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No Push to Pull Troops Out of Iraq; Military Under Fire for Sexual Assault; First Proof of Water on Mars

Aired July 31, 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: Happening now, as violence drops in Iraq the U.S. death toll falls to its lowest level of the war. But the U.S. military commander in Iraq says he needs more time to decide when to start removing more troops, even though they're needed on another front.
The Bush administration in a new battle over when life actually begins. There's a confidential proposal linking birth control pills to abortion and pitting patients against health care workers. We'll tell you what's going on.

And Senator Hillary Clinton is back on the campaign trail, making a very strong pitch for Senator Barack Obama.

But why are some of her former supporters jumping ship and joining the John McCain camp? We have a report.

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

July is already over in Iraq and the U.S. death toll for the month is the lowest yet. A non-combat fatality today makes 10 deaths in July. Four thousand one hundred twenty-six Americans have died since the war began.

President Bush today linked the dramatic decline in violence to the recently concluded surge. And that should set the stage for U.S. troops to continue leaving Iraq and perhaps head over to Afghanistan.

But the U.S. general in charge of the situation in Iraq seems to be in no rush to continue that drawdown. We're going to find out why.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

He's working the story for us.

A lot of people are asking if the surge has been so successful and the violence has come down, the Iraqi military is taking charge, why can't more troops immediately leave and go to Afghanistan, where they're desperately needed?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that upbeat assessment from President Bush certainly sets the stage for a drawdown. But the question is, will they come home or will they go to that other war in Afghanistan?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE (voice-over): Now that the last of the surge brigades is gone from Iraq and violence has dropped to the lowest level in four years, the question facing America's top commander is how soon and how fast can more U.S. troops leave. But despite the urgent need to ship forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, where casualties are mounting, sources say General David Petraeus is not inclined to speed up his decision on troop cuts promised within the next 45 days.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: General Petraeus' time line is tied strictly to Iraq and has nothing to do with -- as far as I know, nothing to do with Afghanistan. Whether he takes the full 45 days or not, I don't know. We'll see.

MCINTYRE: Despite promising to dispatch reinforcements to Afghanistan sooner rather than later, so far the Pentagon has found only a couple of hundred support troops to send -- numbers Gates concedes are not significant. Before making a recommendation on Iraq force cuts, sources say General Petraeus wants to make sure the current lull in fighting, which produced the lowest monthly death toll of the war, is not a fluke.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker caution that the progress is still reversible, but report that there now appears to be a degree of durability to the gains that we have made.

MCINTYRE: One source of concern, Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, who is offering to support the government of Prime Minister Nuri Al- Maliki if it refuses to make a deal with the U.S. to allow American troops to stay. Along with the surge, Sadr's cease-fire order has been a major factor in the dramatic drop in violence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: General Petraeus knows that if Muqtada Al Sadr orders his Mahdi Army back into the fight, the situation could change overnight. It's one reason that he's reluctant to rush into troop withdrawals on just a few months of relatively good news -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much.

The Bush administration credits the recently concluded troop surge for turning around the situation in Iraq.

But how does the American public feel about all of this?

In our brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 52 percent call the surge a success, 41 percent call it a failure. Asked if the U.S. should set a timetable for withdrawing all its troops from Iraq, 62 percent said yes, 37 percent said no. And asked about the war itself, 33 percent said they favor it, 66 percent say they oppose it.

The Defense Department is under fire right now for not doing enough to prevent sexual assaults in the U.S. military. One member of Congress says a woman in the military service has a greater chance of being raped by one of her fellow soldiers than being killed by enemy fire.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is working this story for us.

What prompted this Congressional hearing -- Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's because of these ongoing horrific cases of sexual assault of soldiers overseas and at home, both civilian and military personnel, as well, including the case of Maria Lauterbach, who was murdered, you might recall, last year. Her killer has -- accused killer -- has yet to be extradited from Mexico.

The question is, is the military taking rape seriously enough?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to thank you both for your courage and...

