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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama & Fellow Democrats Strike Back; McCain Hits Obama on Iran; Honorary Degree Backlash for Veteran Leader of the Conservative Movement

Aired May 16, 2008 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Today was Barack Obama's turn. After hearing hints from President Bush and John McCain that he and his fellow Democrats would appease America's enemies, Obama accused them of hypocrisy and fearmongering.

CNN's Dan Lothian is in Frankfort, Kentucky -- Dan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Obama campaign says they decided to come out with a stronger response to what they called "an appalling attack" because they couldn't let the comments by President Bush and Senator John McCain stand unchallenged.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just wanted to get that off my chest, guys.

LOTHIAN: Barack Obama wasn't kidding. One day after President Bush, in what was widely viewed as a veiled slap at Obama, ridiculed the thought of negotiating with what he called "terrorists and radicals," Obama struck back.

B. OBAMA: On a day when we were supposed to celebrating the anniversary of Israel's independence, he accused me and other Democrats of wanting to negotiate with terrorists and said we were appeasers no different from people who appeased Adolph Hitler. That's what George Bush said in front of the Israeli parliament. Now that's exactly the kind of appalling attack that's divided our country and that alienates us from the world.

LOTHIAN: Obama said both President Bush and rival John McCain have a lot to explain when it comes to the war in Iraq -- the failure to find Osama bin Laden and the growing strength of terrorist groups like Hamas.

B. OBAMA: If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America, that is a debate that I'm happy to have any time, any place. And that is a debate that I will win because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for.

LOTHIAN: Obama said McCain, if elected, would continue George Bush's foreign policy and he accused McCain of mischaracterizing his foreign policy with remarks like this one yesterday in Ohio. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why does Barack Obama -- Senator Obama want to sit down with a state sponsor of terrorism?

What does he want to talk about with Ahmadinejad, who said that Israel is a stinking corpse?

OBAMA: John McCain has repeated this notion that I am prepared to negotiate with terrorists. I have never said that. I have been adamant about not negotiating with Hamas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Obama wants to show that he's strong on national security, that he can protect America -- responding to his critics while reassuring voters that he's ready to be president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, thank you.

John McCain is ready to go another round on the issue of appeasement and he's not stopping there. He just got another dig in, only a few moments ago. You saw it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM during a speech before the National Rifle Association.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Earlier today, Senator Obama made a few remarks I'd like to respond to. I welcome a debate about protecting America. No issue is more important. Senator Obama claimed all I had to offer was the "naive and irresponsible belief" that tough talk would cause Iran to give up its nuclear program. He should have known better.

I have some news for Senator Obama. Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, unconditional -- in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a stinking corpse and arms terrorists who kill Americans, will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless. It is reckless to suggest that unconditional meetings will advance our interests.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don't have enemies, but that's not the world we live in. And until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Both senators said that they're more than ready to debate this issue on the substance -- the national security ramifications. We're watching this story for you.

A state Republican Party is blasting Michelle Obama for comments she once made about being an American.

Should candidates' spouses be fair game for political attacks?

Let's to go Brian Todd. He's watching this story for you.

Brian, what is this one all about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is about Michelle Obama becoming more of a lightning rod in this political season. Now, analysts say sometimes she has a hand in that, sometimes she doesn't. One of the most recent examples has her husband's campaign accusing the Republicans of shamefully attacking his family.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Described by associates as straightforward and tough, Michelle Obama may now need to tap those attributes more than she ever thought. A Web video from the Tennessee Republican Party goes right after Mrs. Obama -- six times mixing an often criticized remark of hers with comments from Tennesseans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, REPUBLICAN PARTY AD)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.

BOB HOPE, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: Hi, I'm Bob Hope and I'm proud to be an American, because mainly of the First Amendment -- the right to worship God anywhere I choose to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Barack Obama's campaign responds with a statement calling the video "a shameful attempt to attack a video who has repeatedly said she wouldn't be here without the opportunities and blessings of this nation."

The Obama campaign says the Republican Party is engaging in pathetic smear tactics. But GOP officials tell us neither the national party office nor John McCain's campaign had anything to do with it. The McCain campaign says it's not going to play referee in these cases and should only be judged on the ads it runs.

