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Iranian President Unleashes Israel Rant; Troops Storm Hijacked Plane; Fire Department Case, Nationwide Impact; Twenty-One Polo Horses Die Suddenly

Aired April 20, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, a hijacking drama -- almost 200 people on board this plane gunman for eight hours before the ordeal comes to a dramatic, dramatic end.

And a horrifying spectacle -- almost two dozen polo ponies suffering agonizing deaths all within hours of each other. Now, the effort to solve the mystery -- were they deliberately killed?

And, if so, by whom?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Israel has begun its observance of Holocaust Remembrance Week. And on this -- it's a solemn occasion in Israel -- there's diplomatic outrage at the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In an unusual move, he personally addressed the United Nations conference in Geneva on racism and used the occasion to unleash an anti-Israel rant. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Ahmadinejad a Holocaust denier. And the prime minister is vowing he will not allow such people to "carry out another Holocaust."

These developments and more complicating President Obama's effort to try to improve U.S. relations with Iran.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now from the State Department with more on what's going on.

And a lot is going on right now -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And, you know, the Iranian-U.S. relationship really almost seems schizophrenic at this point.

First, you have small steps toward the beginning of the dialogue and then all of a sudden ranting comments and a U.S. journalist condemned to prison.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A U.N. Conference on racism turns into a circus, as protesters in clown hats hurl taunts at the Iranian president.


DOUGHERTY: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls Israel "the most cruel and racist regime." That draws some cheers, but sparked a mass walkout by European delegates.

The U.S. had boycotted the conference. The White House said President Obama disagreed vehemently with Ahmadinejad's comments.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, it's hateful rhetoric.

DOUGHERTY: But its immediate concern is the fate of Iranian- American journalist Roxana Saberi.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: She should be freed immediately, that the charges against her are baseless.

DOUGHERTY: Saberi was sentenced to eight years in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison on charges of espionage.

HALEH ESFANDIARI, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: Ever since she was arrested, I've been thinking a lot about her.

DOUGHERTY: Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari spent 105 days in solitary confinement in that same prison. Her interrogation still fresh in her mind.

ESFANDIARI: They were sometimes threatening, intimidating, sure. You know, you knew that your life was in their hands and you didn't have much say on what was going to happen to you.

DOUGHERTY: After visiting his daughter in prison, Saberi's father says she seems healthy. There's no way, he says, she's a spy.

REZA SABERI, FATHER OF ROXANA SABERI: See, I hope they will heed that letter and they will pay close attention to all the evidence in the file and judge justly and fairly. And also, they should be compassionate.


DOUGHERTY: Now, President Ahmadinejad has told Iran's chief prosecutor that Saberi should be allowed to defend herself fully.

But Iran's policy on the United States right now is being driven by several competing factions. And no one here at the State Department is predicting exactly how all of this will affect the overall relationship -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jill.

Thanks very much.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, David Gergen -- David, the Obama administration, from the president on down, has made several gestures reaching out to Iran and the Iranian people. And in return, it looks like, what, the Iranians have stepped up their nuclear enrichment program. They've now arrested this Iranian-American journalist. And today, Ahmadinejad delivers this anti-Israel rant in Geneva, Switzerland.

Is this the way he should be responding to a new American president?


There are days when he is reasonable and reaches out and it sounds like he might be open to constructive conversations and then he writes letters that have a constructive tone to them. And then there are these other days when he throws a hand grenade into the middle of things, as he did today, and makes it hugely difficult for the United States, or anybody else, to negotiate with him, because, you know, it's just so -- it's so hateful and so repulsive, you know, this kind of speech they're giving at an international forum.

I think from President Obama's point of view right now -- you started by saying it complicates it. It sure does. I think that this is a moment when he can rally other nations in Europe and elsewhere -- look, if we can't work with this guy, if we can't find a way to safety on this nuclear issue, we really do have to have a tight sanctions regime. This is a time to be talking more seriously about what the sanctions might look like, even as Hillary Clinton was saying it's also time to go to the -- to have the Iranians give back the American journalist and -- and give us some -- if you really want to be constructive, then give us some reason to start working with you.

But right now, this makes an extraordinarily high barrier, because, you know, for the president's own politics here at home, as you know so well, for him to reach out again to Ahmadinejad would be impossible.

BLITZER: Yes, because, you know, he'll get -- he'll get severely criticized.


BLITZER: Then one school of thought says that the Iranians arrested this young woman -- she's only 31 years old, from Fargo, North Dakota, an Iranian-American journalist -- they arrested her and then they convicted her. Now they're holding her in this prison. In order -- in order to make a gesture down the road and release her and sort of suggest you know what, this is a positive development.

Do you buy that -- that scenario?

