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South Asia Storm; Marines Battlefield Tape

Aired November 16, 2007 - 17:00   ET


And Dave in Santa Cruz writes: "Well, the government was just afraid that the Red Cross might see this waterboarding as torture rather than the spa treatment the military seems to think it is. They just didn't want any misunderstandings." -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a country brought to its knees by a massive killer storm. The death toll now possibly topping 1,000. We'll take you to the cyclone zone, as it's now called.

Also, Barry Bonds under federal indictment and possibly facing decades in prison. And now the basketball great, Charles Barkley, is coming to his defense. We're going to talk to Barkley live this hour.

And members of a doomsday cult held up inside a cave are threatening mass suicide. The very latest on an extremely tense standoff.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The death toll is climbing in the aftermath of a massive tropical cyclone in South Asia. More than a thousand people now reported dead and many, many more are missing. The storm, the equivalent of a category four hurricane, slammed into the coast late yesterday. Now, emergency workers are facing a logistical nightmare, as they scramble to reach survivors.

CNN's Dan Rivers is on the scene.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the more we know, the worse it's looking. As the death toll continues to rise, the true scale of this disaster is slowly becoming apparent.


RIVERS (voice-over): Southern Bangladesh has been utterly devastated by Cyclone Sidr. Towns and villages have been torn apart by ferocious winds -- which reached 240 kilometers, or 150 miles per hour. An endless field of debris is peppered with clusters of survivors.

Emergency services have been overwhelmed trying to clear thousands of fallen trees and free survivors -- like this man, pinned under the rubble. Many, though, made it to cyclone shelters, where they spent a terrifying night, as the rain hammered down outside.

JOHN HOLMES, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: The World Food Program is already sending food rations for up to 400,000 people that are affected by this cyclone. I think the main needs are likely to be in the areas of food and health care and shelter.

RIVERS: The storm surge of 15 feet, or five meters, has also wreaked havoc. Huge waves pounded the coast much of which is low-lying and vulnerable to flooding. And now, the race is on to get to those left stranded. This drowned landscape should be lush green with the rice harvest. But it, like everything else, has been lost -- the survivors barely clinging onto life.


RIVERS: International aid organizations are putting into place a huge operation to help the tens of thousands of families who have been made homeless. But the true scale of this disaster is not yet clear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Rivers on the scene for us.

What a tragedy.

Thank you for that.

Another story we're following -- a secret audio tape. It's shedding light on what troops are facing on the battlefield in Iraq.

Let's go to Brian Todd.

He's been watching this story unfold for us.

It's a secret recording.

What can you tell us about it?

Give us some of the background.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this speaks to what's often called the fog of war. It involves a Marine unit exhausted from combat going back over an incident that occurred near Ramadi last year.


TODD (voice-over): A window into the confusion of combat -- the aftermath of a Marine unit's firefight in Iraq. August 2006 -- after taking hostile fire on their patrol boat on the Euphrates River near Ramadi and returning fire, the unit is briefed by their commanding officer, Captain Shane Cote.

CAPT. SHANE COTE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: All right. Earlier, up on the roof, there was like five women and a little girl, OK? We (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) that area up. I think I saw one of you kill a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) cow, all right?

I know, I understand. I understand.

Here's my point, though. If we did any collateral damage, there will be people here asking. Your answer, for the sake of yourselves and me, better be you were shooting at muzzle flashes.

TODD: Cote spoke of collateral damage, but never definitively said women and children were killed -- only what the Marines should say if anyone asked about it.

The story was first reported by the "Marine Corps Times," a private newspaper not affiliated with the military. A seasoned military attorney says Cote's remarks might imply he was telling his Marines to get their stories straight and cover something up -- which could be obstruction. Or they could mean something else.

BRENT HARVEY, MILITARY LAW ATTORNEY: I think it's equally able to be interpreted as him saying I hope for your sake that you were shooting at muzzle flashes and that's what you saw, which would be the appropriate way to go about it.

TODD: A Marine spokesman tells CNN an investigation found no evidence of non-combatant deaths -- meaning no women and children were killed and there was no criminal misconduct -- no courts- martial. But Cote was relieved of his command last year and involuntarily transferred to an inactive section of the Reserves for what the Marines call various leadership issues regarding this and other incidents.

We tried repeatedly to reach Captain Cote for his side of the story. Through the Marines, his wife said he would be interested in speaking with CNN in the future, but the timing is not right to speak now.

