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Brand New Images of Colombian Hostage Rescue; How Iran is Reacting to New Proposal from the West; Condoleezza Rice Proud of Iraq Invasion and With No Regrets.

Aired July 4, 2008 - 17:00   ET


Happening now, breaking news. It is the video of the day, brand- new images of that Colombian hostage rescue just released. Words cannot describe the captives' reaction. But you can see it for yourself.

Also, a major development in a nuclear standoff. Find out how Iran is reacting to a new proposal from the west.

And secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says she is proud of the Iraq invasion and has no regrets.

Wolf Blitzer's off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with breaking news. It is one of the most daring and dramatic military rescue operations in recent memory. And now we are getting new video of that remarkable effort to rescue those hostages in Colombia.

CNN's senior pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre joins us now. And this is going to be clearly, when you look at these pictures, something that people are going to study for a long time. But you're also going to be really emotionally impacted by this -- Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, these videos released by the Colombian military just a short time ago, document the crucial moments of the rescue mission that took place in the afternoon in the jungles of Colombia. Right now we see one of the hostages, a Colombian military man, who had been held for 10 years. And he's trying to make a statement to the cameraman, who is posing as a journalist, but is actually one of the Colombian intelligence officers who studied to carry out this ruse.

It's interesting, because his attempt there to make a statement delays the mission slightly. They really wanted to get on the ground and get off the ground very quickly. But they also felt it was important to hold the confidence of the FARC rebels. You can see them in the background, in the bushes, as the captives are being led to the helicopter that will be their rescue.

Now, one of the things that's really gripping about this is you can see how emotionally drained these captives are after five, six, again, even 10 years of captivity. And then the elation that erupts when they're on the aircraft, the helicopter, after it's taken off and they're told that this is the Colombian national army, and that they are free. And you can hear the emotion, and you can see the emotion as they're doing that.

A couple of interesting points that the Colombian military revealed in releasing these videos. One is, the extent of U.S. assistance, which included aerial surveillance, intelligence before the mission, and the placement of special emergency beacons on each of these helicopters, which had been painted white to disguise the Colombian army markings.

Also that President Bush was informed of the impending operation 10 days before. And warned that the risk was there, but minimal to the captives because the intelligence officers of the Colombian military that were going in, were going to go in unarmed and had completely rehearsed this scheme to make it appear that they were transporting these captives to another rebel group. The video, about three minutes of which was released, is quite riveting, especially when you hear the contrast between before and after the release -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jamie. Extraordinary story. Seeing here on picture. It could be a major step forward in Iran's nuclear standoff with the west. Iran is now agreeing to preliminary talks.

CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry is here with details. Ed, how big is this?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it's big, because the stakes are so enormous because of all the speculation about the possibility of the U.S. and/or Israel attacking Iran over this nuclear dispute. Iran has now formally given its response to a European Union proposal, that's been on the table for about a month, to try and resolve this long dispute over its nuclear program. The fight boils down to whether it's really just a peaceful civilian program for nuclear energy or a program to develop nuclear weapons as President Bush and top U.S. official's suspect.

Now, Iran is not giving all the details of this response publicly. The key is that Iranian officials are speaking very positively saying they want to focus on common ground, find a way to end this dispute. The White House though, is still, as you can imagine, reacting very cautiously. A spokesman telling CNN quote, "We intend to study the Iranian response and we'll discuss with our p-5 plus 1 partners before responding formally."

That will be the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council, U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany. The stakes are enormous, there have been all kinds of reports that maybe the U.S. and/or Israel may launch an attack on Iran by the end of the year. I was in the Rose Garden with the president this week, when took questions on Iran. He had a chance, he could have knocked down the speculation, but instead he kept that military option on the table.

So the U.S. is really wondering, is Iran just a ploy, what they're responding with, to keep negotiations going forward while they continue on the side to develop and try and develop nuclear weapons? That's really the question and that's why the president for now is leaving the military option on the table -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Sure. We know there's a lot of suspicion on both sides. Thank you, Ed.

Five troubling years of war in Iraq, but secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says that it has been worth it. In fact, she says it's a point of pride.

CNN's State Department correspondent Zain Verjee has details -- Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the secretary of state is hosting diplomats for a traditional Fourth of July dinner. Then a look at fireworks after food. Ahead of the holiday, Secretary Rice reflected on the Iraq war and its consequences.