GERGEN: I think there's a very fair chance she's being used as a political pawn. We used to see this with the Soviet Union, though. You know, quite a few times this is what happened. They'd arrest somebody and they would become a -- you know, a pawn and there'd be a lot of trading back and forth.

Given the speech, it seems to me it puts enormous pressure on the Iranians to give that woman back quickly and not play this out, because there's a growing sense in this country that they're diddling us. You know, that they -- they're asking for, you know, the president to be -- you know, to be warm, be constructive, to hold back, to not too push too hard on the sanctions in order to negotiate, even as they continue to enrich their uranium.

So I think it's now, having dropped this bomb today or dropped this hand grenade today into the middle of diplomacy, it's really imperative that the Iranians make a constructive move quickly.

BLITZER: Otherwise it's going to be really hard for the president of the United States to continue reaching out...

GERGEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ...sending videos and reversing policy decisions from the Bush administration on the U.S. direct involvement in nuclear- relationed negotiations, all these other gestures that he's been making if he doesn't at least get something tangible in response.

GERGEN: Absolutely. And this, of course, complicates the relationship with Israel, as well, because, you know, a number of people have -- in the Obama administration have been saying for Israel, it's an existential issue if Iran gets nuclear weapons. They could -- they can -- and Netanyahu was saying this today. In effect, what the Israelis are saying that Ahmadinejad, if he gets a nuclear weapon, could do in eight minutes what it took Hitler did in -- took eight years to do, in terms of wiping out Jews.

And that makes it very imperative that, again, with the Israelis having to look at this and knowing that a nuclear weaponry capacity in Iran is not that far away -- a couple of years at most; some people think shorter, it even more imperative.

This, I think, elevates Iran on the Obama agenda.

BLITZER: David, thanks for coming in.

GERGEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is joining us now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I love David Gergen's characterization that Iran is diddling us.


CAFFERTY: I think that captures it.

BLITZER: I think it does. He could have used another word, too.

CAFFERTY: I understand that. But David is a very sophisticated gentlemen and he wouldn't do such a thing. Nor would you or I.

BLITZER: No. CAFFERTY: It was ir -- it was irresponsible for Barack Obama to be seen: "laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez."

So says Republican John Ensign. The Nevada lawmaker describes Chavez as a brutal dictator who violates human rights and is one of the most anti-American leaders in the world. Chavez once called President George Bush "the devil" and last month dismissed President Obama as "an ignoramus."

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar defends the president, saying that all he did was shake hands, like President Bush did, and that Mr. Obama is reaching out effectively to a wide range of countries.

At the Summit of the Americas, President Obama and Chavez were photographed smiling and shaking hands. The Venezuelan president also gave President Obama a book that talks about imperialism in the region.

President Obama says it its unlikely that shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Chavez: "we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States." Our president says we have nothing to fear from Venezuela, whose defense budget is probably one six hundredth that of the United States.

And he went further. He suggested that the presidential campaign proved that Americans want the president to engage with other world leaders, whether they're friends or enemies. He says Americans don't view a willingness to talk to other countries as a weakness.

Meanwhile, Chavez now seems open to re-evaluating his nation's ties with us. He's considering appointing an ambassador in Washington. Both the U.S. and Venezuela kicked each other's ambassadors out last year.

Here's the question: One GOP senator calls President Obama's appearance with Hugo Chavez "irresponsible."

Do you agree with that?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I wish Chavez would have given President Obama your book -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, that would have been nice.

BLITZER: Yes. That would have skyrocketed it to number two on

CAFFERTY: It would have helped it, I'll guarantee you that.


Jack, thank you.

A dramatic end to an eight hour hijacking ordeal. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRI BELLE, WITNESS: And I could see flashing lights and it -- zoom, zoom, zoom. But I -- it was like watching "Bad Boys 2."


BLITZER: And now we're learning new details about the accused hijacker, how he got on board with a gun and the military mission that took him down.

Also, this man's case is now heading to the Supreme Court and it could directly impact your work, your education and more -- why he and his fellow firefighters say they were victims of discrimination.

And a rock star rocks an exclusive celebrity enclave with his plans. U2's The Edge -- what is he up to that has some Malibu residents so upset?


BLITZER: There was a dramatic end to a plane hijacking in Jamaica earlier today. We asked Deborah Feyerick to tell us what happened and how it all played out -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you that Jamaican police are right now scanning surveillance tapes, trying to figure out how the gunman managed to get past security and get on board Canada Flight 918, threatening more than 170 people.


FEYERICK (voice-over): The gunman boarded the Canadian charter plane not long after it touched down at the international apartment in Montego Bay around 10:00 Saturday night, after a flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Passengers telling Canadian CBC reporter Keith Boag what they saw.

