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Colombian Hostage Rescue Details; More Passport File Snooping; Will Israel Strike at Iran's Reactor? Tough Economic Times

Aired July 3, 2008 - 17:00   ET


QUESTION: Thank you.

The training data that you talked about, can't you get that information in Washington? What cues, what kind of feel would you get in Iraq that you're not getting...

OBAMA: Well, there's no doubt that a lot of this information, I can -- I've been obtaining in Washington. But I also think that it's important for me to be able to be in discussions directly, not only with commanders, but also Iraqi officials, and other leaders in the region.

QUESTION: Senator, your Web site is very direct on this topic. It says, Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month.

Do you need to refine that and make it more nuanced, do you think, to reflect what you say you've been saying all along?

OBAMA: You know, I have to say that there's nothing that that Web site says that contradicts what I said here.

I will bring this war to a close. I think it is important for us to do strategically.


QUESTION: You said this morning that you would consider other information on the ground, once you go to Iraq...


QUESTION: ... and refine your policies. What did you mean by refine your policies?

OBAMA: Well I just -- I just --

QUESTION: Refine the 16-month timetable or --

OBAMA: No, that's not what -- no, not refine the 16-month timetable. I just referred to, for example, there's been a major debate in terms of how we should structure training for Iraqi military and police. What kinds of troop presences will we need in order for that to occur? What kinds of troop presence do we need to have a counterterrorism strike force in Iraq that assures that al Qaeda does not regain a foothold there?

Those are all issues that obviously are going to be determined by the facts on the ground.

QUESTION: Sir, do you believe that this will be a challenge explaining to the American people over the next four months what you've seemed to have a hard time explaining here in the last four hours?

OBAMA: I guess I'm just puzzled. I mean, I'll be frank with you, Jeff. I think what's happened is that the McCain campaign primed the pump with the press to suggest that somehow we were changing our policy, when we hadn't. And that was -- and that just hasn't been the case.

I've given no indication of a change in policy. I haven't suggested that we're moving in a different direction. I think John McCain's going to have a much harder time explaining how he is willing to perpetuate a presence in Iraq for 10, 20, 50 years. The American people understand that we have fulfilled our obligations in Iraq. They are not interested in seeing Iraq collapse, but they are interested in seeing this war come to a close.

And what I've said today, as I've said over the last two years, is that if you follow my plan, to begin withdrawing troops and having our combat troops out in 16 months, we're talking about approximately two years from now having our combat troops out. Add on the five years that we've already been there, and we will have been there for seven years. I think the American people understand that that has been a significant commitment, both of blood and of treasure (ph).

So I don't think I'm going to have trouble explaining my plan. I think that what John McCain's going to have to do is explain why he wants to extend it even further than that.

QUESTION: (OFF MIKE) ... stability to your conditions for the safe withdrawal of troops. Didn't that change the qualifications?

OBAMA: No, I -- the -- I've always said that it is important -- I've always said there is, and we can show you the transcripts, that it is important -- we have a strategic interest in Iraq, and making sure that it doesn't collapse.

But what I have said consistently is that that strategic interest is not served by having a permanent occupation there. That strategic interest is served by prodding the Iraqi factions and leadership to work together to negotiate their -- to negotiate a political accommodation, a political agreement, and making sure that the other region -- that the other powers in the region are bought into a stabilization plan. That can't be imposed militarily. And that position I've been stating for the last two years.

QUESTION: You used terms like you intend to end the war --

OBAMA: I'm sorry, I can't hear you. QUESTION: You used a term like, you intend to end the war. You talked about -- is there some sort of maneuvering room, or wiggle room, there that the public who wants to see the war end and who voted for you on that assumption might feel uncomfortable with?

Similarly, in November of 2007, you told some -- you made a comment that you would tell the generals, I guess, what your policy is --

OBAMA: And that is unchanged. That is unchanged.

Let me be absolutely clear. As president, I set the mission. This is -- I just had an interview with "The Military Times" yesterday in which I said one of the flaws in the president's approach is to say that general -- he's doing what General Petraeus tells him is the best thing to do. That's not the president's job.

The president's job is to tell the generals what their mission is. Because you have to take the entire strategic interest of the United States in mind, not just one particular front when it comes to our national interests. And so the mission that I will set for our generals is to bring this war to a close. That has not changed.

QUESTION: (OFF MIKE) ... deadline easily slip if the general says to you, we can't safely and responsibly move one to two brigades out a month?