The audio was secretly reported by a sergeant in Cote's unit. The Marines say investigators verified it was Cote on the tape and it was not edited. The sergeant, Henry Butts, said he gave the audio to superiors. Sergeant Butts tells CNN he never got along with Captain Cote and he had been taping his own conversations with the captain for some time.

SGT. HENRY L. BUTTS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: You know, it was like I was the worst Marine that was on the planet, you know, in his eyes. And I think he hated me. I don't know why he hated me.

TODD: But Sergeant Butts also admits he was not there during the firefight in question.


TODD: Sergeant Butts is still an active member of the Marine Corps. Marine officials tell us other administrative decisions regarding Captain Cote's status are pending -- Wolf. BLITZER: What could happen, Brian, to him now?

TODD: Well, the Marines tell us likely one of three things. He could be involuntarily separate from the Marine Corps. He could get a letter of reprimand or he could be ordered into counseling. Those possibilities still out there for him.


Thank you very much.

Brian Todd with that story, underscoring the fog of war.

North Korea is at the top of the agenda as President Bush holds talks with Japan's prime minister over at the White House today. Mr. Bush says there's been "measurable results" -- his words -- from six nation talks aimed at halting North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The new Japanese prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, says it's a matter of survival for the communist nation to give up -- to give up those nuclear weapons.

In an exclusive interview with the new Japanese leader here just a little while ago, I spoke with him about his talks over at the White House and this sensitive issue of North Korea and its nuclear weapons.


BLITZER: Do you think, under the right circumstances, North Korea would dismantle its nuclear weapons?

YASUO FUKUDA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): As an independent country, if North Korea wishes to survive, then I think they need to give up their nuclear weapons. And, at the same time, we think of their economic independence. They need Japan's economic cooperation, as well. And, therefore, the abduction (ph) issue needs to be settled, as well.

And there are, of course, disparate views regarding these matters. But as far as we are concerned, to the extent they are a threat to the neighboring countries, I think it is very difficult for them to survive as an independent state.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise, prime minister. When you said that if they want to survive, they must give up their nuclear weapons -- that could be seen as a threat that if they don't give up their nuclear weapons, they're going to be destroyed.

I want you to clarify exactly what you mean by that.

FUKUDA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Whether they will be destroyed or not, setting that apart, I don't think they can really become truly independent with the current stance as a very closed or hermit country. The people will be very unhappy and miserable.

(END VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: ...the Japanese prime minister Sunday on "LATE EDITION". "LATE EDITION" airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern. I think you're going to want to hear what this new Japanese leader has to say.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Getting some tough talk from some unlikely places -- Japan, France.

BLITZER: I know. It's really amazing when you think about it.

CAFFERTY: Well, maybe everybody's getting tired of these little punks trying to push everybody around.

Democrats tried to tie more money for the Iraq War to troop withdrawal. But they failed -- again. The Senate blocked a Democratic proposal today that passed the House yesterday. The 53-45 vote seven votes shy of what they needed for the measure to advance. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the only way to get the money was to include restrictions that would have required troops to begin coming home as early as 30 days from now.

But Republicans say the Democrats are being irresponsible. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed the Democrats for an inability to accomplish anything in the Senate. Earlier this week, Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that if Congress cannot pass legislation that ties war money to troop withdrawals, then they won't send the president any bill this year. Instead, they will revisit the issue in January.

Democrats say in the meantime, the Pentagon can use part of its $470 billion budget to keep paying for the war.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says unless Congress passes war funding without conditions, it could mean the Army would have to shut down bases in this country by mid-February and lay off up to 100,000 civilian employees and contractors.

So our question is this -- should Congress hold off sending President Bush any more bills funding the war in Iraq until next year?

E-mail us at or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Federal prosecutors set their sights on the home run king -- Barry Bonds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEAN ROSENBLUTH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The government wants to send a message -- don't mess with us.

Don't lie with us, don't lie to us. Just tell us the truth and you'll be fine.


BLITZER: But guess who's coming to Barry Bonds' defense?

Charles Barkley. I'll talk to the basketball legend. That's coming up live.

Also, the latest on that doomsday cult holed up in a cave and threatening mass suicide.