KEITH BOAG, CBC CORRESPONDENT: Suddenly, someone was on the plane with a gun and seemed very, very upset and high strung and was talking about getting out of the country. And he roamed up and down the aisle. At one point, he was so frustrated, he fired a gun in the air.

FEYERICK: The plane was scheduled to continue on to Cuba.

BOAG: He came along asking for money and they just gave him everything they could find. And then, when it seemed that he got what he -- what he needed, the passen -- he said the passengers could leave. The flight attendants came down the aisle just yelling at people to get up and go, leave everything behind -- don't try to take any luggage, just get out of the plane.

FEYERICK: Six crew members stayed on the plane -- two of them barricading themselves inside the cockpit. Meantime, Jamaican officials identified the man as Stephen Fray. His sister, who works at the airport, and his mom and dad, tried to help authorities. But after eight hours, negotiations broke down. Jamaican military anti- terror troops stormed the plane.

BELLE: And all I could see is flashing lights and zoom, zoom, zoom. But I -- it was like watching "Bad Boys 2." When they all -- when the military came, the cops came. But the military, I've never seen nothing like that before.

DARYL VAZ, JAMAICAN INFORMATION MINISTER: The military was able to capture the gunman without anybody being harmed.

FEYERICK: Jamaican police are now trying to figure out how the gunman, described by authorities as mentally unstable, got past security and whether he may have jumped a perimeter fence.

KENT WOODSIDE, VICE PRESIDENT, CANJET AIRLINES: The front line security rests with the airport or the airport authority. Many steps of security before he would have reached the aircraft. So, obviously, that's the -- that's the part of the investigation that we're going to be participating with the Jamaican authorities as to how this was allowed to happen.


FEYERICK: Now, the airline tells us the gunman was not on the passenger list on any portion of that CanJet flight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It was a scary few hours, indeed.

All right. Thanks very much, Deb Feyerick.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear firefighters -- firefighters' request for a case involving reverse discrimination. It's a lawsuit. There are huge implications for the entire country.

We asked Mary Snow to take a closer look into this -- this case.

What's going on -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On one side of the argument, firefighter who say they're victims of discrimination. On the other, an employer arguing that tests used to promote firefighters have a disparate impact on minorities.


SNOW (voice-over): They've become known as the New Haven 20. Nineteen of these Connecticut firefighters are white. One is Latino. They say they were denied promotions because of their race. And their lawsuit against the city will now be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear the case Wednesday.


FRANK RICCI, LEAD PLAINTIFF, NEW HAVEN FIREFIGHTER: We undertake -- took this action for firefighters across the country and for public safety.


SNOW: Frank Ritchie and others took a promotional exam in 2003. When the results came back, the City of New Haven disqualified them because none of the black firefighters would have been promoted.

The city's attorney says the tests were flawed.

VICTOR BOLDEN, ATTORNEY, CITY OF NEW HAVEN: When you have a test that suggests a severe racial impact, as this one did, it suggests that perhaps everyone didn't have an equal opportunity to succeed in the exam.

SNOW: But the attorney for the New Haven 20 firefighters says the city's move violates the Constitution.

KAREN TORRE, ATTORNEY FOR FIREFIGHTERS: The government is not supposed to tell any citizen that he or she is either going to get something or be deprived of something because of the color of his skin or his ethnicity or gender or any other irrelevant factor.

SNOW: Gary Tinney, a lieutenant for New Haven's fire department, says he never got his exam results, but he wants to see promotions based on skills beyond written tests, such as...

GARY TINNEY, NEW HAVEN FIREFIGHTER: Job performance, community service, being able to interact with a diverse community.

SNOW: And the high court's decision will stretch far beyond New Haven.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This is a hugely significant case because it begins to answer the question of whether race will be allowed to be used at all by government, in affirmative action, in employment, in education, in admissions, anywhere at all.


SNOW: And, Wolf, Wednesday's dispute is just one of several dealing with civil rights issues going before the high court. Among some of the other cases being argued, one dealing with voting rights and another addressing education for non-English speaking students -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary.

Thanks very much.

As Mary says, huge implications for the country.

President Obama orders his administration to cut spending by $100 million.

A sizable sum -- or is it?

What critics are saying and the president's response.

Plus, almost two dozen horses suddenly dead and no one knows why -- a mystery unfolding right now on a South Florida polo field.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a charred starburst on the ground marks the spot where a suicide bomber dressed in an Iraq Army uniform attacked a U.S. military delegation. It happened today as the group was visiting the mayor of Baquba -- a city ravaged by violence. Now, the blast killed three Iraqis and wounded eight American soldiers. According to the U.S. military, several Iraqi civilians were hurt, as well. Police say the bomber's uniform was a disguise.