OBAMA: And as I've said before, and this was true during the heat of the primary, it was true when we posted this Web site. I have always said, and again, you can take a look at the language, that as commander-in-chief, I would always reserve the right to do what's best in America's national interests. And if it turned out, for example, that, you know, we had to, in certain months, slow the pace because of the safety of American troops in terms of getting combat troops out, of course we would take that into account. I would be a poor commander-in-chief if I didn't take facts on the ground into account.

All right?

QUESTION: You just said that when you used the phrase refined policies, it did not -- you did not refer to the 16-month timetable. Does that mean you can tell us today you will not change the 16-month timetables?

OBAMA: Here's what I can tell you: that I will bring our troops out at a pace of one to two brigades per month. And at that pace we will have our combat troops out in 16 months. That is what I intend to do as president of the United States.



QUESTION: What's your response to those who say that pulling out one to two brigades a month is pulling out of Iraq just as things improve? OBAMA: Well, the individuals that you're suggesting, those are the same folks who said we can't pull troops out because things are too violent. Now that the violence has subsided, you can't pull troops out because things have improved. It's a catch-22.

At some point, we can't allow U.S. policy and our larger strategic interests to be dictated by the failure of the Iraqis, for example, to arrive at a political accommodation. And keep in mind, much of my concern here has to do with what's happening in Afghanistan, which has seen more violence in the eastern portion of the country than anytime since 2001, despite the fact that we've got an extraordinary force there of well-trained, well-equipped U.S. forces. And yet we've still seen a spike in violence.

And the president has talked about putting more troops into Afghanistan. But it's very hard to figure out where those troops are going to come from, if we are sustaining the kinds of troop levels that we have in Iraq.

QUESTION: (OFF MIKE) ... talking about your looking for success in Afghanistan at the cost of failure in Iraq.

OBAMA: Well, there's no indication that at the pace of gradual withdrawal that I'm talking about, that you would lose some of the gains that have been made in Iraq.

All right. Thank you.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: So Barack Obama outlining his position on his Iraq war policy. Some people looking at this as potentially stepping back a little bit, giving himself a little bit more wiggle room when he talks about looking and turning to commanders on the ground to give them a sense of the condition there. Whether or not it would be advisable to do what he's said, that he would intend to do as president, that is, to remove one to two combat brigades out each month. He said that this would lead to all of the brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Combat brigades.

Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday we heard from his chief strategist David Axelrod who seems to me gave a little bit more space here. He said that he thought he could get one to two brigades out a month, but he's not whetted to that, in the face of events no president would be. He's always said he's never said this withdrawal would be without any possibility of alteration based on events on the ground. That would not be a prudent thing to do for any president. Is he changing his position here? Is there a little nuance here to give him that wiggle room in case the generals and the commanders say hey, this is not a good idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On every difficult issue, Barack Obama is consistently inconsistent. I think that, in that four minutes or five minutes of that whole press conference he offered nothing but qualifying language and amorphous responses to very direct questions from the press about what he would do. And whether or not any of the actions would be guided by the simple fact that the surge is working and that we're seeing more stability in Iraq. I mean, this in essence, that was summed up, basically Barack Obama's position on national security is that we don't know what it is.

MALVEAUX: Paul, I mean, he said he was consistent in his position.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just saying it doesn't make it so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean, he can't pull out troops now? He's a senator, not a resident. When he's president as he has said now for years, he's going to withdraw the combat troops. Now, having advised a president, I would give him this advice, a president never answers hypotheticals. A president doesn't engage in gotcha games. So those journalists are doing their job, they're trying to get him the gotcha and change his position. He didn't engage any of those gotchas. He came right back to his consistent position.

I thought he did a pretty good job of it. And most importantly for a political strategist, he kept contrasting it with John McCain who wants to leave troops there as long as there's violence and then, get this, God willing if the violence ever abates, they'll be there for another 100 years. So good lord, that's McCain's position.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring into the discussion Governor Bill Richardson, who is on the phone with us now. How is Barack Obama's position any different than what we've heard from President Bush, who always says, we have parameters here, but I'm always going to turn to the generals, the folks on the ground, and make my decision based on what their assessment is. Essentially we are hearing that from Obama. He is saying he's not going to do anything that would affect the safety, and that he could change his position.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: Well, look, I was with him in the presidential debates and the presidential campaign. His position has always been consistent. We get the troops out in 16 months. One to two combat brigades per month. We do it as safely and securely as possible. He hasn't changed that. When he goes to Iraq, obviously you listen to the military commanders when they talk about, say the non combat troops, the training troops.

