense than foam and can cause more damage. And NASA's working very hard to eliminate all types of -- as much as possible, debris that could fall off the external tank on launch.

I know there are still some upgrades to be implemented in the future. We're looking forward to getting those things implemented, too.

You know, it's an important business we're in. We're building the space station. The mission so far is going really well. I'm very proud of the work that NASA's done. I think they've come a long way. And I think they're going to be successful in this one, too.

O'BRIEN: Former shuttle commander, Eileen Collins thanks for joining us in the middle of your vacation. We really do appreciate that.

COLLINS: Thanks, Miles.

O'BRIEN: And just to point out, we're talking about this piece of damage, it's three inches by three inches. We don't know how deep. NASA will spend some time this weekend trying to assess it and make a decision.

Of course, this mission is most notable for one of its occupants, Barbara Morgan, the teacher turned astronaut, who today graced across or floated across the threshold there of the International Space Station. And has reported she's really enjoying her time in space. The first few hours, the first day, no matter which direction she was facing, she felt like she was upside down, she said. In any case, as this mission progresses, she will have an opportunity to teach a few classes in space. We'll keep you posted in the meantime on how much damage there is to that shuttle heat shield.

At this very moment in Utah, a drill is boring a hole into that mountain trapping six miners. It could break into the cavity where officials believe the miners are tonight. That would allow crews to push down food, water, a camera to look around, perhaps to see if those minors are dead or alive.

Let's go straight to CNN's Ted Rollins in Huntington.

Ted, bring us up to date.

TED ROLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, as families wait patiently, as the search effort continues here in Utah to try to free these trapped miners, if they're alive.

Some very, very serious allegations are coming to the surface about the possible condition of this part of the mine leading up to the collapse.

Trapped miner Manuel Sanchez said he was concerned about safety inside one section of the Crandall Canyon mine in the weeks leading up to the collapse. That's what a family member has told a local newspaper.

Now a source with intimate knowledge of the conditions of the mine tells CNN Sanchez wasn't alone, that other miners were also apprehensive about working in the area of the collapse.

The source won't go on camera, says the six trapped miners were working in an area called seven belt, the deepest part of the mine. And he tells CNN that for weeks before the collapse, the floors in that part of the mine were heaving, or buckling up from intense pressure. He says supervisors knew of the problem. And the source says several miners, including Manuel Sanchez, were getting very concerned. Do you know why this miner was nervous going into that particular section?

BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT, CEO, MURRAY ENERGY CORP.: I have no idea. I never heard that. I have no idea. It's probably a rumor. And I'm not going to respond to rumors. I can tell you that if any of my management had ever said that to me, I would say, yes, I was told that. I don't know a thing about that, sir. That's the truth.

ROLLINS: If the miners were so afraid, why didn't they complain? Several miners we talked to in this area say complaining means you lose your job.

MURRAY: If you're getting that from the community, it's coming from other mines, because it doesn't operate that way.

PAUL RIDDLE, FORMER MINER: Always profits before safety. That's my opinion, my feeling and my experience.

ROLLINS: Paul Riddle used to work in one of Bob Murray's mines. Riddle says miners who work for Murray are sometimes forced to push the envelope when it comes to safety and are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their high-paying jobs.

RIDDLE: I'm not the only one. There are many, many, many people that feel this way. And are afraid to speak up.

ROLLINS: The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration plans to conduct an investigation into exactly what happened and the conditions that the mine leading up to the collapse. The mine's owner is confident his company will not be blamed.

MURRAY: There will be nothing in the investigation that will show that Murray Energy or Utah American or the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration did a thing wrong. It was a natural disaster.

ROLLINS: That investigation will not begin until the fate of these miners has been determined, until this rescue effort is over.

Right now, Miles, the larger drill, that 8 5/8-inch drill going where the miners are. Earlier the families who are getting a briefing right now from Bob Murray, received bad news that the microphone going down the 2 1/2-inch hole did not pick up any sounds at all. They're still hoping, though, that there is a chance that this other drill will give them the good news that they've been waiting for.

O'BRIEN: Ted Rollins in Huntington, Utah. Thank you very much.

Democratic presidential candidates walking a tight rope and getting grilled.

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: Our hearts were broken. We were thrown under the bus. We were pushed aside; all those great promises that were made to us were broken.

O'BRIEN: Gay politics out of the closet from civil unions to Bill Clinton's mixed reported. Candidates answer some top questions.

Plus, bringing back the draft. The president's top military adviser in Iraq says that's an option. We'll tell you what else he had to say.



O'BRIEN: Some of the democratic presidential candidates may still be recovering from their latest issues. Melissa Etheridge gave the democrats a piece of her mind. Here's our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, it was the first-ever televised forum of presidential candidates focused on gay issues. Six of the eight democratic wannabes were there courting what has become a key constituency in the party base.

The forum was a testament to changing times, and the political cloud of the gay, lesbian, transsexual and transgender community, a small but active voting block. This was not your grandfather's debate.