But following Mrs. Obama's initial remarks in February, Cindy McCain did jump into the fray.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN: I'm proud of my country. I don't know about you, if you heard those words earlier.

I'm very proud of my country.

TODD: Michelle Obama has since tried to clarify, saying she really meant to say how proud she was that record numbers of Americans are engaging in the political process.

Cindy McCain has also drawn fire for refusing to release her tax records. And observers say there's a broader mine field for the campaigns -- spouses are increasingly fair game.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "WASHINGTON POST": When they're out there raising money for their husband's campaigns, speaking on behalf of their husband's campaigns, they are also open to being criticized or at least being watched for what they say.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: That very same point made to us by an official of that Tennessee Republican Party which put out that video. He was unapologetic, saying Michelle Obama is out making policy-oriented speeches for her husband and was, in fact, in the state for a fundraiser when the party posted that video -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, the Republican National Committee says it had nothing to do with that video.

But is the RNC taking steps to discourage these states from -- these state political parties from running these kinds of videos?

TODD: In this particular case, Wolf, it doesn't seem like they are. We asked the RNC about that. They're referring us to the McCain campaign's stand that it does not want to play referee here. And this in the instance only of this Tennessee Web video.

But last month, interestingly, the RNC and the McCain campaign both asked the North Carolina Republican Party not to run an ad attacking Barack Obama. The North Carolina party went ahead and ran it.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There is a chance that the issue of gay marriage could make an appearance in yet another election cycle.

Oh, there's good news.

The ruling by California's Supreme Court yesterday to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage has put that issue back in the political spotlight -- something that the three presidential candidates all pretty much agree on. McCain, Obama and Clinton all oppose gay marriage, saying that marriage should between a man and a woman. They also say it ought to be left up to the individual states to decide.

In 2004, lest we forget, Republicans used gay marriage to get socially conservative voters to come out and support President Bush in the battleground state of Ohio. Four years later, though, it's very much an open question whether voters facing a shaky economy, skyrocketing gasoline prices, the war in Iraq, will even make gay marriage an issue. One Republican strategist told the "New York Times" -- quoting here: "At best, it doesn't move voters. And at worst for Republicans, it'll work against them." He says the GOP could face a backlash for focusing on gay marriage when there is so much more at stake. A gay rights group says, as well, that it doesn't see this being the same kind of issue that it was in 2004. A poll taken last fall found that 55 percent of those surveyed said gay marriage would not be all that important or not too important in their vote for president. And that was before gasoline started flirting with four bucks a gallon and the economy was staring square at a recession.

So here's the question: Will California's decision to legalize gay marriage be a factor in this fall's presidential election?

You can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.

And on the subject of that blog, which passed 10 million page views -- and we've only had this thing up and running for like four or five months.

We got this e-mail from Darsy (ph) in Arkansas. She says: "Congratulations on the 10 million plus page views."

I'm trying to do my part. I never miss it."

Thanks, Darsy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good work, Darsy.

Thanks very much to you, Jack, as well.

Growing concerns over skyrocketing gas prices -- now President Bush goes to Saudi Arabia asking for help. You're going to find out what the oil-rich country says it will and won't do.

Also, there's a new terror tape allegedly from Osama bin Laden himself. We're going to have details of his tirade and whom it's targeting.

Plus, racially charged e-mail revealed inside the Secret Service. We'll show you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The high price of oil on President Bush's agenda as he visited Saudi Arabia. Mr. Bush asked the country to increase production to help offset skyrocketing gas prices right here at home. But the Saudis said no. They told him they already decided last week to boost production by 300,000 barrels a day. And that's -- there's plenty of oil, they say, to meet demand around the world. That's from the Saudis.

The president is bowing to Congressional pressure and suspending shipments to the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- a move some hope will ease soaring gas prices.

Let's bring in our special correspondent, Frank Sesno. He's looking at this for our weekly "What If?" segment.

Will this lower prices, Frank, here at home?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Please. Been to the pump lately?

A little bit, but not enough for you to really feel a big difference. Let's put this in context. Right now, the United States of America burns about -- let's go to these graphics that we've got them -- about 21 million barrels a day total. Sixty percent of that, Wolf, is imported.