When you talk about the reconciliation between the Iraqi political parties, the sharing of oil revenues, the security function that the Iraqis have to take over. I mean, the guy has been entirely consistent. And I don't know why there's such a fuss, refinement basically means that you're going to go in, you're going to listen to the commanders, he's going to get the facts on the ground. But his basic position is the same. His position is 16 months, one to two combat brigades, dually safely and securely as possible. But we've got to listen to our troops, our commanders. He may pick up some refinements that will make the policy even stronger and better.

MALVEAUX: OK. For those of us who don't really know the nuance of refinements, what do you mean by refinements here? Even he said he's going to always do what's right and he talked about slowing the pace here of withdrawal if it came to a situation where the general said it's a matter of safety. So slowing the pace, it seems to me, would mean that there's a possibility you're not going to withdraw one or two combat brigades each month.

RICHARDSON: Well, no. I disagree. I think refinement, we're talking about, first of all, look, there are combat troops and non- combat troops. He said all combat troops out within 16 months. You get them out possibly -- there are a lot of logistical issues that I believe on the ground talking to our military commanders, to our troops on the ground that he can pick up. But the basic policy is unchanged. There may be some diplomatic initiatives about possibly a peacekeeping force, possibly a dialog that involves Iran. Possibly some kind of refinement to -- for proposals that are being made for a regional effort to make sure that the Iraqi -- the Israeli-Palestinian issue is woven into the whole Iraq solution as the bipartisan senate group proposed. So this is not a change. I've listened to this guy ever since we started the campaign nearly two years ago. He hasn't changed one bit.

MALVEAUX: OK, Governor Bill Richardson, thank you so much for weighing in. We're going to have to let you go at this moment.

Right now, they are being poked and prodded by doctors, and they probably couldn't be happier. Three American men held hostage by Colombian rebels for five years are at a military hospital in Texas. Where they're also being reunited with their families. Their fellow former hostage Colombian Senator Ingrid Betancourt was reunited with her children today. They are now young adults and she is talking about her ordeal and how desperate it was.


INGRID BETANCOURT, FORMER HOSTAGE (TRANSLATOR): -- the temptation was daily as a matter of fact. I thought about suicide, and to think of it as an option, can I do it, will it be ugly, what will my children think. And I always tossed it, because I was very grounded -- and that was the calling from my mother on a daily basis on the radio, that would constantly keep me updated on what was going on with my family, with my children. That grounding helped me to again toss out that momentary desire for death as a solution.


MALVEAUX: The stunning turn of events in Colombia will go down in military history as one of the most audacious and successful hostage rescue missions, an example of just how sometimes it is better to outwit than outfight your enemy. Let's turn to CNN senior pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, how did they pull this one off?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, Suzanne, here at the pentagon, the U.S. military believes it's the best military in the world. But around the building today there was open admiration for what was a textbook hostage rescue mission.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): According to pentagon sources, the U.S. help came back in February, when overhead surveillance spotted the rebels and their captives bathing deep in the jungles of southern Colombia. A commando raid was judged too risky. Instead the Colombian military hatched a bold plan, dubbed operation hawk egg, Spanish for operation check.

VOICE OF JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, COLOMBIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: This was something at the beginning we thought that the people who were proposing this operation were crazy. And so audacious and so out of the common, that we thought it would be impossible.

MCINTYRE: Key to the deception were these two army helicopters repainted white as a disguise. They were manned by Colombian intelligence personnel who spent weeks rehearsing their roles as humanitarian workers and rebels aligned with another FARC commander Alphonso Cono (ph). At 1:13, the helicopters reached the remote location where the Colombian army duped the rebels into bringing three separate groups of kidnapped victims together. The FARC were fooled apparently by government agents who had infiltrated their ranks into thinking they were handing over the bound captives on the orders of the other rebel commander.

SANTOS: The people in the helicopter had to convince the guerrillas that they kidnapped that they were in fact part of the FARC. They were so good that in fact one of the guerrillas that came into the helicopter armed with a pistol, he was convinced that he was the leader of the group and he gave it.

MCINTYRE: At 1:35, the helicopter takes off. And the pilot radios, generators ready. Code, the 15 hostages are on board. At 1:41 when the helicopter is at 2,500 feet, soldiers overpower the rebel leader who went by the name Cesar. And a second guerrilla who had been tricked into coming along. Cesar was quickly stripped and subdued.