And the Democrats' high stakes debate. We're going to show you how the chips fell in Vegas.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Baseball's embattled home run king, Barry Bonds, due in federal court three weeks from today to answer charges he lied under oath when he denied knowingly using steroids -- charges that could send him to prison for decades.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is joining us now live from San Francisco.

How serious are these charges now against Barry Bonds -- Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, potentially very serious. They hold a maximum sentence -- if he's convicted on all of the charges -- of 30 years. Most people believe, though, a worst case scenario, he would do three, maybe five years in prison. That's still a huge transformation in his life. One thing a lot of people believe is that his baseball career, because of these charges, is now most likely over.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): While breaking home run records, Barry Bonds was judged by the media and baseball fans. Now, facing a possible prison sentence, it will likely be up to a jury to decide whether Bonds broke the law.

MICHAEL RAINS, BARRY BONDS' ATTORNEY: Now, the public is going to get the whole truth, not just selectively leaked fabrications from anonymous sources.

ROWLANDS: The case against Bonds goes back to 2003, when he testified before a grand jury investigating alleged steroid distribution by BALCO Laboratories in California. Bonds, who broke hallowed home run record this season, testified he'd never knowingly used any performance enhancing drug. According to the government, that is not true.

The 10-page indictment says prosecutors have evidence that will prove Bonds lied. The indictment calls Bonds' grand jury testimony "intentionally evasive, false and misleading."

Victor Conte, the president of BALCO, served four years in prison for steroid distribution. He says he was surprised by the indictment.

VICTOR CONTE, CONVICTED BALCO FOUNDER: The question is, do they have the credible evidence that will enable them to meet the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt and get a conviction?

It's my opinion that they don't.

ROWLANDS: Bonds, who is potentially facing a prison sentence as long as 30 years, isn't the first famous person to be prosecuted for lying under oath.

ROSENBLUTH: The government wants to send a message -- don't mess with us, don't lie to us. Just tell us the truth and you'll be fine.


ROWLANDS: And now Bonds' defense team is sending a message that they will fight these charges vigorously. Bonds' first court appearance is scheduled for December 7th up here in San Francisco -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch it with you, Ted.

Thank you very much.

Some of the suspicion of Barry Bonds is rooted in the fact that he's one of those rare athletes who has gotten better and bigger with age. The Giants' equipment manager says Bonds' hat and shirt sizes have expanded since joining the team back in 1993. Even his feet have gone from size 10-1/2 to size 13 -- all this as an adult.

And a quick check of the numbers shows that from 1986 to 1996, his first 10 years in the league, Bonds hit a home run once every 16 or so at bats. From 1997 on, he hit a home run every 10 times at bat.

Bonds, by the way, is 43 years old.

Another sports legend, though, is coming to Bonds' defense right now. The former NBA star, Charles Barkley, is joining us on the phone from Leeds, Alabama.

Charles, thanks very much.

Tell us why you're supporting Barry Bonds during this difficult time right now.

CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Well, I think you can't have selective prosecution. This thing has been a witch-hunt from the beginning. They've been going after one guy. And one great attorney I listened to, Roger Cosik (ph), said everything in this indictment they've known for a minimum of two years and more than likely for three years. If they had known this for three years, before he was making them all that money, setting records, they should have indicted him two years ago.

But I just don't believe you can have selective prosecution just because you don't like a guy.

BLITZER: But do you think, Charles, he was taking the steroids?

BARKLEY: I don't know the answer to that. And whether he was or not, to me, is irrelevant. You know, we've had a couple of guys in the last two or three weeks who said they were taking HGH. And the first thing the media says is, well, the stuff wasn't illegal at the time they were doing it. So -- but they have a different standard for Barry because they don't like his personality. And that's not fair.

BLITZER: In the indictment -- I'll read to you one line. It says -- this is from the U.S. District Court indictment, the Northern District of California: "During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained, including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances for Bonds and other professional athletes."

I guess the argument that the prosecutors are making is he denied flatly knowingly taking these kind of steroids and they say they have evidence that he tested positive for these kinds of steroids. And he's a smart guy -- it just didn't get into his system secretly or whatever.

BARKLEY: Well, first of all he's always maintained he took something, he just didn't know what it was. They still can't prove that -- whether he knew he was ingesting it or not.

But my question is, they keep -- all Barry's stuff seems to leak out. You know, we had Jason Grimsley's situation in Phoenix -- no names leaked. They've got the guy from the Mets -- none of his names are leaked out. I just want to know why every time -- only when it comes to Barry Bonds, all the secret information leaks out.