What have we got in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

About 700 million barrels of oil.

What does that amount to if you had to tap into it?

It amounts of just under two months of supply, if those international -- those foreign imports were to be cut off.

That brings me to my question this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO (voice-over): What if we stopped filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

It may sound nice, but it won't make the Saudis pump more or China use less. It won't convince Iran, with all its oil, to like us or enable our friends to help us, since their biggest oil fields have already peeked. For example, Norway's production is down 25 percent in the past seven years. Britain's down more than 40 percent. Mexico, America's second biggest oil supplier, has seen its biggest oil fields collapse.

If we stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, it won't bring stability to Iraq or to Nigeria, where rebels keep attacking the oil. It won't boost U.S. production or the mileage we get with our big cars. It won't undo American sprawl -- our monuments to cheap gas -- or fix mass transit so more Americans have efficient alternatives.

Here's what it will do. It'll stop about 70,000 barrels out of more than 21 million we burn each day from going into the ground -- our insurance policy in case the oil flow is disrupted, like it was in the '70s. It'll save maybe two to five cents a gallon, most experts say. Oh, another thing it'll do, it'll let politicians say they've done something.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: Politicians like to say they've done something.

When have we dipped into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Well, we did it after Hurricane Katrina. We got about 11 million barrels out of that withdrawal. And we did it after the first Gulf War, Wolf, when the oil supplies were so questionable. But as a practical matter, this is a diversion. As a practical matter, it's kind of like this oil -- you know, this gas tax holiday. It really won't make much of a difference when it's costing people $50, $60, $70, $80.

BLITZER: Well, the argument is every little thing could help.

SESNO: The argument is every little bit helps. And I -- and that's -- and that's fair enough. But in terms of the real guts of this thing, the prices that we're paying now are as a result of global factors that go way beyond these little quick hits. And we're going to be paying this kind of price for a long time.

BLITZER: A huge demand in China and India and Brazil.

SESNO: Right.

BLITZER: And all sorts of other places.

SESNO: That's right.

BLITZER: And that's creating an enormous demand.

I know you're going to have a lot more. Frank's going to have a special that's coming up this week.

SESNO: Right.

BLITZER: What if gas skyrockets to $10 a gallon and everything collapses?

Our Special Investigations Unit and Frank Sesno examine the what ifs -- "CNN SIU: We Were Warned" airs Saturday and Sunday nights, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Oil and terrorism are colliding in a diplomatic dilemma the U.S. is facing right now involving Libya.

Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Almost two decades now since the bombing of PanAm flight 103, victims families say Libya still hasn't kept its promise to pay. And they claim the Bush administration is letting Libya off the hook -- betraying them to help Libya and big oil.

KARA WEIPZ, PRESIDENT, VICTIMS OF PAN AM 103: Are we willing to trade the blood of Americans for oil?

And if Libya is really serious about their commitment to the victims, why don't they just do what they are supposed to do?

VERJEE (on-camera): The administration wants to give Libya a waiver from a law that lets terror victims sue U.S. oil companies if they want to do business with Libya. The law had slammed the door shut on deals that mean billions of dollars for American companies and Libya.

(voice-over): The diplomatic dilemma -- the administration says it sympathizes with the families. But Condoleezza Rice also argues U.S. interests could be hurt if it doesn't make good on rewards it promised to Moammar Gadhafi for giving up weapons of mass destruction.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Obviously, when you have a major strategic shift of the kind Libya has made, you want there to be some affirmation of the importance of having done that.

VERJEE: U.S. oil companies are frustrated.

BRUCE JOSTEN, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: I mean it's a horrific incident and Libya should pay up. That's very different than what this provision in law now provides. It actually puts American companies on the hook for that claimant's interest and payment.

VERJEE: So the oil companies and Libya are both lobbying Congress to get a waiver with administration support. And the State Department is working with Libya on a final deal to settle all claims and get victims all their money.

The Libyan ambassador tells CNN, "We rely on the good faith of the United States not to create impediments that could delay a positive result."

Libya has already paid $8 million per family. But Kara Weipz says the families are fighting for the remaining two.