MCINTYRE: Colombia says that very proudly that they planned and executed this mission entirely without U.S. help. And Suzanne, the pentagon officials say that's pretty much the case.

MALVEAUX: Jamie, thank you very much.

The American former hostages were private contractors working with the Colombian government to stem the country's booming cocaine trade. More than half of all the cocoa in the world is grown in Colombia, making it the number one producer of the plant from which the drug is made. Almost 193,000 acres were cultivated in 2006. Down 90 percent from 2005. That's in part to growing interception by law enforcement. 29 percent of Colombia's cocaine production was nabbed during that period.

And some of the stories we are working on right now, ignored and left to die on a hospital floor. Now her family is speaking out for the first time to CNN.

And an entire town evacuated. We're live on the fire lines in California.

Also, Barack Obama, worrying that some supporters with what they see as a dash to the center.

And tomorrow's gas at today's prices will put a deal that sounds too good to be true to the test.

You're looking live in New Jersey where dolphins have wound up in a river. The effort to rescue them and the concerns about the Fourth of July when we return.


MALVEAUX: A huge wildfire has forced residents of the beautiful California coastal area of Big Sur to flee their homes this holiday weekend. CNN correspondent Dan Simon joining us live now. And Dan, are the firefighters gaining any ground in this spreading blaze?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The answer is no, Suzanne. In fact, we have reached a very critical point when it comes to battling this stubborn Big Sur fire. I am literally standing in the parking lot of the command post. And look behind me. Up on the mountains you can see the smoke in the distance. It's about a mile away from here. As a matter of fact, they are actually talking about the possibility of having to evacuate the command post. Where all the firefighters sleep at night, and where the commanders make their decisions. We, of course, have our equipment and our satellite truck here. South of here is the big concern, and we are told that the fire is raging right now in the heart of Big Sur. There are engines, we are told, surrounding buildings and businesses, homes that are in the area, should any of them catch on fire. You can see the smoke there in the distance, and if my photographer pans around a little bit, Jim, see this helicopter right here? You can see a helicopter that's about to make a water drop. The good news where we are, just west of here is the Pacific Ocean. So they have an unlimited amount of water for these helicopters to douse the flames. Just a short while ago I talked to the deputy commander here at the scene. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday it took a major run and moved into Big Sur. And of course, it's even running down into near the camp here off the mountain. And for days we knew that there was potential that the conditions were right, it would move down to the highway.


SIMON: The problem right now, it is extremely windy. They are under a red flag warning. This fire thus far has burned more than 64,000 acres. It started on the 21st of June. And at this point it is only 3 percent contained. They're talking about not having this fire contained until the very end of July. Back here live, we are at the command post. And just in a short while we're going to start heading towards the community of Big Sur to see what we can find. And hopefully they will not have to evacuate this command post. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Dan, amazing pictures there. And the smoke just right behind your back there. I hope you're safe. Thanks Dan. Dan Simon. The Independence Day weekend will see big crowds at the Jersey shore, as well as a school of wayward dolphins. Our own Stephanie Elam is joining us live. Stephanie, how are officials going to keep these dolphins safe and these fireworks? I have to say, it's an amazing setup out there that you are actually live and out there on location.

STEPHANIE ELAM: It is pretty amazing that we are live in the middle of the Shrewsbury River right now. And the thing about this is that the dolphins seem to not know any of this hoopla is actually going on at all. Their main concern is to feed. They seem to be enjoying the conditions out here. That means they look healthy. So officials say for now the plan is to stay put.

MALVEAUX: Stephanie, I think we lost your bit of sound there. But if you can tell us what you've been watching and what you've been seeing and have the camera pan around. I know that the dolphins are close by.

ELAM: Yeah. The dolphins are close by. But you know, they go under water for a while and we kind of lose them and then we look back and you see them. I see some out here a little bit. We've been out here today with NOAA, riding around and learning about how the dolphins are out here. There are about 20 dolphins out here. But if we go to the piece now, I think you'll be able to see what we're talking about.


There they are!

Oh, you're right.

Right there!

ELAM (voice-over): Colleen Kelly jumped at the chance to see the 20 or so bottle-nosed dolphins that have been living in New Jersey Shrewsbury River for the last three weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very exciting. My kids loved it.

ELAM: In this Jersey Shore community, we've heard no complaints from business owners either.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our business has definitely increased due to the dolphins, people coming out to see them.