And now, with the Mitchell investigation, they keep saying, well we're going to release names. Like I say, I'm not here to defend Barry, I'm here to defend the process. You can't go after one guy. I just don't think that's right and that's not fair.

BLITZER: Charles Barkley, speaking his mind, as he always does.

Charles, thanks for coming in.

BARKLEY: Hey, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, a shift in the campaign landscape, as Democrats face off in Las Vegas.

All eyes were on Hillary Clinton.

Was she able to recover from the stumble she made in the last debate?

We're going to show you how all the candidates did. That's coming up this hour.

Plus, an American student held in Italy -- we're going to have details of an international murder mystery involving sex and drugs.

Stick around.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Army's desertion rate is skyrocketing. It's risen 80 percent since the invasion of Iraq four years ago and it's up 42 percent from last year. Despite the steady increase in desertions, an Associated Press examination finds that the military does little to find those who leave their posts and it rarely prosecutes the ones it does find.

Iraq War vote blocked -- just a short time ago, Senate Republicans stopped a Democratic-led effort to tie war funding to troop withdrawals. Democrats say they'll delay funding the war until next year.

Police are still trying to determine if someone was in a Houston hotel when it was demolished this week. Police have been searching the rubble of the Crown Plaza Hotel. They say an amateur video appeared to show a figure inside seconds before the implosion. Workers in the adjacent Texas Medical Center reported seeing someone enter the building just before it was demolished.

New developments in another bathroom sex scandal, this one involving a Florida state lawmaker. Representative Bob Allen -- he's the one on the left -- has been sentenced to six months probation for agreeing to pay for oral sex with an undercover officer. Allen was found guilty last Friday of soliciting a prostitute. He was accused of appearing over a men's room stall at a police officer and then agreeing him -- agreeing to pay him $20 to perform oral sex on the officer.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

All right.

Carol Costello will be back shortly.

Hillary Clinton's rivals had her in the crosshairs at last night's presidential debate.


JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton defends the system, takes money from lobbyists, does all those things. And my point is simply that people have...


ECCLESTON: No. Wait a minute.


BLITZER: The Democratic presidential frontrunner wasn't taking the criticism lying down. We're going to show you how she fired back. We'll have a full break down of the debate. That's coming up.

Also, a standoff in Russia brings threats of mass suicide and a warning of an apocalyptic outcome.

And dueling videos -- Katie Couric and Dan Rather -- they're taking their squabble to YouTube. We're going to show you the latest.

Stay with us.



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

Happening now, John Kerry returning fire. The Massachusetts Senator says he'll prove that allegations about his Vietnam War record that helped derail his 2004 presidential campaign are, in fact, false. He's responding to a Texas oil man who offered a million dollars to anyone who can show the Swift Boat Veterans for truth lied.

A new poll puts Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani ahead in the key state of Nevada. The former New York mayor holds a narrow lead among likely Republican caucus goers over the Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


As you saw right here on CNN, the Democratic presidential candidates squared off for a debate in Las Vegas last night. Not surprisingly, the exchanges were fierce -- sometimes extremely spirited.

Let's take a closer look at some of the sharpest jabs and most memorable one liners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions. And that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues.

EDWARDS: Senator Clinton defends the system, takes money from lobbyists, does all those things. And my point is simply that people have...


BLITZER: All right...

EDWARDS: no, wait a minute.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't mind taking hits on my record, on issues. But when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook.

EDWARDS: And I think people are entitled to know that they have choices. There's nothing personal about this.

OBAMA: This is the kind of thing I would expect from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, where we start playing with numbers...


OBAMA: ...we start playing with numbers in order to try to make a point.

CLINTON: People are -- are not attacking me because I'm a woman. They're attacking me because I'm ahead.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DW), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's get to it, folks. The American people don't give a darn about any of this stuff that's going on up here.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a shrillness to the debate. The American people want results. They want the job done -- exactly what Joe Biden talked about here.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just imagine what it would be like here to have a president of the United States who's right the first time.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, go ahead.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, by the way, I'm Bill Richardson.

I'm governor of New Mexico.


RICHARDSON: Nice it meet you all. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So how did the chips fall for the candidates in Las Vegas last night?

Our contributor, Roland Martin, is here to talk about the debate.