VERJEE (voice-over): Condoleezza Rice says she's proud of the Iraq invasion.

CONDOLEEZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I am proud of the decision of this administration to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I am proud of the liberation of 25 million Iraqis.

VERJEE: In an interview with Bloomberg TV, the secretary of state talked about the war, admitting --

RICE: Iraq has been very tough. It's been tougher than any of us really dreamed. We can never replace the people who have been lost.

VERJEE: More than 4,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since 2003. Secretary Rice insists there has been progress in Iraq, has been less violence in the past few months.

RICE: Al Qaeda is really on its heels.

VERJEE: Administration critics say the Iraq war has made the world more dangerous, galvanizing Islamic militants to fight a holy war against U.S. troops.

RICE: I simply don't see it. A more dangerous place than the world that produced the al Qaeda? That did 9/11?


VERJEE: Rice added that there are fewer people that want to be suicide bombers, and more people that question Osama bin Laden -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thank you Zain. We want to go back to breaking news. We want to go to our own CNN correspondent Harris Whitbeck in Bogota, Colombia. He has been following the breaking news story, obviously those first images that we have seen of that hostage rescue, the mission that took place, and really the inside pictures of how it happened from the time that they were taken aboard this helicopter.

And then the time that they actually found that they were free, that this was an elaborate ruse that basically allowed them to dupe those rebels, the guerrillas that had been holding them for more than five years, to transport them to a helicopter and then at that moment when they took over and then found out that in fact they had been released. Harris, bring us up to date here. What do you know about some of the behind-the-scenes, the story behind those pictures?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, those pictures are pretty amazing. They show 17 military commandos impersonating a crew of journalists, a TV crew, a photographer and a reporter, and also supposed members of a humanitarian organization. The general in charge of that mission explained how he asked those impersonating the TV crew to describe to the two commanders of the guerrilla group by insisting on asking them questions.

That was a ruse to distract them. And to get the other ones on the helicopter. And also, to attest to the legitimacy of their ruse. Again, that this was a humanitarian mission. All humanitarian missions that have involved hostages in the past year have had a reporter's crew onboard. So those military commanders say that was a crucial element to this operation. An operation they insist should not be labeled as a military operation.

Yes, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Tell us a little bit about did the U.S. participation in this. Obviously there were reports and we've learned that there was a U.S. spy plane that was hovering close by for intelligence.

WHITBECK: That's right. The Colombian minister of defense said that he told the U.S. ambassador to Colombia about a week before the mission that this plan was in the works. He said that 24 hours after that meeting the ambassador came back to him and said that the U.S. thought it was a -- an operation that had a good chance for success. He insisted that there was no U.S. help other than a U.S. spy plane that was flying over the area when the operation took place.

He also said that there were two pieces of equipment on those helicopters that were provided by the U.S., those pieces of equipment were radio beacons of sorts that would have allowed the military to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of these helicopters had anything gone wrong. But he insisted that that was the only help that the United States provided. He said that this was a 100 percent Colombian operation.

MALVEAUX: All right, Harris Whitbeck, thank you so much.

Some of the stories that we're working on at this hour, the nation's front yard desperately in need of a makeover.

And a hellish holiday in a resort town surrounded by flames.

Also a CNN exclusive will take you to the Syrian/Iraqi border, where the U.S. says foreign fighters are streaming into Iraq.

And a new effort to conserve gas. If you drive a car, this will impact you.


MALVEAUX: A dangerous wildfire has kept the normal holiday crowd away from California's Big Sur this Independence Day. CNN's Dan Simon joins us live.

Dan, tell us, is the situation improving at all?


A little bit better today. Not quite as windy. But crews keeping a close eye on this canyon behind me. We've seen some flare ups and they want to make sure that the flames don't cross over this highway 1, this major thoroughfare through Big Sur. Want to make sure that the flames don't get into residential areas. Right now 200 homes could possibly be at risk. This area, remember, under a mandatory evacuation order. But as we usually see in situations like this, not everybody has left.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The scale event is huge.

SIMON (voice-over): Curt is stressed. He's one of the owners of Big Sur's best-known restaurants. Nepenthe has been around for more than 50 years. It has survived other wildfires, but Gaffel says this one is different.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most dramatic fire, most impactful fire, largest scale, most threatening in every respect that we've ever experienced. I think in the entire community.