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Mary Lauterbach has been waiting is a long time to tell her story to Congress. Last year, her pregnant Marine daughter Maria was murdered, then buried in the backyard of a fellow marine.

MARY LAUTERBACH, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I believe that Maria would be alive today if the Marines had provided a more effective system to protect the victims of sexual assault.

CANDIOTTI: Lauterbach's mother repeatedly argued the Marines failed to take her daughter's rape accusations seriously and didn't do enough to find her when she suddenly disappeared.

At a Congressional hearing on sexual assault in the military, it didn't take long for frustration to show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it comes to sexual assault in the military, DOD has no credibility. Absolutely none. Zero. Zip.

CANDIOTTI: For fiscal year 2007, the Defense Department reports of the 600 sexual assault cases where action was taken, only 30 percent were courts-martialed. That compares to 40 percent prosecuted in civilian courts, according to Congressionally cited figures.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First, it deters victims from reporting rapes and it fails to deter offenders. But second of all, it perpetuates the attitude, which all of us should condemn, that boys will be boys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To take the opportunity to apologize to any -- any soldier who has ever worn the uniform who has suffered the outrage of sexual assault.

CANDIOTTI: Maria Lauterbach's mother promises to keep speaking out for Maria and other victims.

LAUTERBACH: I think she'd be very happy to know that we're keeping it going so justice will be done on her behalf and that none of her other sister Marines will have to go through what she did.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now in today's hearing, they also revealed this stunning news. The General Accounting Office said that a Defense Department task force that was set up to see how well the Defense Department is handling rape victims has yet to have its first meeting -- and it got its marching orders two years ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've got a lot of work to do over there to fix this problem.

Susan, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, there's been a major discovery on Mars. Scientists have long suspected there's water on the Red Planet. But now they have real proof it's there.

Carol Costello is working this story for us.

What are you learning -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, my goodness, Wolf, this is fascinating.

The Phoenix spacecraft has tasted Martian water for the first time. Let me explain. The robotic lab on Mars dug down through two inches of frozen soil in a trench on Mars and it used its instruments to heat up that soil and melt the ice. And, of course, that means water that can be chemically tested.

NASA can now figure out what that water is made up of, how long that water has been there and maybe -- maybe determine if there is or was life on Mars.Of course, life as we know it can only exist when there is water present.

Wolf, this is a huge development because it confirms what scientists have long guessed -- that there is water on Mars. The Phoenix lander will stay on Mars through September and who knows what will happen next.

BLITZER: We'll watch together with you.

COSTELLO: Yes.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

Let's check back with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Here's one of the understatements of the century.

Our Congress ought to be ashamed of itself. Of course, they're not. Despite getting next to nothing done about the issues that trouble millions of Americans, things like energy costs and high gasoline prices, offshore drilling, Congress is set now to take a one month long vacation starting tomorrow -- five weeks, actually.

In the Senate, Republicans have been blocking any other legislation until they get a vote on drilling. And since the Democrats' prospects seem pretty good for November, then they don't want to cave into the Republicans' demands for a vote on drilling months before a new administration and Congress take over, because they think those will be mostly Democratic.

So the bottom line is to hell with what the public need or wants -- how can we turn the oil drilling issue in a political advantage for ourselves and then blow town for five weeks?

Iowa Republican Charles Grassley may have put it best when he called the Senate constipated and said it could use a good dose of laxatives.

If you're tempted to vote for any incumbent this fall, remember this. Congress plans to be out of town until after the conventions now. They'll return to Washington September the 8th -- five weeks.

If Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid had any guts, they'd cancel the vacation, keep Congress in session until some of these issues are resolved.

It's no surprise the American people are disgusted with the whole lot of them. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll puts Congress' approval rating at 22 percent. And that's probably too high. Other polls have a rating as low as 9 percent.

This poll also shows that 76 percent of Americans say things are going badly in our country. You heard Bill Schneider's report earlier. Only three times in our past recent history have Americans been so discouraged about the state of affairs -- Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis and the economic downturn of 1992.