ELAM: But with the Fourth of July weekend here, there's also a lot of concern for the dolphins as more people take to the water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People are driving by here on jet skis and on boats and they can see the dolphins. They're still going really fast. Hopefully they have someone following them and keeping an eye on them. Because I don't know, people are just not paying attention.

ELAM: And someone is. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which is warning boaters to be mindful of their aquatic visitors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay away from the dolphins, don't come within 50 feet of the dolphins, don't try to feed them, don't try to go swimming with them. And basically leave them alone in peace. That's really the main message.

ELAM: Dr. Tom Noje is a marine biologist with NOAA's fisheries lab nearby. He says the dolphins being here isn't that odd. But it is unusual to see this many in the river. Why do you think they're staying here for so long?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe that probably what happened is they came up with some warm water. They followed some food into this bay and right up the river. And there's plenty to eat. It's a friendly environment. There's no real reason right now for them to go.

ELAM: Back on shore, Bree says no one is eager for the dolphins to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As far as business, it's great press. They can stick around as long as they want.


ELAM: As you can see, there's a lot of river activity out here. And there's a lot of people coming out to see them. But they are urging everyone to stay at least 50 yards away from the mammals that are there. But the other issue is, if something does go wrong, NOAA says they do have people ready who will come and help them if anything does happen to the dolphins, if they do get hurt, they'll be ready to rescue them. But for now they say they look healthy. They're going to let them stay here in the river. They're just urging everybody to remain respective. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: That's great Stephanie. Do they give you a sense of how they're going to enforce it to make sure that people do stay away from the dolphins? Or it's just kind of a strong warning there? Anybody out there to make sure?

ELAM: Oh, no, there's people out here. We've been out here all day. We've also seen the police boats, my little friends walking by. Sorry. The police boats have been out here throughout the day. There are NOAA boats, they're people who are worried about endangered mammals, people just yelling at you, hey, remember to stay this amount of distance away. There are a lot of people out here. There are posters up. There's flyers that have been going out. They're definitely getting the word out to enjoy your Fourth of July, but leave the dolphins alone.

MALVEAUX: OK, great, great. Thanks so much Stephanie, great to see you.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a new effort to jump start nuclear talks with Iran. A deal on the table with something for everybody. But will Tehran accept. Also, new information about the woman who collapsed and died inside a hospital, completely ignored by the staff. The back story to her tragic end.

And a new report on American jobs. We'll show you what it means for the economy. Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, first came word that the passport files of the presidential candidates were breached. Now an investigation shows someone has been peaking at the passport files of movie stars and other celebrities. Let's turn to CNN's State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

Zain, it sounds like they really haven't gotten to the bottom of this. And what does this report say?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Though they really haven't, Suzanne. It turns out that the problem is bigger than just the isolated cases of snooping we saw back in March, into Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain's file.

A new State Department report that we've got a hold of suggests there has been a lot more snooping of celebrities' private records than we previously thought. What they did was, Suzanne, they did a test and they got together a list, about 150 celebrities, sort of notable politicians, athletes, entertainers, movie stars, and they found that 127 of them had had their private records accessed.

Now it's not clear if they were authorized or not, they're telling us, but the fact is that that's pretty suspicious. I'm looking at one number here, they say in just one instance, nine people had more than 100 hits on that file. We're also told, Suzanne, that it is possible that there have been other presidential candidate breaches since March.

But the overall report basically says that the entire system needs to be overhauled. And it says that the breaches have been going undetected and unpunished. Lawmakers too are weighing in on this, saying that this is just unacceptable, and this report is deeply disturbing -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Zain, how do they plan on fixing this?

VERJEE: Well, what they're saying is that one of the things they want to do is cut the number of people that have access to these records in half. So that's like something like 10,000 people worldwide that still do have access. But saying, too, that they're going to be adding more monitors, more investigators to track these cases down.

There were two people that did that job, and now they're increasing it to eight -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Zain. Thank you for that breaking news.

Left to die on a hospital floor. Ignored by staff for an hour. Her family is devastated. And now they are speaking out.

And one witness thought it was a terror attack. What really caused this spectacular explosion?


MALVEAUX: Amid growing concern over a possible Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites, European negotiators have come up with a new approach on stalled talks. They're offering Iran a break from sanctions if it takes a break from its nuclear activity. CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is on the phone from London.