SIMON: So you might expect Gaffel to follow the orders and evacuate. But he says he's not leaving this place. There's too much history at stake. The restaurant started by his grandparents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a real connection. Big Sur has a real connection with people for all over the world and within that Nepenthe has a very special connection for those people.

SIMON: So he and a few employees keep watch, looking for embers that could ignite the property.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it would be irresponsible to just simply walk away from this property. And we feel we can make a contribution. And hopefully save it, and right now that's working. And we'll continue to be here as long as we can.

SIMON: The fire remains stubborn. It is not expected to be contained until the end of July.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The terrain makes it such that there are few opportunities for us to construct line. There just aren't that many flat places out here.

SIMON: The local economy taking a beating. Hotels and restaurants that would normally be full of tourists don't know when they'll reopen. The timing couldn't be worse in an already weakened economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These months, they're income months for everybody. You can do ok in the winter, but in the summer, this is where you make all your bread and butter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never imagined that we would be here 14 days into it with no end in sight.


SIMON: A Big Sur institution, they serve about 150,000 meals a year. They, of course, are hurting, as are all the other businesses throughout the Big Sur area. Suzanne, containment of just a little bit, but still very low. This fire just about 5 percent contained. They're saying this fire won't be contained until the very end of July.

MALVEAUX: Wow! OK, Dan, please be safe.

Big Sur is the main outpost on a remote stretch of the beautiful and rugged central California coast. The town and surrounding area are home to 1,400 people, all of whom have been told to evacuate. The region is also home to 23 of only 151 wild condors left in the world and the smoke from the fires poses a threat to those giant birds.

The voice of congressional opposition to the war is conceding at least in part of Rice's point. CNN's Brian Todd joins us live with that. Brian, what is the democratic congressman John Murtha saying today?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Suzanne, after saying at one point there was no way the troop surge in Iraq would work, John Murtha is giving a nod to the operation.


TODD (voice-over): From one of the most brutal critics of the president's conduct in Iraq, a more upbeat take on how the war is going. Interviewed by Pittsburgh TV station KDKA, democratic congressman and Vietnam veteran John Murtha is asked, did the surge in Iraq work?

REP. JOHN MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: I think the short term it certainly reduced incidents. I'm not sure whether it's because of the Iraqis are just worn out, but certainly the way they're doing it today makes a big difference.

TODD: Murtha said that before, and he's still not backing off his overall position on Iraq, a stand he took two and a half years ago in a dramatic rebuke of the administration.

MURTHA: U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.

TODD: An aide tells CNN Murtha still believes all U.S. forces should be withdrawn and he favors leaving a small strike force somewhere in the region. Murtha says more resources need to be committed to Afghanistan. But his aides says he won't go to the point of favoring a surge there. Does Murtha's take on the Iraq surge mean democrats are splintering over the war?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's some disagreement among democrats about whether the surge is working, whether it's making any difference, whether the political situation is improving or not. There's a little debate about that. But in terms of getting out of Iraq, there really is no disagreement. Democrats want out.


TODD: Bill Schneider believes one way the republicans can score points off Murtha's comments on the surge is to point out that what many democrats said when the surge began, that it wouldn't work. At that time John Murtha said the same thing, saying a surge in troops was unacceptable. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Brian.

Also, coming up, a burger boycott. Why one conservative group says McDonald's is too close to gays.

Plus, a CNN exclusive, we take you to the border of Syria and Iraq. Crossroads at war. And according to Washington, terror.


MALVEAUX: Carol Costello is off today. Mary Snow is monitoring the stories that are incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Mary, what are you watching?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, dozens of people suffered shrapnel wounds when a bomb exploded at an Independence Day concert in the former Soviet Republic of Belarus. Three people are in serious condition. Police say a second bomb that did not go off was found nearby. The country's president was at the concert but was not injured. Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Reports say the Palestinian man who went on a deadly rampage in Jerusalem this week, was engaged to an Israeli Jew before her family took her away. The woman has told an Israeli newspaper that the man fathered her son who's now 7. She says she did not think he was motivated by extremism. He crushed three people to death with an earth moving vehicle and wounded dozens more.