So here's the question: In light of its many accomplishments, does Congress deserve a five week-long vacation?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Raw and unfiltered -- John McCain warns that his rival's policy could mean a third Iraq War. And Barack Obama sounds off on the latest GOP attack ads. You're going to hear what the candidates are saying in their own words on important issues. That's coming up.

And a new battle over when life begins -- why a Bush administration proposal, even at this late date in the administration, would link birth control to abortion and what it could mean for you and your health insurance.

Plus, a firsthand look at some of the kinds -- new kinds of brain surgery perhaps in the works right now. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, himself a neurosurgeon, explains why the patient is awake the whole time the doctors operate.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a new controversy right now over a Bush administration proposal that would equate birth control and abortion. And it could pit patients against some health care workers.

Brian Todd has been looking into the story for us.

It's sort of happening late in this administration. What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Bush administration says this proposed new rule is just to protect health care workers who are uncomfortable providing abortions or even birth control. But pro-choice groups say this is nothing short of an attempt to deny millions of women access to contraception.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): With less than six months left in office, the Bush administration sparks new debate over when life begins. The uproar is over the administration's definition of abortion, found in a document from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The confidential draft, obtained by CNN, defines abortion as any prescription of drugs and any procedure that terminates a human life between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation. That includes birth control pills, IUDs or "morning after pills."

NANCY NORTHUP, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: It is dangerous and it is anti-scientific and it is a push of ideology in these last months of the Bush administration.

TODD: The definition is in a proposed HHS regulation. The rule would deny federal money to health care centers that punish workers who refuse to take part in anything from a clinical abortion to prescribing birth control pills.

Supporters say laws against that kind of discrimination are already on the books and need to be enforced.

DAVID CHRISTENSEN, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: If a health care professional thinks that an action takes the life of a human, whether it be an early or end stage abortion, they should not be forced to engage in that action. And you have to protect their conscience.

TODD: The plan would also allow insurers that get federal money to drop their coverage of contraceptives if they want to. Key to this debate -- when pregnancy actually begins. The American Medial Association believes it begins after a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus, so any contraception before that wouldn't be considered an abortion. But the administration seems to lean toward some medical dictionaries that say a woman is pregnant right at the point of initial conception.

Contacted by CNN, an HHS spokesman wouldn't comment on the document because it's still just a draft. But he issued a statement saying: "The department has an obligation to enforce laws protecting health care workers in federal programs and is exploring a number of options."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now if this rule is enacted, it would not make birth control pills or IUDs illegal. But pro-choice groups are worried that it will undercut state laws designed to give easy access to these methods of birth control that are used by more than 12 million women across the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian.

Brian Todd working this story for us.

We're also watching contraceptive use around the country. It's widespread, as you know. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 11.6 million women are on the pill. More than 38 million women use a contraceptive. Nine in 10 employer-based plans cover a full range of prescription contraceptives. And 26 states have laws in place requiring insurers to provide contraceptive coverage if they cover other prescription drugs.

To help you make an informed decision, we're bringing you more of what the presidential candidates are saying on the campaign trail.

Here's Senator John McCain today in Racine, Wisconsin speaking about the war and about his rival.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can do this together. On Iraq, Senator Obama says he wants peace. But even today he opposes the surge strategy that succeeded in Iraq and will succeed in Afghanistan. His policy of unconditional withdrawal, regardless of the facts on the ground, which our highest ranking military officer, Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said would be very dangerous, his policy could result in renewed violence and a third Iraq War.

I hate war. I know it costs better than many. I'm going to end this war. But when I bring our troops home, they will come home with victory, leaving Iraq secured as a democratic ally in the Arab heartland.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: The bottom line is that Senator Obama's words, for all their eloquence and passion, don't mean all that much. And that's the problem with Washington. It's not just the Bush administration. It's not just the Democratic Congress. It's that everyone in Washington says whatever it takes to get elected or to secure the political future that they seek.

If Senator Obama doesn't have the strength to speak openly and directly about how he will address the serious challenges confronting America, how will he be strong enough to really change Washington?