MARGARET CARLSON, MODERATOR: You got to get married and I got to be married. But Joan doesn't get to be married.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we have a situation in which civil unions are fully enforced, are widely recognized, people have civil rights under the law. Then my sense is that's enormous progress.

CROWLEY: Mostly they were in sync with the audience. All the candidates support full civil rights for gays and repeal of the don't ask, don't tell in the military.

Two, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich support gay marriage.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D) OHIO: The state should be there. On behalf of people, to make sure that that love has a chance to be facilitated.

CROWLEY: But while they were pressed, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton remain opposed to gay marriage.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D) NEW YORK: I prefer to think about it as being very positive about civil unions.

CROWLEY: There were apologies for past votes or statements and there were illuminating moments. John Edwards said the public school system should explain same-sex families to children.

JOHN EDWARDS (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sure it should. The kids who go to public schools, they need to understand why same-sex couples are the parents of some of the children.

CROWLEY: There were rough moments. Clinton got hit with a full- on assault on her husband's record on gay issues.

ETHERIDGE: Our hearts were broken. We were thrown under the bus. We were pushed aside. All those great promises that were made to us were broken.

CLINTON: Well, you know, obviously, Melissa, I don't quite see it the way you describe. But I respect your feeling about it.

CROWLEY: Still, as rough moments go, this won the night.

ETHERIDGE: Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?


ETHERIDGE: I don't know if you understand the question. Do you think a homosexual is born that way, or do you think that around seventh grade we go, I want to be gay?

RICHARDSON: Well, I'm not a scientist.

CROWLEY: Wrong group for that. Science has long held that homosexuality is biological. Richardson and staff later rushed out a statement saying he actually does not believe homosexuality is a choice.

The candidates revealed little that was new about their policies, or attitudes toward gay issues. Perhaps most notable was that the event took place at all, with all the major players attending.


O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley in Los Angeles. Thank you very much.

Many of the republican presidential candidates are in Iowa tonight. Mitt Romney is widely expected to win a straw poll of Iowa republicans tomorrow since rivals Rudi Giuliani, John McCain and Fred Thompson, who is of course not in the race officially, are skipping the event. Conservative Senator Sam Brownback is trying to come in second. He's taking shots at Romney's stance on abortion along the way. I spoke with Brownback earlier today.


A lot of talk this past week about Mitt Romney's stance, his pro- life stance. And a stance which you and others have claimed that he came to most recently. The accusation is that he has flip-flopped on this issue. Are you saying at this point, when he says he's pro-life, you don't believe him?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he's saying he's still for researching on the youngest of human beings. And he's changed position on taxes, and on second amendment issues as well. I just think it's tough to lead on an issue if you've come to it late, or have changed or are not fully committed to it. I think what we need is leadership on the life issue. That's the biggest moral issue facing our country. Do we believe that the child, the child in the womb is a person or piece of property? I think that's something we ought to fight for and it's hard to lead the country if you're moving back and forth on that topic.

O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney had something to say about this. Let's listen for a sec.

MITT ROMNEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I changed my position. When I was governor and when I faced an issue of life or death, when the first time a bill came to my desk, that related to the life of an unborn child, I came down on the side of life. And I put that in the Boston Globe and explained why. I get tired of people who are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have.

O'BRIEN: Holier than thou. Do you accept that criticism?

BROWNBACK: I don't. I don't accept it at all. It's easy to call people names. The facts are much more stubborn things. Just look at what the record is. Where he's been pro-choice, where he has supported taxpayer funding of abortion, where he even continues to form and to support human embryonic stem cell research on the youngest of human beings. It's not just on abortion that we're talking about, it's also on taxes, it's also on second amendment rights. That's why I think you have to have consistency. Run who you are. That's what I'm doing, running who I am. I think that's what Iowans will see and I think that's why we can perform well at the straw poll and do very well in the caucuses.


O'BRIEN: And Brownback in Iowa.

The president's top adviser on Iraq says a military draft is, in his words, an option on the table. So what would it take for it to actually happen? We have his answer coming up.

Plus, a monster truck careens out of control into a crowd of spectators. We'll tell you what happened to those who couldn't get out of the way.



O'BRIEN: The president's military adviser on Iraq says the U.S. should not rule out a military draft. In an interview with national public radio, Lieutenant General Douglas Louts says he's concerned about the toll the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are taking on U.S. forces. He was asked whether a draft would be a good idea. Here's how he answered in part. We quote him now. "I think it makes sense to certainly consider it, and I can tell you this has always been an option on the table. But ultimately this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation's security by one means or another."

Now, Louts says that given current troop levels and deployment schedules, major decisions regarding troop levels around the world will have to be made by next spring.

They are marked men and women, Iraqis working for the U.S. Army, and other American agencies in Iraq, and for risking their lives, what do they get back in return? Not enough, say many Americans who have worked with them.