And, Christiane, tell us what this is all about.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have just learned from a senior Western diplomat that the proposal that the E.U. has taken to Iran involves a very interesting proposition to break the impasse that exists on Iran's nuclear program, and the negotiations which basically have so far gone nowhere.

Apparently the Europeans are going to say to Iran that you can continue to enrich at your current levels, in other words, 3,000 or so centrifuges, you can continue to enrich at that level, but do not install or manufacture any more centrifuges, and that's to be reviewed at some six weeks, and if you agree to that, we will agree not to press for, or impose any new sanctions for a period of six weeks.

Now, this is meant to be a formulation to get talks started that will eventually, they hope, lead to the formal negotiations on Iran's nuclear program and on trying to halt that. They're still saying that when eventual negotiations and discussions start, if they do, on halting the program, it will require suspension of uranium enrichment.

But currently Iran seems to have won some kind of acceptance of its enrichment program, because that apparently is the proposal under discussion right now, according to Western diplomats, and Iran has said that the latest proposal, if constructed, is different, is positive, and it is still reviewing it and that it will give its answer in a few days.

It has not yet given details, and nor has the U.S. or Europe on this proposal. But this is what I've learned from European diplomats today -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Christiane Amanpour, out of London. Potentially a very significant development. Thank you very much, Christiane.

Our Carol Costello is monitoring the stories that are incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what are you looking at?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Suzanne, take a look at these mothers and children, among more than 200 people who have fled to the U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe. Many say they have been attacked and their homes destroyed by supporters of President Robert Mugabe. The State Department says it is trying to help these people. Washington also wants the U.N. to impose new sanctions on Mugabe and his top officials.

Watch this. A white van driving down a street near Miami when it suddenly just explodes. One witness says he thought it was a terrorist attack. Though we now know the van was loaded with gas containers, and guess what, the driver made the mistake of lighting up a cigarette. He survived amazingly with only minor injuries.

A surprise discovery at the edge of our solar system. Astronomers say a magnetic field in the Milky Way is pushing in on us, making what looks like a giant dent. The information comes from to old workhorses, Voyagers I and II, launched in 1977. Scientists are stunned by this. They have always thought the solar system was a simple circle.

And archaeologists think they've unearthed the remains of George Washington's childhood home. They found it on the grounds of what was his family's farm 50 miles south of what is now Washington, D.C. Artifacts found at the site include wig curlers, toothbrush handles made of bone, and wine bottles. But there's no sign of the hatchet that the young Washington used to chop down his father's cherry tree. In fact, Suzanne, they couldn't even find a stump of a cherry tree.

MALVEAUX: We don't know what to believe. OK. Carol, thank you so much. Carol Costello.

A big event, a well-known singer, and the anthem. The trouble is, she didn't sing the national anthem. And it's causing a major uproar. You'll hear her version and the fallout ahead.

And imagine paying $3 for gas. Some people are by locking in the price at the pump. Find out how it works ahead.

And a television president says he may have influenced the real life election. Hear why. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: The Labor Department has released job numbers for June, and it is not a pretty picture. Jennifer Westhoven joining us live. Jennifer, there are 62,000 jobs cut last month. Was that pretty much what economists were expecting?

JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the number itself was not a surprise. It was what they were expecting. But what's concerning is that the job losses are quickly adding up. And for most Americans, losing a job is far more unsettling than gas prices or mortgage problems.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WESTHOVEN (voice-over): While Americans weather higher prices for gas, groceries, a bear market, and the housing market collapse, the job market is steadily eroding out from underneath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think the economy is slipping ever closer to a recession. In fact, we may be in one right now. The big problem in recent months has been the rise in oil prices, which is really taking a lot of steam out of the economy.

WESTHOVEN: Sixty-two thousand more jobs lost in June according to the Labor Department, many in construction and manufacturing. Analysts say a healthy economy should create 100,000 jobs every month. The monthly job loss figure itself wasn't so huge, it's the steady, drip, drip, drip, losses for six months in a row, 438,000 jobs lost so far this year. Many industries must completely change strategy to survive in this economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're talking about the auto industry and airlines, and the banks which have been cutting back because of problems in the housing market and home building, you're talking about some of the best-paying jobs that America has. You're losing your best-paying jobs. It just creates real economic pain.