We don't need another politician in Washington who puts self- interests and political expediency ahead of problem solving. We need to start putting the country's interests first and come together.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: Come together to keep American families safe and help them realize their dreams for a better life.

My friends, in war and in peace, I've been an imperfect servant of my country. But I've been her servant first, last and always.

Whenever I faced an important choice between my country's interests or my own interests, party politics or any special interests, I chose my country. Nothing has ever mattered more to me than the honor of serving America and nothing ever will.

If you elect me president, I will always, always put our country first. I will...

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And coming up shortly, you'll hear Senator Obama in his own words. He's got some tough statements he's making today on all those negative ads. Stand by for that.

And it's something we haven't seen in a while -- Senator Hillary Clinton in front of thousands of people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's commit ourselves to working day and night to ensure that the next occupant is not the senator from Arizona.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This time she's campaigning not for herself, but she's supporting Senator Barack Obama. We'll tell you what she had to say in her own words, as well.

Plus, she was fired after that Minnesota bridge disaster. So guess where she ended up getting a job -- the federal agency that oversees your safety.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

What's the latest -- Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, a dramatic appearance at the Hague. The man accused of masterminding the massacre of thousands in the Bosnian war appeared in public for the first time since his capture last week missing that beard he used to disguise himself as a new age healer. Radovan Karadzic looked more like he did as the Bosnian Serb leader, though older and thinner. He says he wants to defend himself and refused to enter pleas to 11 charges against him, including genocide.

It is now legal for gay couples from out of state to marry in Massachusetts. Governor Duvall Patrick signed the measure into law today. It repeals a 1913 law. Governor Patrick says the old law had its roots in racism, as it was seen as a way of preventing interracial marriages.

A Minnesota transportation official who was fired for unprofessional conduct in the aftermath of the Minneapolis bridge collapse has a brand new job -- and it's with the nation's Transportation Security Administration. The TSA confirms Sonia Pitt is working for the agency in an $89,000 a year job. The Department of Homeland Security has now launched an internal investigation into exactly why the TSA hired Pitt.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If we get the results of that investigation, Carol, you'll let us know.

COSTELLO: Sure.

BLITZER: All right. Good.

Thank you.

Hillary Clinton -- she's back on the campaign trail. Right now, she's strongly backing Senator Barack Obama. She addressed thousands of people today. You're going to hear her message. That's coming up.

And an up-close look at the same kind of surgery that Senator Ted Kennedy had -- awake and talking while doctors operate on his brain.

Plus, the stories of Barack Obama and John McCain like you've never seen them -- why the creators of these books hope they'll bring a whole new audience to this election season.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, for some Democrats, if Senator Hillary Clinton isn't on the ticket, the ticket isn't worth their consideration. We're going to take a closer look at why one group of voters -- one group of voters jumping ship right now.

And an amazing medical procedure in the aggressive treatment of brain tumors. The patient is wide awake while doctors work on the brain. It's the same surgery Senator Ted Kennedy had. We're going to get a firsthand look.

And a Congressional hearing based on a CNN investigation on Hurricane Katrina survivors. Congress wants some answers from FEMA. They want the answers right now.

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

Sources close to Senator Hillary Clinton say she's been slotted to speak on the second night of the Democratic convention in Denver. And that's making it look like the whole notion of a dream team has faded away.

But Senator Clinton is back on the campaign trail right now. She's making a very strong pitch for Senator Barack Obama.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: We have to elect more Democrats to the Senate, more Democrats to the house, and Barack Obama as the next president of the United States of America.

I have stood against those forces who would deny the full potential of America. And so for me this election is critical, because I know what a difference it will make. And I also know Senator Obama. I have served with him now for nearly four years in the Senate. I campaigned with him and against him for more than 16 months on the campaign trail. And I have stood on stage with him in 22 debates. But who's counting? I have seen his passion and determination, his grace and his grit. His own life exemplifies the American dream.