CNN's Arwa Damon has their story.

RONNY: Many times we got blown up.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They call him Ronny. He's an interpreter for the U.S. Army and he's a haunted man.

RONNY: Every other day I have nightmares of militants trying to kill me.

DAMON: Going home is not an option. Insurgents and death squads see anyone working with the Americans as a collaborator.

RONNY: Thousands of times like we drove by my house. And do you know how painful is that when you see your own house, and you can't stop to see your dad or your brother or your mom to tell them, hey.

DAMON: That's been his life for nearly four years now.

LT. COL. STEVE MISKA, U.S. ARMY: Many people have the perception that it's just the U.S. soldier that's here sacrificing. And that is a misperception.

DAMON: Lieutenant Colonel Steve Miska has felt the Iraqis' sacrifice.

MISKA: Nadal (ph) had been here for four years. He ran a store downstairs, had a wife and four children. But he would live here, because of the risk of going home all the time.

DAMON: But Nadal (ph) was killed. Then there was Jack.

MISKA: Jack, one of my interpreters, who we spent a lot of time out together, had a wife back in Balad. The Sunni insurgents in Balad were after him for quite some time.

DAMON: In the end, they got him. When we asked if he thought the United States had a moral obligation to help those that have risked their lives here, the answer was simple.


DAMON: Help for Iraqis and Afghans pounding the streets with U.S. soldiers amounts to just 1,000 special visas over the next two years. But there are an estimated 9,000 interpreters with the U.S. military in Iraq alone, and many more with other government agencies and contractors. Some Americans are racked by guilt.

KIRK JOHNSON, FORMER USAID EMPLOYEE: Now, when I see those Iraqis that worked for us, that did everything with us, that we couldn't have functioned without their help, when I see them fleeing without even anything other than a sort of good luck from us, it turns my stomach.

DAMON: Many have fled to Syria or Jordan, thinking they have no hope of making it to America. For thousands more still here, like Ronny, there is a growing sense of desperation.

RONNY: I can't stay in Iraq. If I decide to stay here, I'm going to die.

DAMON: Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.

O'BRIEN: Let's go to Rick Sanchez to find out what's coming up next in our next hour in "OUT IN THE OPEN."

Hello Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We might get news made in the next 15 minutes, Miles. We're expecting this news briefing at this Utah mine rescue effort at the top of the hour to find out whether these guys are dead or alive. We're going to bring that to you live. In fact, we're going to be all over it. We've got a couple of correspondents following it as well.

There's a story about this soldier whose real job is a police chief in Georgia, was he fired for spending too much time in Iraq? Doing his job as part of the National Guard? Well, we checked an we found out there may be 1,600 others with the same complaint. He's going to join us here and we'll talk to an expert with the National Guard.

You know the cavemen from the TV commercials that have been now getting their own sitcom? The critics are how howling about this. They're howling racism as a matter of fact. And we're going to have people here to banty that one about as well.

Miles O'Brien, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Wait a minute, there's some organization representing cavemen upset about this?

SANCHEZ: Well that's a great question. That's the same question I had for my staff when they told me about it but actually they think they're mimicking something else. I won't give the story away. I know you're trying to steal it.

O'BRIEN: We'll see you next hour. Rick Sanchez, "OUT IN THE OPEN."

A monster truck careens out of control, injuring several spectators. But why are they standing so close? That's a good question. YOU'RE IN THE SITUATION ROOM.


O'BRIEN: Authorities are trying to figure out why a monster truck veered out of control during an event in Illinois. It crashed into a crowd of spectators. Carol Costello is looking into it.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, I think the real question is why were these spectators standing so close to this demonstration. We got a hold of compelling video from Dekalb, Illinois. See for yourself.

It was meant to be an exciting demonstration of mechanical might. But it turned ugly. You can see the driver of this huge truck trying to crush those four cars. He tries once, twice, three times. And you can see he comes very close to some spectators standing nearby. Then the 44-year-old driver rears his vehicle on the back wheels for a final crunch, and he loses control. The truck gets away from him, careening into a crowd of people, scattering them. No one was killed, but nine could not get out of the way quickly enough. Including a mother and her 4-year-old child. They're in the hospital, in serious condition. The truck did not stop until it crashed through a fence and got stuck on some railroad tracks. The driver was unharmed.

The sponsor of this event is not talking. We don't know if the driver of that monster truck had extensive experience. We only know he escaped without a scratch.

O'BRIEN: What a story. I would steer clear. That's all I can say.

COSTELLO: I can't believe were just standing around and there were no barriers in front of that truck.

O'BRIEN: It looks like the gas pedal got stuck. We'll find out.

Carol Costello, thank you very much. Have a good weekend.

And thanks for joining us. This Sunday on "LATE EDITION" Congressman Duncan Hunter and Joe Sestak will join Wolf.

I'm Miles O'Brien. Up next, "OUT IN THE OPEN" with Rick Sanchez.