WEIPZ: We're not ready to back down and we're not going to back down. And, quite honestly, what is right is on our side.

VERJEE: Zain Verjee, CNN, at the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A war of words between Democrats and Republicans over appeasing terrorists. We're going to talk about that and more with the former Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards. He'll be joining us live.

Plus, is money affecting the way the V.A. diagnoses veterans?

A single e-mail that's causing a nationwide controversy.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, grim news from two Asian disaster zones.

Myanmar officials are nearly doubling the official death toll from that devastating cyclone to almost 78,000, with 56,000 people still missing. Of course, the ruling junta is still keeping large amounts of international aid at bay. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that's putting millions of survivors at risk of disease.

In the meantime, the death toll from the China earthquake has climbed to more than 22,000, with more than 12,000 still believed buried under collapsed buildings. The Chinese embassy here in Washington is expressing gratitude for international aid and says Americans who want to help should send cash and supplies through aide agencies. You can find a list of them at CNN.com/impact.

And the U.S. is resuming food aid to North Korea. The U.S. Agency for International Development says half a million metric tons of food will be shipped out next month. Food aid was halted after concern arose over distribution. U.S. AID say it's now reached an agreement with North Korea on monitoring to make sure aid the is properly delivered.

A controversial e-mail has come to light from a Veterans Administration psychologist, urging her peers to refrain from diagnosing soldiers and veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She cites a growing number of veterans seeking compensation and adds, "We don't really have time to do the expensive testing necessary." A V.A. spokeswoman blames the e-mail on what she calls a rogue employee who has since been counseled.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol.

We'll check back with you shortly.

He's Barack Obama's newest high profile backer -- the former senator, the former Democratic presidential candidate, John Edward. He's standing by live to join us. We're going to talk about what's going on in this latest exchange between Barack Obama and John McCain. I'll also ask him about his decision to go ahead and endorse Barack Obama. That's coming up.

Also, e-mails so offensive we can't show you the e-mail here in THE SITUATION ROOM. But we'll show you the scandal that's rocking the U.S. Secret Service right now.

And honoring a conservative icon and sparking outrage -- you're going to find out what one university is doing.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a message allegedly from Osama bin Laden marking 60 years since Israel's independence. The nine minute audio tape released on a jihadist Web site rails against the Jewish state and says every Muslim should work to liberate Palestine.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson tells business leaders financial markets are considerably calmer and he says the economic stimulus checks now going out will support the economy as it struggles with the housing crisis and high oil prices.

And Pope Benedict XVI blames sex in the media for sexual exploitation of women and children in Thailand. He told a group of Thai bishops visiting the Vatican that the media is fueling a decline in moral values.

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

We're also standing by to hear from John Edwards. My interview with the former Democratic presidential candidate, a strong supporter now of Barack Obama. That's coming up. We'll go there live shortly.

Meanwhile, a long-running race discrimination suit against the United States Secret Service has led to the disclosure of offensive e- mail to and from employees of the agency.

Let's go to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She's watching this story for us.

What's going on -- Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some of these e-mails are too sexually explicit for us to put on the air. Almost all are racially explosive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): This video showing an interracial couple confronted by the Ku Klux Klan was e-mailed by a Secret Service employee to several higher-ups, including a deputy assistant director who has since retired. The video was produced as part of a French anti-AIDS campaign. But now it is evidence in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Secret Service.

Melissa Henke represents the African-American agents pressing the case.

MELISSA HENKE, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: It is just the most recent example of what is a long and sordid history of racism at the Secret Service.

MESERVE: Ten e-mails are part of the latest court filing. One is entitled "Harlem Spelling Bee". In it, a 20-year-old fifth grader defines hotel this way: "I gave my girlfriend crabs in the Hotel Everybody."

Most of the other definitions are more sexually explicit. They are all racially derogatory. It was sent in 2003 by a man who is now an assistant director of the Secret Service.

Another e-mail tells a story about robot golf caddies.

When their faces are painted black, "four of them didn't show up for work, two filed for welfare and the other two robbed the pro shop."

Not all the e-mails are intended as jokes. In one, an agent says, "They promoted a black guy in front of me." Another complains about the Reverend Al Sharpton and a black winner of "American Idol": "Reverse racism and political correctness are destroying virtually every aspect of American life."