The second tropical storm of the hurricane season is churning in the far eastern Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands. The National Hurricane Center says Bertha does not pose any immediate danger on land, its packing maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour and moving west-northwest at 16 miles per hour. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Mary.

He's a John McCain supporter and often mentioned as a possible running mate. Now word from Florida governor and longtime bachelor Charlie Crist. He's engaged.

CNN's John Zarrella has more -- John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the governor is apparently tired of hanging out alone in that big mansion. According to his press office, Governor Charlie Crist has popped the question.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): The next time Florida's Governor Charlie Crist goes to a costume party, he'll have plenty to choose from. The 51-year-old governor became engaged Thursday morning to Carol Rome, the 38-year-old Rome is a consultant for her family's successful costume company. The two have been dating for nine months. Crist has kept the relationship very low key and private. Crist and Rome were seen together in March at a film festival event where he had a bit of fun with the question.

What are you guys wearing?

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, (R) FLORIDA: I'm wearing a suit and she's wearing a dress. We're happy to be here.

ZARRELLA: Crist was once married but only briefly and divorced in 1980. Rome is also divorced and lives in south Florida. She has two children. On the costume company's Web site there are pictures of Rome at the 2006 Grammy awards, with actor Cheech Marin and singers Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. There's also a shot of Rome with someone in a gorilla suit, presumably not the governor. Folks soaking up the sun on Fort Lauderdale beach shared their words of wisdom for the couple.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you really love your man, you'll stay behind him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's never too late.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you're in the public, it becomes public business.

ZARRELLA: And not just the public in Florida. The governor's engagement may be significant well beyond the state, getting a first lady. The governor is believed to be on John McCain's short list for vice president. Just as he played his engagement close to the vest, he's danced around every VP question. If you were asked, what would you say?

CRIST: I've got to continue to work hard as the governor of Florida and I haven't been asked. So it's really kind of moot at this point.


ZARRELLA: No date has yet been set yet for the wedding. The governor's press office says Crist is very, very happy. By the way, that ring, well, it's a blue sapphire with diamonds. And Suzanne, I'll guarantee that's not costume jewelry -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thank you, John.

Is it time to bring back the national speed limit?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would save you money perhaps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be nice, yeah. I would try it. I would slow down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think other people would?



MALVEAUX: A new effort to slow you down, are Americans willing to give up speed to help conserve gas?

Who's accusing the world's largest fast-food chain of promoting the "gay agenda"?

A senator said to be obsessed with Batman. His cameo in the new movie.



Happening now, an icon of the right, a polarizing force in U.S. politics. Jesse Helms has died at 86. He was a fierce opponent of abortion rights and communism. And he was accused of using race as a wedge issue to defeat black opponents.

President Bush gets a mixed reception at Monticello. It helped to swear in more than 70 people as naturalized citizens. It's a July 4th tradition but the president was heckled by protestors calling for his impeachment.

And a CNN special investigation. Three years after Katrina. Why is the federal government giving away supplies to everyone but the storm victims who need them most.

Wolf Blitzer's off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A conservative group that's boycotted Ford, Target and Disney in the past is now taking on the world's largest fast food chain. The American Family Association accuses McDonald's of promoting what it calls the gay agenda.

CNN's Mary Snow joins us live. Mary, what are both sides saying about this controversy?

SNOW: Suzanne, McDonald's says it promotes diversity. One conservative group says it amounts to supporting same-sex marriage.


SNOW (voice-over): Cheeseburgers in the middle of the culture wars? McDonald's fast food is the target of a boycott by the American Family Association. The group opposes same-sex marriage and its founder says he's protesting against McDonald's because it became a member of the national gay and lesbian chamber of commerce and has an executive on the chamber's board.

DONALD WILDMON, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION: We asked McDonald's to remain neutral in the cultural war pertaining to the homosexuality and. And they let us know they did not intend to do that.

SNOW: On its Web site, AFA shows a link to a McDonald's ad highlighting its support of the gay community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: McDonalds is proud of our commitment to a diverse workforce and our recognition by the Human Rights Campaign as a company that actively demonstrates its commitment to the gay and lesbian community.

SNOW: In reaction to the boycott a McDonald's spokesman told CNN this is about diversity and inclusion, which is the fabric of the company and the nation, saying, quote, "hatred has no place in our culture. That includes McDonalds, and we stand by and support our people to live and work in a society free of discrimination and harassment."