WESTHOVEN: An oil shock has broken up America's love affair with big cars, driving General Motors stock to its lowest since the 1950s. Of the top-selling vehicles last month, the Ford F-150 had dominated the list for two decades. But Americans unceremoniously dumped it, choosing smaller Japanese cars that get better gas mileage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until Detroit can gear up to produce more cars this the American public now wants to buy, the more fuel efficient cars, we're going to have weak sales, weak production, and weak employment in the auto industry for the foreseeable future. And we think that foreseeable future is going to last at least through the end of the fall.


WESTHOVEN: For a few months the financial headlines had improved. The Dow recovered. It was back over 12,000. Banks seem to have ridden out the storm in the credit market. Americans even got some extra spending power from the hundred billion dollars tax rebates. But nearly all of those thrown back into financial jeopardy, the tax rebates have fizzled, and oil prices, the economy's biggest threat, well, they keep on rising. So add jobs into this mix, Suzanne, and it's looking less likely that we're going to be able to escape a recession.

MALVEAUX: A tough time. OK. Thank you so much, Jennifer.

Prepaid gasoline, one company says that to lock in today's gas price with them, you could save big as costs climb. Well, does that sound too good to be true? CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis is investigating.

And, Gerri, tell us, is there a catch? GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Suzanne, the catch is, you're gambling on the market. But with gas prices expected to go up this summer, a lot of folks will look at this Web site.


WILLIS (voice-over): One way to be rising gas prices, how about buying your fill-ups in advance? Bill Gardner (ph) bought 150 gallons back in April.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I bought gallons at $3.20 a gallon, and recently redeemed them at closer to $4 a gallon, I've saved a lot of money.

WILLIS: Gardner was in a pilot program to try out, a Web site that went live this week. You prepay for gas online at today's prices and if prices go up, you draw on your gas card for your next fill-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just works like a debit card. You just plug it into the machine, enter your PIN, just like you would any other debit card, and pump your gas.

WILLIS: It's gambling that gas prices will keep increasing. Will it catch on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gas goes up to $5, $6 a gallon, I would be saving $1 per gallon on gas. So it would pay for itself in a matter of time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be very interested in that. I'm spending $50 right now.

WILLIS: What's the downside? Besides a $30 or $40 annual fee, you could find yourself on the wrong side of the market. Plus, prepaying can tie up your cash for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now I can't afford to do it. You know what I'm saying?

WILLIS: And how does the Web site make a profit? Not from hedging gas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gas transactions are really a break even for us. We look to make money from advertising on our Web site, and the interest earned on the prepayments. And a little bit from the annual membership fees.


WILLIS: And there are other fees that users pay, like a $2 fee every time you load up your gas card -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Gerri, thank you.

The mayor is outraged. The blogs are going nuts. And one jazz singer probably is not performing in public anytime soon. Find out about the national anthem uproar and hear what started the whole thing.

And if you've ever watched something on YouTube, one company will have information about you, and what you've seen. Find out why ahead. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: A singer switches the lyrics in the national anthem, leading to a chorus of protests. Let's bring back Carol Costello.

Carol, it is a hot political topic in the host city of the Democratic National Convention?

COSTELLO: It is. You know, here is the story, jazz singer is brought in by the city of Denver to sing the national anthem. And when she begins singing, people are looking at her as if to say, what are you singing? Here's the rest of the story.


COSTELLO (voice-over): On the eve of July 4th, just before we celebrate the "bombs bursting in air" and how "our flag was still there," Denver city leaders are dealing with a "Star-Spangled" mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The Star-Spangled Banner" in that context is part of our sacred, most beloved traditions.

COSTELLO: The mayor, after receiving hundreds of outraged phone calls, is condemning jazz singer Renee Marie's version of "The Star- Spangled Banner."

RENEE MARIE, JAZZ SINGER (singing): ... that the dark path has taught us...

COSTELLO: Singing at the Denver mayor's state of the city address, she substituted Francis Scott Key's lyrics to lyrics from what some call the "black national anthem." A song called "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

MARIE (singing): Let us march on.

I want to express how I feel about living in the United States as a black woman.

COSTELLO: After that hit the air waves, Republican congressman Tom Tancredo wrote an op-ed in Thursday's Denver Post, calling on Denver officials to fully condemn Marie, a woman, he says, "is angry at America for its shortcomings. She does not like singing the national anthem because it makes no mention of the suffering of black people."

But Marie says she was expressing herself artistically in honor of her parents and of their fight against desegregation.

MARIE: They took matters into their own hands basically. And that's what you have to do.

COSTELLO: This isn't the first time an individual's interpretation of the national anthem has sparked controversy.