MELISSA HENKE, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: These are e-mails that were sent to and from high level members of the Secret Service. These are high level supervisors who are actually engaged in the decision making process for the promotions of Secret Service agents, including our clients.

MESERVE: The Secret Service calls the offensive e-mails deplorable but says only a handful were found in a search of more than 20 million electronic documents.

ERIC ZAHREN, U.S. SECRET SERVICE: It's certainly unfair and irresponsible to somehow take that and make it somehow a reflection of the agency, its people, our policies or our commitment to diversity which we've always been very proud of.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The Secret Service says not all the e-mails involved high officials. They were only uncovered recently. They say an internal investigation is now under way and if disciplinary action is warranted, it will be taken -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you.

Jeanne Meserve reporting.

Controversy hanging over one university commencement today about an honorary degree bestowed on a veteran leader of the conservative movement.

Let's turn to Carol Costello once again. She's watching this story for us.

What's the uproar this time, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well you see her picture there, Wolf. The issue is Phyllis Schlafly. Washington University in St. Louis awarded her an honorary degree earlier today and half the graduating class of 2008, thousands of students turned their backs in protest. Some faculty members left the graduation stage. They say Schlafly marred their special day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: They call her sexist and anti-intellectual. Not the kind of role model they wanted to see receiving an honorary doctorate from Washington University. Students had organized a Facebook protest. More than 3,000 signed up.

MARY ANN DZUBACK, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: We're dealing with somebody who has dedicated her life to working to oppress certain groups of people and that's not something we should be endorsing.

COSTELLO: Schlafly, a long-time respected voice in conservative politics is also known as the anti-feminist. She successfully spearheaded the grass roots fight in the '70s against a measure that would have added gender free equality to our constitution. The equal rights amendment. It's something Schlafly still argues against.

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, MEMBER OF THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT: Women do not want to be treated the same as men in the military and in combat.

COSTELLO: But it was her comments about marriage and whether a husband could rape his wife that really riled up some students. Schlafly said this in the Washington university student newspaper. "I think that when you get married, you have consented to sex. When it gets down to calling it rape, though, it isn't rape. It's a he said, she said where it's just too easy to lie about it."

Schlafly also calls feminists bitter women who do not believe in marriage and feel that men are natural batterers. In an article for the conservative Web site Human Events, she wrote this about that infamous picture from Abu Ghraib prison. "That picture," she says, "is the radical feminist's ultimate fantasy of how they dream of treating men."

As for how Schlafly feels about the controversy surrounding her honorary degree, she believes the students have been brainwashed by feminist professors.

SCHLAFLY: Of the Women Studies Department it was 25 years ago we defeated the equal rights amendment and they're still whining about it. And I think they should get a life and move on.

COSTELLO: Washington University did not remove similarly from its list of honorees, saying he's a national leader of the conservative movement with a right to her views.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: I did talk with Mrs. Schlafly. She expected the student protest and says it doesn't bother her. She's used to controversy. She was honored to accept her honorary degree from Washington University which, by the way, Wolf, is her alma matter.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you.

Carol Costello reporting.

John Edwards, he's standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about what's going on in this latest feud between Barack Obama and John McCain among other subjects. Is the Democratic presidential candidate soft on national security? That's the charge that's being leveled. We'll discuss with John Edwards.

Plus, you'll here the joke Mike Huckabee made about Barack Obama before the National Rifle Association and why it fell flat.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up, the former presidential candidate John Edwards, he's live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about Barack Obama, what kind of vice presidential candidate he needs to win.

Also, a firsthand account of what it was like inside Abu Ghraib from a prisoner who survived. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The pictures sent shock waves around the world, Iraqi prisoners being abused by Americans. U.S. troops were punished for their role in Abu Ghraib prison. Now civilian contractors are being sued.

CNN's Middle East correspondent Aneesh Raman sat down with their accuser. We must warn you, some of those images remain very disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Emad Al-Janabi says there was so much abuse at Abu Ghraib prison he can't even pick himself out in the endless humiliating photos.