And just as I was in this race for all those who did feel invisible -- parents choosing between health care for themselves or for their children, workers seeing their jobs shipped overseas, small business owners who can't afford to pay the utilities and so many who get sick to their stomachs when they pull up to fill up their gas tank. I know the best way we can stand up for you and for everyone who knows we can do better is to make sure we have a Democratic president taking the oath of office on January 20th, 2009.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Since Senator Clinton quit the race, some Democrats have actually been jumping ship and jumping aboard the John McCain bandwagon.

CNN's Mary Snow has been looking into this story for us.

Mary, how much of a potential threat does this pose to Senator Obama?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, to see the numbers tell it is less of a threat than a few months ago. But in scouting for votes everywhere, the McCain team here in New York is looking in some unlikely places.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: He wears Republican red and says he's eager to support John McCain.

RAJESH RAJAGOPLAN, DEMOCRATS FOR MCCAIN: I'm going to campaign for him, volunteer for him, whatever I can do.

SNOW: But take a closer look at Rajesh Rajagoplan's t-shirt and you'll see what's different about this picture. He's a Hillary Clinton supporter now part of New York's Democrats for McCain. How many in the room supported Clinton for president?

Roberta Weisbrod opened her Brooklyn home to about two dozen fellow Democrats and representatives from the McCain campaign. She admits McCain's chances are low in her heavily Democratic city.

ROBERTA WEISBROD, DEMOCRATS FOR MCCAIN: I'm in the minority. I've seen revulsion in good friends.

SNOW: She says she's been a fan of McCain for years. Others say their vote is more about voting against Obama.

Wendy Goldstein says she had to prioritize her list of issues.

WENDY GOLDSTEIN, DEMOCRATS FOR MCCAIN: I'm concerned about the difference that I feel on social issues with a lot of Republicans. This is a time where the world is a scary place. And we need somebody who can stand up and be the leader.

SNOW: National security is the theme McCain's New York chairman stresses while he pitches pragmatism to New Yorkers.

ED COX, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN NY STATE CHMN.: They like people who can reach across the aisle to solve problems.

SNOW: That's a theme McCain has stressed throughout the campaign.

MCCAIN: I'll reach my hand across the aisle to Harry Reid or Speakers Pelosi or the others.

SNOW: In recent days, he even praised Nancy Pelosi telling "San Francisco Chronicle" the top Democrat in the house is an inspiration to millions of Americans. But CNN's polling director Keating Holland says McCain faces an uphill battle because his appeal to Democrats has dropped in recent months.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: There was a time when McCain was doing very well among Democrats. Now he's dropped down to the same levels we would expect to see any Republican candidate have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: For their part a spokesman for the Obama camp attributes McCain's drop among Democrats to McCain's "negative low road attacks launched against Barack Obama." What is up for grabs for both candidates, Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton who tell pollsters, they'd rather stay home than vote for anybody -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York for us. Thank you.

Let's get some more now of what the candidates are saying raw and unfiltered. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today, Barack Obama reacted to the latest McCain attack ad, the one that compared Senator Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given the magnitude of our challenges when it comes to energy and health care and jobs and our foreign policy, you'd think that we'd be having a serious debate. But so far all we've been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I mean, I do -- I do have to ask my opponent, is that the best you can come up with? Is that -- is that really what this election is about? Is that what is worthy of the American people?

Even the media has pointed out that Senator John McCain, who started off talking about running an honorable campaign, has fallen back into the predictable political attacks, the demonstrably false statements. But here's the problem. I'm not interested in getting into a tit for tat. These negative ads, negative attacks talking about me instead of talking about what he's going to do, that's not going to lower your gas prices. That's not going to help you stay in your home if you're falling behind on the mortgage. That's not going to help you find the job if it's been shipped overseas. It doesn't do a single thing to help the American people. It's politics as a game. But the time for game playing is over. That's why I'm running for president of United States of America.

And these kinds of Washington tactics distract, they divert, they keep us from tackling the very real challenges that we face. And that starts, by the way, with energy. For decades, Washington has failed the American people on energy. And that has led directly to the current crisis.