You watched it. I know you -- you're taking a close look at Barack Obama. He's from Chicago. You're from Chicago. That's where your radio talk show emanates from.

Some are suggesting this was not necessarily his best night.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, he does not like the debate format. When I interviewed him for TV One Cable Network he said it. He said, look, I'm trying to inform. These debates are about sound bites and you can't explain policy. So, what he has to do, he has to get over that. He has to suck it up and get to the point where look, you may not like the format. It's seven, eight people on stage. You have to deal with it.

BLITZER: Because if he is the nominee, there will be at least three debates with the republican nominee and those are going to be intense, too.

MARTIN: The other piece is, again, he had lots of attention that came out of Iowa in terms of the dinner that took place.

BLITZER: By accounts, he gave a great speech at that Saturday night Jefferson Jackson dinner.

MARTIN: How many folks saw it? Last night, 4 million people, based upon the early Nielsen results, saw last night's debate. He has to come out of these debates looking sharp and, again, having us talk about him in a positive way the post debate analysis. As the polls are saying, well, he stumbled on the illegal immigration question. I think what he did with that question, Wolf, he led his policy position when it was a yes/no answer. So he's going to be able to say yes, I'm for it and here is high position on that. He has to master that and I think it had nothing to do with his campaign. He, as a candidate, has to come to the conclusion. This is what I have to do.

BLITZER: What did you think about Hillary Clinton's performance last night? Because you know she was under enormous pressure. She did not do very well in the earlier debate and for two weeks people were hammering away saying, well, maybe she's not ready.

MARTIN: She was strong in terms of when she came out. When I watched the debate a second time, she went after Obama with the first issue. Because really, she's not worried about John Edwards. She knows he's going to attack. His biggest concern is Senator Barack Obama, especially after Saturday. She came out on the health care issue. She did very well in terms of being able to step up and led her positions. But again, what was interesting, though, she said last night that she does not support giving license to illegal immigrants. Last week she told Candy Crowley she was for it based upon the state. Now, granted Governor Spitzer pulled his proposal off the table. She released a statement staying that I am against licenses and I will not support it as president, but the question is, do you support it now? Overall, a great performance. Very strong, been able to come out but I thought Obama should have went after her on the issue of 6 percent and top 6 percent of the people when it came to social security cap.

BLITZER: So she was saying she needs a commission on social security to study the long-term ramifications.

MARTIN: Look, that has been all over the place. She attacked him about calling a $1 trillion tax increase saying that the middle class. He said wait a minute, the top 6 percent. How is that the middle class? Again, that was a moment he could have seized, but he didn't.

BLITZER: He missed an opportunity. You know some of the so- called second-tier candidates, I think you'll agree like Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, they did really well.

MARTIN: First of all, I think the candidate who I loved out of nearly every debate has been Senator Joe Biden because, again, he is straight. He's laying it on the line. The problem is, he's 20 years too late. He was a candidate in 1988 that I think people really would have looked it. And if I had to compare it to a NASCAR race, he is a guy with a great car, but running up against three much better cars that are faster than him and that's the problem that he has but again, a great performance.

BLITZER: What you're saying is timing is everything.

MARTIN: Timing is everything. And again, he's a great guy but again he's running against serious horses in terms of Senator Clinton, Obama and Edwards. I think John Edwards made a big mistake. I think when he sat there and he backed down with the bulls. With 2,300 people there, you knew there would be Clinton supporters. He should have pressed and not backed away because that's how he's able to establish himself. He allowed a chance to get by and so that's a big problem from him.

BLITZER: He'll join us Sunday on "LATE EDITION," Senator Edwards and we'll talk about that and more. Roland, thanks for coming in.

MARTIN: I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Every candidate wants them. Some claim to have them, but what good do they really do? We're talking about young voters, people in their 20s. Carol Costello joining us now. Carol, what do we know about these young voters and their role in this, the 2008 campaign?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, every election season we see candidates going after the young voter. They appear on MTV. They make hip-looking MySpace profiles and they blog. But in the end, will all this lure young people to the polls?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most popular candidate on You Tube award.

COSTELLO: It seems like America's 20 somethings have a loud voice when it comes to presidential politics. Republican outsider Ron Paul has a lot of young fans and many have been so creatively effective online, they've parlayed passion under to cold hard cash for Paul's campaign and helped raise his profile. That's power. But Ron Paul aside, the democrats boast they have youth on their side, in droves.

HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We're getting 61 percent of the vote under 30 because our candidates look like America. Their candidates look like the 1950s.

COSTELLO: 61 percent. That sounds big. Democrats have actively pursued the youth vote by trying to speak their language.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Will Smith is a possibility because his ears match mine.

COSTELLO: And youth has responded but who cares? Historically young people, despite their splashy shows of enthusiasm, do not vote.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: They're still not voting nearly at their level in the population. The voting population is dominated by those who are age 50 and over.

COSTELLO: Take 2006, there were 50 million people between the ages of 18 and 29. How many actually cast a ballot? Experts at the University of Virginia estimate about 7 million, fewer than one in five; kind of pathetic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yea I think I give up the vote.

COSTELLO: We took our camera to New York University because of a poll done by the journalism department. When asked if students would give up their right to vote forever if their tuition would be paid, most said hell yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would absolutely give up my right to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I probably would.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's my education and I feel that's more important right now.

COSTELLO: So, why do politicians insist on boasting they have the youth vote when historically it's not all that?

SABATO: Young people bring an energy and an enthusiasm to a campaign that no one else really can bring, at least not at the level they do.

COSTELLO: Can you imagine the Obama girls generating the same kind of media attention if the girls were over 60? Some young people also campaign tirelessly and while they may not be able to convince their peers to vote, Sabato says their enthusiasm certainly pushes older people to the polls.


COSTELLO: So, is it really worth it for politicians to court young voters? Yes. But not necessarily for their votes. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that good report.

They're awaiting the end of the world inside a cave and they're threatening mass suicide if anyone intervenes. We're going to have the latest on the standoff with a Russian dooms day cult.

Plus, the democratic campaign underdogs; we're going to show you how some of them are actually managing to steal the spotlight at the presidential debate last night.

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


BLITZER: An extremely dangerous standoff is taking place right now about 400 miles southeast of Moscow. It involves about two dozen members of a dooms day sect that are holed up in a cave with drums of gasoline and they're threatening mass suicide. Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow with the latest.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A bizarre standoff being played out in central Russia, Orthodox monks scaling down a snow clad ravine to make contact with members of a strange dooms day cult. Hiding in a cave and threatening to blow themselves up if they are disturbed. The dozens of religious zealots are living in freezing conditions, waiting for the end of the world. They believe it will come in the spring and they are reported to have horded enough supplies to last until then, including fuel and blankets and half a ton of honey and jam.

GENNADY SERIY, POLICE OFFICER (through translator): Those there have made no demands. When we contacted them, they said they have only one request, to leave them alone because they wanted to pray underground.

CHANCE: But concerns are increasing, especially for a number of children believed to be among the group, at least one as young as 18 months. Authorities insist they will not storm the cave, but pressure is growing for them to act.

LEONID ROSHAL, PEDIATRICIAN (through translator): No one is entitled to in danger child's life. Probably deprive him of life and impose on him the harshest living conditions.

CHANCE: The man who founded the cult is now in police custody at a mental hospital and has appeared on Russian television. Pyotr Kuznetsov or Father Pyotr, as he is known, says he ordered his followers into the cave, but didn't join them because he was waiting for more people.

PYOTR KUZNETSOV, CULT LEADER (through translator): We decided to make a large cave that would fit all of us to isolate ourselves from the village folks. They've complained about us to local authorities, urging them to evict us from the village.

CHANCE: Police say before they charge him he needs psychological treatment. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


BLITZER: Italian investigators are trying to unravel a tangled international murder mystery involving a British student, her American roommate, her Italian lover and a bar owner from the Congo. CNN's Jennifer Eccleston shows us the pieces of this puzzle.


JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just weeks ago, Amanda Knox wrote on her blog that she loved the Italian way of life. An American exchange student in Medieval Prague, she had interesting courses, a good job and an Italian boyfriend. Today, the 20-year-old from Seattle sits in this Italian jail, a prime suspect in the mysterious death of her roommate, British student Meredith Kercher. It's a tangled tale which Italian police are still trying to piece together, a horrific story of sex, drugs and knives. But there are some facts.