EMAD AL-JANABI, ALLEGED ABUSE VICTIM (through translator): They took off my clothes. They started taking pictures of me in shameful positions. I was helpless and handcuffed. And they chose the positions they wanted for the pictures.

RAMAN: Four years after the 43-year-old Al-Janabi says he was released without charge, he is now living outside of Iraq. But says his prison memories are still vivid, memories of what he describes as torture.

AL-JANABI (through translator): They tried to pull my eyes out. The interrogators fingers' were in my eyes, putting pressure. I screamed and begged them to stop but they wouldn't let go.

RAMAN: Sexual abuse.

AL-JANABI (through translator): The worst moment was when they took off my clothes. And with their hands, they would pinch me in inappropriate places in my private parts.

RAMAN: Threatened execution.

AL-JANABI (through translator): They asked me to stand motionless facing the wall. And said if I moved, I would be shot.

RAMAN: Now Al-Janabi he's filing suit against the contractors who worked at Abu Ghraib, not in Iraq where military contractors are immune from prosecution but in a Los Angeles federal court. The suit lays out 20 charges from torture to war crimes to sexual assault and battery. Attorney Susan Burke filed the case on Al-Janabi's behalf.

SUSAN BURKE, ATTORNEY: Many of the military participants have been held accountable in courts-martial. But the corporate employees who were there side by side working along with them torturing these poor people have gotten off Scott free.

RAMAN: The lawsuit names two companies, CACI International and L3 Communications who provided interrogators and translators at Abu Ghraib. Additionally, an employee of CACI International, Steven Stefanowicz, is singled out as a defendant accused of directing some of the torture. A lawyer for Mr. Stefanowicz told CNN "He was subjected to numerous government investigations and was not found to have committed any wrong doing."

But it's by no means certain Al-Janabi get his day in court. Unresolved is whether military contractors can be tried in the U.S. for actions committed against Iraqis.

Burke isn't worried.

BURKE: There's a lot of discussion in the media about whether or not the contractors can be held accountable. But they can be. They can be under American law. So, you know, a lot of that is really, in a sense, swirling discussion that's generated by the defense contractors who would prefer to make it appear like there's some ambiguity.

RAMAN: That means the chance for a case to go before a federal jury which would be a legal first.

BURKE: In terms of what's gone on in Abu Ghraib and the other prisons in Iraq, no, there has not been any trials with juries.

RAMAN: Al-Janabi's court filings say in September 2003 during a late night raid at his home, he was beaten and then taken by the U.S. military ending up in Abu Ghraib's hard site. The suit also claims he was at first a so-called ghost detainee, those the U.S. wants no record of having been detained. While CNN cannot independently confirm that he was an Abu Ghraib prisoner, the U.S. military has acknowledged so-called ghost detainees were held at the prison.

AL-JANAMI (through translator): They did not give me a prisoner ID number for over 20 days.

RAMAN: Contacted by CNN, a CACI spokesman said, "From day one CACI has rejected the outrageous allegations of that lawsuit and will continue to do so. CACI has unequivocally renounced any abuse of detainees in Iraq and has cooperated fully in all government inquiries relating to abuse."

They went on to say, "No CACI employee or former employee has been charged with any misconduct in connection with CACI's interrogation work in Iraq."

L3 Communications had no comment. Al-Janabi man says he will never forget the faces of his torturers.

AL-JANAMI (through translator): Two Americans. I say you are friendly people. The American people are not responsible for those acts. But those who did harm to us did harm to the American people as well.

RAMAN: And he believes if America hears his story, American courts will give him justice.

Aneesh Raman, CNN, Istanbul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Located outside of Baghdad, the Abu Ghraib prison was used as a U.S. army detention center for captured Iraqis from 2003 to 2006 when control was handed back to Iraqis. 11 U.S. soldiers were convicted of crimes related to abuses there. Seven of them were from the 372nd military police company.

They helped elect Ronald Reagan. Will those Democrats return to their roots and put Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the White House? You're going to be hearing directly from them.

Jack Cafferty is asking: Will California's decision to legalize gay marriage be a factor in the presidential election?

And we're standing by to speak live with former Senator John Edwards.