COSTELLO: Back in 2006, a Spanish-language version of the song was released to support illegal immigrants. It sparked loud protests. And way back in 1969, Jimi Hendrix's screaming guitar version sparked controversy because it seemed an anti-Vietnam War rift.

Today Renee Marie's version is giving some ammo to at least one Republican to use against Colorado Democrats. The city will host the Democratic Convention in August. And Congressman Tancredo ended his op-ed with this: "I suspect that right now the Democrat (sic) National Convention is asking how they can work Marie into the program to affirm her right to 'artistic expression.' Go for it, girl."


COSTELLO: But I think it's pretty safe to say no one in the state of Colorado will invite Marie to sing the national anthem again. As for Marie, she says she has no regrets and, Suzanne, she is making no apologies either.

MALVEAUX: Is she getting any support? Are there people who are coming to her defense?

COSTELLO: Well, if you read the blogs, and you read the people e-mailing messages into The Denver Post, she's not getting very many people supporting her, although she has some. But not many.

MALVEAUX: All right. Carol, thank you so much.

Hostages in Colombia, well, now they're patients in Texas, swept up in emotional reunions with the families that they haven't seen in five years.

Plus, the actor who claims he paved the way for Barack Obama.


MALVEAUX: A judge orders that information on every YouTube video ever watched must be turned over to Viacom. The ruling comes as part of an ongoing legal battle between the media conglomerate and YouTube. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here.

And, Abbi, exactly what would Viacom be able to access? What kind of information?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Suzanne, say you watched this video, and you watched it last Tuesday at 2:05 p.m. from your YouTube account and on your office computer. Well, if this ruling holds, all of that information is now going to be turned over to Viacom. It's part of a billion dollar legal battle. Viacom is suing YouTube for copyright infringement and claims the data will show YouTube is profiting from its material like MTV, Comedy Central clips that uses upload to the site. A lawyer for Google, that owns YouTube, called the demand overreaching and said they hopes they can protect some user information before turning it over.

Privacy rights groups are outraged. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said the ruling "threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users." They urged Google to challenge order -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Abbi.

It was only entertainment but now a Hollywood actor that says that it's his role as a black president has set the stage for Barack Obama to make history. CNN entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson joins us live.

And you've been looking into this, Brooke.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, Dennis Haysbert was a big part of the FOX series "24," and he feels that role opened minds to the possibility of a non-fictional black president.


OBAMA: How's it going, Tampa?

ANDERSON (voice-over): It's historic in real life, but Hollywood is used to the idea of a woman or an African-American in the White House. Glenn Close as the vice president in "Air Force One"...

GLENN CLOSE, ACTOR: I'm coordinating with the National Security Council...

ANDERSON: ... Morgan Freeman in the film "Deep Impact"...

MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: ... until the air clears and the dust settles.

ANDERSON: ... Geena Davis as TV's "Commander in Chief"...

GEENA DAVIS, ACTOR: I'm going to run this government.

ANDERSON: ... and Dennis Haysbert as president in FOX's "24"...

DENNIS HAYSBERT, ACTOR: And I'm sure you understand the ramifications of unproven accusations.

ANDERSON: ... all examples of women and minorities in leadership positions. And Haysbert certainly thinks it has had a positive effect. In a conference call promoting a golf championship at Lake Tahoe, Haysbert said, quote: "If anything, my portrayal of David Palmer, I think, may have helped open the eyes of the American people, to prove the possibility there could be an African-American president, a female president, any type of president that puts the people first." Whether the entertainment industry has truly helped create an environment more willing to embrace a minority candidate remains to be seen.

JAMES HIBBERD, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Well, it certainly can't hurt. But at the same time, there has been many more Hollywood portrayals of presidents that were ex-military. But that didn't seem to help John Kerry. Just because it happened on "24" doesn't mean it will happen in real life. It doesn't mean that one necessarily has a connection to the other. But you know, it's certainly planted in the minds of the television-viewing audience that this was possible.


ANDERSON: Haysbert hopes it's more than possible. He reportedly donated the maximum amount of $2,300 to Senator Obama's campaign. Suzanne, back to you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Happening now, Barack Obama comes forward to deny that he has changed his policy on withdrawing troops from Iraq. And he's blaming John McCain's camp for portraying him as a flip-flopper.

Also this hour, inside the bold rescue of hostages in Colombia. How rebels were outsmarted and captives saved without firing a shot.