On November 2nd at this quaint hillside villa just steps away from the university where both students attended, Meredith's lifeless body was found half naked lying in a pool of blood with a stab wound on her neck. Italy's media dubbed it a house of horrors. An investigating judge found the 21-year-old Kercher died fighting off a sexual assault, an assault involving not only her American roommate, but Amanda's Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and Patrick Diya Lumumba, a bar owner from the Congo. The judge's report said Knox and Sollecito had smoked hashish that evening and then went to her house in search of Kercher and a new sexual experience. The judge said Lumumba was there, too, seeking Knox's help to persuade Kercher to have sex with him. But Meredith Kercher rebuffed the advances and was slashed with a knife. She took two hours to die.

ESTEBAN GARCIA-PASCUAL, PATRICK LUMUMBA'S FRIEND: The last image I have to her is in front of the bar giving me a big smile and saying hi.

ECCLESTON: Esteban Pascual was a friend of Kercher. He owns a bar and is close with another bar owner, Patrick Lumumba. He says Lumumba told him he wasn't at the house that night. But Amanda Knox told police it was Lumumba who killed Kercher. But later, her mother said Amanda had told her she wasn't even at that the house that night. Even her lawyer claims it's difficult for him to determine the truth.

ANTONELLA NEGRI, AMANDA KNOX'S PROFESSOR: I found Amanda very nice. ECCLESTON: Antonella Negri, one of Knox's language teachers, says the American was very engaged, punctual and well-liked, but there was another side to her.

NEGRI: I changed my mind, I thought maybe she has two life.

ECCLESTON: Knox, herself, has shown a dark side. This hiker and yoga enthusiast posted a fictional short story involving drugs and rape on her blog. With the conflicting accounts of what happened that night, police are focusing their efforts on forensic evidence. A lab in Rome confirmed Thursday that a kitchen knife found in the apartment of Knox's Italian boyfriend contains traces of both Knox's DNA and DNA of the murdered student. Prosecutors tell CNN it could be the weapon that killed Meredith Kercher. Raffaele Sollecito's lawyer says the discovery does not implicate his client.

LUCA MAORI, LAWYER (through translator): The knife in question is not the jackknife that was found on Sollecito when he was taken into custody.

ECCLESTON: Sollecito is a professed knife collector. Others taken from his apartment have not tested positive for DNA, according to prosecutors. He and Patrick Lumumba are also held in jail. All three maintain their innocence.

A few weeks ago, Amanda Knox blogged that she was in one of her happiest places in life, for the mysterious American, her Italian boyfriend a Congolese bar owner and, tragically, her British roommate, reality couldn't be more different. Jennifer Eccleston, CNN, Prague, Italy.


BLITZER: Caught on tape, a network news anchor mocking her predecessor. We're going to show you the Katie Couric video that is taking You Tube by storm. Jeanne Moos standing by with that report.

Plus, how did the top three candidates fare in last night's democratic debate? Their campaign officials face off here. The sparks are flying.

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


BLITZER: Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather is going after his old network with a $70 million defamation lawsuit. Yesterday, CBS asked the judge to dismiss the suit saying he waited too long to take legal action and behind the scenes there is a tape making the rounds on You Tube of Katie Couric making some jokes about Dan Rather. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here. She's watching the story for us. So, Abbi, how did this all start?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, with this video, then anchor man Dan Rather caught on tape on a windy, cold rooftop on location pondering at some length whether to wear his coat or no coat. Whether to wear his collar up or collar down. Almost 200,000 people have watched this online since it was posted by comedian Harry Shearer on, including, it seems, Katie Couric. Now, she has been caught on tape on You Tube with her own version. Take a listen.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Okay, should I open my coat? I will be like Dan Rather on You Tube. Mike, help me with my coat. Can you help me? What do you think? Open or it's kind of cold so maybe we should close it. Wait, what do you think, Mike?


TATTON: She goes on to say, don't you think he deserves a little pay back. This tart is ready to go. Dan Rather made headlines earlier this year when he accused CBS News of tarting it up. He later said on this program on THE SITUATION ROOM that those comments weren't directed at Couric. A spokesman for today Dan Rather said he wasn't available for comment. A spokesperson Katie Couric said that feed had been on an open satellite and she was just having some fun with her you. Wolf?

BLITZER: You have to be careful with those open satellites. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Let's go to Jack. He's in New York. Jack, any time you're in front of a camera, you have to be careful, you know.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is my tie straight? Is my collar up? Actually, I watched that thing at home this morning. It was pretty funny and she delivers this line about OK this tart is ready to go. It's very funny. It's a little shade of the old Katie when she was doing the "Today Show." She has a great sense of humor and I'm sure the brass at CBS didn't think it was funny and Rather won't think it is funny either but I thought it was cute.