I mean, think about it. When George Bush came into office, he put Dick Cheney in charge of energy policy. Cheney met with the renewable energy groups once, the environmental groups once, met with the oil and gas companies 40 times. And that's a pattern of talking about energy and talking about energy and spends and talking some more, but never really doing anything about it. George Bush's approach was to let the oil companies write his energy policy. We cannot afford four more years of an energy policy dictated by the oil companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We have more from Senator Obama and Senator McCain in their own words coming up in the next hour.

An influential New York congressman faces a public reprimand. It was an emotional moment on the house floor. We're going to show you what happened.

And millions of dollars in supplies meant for hurricane Katrina victims just given away. Now a CNN investigation leads to a hearing on Capitol Hill. FEMA is forced to answer questions.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In terms of personal health, it's one of the worst case scenarios you can imagine, learning you have a brain tumor and that the treatment is surgery. Now try to imagine being awake -- yes, awake for that surgery. It's a rare procedure, but our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is able to bring us a firsthand assessment of what's going on.

This is the kind of operation -- correct me if I am wrong -- Senator Kennedy had. Is that right?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. It's called an awake craniotomy. It's a procedure usually performed on tumors located in certain sections of the brain that control important functions.

Think of our brain as a map. Different areas help us read, walk, talk, even cry and smile. So for tumors located in a crucial part of the brain doctors perform that operation on patients who are awake in order to see what functions that may be affecting while removing the tumor. It is rare.

We'll show you exclusive video of this operation being performed at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. The patient is a young patient. He was just diagnosed a few months ago. We thought long and hard about showing you this. The video you're about to see is graphic but I promise you incredible as well. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: His name is Connor. He's 19 years old and he has a brain tumor. Because his tumor was located in such a delicate area of the brain, his doctors recommended he undergo brain surgery known as awake craniotomy with mapping.

DR. AARON COHEN, METHODIST HOSPITAL NEUROSURGEON: To be able to resect the tumor, we should be able to find where those critical functional areas are. That's why awake mapping makes sense.

GUPTA: The patient is heavily sedated but remains conscious so the doctors can start to actually create a map on his brain. Once the skull cap is removed, that brain is exposed.

Take a look at it. That's a functioning human brain pumping to the beat of the heart. And keep in mind, the patient is wide awake.

COHEN: Are you OK, Connor?

CONNOR: Yep.

GUPTA: By stimulating certain areas of the brain and talking to the patient --

COHEN: Connor, did you hear anything, feel anything?

CONNOR: No.

GUPTA: The surgeon can tell which of those areas are sensitive and need to be avoided during the operation. Here they are creating the map of the brain.

In Connor's case, he remained awake through the entire procedure. Reading out loud while a section of his brain was completely exposed. If a doctor pressed on a sensitive area, Connor's reading would be affected, telling his surgeon that's an area to avoid.

COHEN: You see how I stop stimulating. He can say the name. But before that he can't.

GUPTA: Once the brain is mapped, the surgeon starts to remove the tumor. Again, while the patient is still awake.

COHEN: Your voice is shaking.

CONNOR: It's shaking?

COHEN: Yes.

GUPTA: The procedure, which lasted about five hours, usually requires only a few days of recovery.

COHEN: He was cooperative. He was very patient. And although we had some difficulty with reading, which I think will be temporary, his speech and all his movements remain intact.

GUPTA: Although Connor remains awake after his operation, he is exhausted. Because his tumor was large, covering a wide area, he is still sometimes having trouble reading and speaking, but his doctors expect a full recovery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And it took Connor about a week and a half to recover. When he left the hospital, he could speak and read and he was making great progress. His tumor was benign as well. They found that out. Great news for him. His doctor, Dr. Cohen, believes he's going to be able to go back to college in August with no problems after having had that done, Wolf. BLITZER: That's really amazing work by your colleagues. You're a neurosurgeon. Have you ever personally done this kind of procedure, Sanjay?

GUPTA: I have. And it is a remarkable thing. I think even after you've done it, to see the brain there, be able to talk to the patient at the same time. But critically important, as we point out, Wolf.