McDonalds is the latest multimillion dollar giant targeted by the AFA. The group which claims to have 2 million members online, has called for boycotts of Ford and Disney in the past citing a homosexual agenda. Eric Dezenhall at Kreitz's (ph) Management Consultants says boycotts can have different kinds of effects.

ERIC DEZENHALL, CEO, DEZENHALL RESOURCES: My experience has been boycotts from the right, while certainly are inconvenient and cause heartache, they tend not to really affect sales and change policy. Whereas boycotts from the gay community, from the environmental movement, not only can have a tangible impact on sales, but impact corporate reputation and corporate policy.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Now, why do boycotts coming from the right and left have different effects? Dezenhall says the kind of media coverage they get for one is different, and they said, follow the money. Progressive movements get a lot more money than right wing groups which shows what companies are afraid of and what they're not afraid of -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Mary, how does the issue of same-sex marriage enter the equation?

SNOW: You know, I spoke with a spokesperson for McDonald's who says, it has really nothing to do with this controversy. It says it is a member of this Chamber of Commerce which supports business opportunities for gays and lesbians. But the family -- the AFA says by association, it's supporting same-sex marriage. It says McDonald's can support any group they want to support, but it's asking its supporters to spend their money elsewhere.

MALVEAUX: OK. Mary Snow, thank you.

The message American interrogators have been using on terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay have long been controversial. Now it turns out some of them may have come from the Chinese.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us live. And Brian, tell us what this is all about.

TODD: Suzanne, it's about an extraordinary discovery of a manual used by military trainers at Guantanamo. They may not have known at the time the methods of interrogation in that guide had been used decades earlier against Americans.


TODD (voice-over): Taking a playbook from America's old enemies to interrogate America's new ones. Critics call newly released documents once used by trainers at Guantanamo Bay shocking and outrageous. The documents from more than five years ago show the trainers when going over how to question terror suspects referred to a chart listing methods like semi-starvation and sleep deprivation. That chart is an almost exact copy of one in a 1950s study by the U.S. military of techniques used by the Chinese communists in the Korean War to grill American prisoners.

CNN obtained the new chart from the Armed Services Committee. Its chairman spoke about the discovery in a recent hearing.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: If we use those same techniques offensively against detainees, it says to the world, that they have America's stamp of approval. That puts our troops at greater risk of being abused if they're captured. It also weakens our moral authority.

TODD: In a recent report, FBI agents said they observed a detainee at Guantanamo being deprived of food and water at least once and witnessed sleep deprivation several times. Congress has since banned the military from using those techniques. But there are also questions on how effective they were at Guantanamo before the 2005 ban. The 1950 study said when the Chinese use things like sleep deprivation on Americans in Korea, it was to extract false confessions or propaganda.

A program special set up right after Korea to train American soldiers to resist that kind of interrogation. We asked a former instructor in that program about those methods.

MALCOLM NANCE, FORMER MILITARY INSTRUCTOR: You're going to get them to talk. But you're not going to get anything that's going to be useful or worthwhile. What you will get after a while, though, is you're going to get an entire body of captives who have figured out all of your techniques.


TODD: We called the Pentagon about these newly released documents. A spokesman said, quote, "I can't speculate on previous decisions that may have been made prior to the current DOD policy on interrogations. I can tell you that current DOD policy is clear. We treat all detainees humanely" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So tell us about the CIA. How does it apply to the CIA, if at all?

TODD: Well, the CIA is authorized by President Bush to use so- called alternative interrogation methods. CIA Director Michael Hayden admitted they were at one time used, the water boarding technique was one time used against high value detainees. But he says they no longer use that tactic.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Brian.

Embedded with the Syrian military, CNN's Cal Perry gets an exclusive access to the border with Iraq where you can see and feel the tension with Washington.

Plus, the nation's front yard falling on hard times. The National Mall in crisis.


MALVEAUX: We have an exclusive report for you. The Syrian military gave CNN special access to the vast and tense border with Iraq. The U.S. has long claimed it's a transit point for foreign fighters entering Iraq and Washington accuses Syria of ignoring them, or even encouraging them.

CNN's Cal Perry is live in Damascus. Cal, what did you see along the Syrian-Iraq border?