The question, should Congress hold off sending President Bush any more bills funning the war in Iraq until next year?

William in California writes, "Yes, in fact, they need to keep sending in the same bill to him until he is no longer president. It will do wonders for improving the ratings of Congress."

Joe writes from New York, "I think Congress should continue funding the war in Iraq. The victory in this war will be felt on all levels and will increase the safety of this country."

Bob in Virginia, "Absolutely. Congress is finally showing some back bone. Not another cent for this obscene war until the lone ranger in the white house represents all Americans, including the 70 percent of us that want to bring the troops home."

Rebecca in Maryland, "Yes, because we want to know exactly where the republicans stand on the war issue during the primaries."

Daniel in New York writes, 'Do they honestly think they'll help their chances of re-election by pulling an idiot move like this? They'll only dig them selves a deeper hole by forcing the layoff of thousands and making it appear they don't support the troops."

Clod writes, "I'm a student teacher. I believe in responsible citizenry, that's what I teach. I think Congress should put a hold on more funding of the war. We've done enough harm to the world and ourselves. When are these guys going to get it?"

And Brynne writes from Lawton, Oklahoma, "They should have done this a year ago." Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, stand by, we have a big round table coming up in the next hour with you.

Coming up next, though, Lou Dobbs, his assessment of the democratic presidential debate. Lou's going to be joining us from Florida. Tonight, get a little preview of what's coming up an hour from now on his show, but also want to know what he thought about the debate.

What is up with the republicans? We're going to show you where the GOP candidates stand right now, as well.

Stay with us. Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his new show in one hour, his new time 7 p.m. eastern. Let's get a little preview but first, let's talk a little bit about the debate last night. You're in Florida right now. You were in Las Vegas with me yesterday. So, you're a traveling man, as well. What did you think last night? Give us a little summary of your thoughts about the democratic presidential candidates.

LOU DOBBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm looking forward, first Wolf, to getting your comments during our broadcast at 7:00 eastern and your impressions and, by the way, congratulations on a job very well done. Those candidates not easy to pin down on occasion.

My impression was that the democrats in attacking Senator Clinton, probably made a very big mistake because it looked as though Senator Obama and Senator Edwards, to me, had very little to say on their own other than their aspersions they were attempting to cast on the front-runner, Senator Clinton. I have to say I think Senator Biden was absolutely terrific in his directness and the intelligence of his answers. I think everyone had some benefits from the exposure in that debate. But I think there's no question that attacking Senator Clinton proved to be a very poor strategy.

BLITZER: You know, I was surprised when Hillary Clinton basically acknowledged that, you know what, maybe the North American free trade area agreement was not such a great idea after all. I pressed her at one point, maybe Ross Perot in his debate against Al Gore, a lot of us remember it on "LARRY KING LIVE," maybe Ross Perot with hindsight. Senator Clinton was right. I had to prod it out of her. She said maybe it wasn't a good idea. Were you surprised by that?

DOBBS: I was. I am so pleased, so proud that you pressed her on that to elicit that response because no one to that point had not only during this campaign, but certainly not during her career. The reality is you got a number of people on the record on some very important issues. I had to laugh as everyone squirmed when you asked for a yes or no answer on drivers' licenses for illegal aliens. You did a terrific job in trying to get specifics.

BLITZER: That's sort of an issue that cries out, either yes or no. I support it or I don't support it. It's not that complicated. It's a complicated issue maybe but your answer shouldn't necessarily be all that complex.

DOBBS: Exactly. And I was amused by Governor Richardson who put -- signed into law drivers' licenses for illegal aliens in his state. He didn't have really to do anything but say yes but went on and on about it. To hear Senator Obama suddenly find, if you will, religion on the issue of border security is at least answering as though as he has was refreshing. That was, some wonderful moments last night.

BLITZER: We'll talk a little bit more during your program about it, as well, Lou. Thanks very much. Remember, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" comes up in an hour, 7:00 p.m. eastern. He'll be reporting from Florida tonight. Thank you, Lou.

And happening right now, fight night in Vegas. The democratic presidential debate, it was a crucial moment in the road to the White House -- or was it?