All that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This reminder, we're standing by to speak live with former Democratic presidential candidate, the former senator from North Carolina, John Edwards. He's now a major supporter of Barack Obama. That interview is coming up in a few moments.

They've been a critical part of the Republican coalition, the so called Reagan Democrats. So which way are they leaning in this contentious election?

CNN's Dan Lothian talked to some of them -- Dan.

LOTHIAN: Wolf, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would love for those Reagan Democrats to come back to the party. After all, officials here in Kentucky tell us that some in their party have not been faithful. For many years they have been voting for Republicans but now that's changing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Restaurant owner Nita Etebar considers herself a Reagan Democrat who after years of voting for Republican presidential candidates, is finally coming home.

NITA ETEBAR, RESTAURANT OWNER: I'm going to be voting Democrat.

LOTHIAN: She's concerned about the bad economy but it was the war in Iraq that tipped the scale.

ETEBAR: This more war going on and fighting going on and talking about how everybody's a terrorist.

LOTHIAN: Builder Marty May is a Democrat who voted for Reagan and the first President Bush because he says they made him feel secure. Concerns over Iraq and national security have convinced him that he should be supporting his Democratic Party and Barack Obama.

MARTY MAY, BUILDER: Yes, we're in trouble but he makes us feel like he has a plan.

LOTHIAN: Jeremy Horton, executive director of Kentucky's Democratic Party says there's a shift underway because the economy and the war have left many voters frustrated.

MAY: I think that you're seeing in Democrats in Kentucky a real quiet resolve to make sure that this vote that they have makes a difference.

LOTHIAN: In a state that twice voted for Bill Clinton and President Bush, John McCain would like nothing more than to hang on to those Reagan Democrats, working class voters weary of supporting a social liberal or those like Jane Semones who doesn't think Democrats have the political muscle to deal with Iraq and support the troops.

JANE SEMONES, KENTUCKY VOTER: There have been times when I've kind of thought maybe they weren't even going to have the funds to back them up because of the way the Democrats have acted.

LOTHIAN: She's a Democrat voting for McCain. Horton says Democratic candidates can keep people like her from straying by delivering on campaign promises.

JEREMY HORTON, KENTUCKY DEMOCRATIC PARTY: You have to make governing less about politics and more about solutions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Democratic officials here in Kentucky say they don't have any hard numbers as to how many Reagan Democrats are coming back to the party but they say one good indication is the shift that they've seen in local and statewide elections -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian with the CNN Election Express in Frankfurt, Kentucky, the Kentucky primary next Tuesday.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Will California's decision to legalize gay marriage be a factor in the presidential elections this fall?

Got this from Susan in Georgia: "I don't think so, Jack. We have too many crises in front of us. There will be some Republican hacks trying to bring this to the forefront but I am more worried about how I can pay $4 a gallon of gas than I am about what two people do privately."

Bill in New London, Connecticut: "The Republicans would probably love to bring up this debate. They want to scare voters into thinking Democrats are appeasing terrorists, performing late term abortions and teaching their children how to be gay. They try this kind of thing each and every time. It's gotten old."

Terry in Arizona: "Very well may be an issue, a very divisive issue. It will be made even more divisive by the right-wing Christian militia that wants to control the Republican Party."

James writes: "As a gay guy, I say no it won't. I don't really care if it's legal or not, and I don't think with all the crap going on today anyone else will either! This is one of the reasons Bush was put in office. I don't think people will be that stupid again. There are too many other things that are more important."

Charles writes from Houston: "Well, Republicans can't win on the issues relating to the Iraq War, the economy, gas prices, health care or much of anything else for that matter. So, as a cornered animal scrambling for an escape route, they will bring up the pathetically irrelevant issue of gay marriage."

And Eddie in New York City: "Gas prices are at record levels, the value of the dollar is sinking, we're fighting two wars, Americans are losing their homes and we're facing the greatest challenges of this generation. To even think that gay marriage should be a priority is what I think is wrong with this country."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile and look for yours there. We post hundreds of e- mails on each of these questions every hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thanks very much.

And we're standing by to speak with John Edwards. We're going to be talking to him in a few moments on this latest exchange between Barack Obama, the candidate he supports, and John McCain. That's coming up.