BLITZER: Amazing, amazing work, Sanjay. Fascinating material. We're really happy for that young kid as well. Good work. Thanks, Sanjay, for bringing us that story.

FEMA is once again in the spotlight as lawmakers are demanding answers about millions of dollars worth of aid meant for hurricane Katrina survivors. We reported that the aide simply sat in a warehouse for some two years before it was simply given away as surplus goods.

Our special investigations unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau is working this story, working it very effectively, I must say.

Abbie, thanks for all the good work. What did FEMA say today? They were in the hot seat?

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It was the first time feel why agreed to talk on the record about the details of what happened in this case. It was also the first time FEMA acknowledged it made mistakes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOUDREAU: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee scolded FEMA saying it failed the American public.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: We need legislation to reorder the structuring of the distribution of aid to the needy, because every state government that has gotten this distribution gets an "F," particularly in hurricane Katrina.

BOUDREAU: In June, CNN first reported FEMA had given away 121 truck loads of brand new household supplies, all meant for Katrina victims. Those items had been stockpiled in warehouses and then declared surplus. FEMA told CNN no one was asking for those supplies and that's why they were ultimately given away to 16 states and other federal agencies.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu pressed FEMA about why it sat on the supply.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: You didn't contact your regional office. You didn't contact the state office. You didn't contact the nonprofit. How did you determine that these items were not needed?

ERIC SMITH, FEMA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: If we don't have demands on it, no one asks for them, we don't have no requisitions for them, we determine if there's an ongoing need to keep them.

BOUDREAU: And for the first time, the FEMA assistant administrator responsible for handling supplies agreed to go on camera with CNN.

Did FEMA let the victims of Katrina down in this particular case?

SMITH: No.

BOUDREAU: That is shocking for people. That is shocking for people to hear that, that FEMA is not acknowledging that you guys made mistakes in this case. You're saying you did not let the people of this hurricane down?

SMITH: You asked me if I let them down versus making mistakes. Did we make a mistake? Yes, we all make mistake. We acknowledge that. Can we do better, yes? But did we let them down, no.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOUDREAU: We also just learned a week before all the supplies were made available the Louisiana recovery authority had sent a letter to FEMA asking for millions of dollars to help Katrina victims move out of their trailers and into permanent housing. Remember, at this point they were asking for money because they didn't know all those supplies existed. Today Senator Landrieu addressed that letter at the hearing and said she wants to know why top FEMA officials never responded.

BLITZER: Abbie, I know you're staying on top of this story for us. Thanks very much for that report. Good update.

It may not necessarily go well -- go down well with some Cuban Americans, but John McCain's wife may soon be linked to a beverage company which dots business in Havana.

And superheroes to some fans. The presidential candidates will soon be getting their own comic books. But they won't be wearing capes or tights. We'll show you the pictures.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senators Barack Obama and John McCain will soon be getting their own comic books. It's not necessarily just child's play. CNN's Kareen Wynter has the story -- Kareen?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you're about to see John McCain and Barack Obama in a different light. Larger than life political figures giving new meaning to the term presidential material.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER: They've been everywhere this election year, from the campaign trails to late night couches. Now the cover of comic books? That's right. Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, John McCain, gracing the pages of graphic novels.

SCOTT DUNBIER, IDW PUBLISHING: It started as a joke.

WYNTER: But Scott Dunbier of IDW Publishing said talk turned serious when his company considered using this unique medium to go beyond the headlines to entertain and educate the public.

DUNBIER: We're trying to give a look into the lives of these two men and how events in their lives shaped them.

WYNTER: The comic biography's 28 pages of colorful text and art reportedly trace McCain and Obama's political and personal life. This is a comic book. Are people going to take this story seriously?

JEFF MARIOTTE, COMIC BOOK WRITER: I think they should.

WYNTER: Novelist Jeff Mariotte who wrote Obama's story describes the comic as film on paper.