CAL PERRY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon to you, Suzanne. This was the first time that the Syrian Army has allowed journalists to travel with them. And for us it was the perfect opportunity to get a look at the border for the first time from the Syrian side. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PERRY (voice-over): The Syrian military calls it a trip like no other. A chance to see for ourselves the situation on the Syrian side of its border with Iraq. As the CNN crew leaves Damascus on a military helicopter, which happens to be an old Russian aircraft, we're served Arabic coffee, a gesture of good will from a military not used to working this closely with journalists. There is no high tech or modern equipment, no computer navigation. The pilots flying the old-fashioned way, plotting a course using a map, and a ruler.

The military says that's because of an embargo against Syria by the United States, which considers the country a state sponsor of terror. After two quick stops for fuel, and to pick up commanders, the border comes into view.

It's little more than a sea of sand which helps explain why it's so difficult to secure this vital frontier. A thin orange line of sand marks the end of the Syrian territory, and the beginning of Iraq.

(on camera): Just after we refueled and shortly before we flew along the border, the commander started debating safety. They decided because there's no communication with the American army, it's not safe to land at the border. So they brought us a few kilometers back from the border and we're going to drive in.

(voice-over): The Syrian Army uses non-descript pickup trucks to patrol some places along the border. But commanders here complain that the U.S. should be doing more to help them keep this area secure.

"We want them to give us night surveillance equipment," commander Al Khaled says. "Infrared equipment, automatic weapons, tapping equipment and wireless capabilities."

The Syrians are using the landscape to their advantage. Moving earth to create a barrier, making it easier to control the flow of traffic. There is no communication whatsoever with American forces just on the other side of the border. Which troubles commanders.

"Every now and then there are air space violations," he says. "Sometimes no less than five to six times per month with their military jets and helicopters."

But the Syrians explain that away, saying they turn a blind eye, sympathetic, they say, to the deteriorating security situation that the U.S. Army is dealing with in Iraq.

"What should happen is for them to return to reason, he says. To use wisdom. And, therefore, dialogue is very beneficial and we are ready."

The U.S. has established limited cooperation with the Syrian government in the war on terror. But until Syria can convince the U.S. will control this line, those calls for dialogue might just go unanswered, leaving Syria on its own for now.


PERRY: And this border not only vital for the security of Iraq, but also now it appears vital for future relations between Syria and the United States -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: So, Cal, what was it like to actually ride in that helicopter?

PERRY: I have to tell you, it made me pretty nervous. I spent five years in Iraq in Black Hawk helicopters and I became comfortable with those helicopters. This was an old Russian aircraft. And there were times when the back would slide sort of completely from side to side, not just because of the wind but because it was an old aircraft.

At one point my producer, Nada Husseini (ph) was translating what the pilots were talking about and she said, you know, Cal, they're a little worried to land close to the border because they don't want to get shot down. And I remarked to her, well, I don't want to get shot down either. I saw them looking at the map, Suzanne, with the map and the ruler and compass and you're thinking to yourself, I don't know about this.

MALVEAUX: Risky. Risky. I'm glad you're OK. Give us a sense here, obviously the United States is critical of Syria in some ways. They say it's quite a porous border. You mentioned the border. This is an opportunity at least for the United States says for terrorists to cross over. What did you make of the border in that area when you saw it?

PERRY: Well, the first thing that comes across is just the landscape. We're talking about a border that's over 300 miles long. And like I said in the piece, it's a sea of sand. You can't tell the difference between Iraq and Syria, except now they've put up a 10- foot-high wall of sand.

You can imagine, the U.S., we've reported on this for year, is stretched thin along that border. When you talk to Syrian officials here, they said we're stretched thin not only because we have to control this border but we're technically at war with Israel. So we have to watch our southern border.

And we're concerned about what's going on in Lebanon. There has been violence there. So they say that they've had to dedicate serious military resources that they wouldn't have to otherwise because of the American invasion. But it does seem like they're putting on a very friendly face, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: This is a very unusual experience, obviously for us you as a journalist. Tell us the access that Syrian officials gave to you. What was that like?