War spending, a farm workers program in charges of stealth amnesty, our own Lou Dobbs, he's going to be joining us. We'll get his take on all of this.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a legitimate issue facing today's fighter jet pilots, what to do when you have to off in the wild blue yonder. In the classic spirit of American innovation, a Vermont company has now come up with a solution for both male and female pilots who have to answer nature's call on very long missions.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre with the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The company's promotional video touts the high flying lavatory in earnest tones usually reserved for high tech weapons needed to defend America's most vital interests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The advanced mission extender device or AMXD is a bladder relief device designed by Omni Medical Systems specifically for air crew of military aircraft.

MCINTYRE: Of course if you're a pilot in a single seat jet with no bathroom answering an irresistible call of nature could be a vital interest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The AMXD is a safe, sanitary and easy solution to the problem of in flight bladder relief.

MCINTYRE: Only America's military industrial complex could take a high tech substitute for a coffee can and dub it the advanced mission extender device without a hint of double entendre. More than $3 million has been spent developing the cock pit urinal which while engendering some snickering and juvenile jokes, is aimed at a real problem.

For years, pilots have used pittle pads, essentially heavy duty plastic bags with a sponge inside for relief on long haul flights but at least two planes have crashed over the years when pilots had to unbuckle to use them.

Enter the state of the art in flight evacuation system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Prior to take off, the male anatomy should be inserted through the foam ring into the cup. When the time comes to urinate, unzip the flight suit and remove the hose. The control unit will pump the urine from the cup to the collection bag where it will be chemically gelled.

MCINTYRE: For the women's version, it's a little trickier.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To properly arrange the AMXD, align the blue pick up holes so that when the air crew member is seated, the blue hole will be located at the lowest point in the ejection seat. MCINTYRE: As you might suspect, no self respecting fighter jock wants to be named in an endorsement so test pilot testimonials were read by actors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the AMXD, you really can drink up and fly dry.

MCINTYRE: Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right. Let's get some reaction to this and other subjects, a quick reaction from Lou Dobbs. He's standing by.

Jamie McIntyre, he's an excellent reporter. This is a very serious issue out there for these fighter pilots.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well you know the cock pit relief tube as its been called throughout my experience has always been serviceable straightforward. Leave it to the Pentagon to come up with a complication for what is rather a very straightforward issue that has a rather directory mediation, if I may put it that way, Wolf.

BLITZER: I think that's a good way of putting it.

Let's move on to the farm bill. A subject I know you're looking at right now.

DOBBS: You bet.

BLITZER: What's good and bad about in?

DOBBS: The good news is that we're seeing this Congress behave -- Democratically-led Congress -- behave just like the Republican Congress. It's irresponsible. It's nonsensical. It's call the farm will bill. It was more about in point of fact other things than -- less of the money goes to farms than other issues, including nutrition programs, including the food stamps.

I think it's -- the leadership of the Democratic Congress has already proved as just as disgusting and incompetent as the previous Congress under the leadership of the Republicans. So baffo to both the Republican and Democratic leadership.

BLITZER: You've heard a lot of people suggest that American agriculture really couldn't survive without the illegal immigrants that are out there picking crops and doing so much of the work. What do you think of that argument?

DOBBS: In point of fact, if American agriculture wanted to pay a fair wage, the truth of that statement would be significantly diminished at the margin, it would probably be true. But since you bring up illegal immigration, it's important to note that under the Iraq war funding legislation in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein and Senator Craig have attached an amendment, or seeking an amendment, that would give amnesty to roughly 3 million people, agriculture workers and their families, they're trying to do this in the dark of night.

It is the most irresponsible and utterly duplicity approach to politics in this country. It may be the way of doing business in that fair city in which you're working right now, Wolf, but I have to tell you, most Americans, when they learn of what Dianne Feinstein and the Democratic leadership are doing, they're going to want to vomit. This is unworthy behavior. This is absolutely dishonorable behavior. This is corruption.

Remember, the Democrats wanted to talk about the culture of corruption? Good for them. They're continuing it. With utter dishonesty and contempt for the American people.

BLITZER: See you in one hour, Lou. Thanks very much.

You've got it.

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

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