MARIOTTE: We go back to his very early days. The son of an African man and a white Kansan woman in Hawaii.

WYNTER: The speech from 2004, word for word.

OBAMA: I stand there knowing my story is part of the larger American story.

WYNTER: John McCain's story was told through writer Andrew Helfer's pen, covering the senator's lengthy congressional career.

MCCAIN: I believe the amendment is wrong.

WYNTER: Back to his early naval days, including McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

ANDREW HELFER, COMIC BOOK WRITER: It's a kind of life that lends itself to graphic interpretation. Being a prisoner of war is a horrible experience, no doubt. But at the same time, it does make for good pictures.

WYNTER: The comic writers didn't want to just script colorful art; they say they did extensive research. Neither has decided which way to vote but hope it will energize younger voters.

PROF. STEVE ROSS, U.S.C.: If you put it in a form that looks like fun and doesn't look like fun to read this, kids will read this. Along the way, they'll get turned on by what they read and or at the very least they go to vote in November.

WYNTER: A pair of presidential hopefuls cast as superheroes, making their mark not just on politics but pop culture.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER: The comic books come out October 8th just in time for the election -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Kareen, thanks. I think I'm going to read those comic books myself.

Let's check back with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Good thing this isn't a four-hour show. Know what I mean?

BLITZER: All the news you need.

CAFFERTY: Yes and then some.

The question this hour is: In light of its many accomplishments, does Congress deserve a five-week long vacation? Whether they deserve it or not, they're going on one starting tonight or tomorrow.

Stacey in Virginia says: "Congress does deserve a month off but they ought to not go on vacation. They should have to meet with their constituents every day to hear how congressional failings are putting the working people of this country in jeopardy. Then they might be motivated to come back and do something."

David in Virginia says: "Heck, no, Jack. We have an energy crisis, economic crisis, social security and health care. That's just the stuff their constipation hasn't allowed them to fix in 30 years. They vilified the Iraqi legislature for taking a few weeks ago."

P.J. in Seattle says: "If all Americans would do as I have done, the government would be listening to us by now. If incumbent follows the name, do not vote for them. If a candidate has no political background, is a house wife, accountant or anything but a lawyer, vote for them. There would be no more lifelong senators, congressman, et cetera. They wouldn't dare take weeks off and refuse to allow bills to come to a vote."

Taylor writes: "Politics at an all-time low. Whatever depths their approval ratings are currently, it's more than they deserve. I wonder how many plane tickets and gallons of high octane gas they'll use to fill their luxury vehicles as they trot off to an unearned vacation. Where is the will of the people in this decision? The leaders will rue the day."

Tommy in St. Louis: "Must be nice. Meanwhile, I have to do double shifts so my wife and I can get by."

John in Connecticut writes: "Think of it for a minute. Where can they do the least damage, in Washington or on vacation?"

If you didn't see your email, go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Mr. Blitzer?

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Cafferty.

They're the companies Americans seem to love to hate. Record profits for an oil giant. Can they do anything about gas prices?

And a CNN exclusive, John McCain talks about charges that Barack Obama is using race to his advantage.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We seem to be learning more each day about the salmonella outbreak now linked to irrigation water in Mexico.

Lou, you have been all over the story from the beginning. Are there new developments happening as we speak?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: There are new developments. Barn Stupak, a congressman who has been leading the charge, his colleagues, they're holding the FDA accountable. This FDA would be a menace to society without them. As many as 30 to 40,000 Americans have been sickened in this salmonella outbreak. This FDA still doesn't know what is going on. It is an embarrassment, outrage, and the American people -- I have to say have got to be delighted that a lame duck president, whose administration has stood for this sort of indifference for the welfare of the American consumer is leaving town.

BLITZER: Are you at all optimistic we're learning lessons from this that will be applied in the future?

DOBBS: I think so. I hope so. One of the first lessons is as an American consumer, irrespective of what is going on in Washington, D.C., you're on your own. This federal government isn't your friend.

BLITZER: We'll have a lot more coming on in an hour. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: Thank you.