PERRY: You know, I've been asked this question all day. I'm exceptionally happy with the access we got. But I think that our viewers in the United States would be fascinated to hear about the hospitality at that comes in a trip like this. We would stop multiple times for coffee, for tea, for a meal. And I didn't quite have it figured out until later in the trip, we went up to the northeastern section of the border along the border with Turkey, and the commander remarked to me, you're the first American to ever come to this base. He then started engaging me in conversations, diplomatic conversations. And all sorts of international relations.

And I realized at that moment, Suzanne, that it was not only exciting for us, but it was exciting for them. And I realized that I spent five years in Iraq and it took the U.S. military about two years to get used to working with the media. It's going to take the Syrians some time as well, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Fascinating report, thank you so much, Cal Perry.

In just a few hours all eyes here in Washington will be on the National Mall for the huge annual Fourth of July fireworks show. It never disappoints. But some say the Mall itself does.

Our CNN's Jeanne Meserve explains -- Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, about half a million people are expected here on the Mall to celebrate the nation's birthday. They may be shocked at what they see.


MESERVE (voice-over): How about this for a souvenir snapshot of the National Mall. Or this. Or this.

JUDY SCOTT FELDMAN, NATIONAL COALITION TO SAVE OUR MALL: We're looking at an old, run-down, worn-out mall that looks like it was abandoned 30 years ago.

MESERVE: Part of the problem, people. The national mall has more visitors each year than Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon combined.

BILL LINE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE: If you had 25 million people coming through your front yard, it might not look so nice either.

MESERVE: The mall has an annual budget of about $31 million. But its backlogged maintenance needs are estimated at eight times that, $258 million. Among the most expensive projects, reinforcing the sinking sea wall around the Jefferson Memorial. And rehabilitating the now shabby World War I memorial. But there are other more pressing issues.

JOHN "CHIP" AKRIDGE, TRUST FOR THE NATIONAL MALL: If you're in here and Johnny has to go to the potty, you're in trouble. There's no place to go.

MESERVE: Restrooms, parking, transportation, all desperately need along with places to eat. Chip Akridge jokingly calls this snack tent Washington's Tavern on the Green jokingly. AKRIDGE: This is America's front yard. You wouldn't have that in your front yard. We don't want it in our front yard. No American wants that in their front yard.

MESERVE: Akridge heads up the Trust for the National Mall which is raising private money to fix up the Mall. Some argue its problems won't be solved with big sums of money.

FELDMAN: Picking the trash, mowing the grass, watering the grass, putting in some flowers, those are daily maintenance issues. They shouldn't require $250 million extra.


MESERVE: The Park Service says it thinks it does a pretty good job. It says on the average day, three to four tons of trash are generated down here. Today with half a million people coming down here, they say there could be as much as 18 tons of trash. And they promise it will all be gone tomorrow -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks, Jeanne.

The National Mall covers the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol and the West Potomac Park, home to several national memories. The National Mall was the brain child of French architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant, part of the 1791 plan for Washington, DC to make a grand avenue for the city. His vision was incorporated into the 1902 McMillan plan, which is the design for the Mall as we know it today.

Drive 55, save gas, and lives. Are Americans ready to bring back a national speed limit?

And a "Batman" fan in the Senate. It's an alleged obsession that's taking him from Washington to Hollywood.


MALVEAUX: In the 1980s, it inspired the Sammy Hagar song, "I can't drive 55." But times change and the national speed limit is gaining traction again. CNN's Rusty Dornin is tracking developments.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Driving slower conserves gas. So if everybody slowed down, would prices drop due to less demand?

SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R) VA: Good afternoon, all.

DORNIN: A question Senator John Warner asked Energy Secretary Samuel Bodwin. Warner wants the administration to consider backing a slower nationwide speed limit. Warner refers to the 1974 law that forced drivers to drive 55 during the gas shortage. Now the senator is asking if drivers drove slower, how many fewer barrels of petroleum a day would Americans consume? Is it reasonable that there were be a reduction at the price at the pump? For some drivers, it makes sense.

ALLEN BENNET, DRIVER: We'll get a chance to save gas and energy. It would be a great idea.

DAN DUTTON, DRIVER: I would try it. I would slow down.

DORNIN: Do you think other people would?


DORNIN: That's the problem. Most drivers don't want to take their foot off the gas pedal. Would you slow down if it goes down to 55?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I will and I don't think most of the traffic on the interstate would slow down as well.

DORNIN (on camera): We tried our own experiment on the freeways of Atlanta where the speed limit is already 55. Granted, it's a holiday, there's not much traffic. But cars are still whizzing by.

(voice-over): Some students in this YouTube video did an experiment on another freeway in Atlanta and drove 55 straight across all lanes. It backed traffic up for miles. But if Congress decides to force drivers to slow down across the board, chances are state troopers nationwide will be doing a brisk business. Rusty Dornin, CNN, Atlanta.


MALVEAUX: Speed limits are tied to highway deaths. In 1987 Congress increased the national speed limit from 55 to 65 miles per hour. And traffic deaths increased by 19 percent. When the national speed limit was repealed altogether in 1995, highway deaths jumped by another 15 percent according to one estimate. By 2006 there were more than 13,500 deaths in speed related accidents.

Barack Obama seeing red. Inside his effort to win a traditionally Republican state. Plus, Patrick Leahy, senator and movie star? His role in the new "Batman" movie.


MALVEAUX: Carol Costello is off today. Mary Snow is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What are you watching?

SNOW: Well, Suzanne, we'll start with ruins in Italy. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Now Pompeii's archeological site faces destruction again. A state of emergency is in effect as Italian officials fear decay and careless management will ruin the site. Parts of the complex are literally crumbling. The emergency order will help direct funds toward saving it. In India some grandparents welcome the birth of more children, their own. A woman who says she is 70 years old, delivers twins, a boy and girl. She's reportedly the old woman in the country to become a mother. She and her 77-year-old husband conceived with help of in vitro fertilization. They already have two daughters and five grandchildren but they say they always wanted a son, as boys are preferred in India.

And lost scenes from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" have been shown for the very first time in decades. The Museum of Cinema in Buenos Aires recently discovered it had an original cut of the 1927 silent film classic. Most people have only seen about 90 minutes of the three and a half hour masterpiece. The movie portrays a 21st century world decided between workers and the people who control them. A lot of excitement about it. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: OK. Great. Thank you, Mary Snow.

So what's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee doing in the Bat cave? CNN entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson is investigating Senator Patrick Leahy's fascination with the caped crusader. And she joins us live.

And I guess, Brooke, some people are asking if the senator's gone batty.


The caped crusader has made more than one and a half billion dollars at the worldwide box office over the years. And a small portion of that money is going to a library in Vermont thanks to this prominent senator and his enthusiasm for Batman.


ANDERSON (voice-over): The latest Batman movie has the latest of a Hollywood blockbuster. Big names, intense action and the nostalgia of the late Heath Ledger.

"The Dark Knight" which comes out July 18, is expected to be big, very big. But it's a cameo experience by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy that's creating buzz on Capitol Hill. If you blink though, you'll miss it. But that's him getting roughed up. The chair of the Democratic Senate Judiciary committee is reportedly obsessed with Batman. This will mark his third appearance in the movie franchise.

Leahy is not the first Washington politician to have gone Hollywood. Republican presidential candidate John McCain had a cameo in the raunchy comedy "Wedding Crashers" and other lawmakers have appeared in "Dave" and "Gods and Generals," among other movies.

SCHNEIDER: Politicians love to be in show business and they love to be in movies. They get a little glitz and glamour. Senator Leahy's love for the superhero and comic book series dates back to when he was a boy growing up in Vermont. In 1992, he wrote the forward to the book "Batman, the Dark Knight Archives." His credentials as a Batman fan are so strong he convinced Warner Brothers to hold a special screening in Vermont away from the glare of Hollywood or the Big Apple. All proceeds for Leahy's appearance will go to the Kellogg-Hubbard Children's Library in Montpelier, Vermont where he got his first library card when he was just four years old.

The senator is traveling. However, his spokesman tells CNN, "These royalty checks have been going to the library for so many years that the Kellogg-Hubbard Library itself almost seems part of the Batman lore by now."

So who knows? Maybe Leahy will eventually get his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


ANDERSON: Now, Senator Leahy isn't commanding movie star bucks from Warner Brothers, which like CNN is owned by Time-Warner. The Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Vermont said they received a $2,000 check from the production company for his appearance in "The Dark Knight." The library does say the special screening will raise some more money. And Leahy's royalty checks from his previous Batman appearances continue to trickle in -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Brooke.