Well, a play that tells the story of survival during an African civil war is now a Pulitzer Prize winning drama. "Ruined" by Lynn Nottage is among the Pulitzer Prizes announced today. Elizabeth Strout's "Olive Kitteridge" won for fiction. Andrew Meacham also won for his biography, "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House." "The New York Times" walked away with five Pulitzers in journalism.

And listen to this -- digging through history and a whole lot of dirt. After years of searching, an archaeologist and her team are starting an excavation in Egypt hoping to unearth Cleopatra's tomb and clear her name. The archeologist says the ancient queen spoke nine languages, was a poet, a politician and a warrior. Cleopatra and her lover, Mark Antony, committed suicide and were entombed more than 2,000 years ago. It will be interesting to see if they, indeed, were buried together, as some research shows -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we'll find out, presumably, if those archeologists get their way. NGUYEN: Yes.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Betty, very much.

A bizarre and sudden tragedy in Florida -- scientists are trying to figure out what killed 21 horses at a polo club yesterday.

CNN's John Zarrella is joining us now from Miami with more -- John, all right, this was a really shocking mystery that's going on.

What do we know?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And we really don't know much at this point. Right now, the State of Florida has launched an investigation looking into the deaths of the 21 polo ponies. Necropsies are being performed by state veterinarians. But we probably won't get toxicology results until Friday.

Right now, veterinarians we spoke to seem to believe some sort of toxin got into their bloodstreams. Now, it was only confined to Lechuza Caracas. That's one team out of Venezuela, their horses. And these horses began to show signs of dizziness and distress as they were being offloaded before a match at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach yesterday at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Two of them died pretty quickly, five others died on the scene and several others -- another 14 died during the course of the next several hours.

It was a scene witnessed by hundreds of people there at the polo grounds, but one that no one in the polo world had ever seen before.


JOHN WALSH, INTERNATIONAL POLO CLUB, PALM BEACH: These horses get such great care. They're well taken care of. And I think in polo history, there hasn't been an event of this magnitude. So this is a really sad time -- a sad day for polo right now.


ZARRELLA: Now, it appears that it's isolated just to that group of horses, Wolf. None of the other polo teams' horses are experiencing any kind of illnesses at this time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. John, thanks very much.

When you get more, let us know.

When a new law passed, it sparked international outrage. Critics argue it gives men in Afghanistan permission to actually rape their wives. And now we're hearing the other side -- why supporters claim it actually benefits women.

Plus, a man released from Guantanamo Bay, now one of Afghanistan's most wanted. U.S. troops are trying to track him down and to do so quickly.

Plus, the popular band U2 is known for pushing the world to live greener. But ahead, why neighbors of the guitarist known as The Edge say he's about to commit an environmental sin.


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

Happening now, a big fall on Wall Street. The Dow dropped nearly 290 points today. Analysts say investors are deeply worried by reports that banks increased the money they set aside to cover losses.

Pirates captured then let go on purpose -- the loophole President Obama's team is now trying to fix.

And defending the release of top secret documents detailing CIA interrogations and tactics -- President Obama in his own words about why he did it.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


President Obama is ordering his cabinet to trim $100 million in spending. Some critics are saying they are not impressed.

Let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano.

She has more -- Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama has taken some heat for his spending plan. And today, he said he gets it -- he knows Americans are concerned about deficit spending. And he made it a point to address that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The tax day tea party.

QUIJANO (voice-over): With images still fresh of protesters seething over his government spending plans -- plans that would mean trillion dollar deficits -- President Obama acknowledged the political pressure.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also have a deficit -- a confidence gap when it comes to the American people. And we've got to earn their trust. They have got to feel confident that their dollars are being spent wisely.

QUIJANO: So in his first official cabinet meeting, President Obama set a 90-day deadline for trimming the fat in agencies' budgets, by a combined $100 million, a figure even the president admitted is just a drop in the bucket.

OBAMA: None of these things alone are going to make a difference, but cumulatively they make an e extraordinary difference.

QUIJANO: The Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell welcomes the savings but says $100 million is minuscule compared to next year's $4 trillion budget.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: That $100 million is about the average we'll spend every single day, just covering the interest on the stimulus package that we passed earlier this year.


QUIJANO: But President Obama says the budget cuts are just beginning as his administration looks at doing away with government inefficiencies, one example he cited, the homeland security estimating it can save $52 million in five years by buying office supplies in bulk -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Elaine, thanks very much.

Here's another perspective on the president's mandatory spending cuts. Taking $100 million from a $3.67 trillion budget, that's nearly $4 trillion is actually the equivalent of taking a car that sells for $36,700 and cutting the price by just $1 in terms of perspective.

Let's get some more perspective from our Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile and our Republican strategist Rich Galen. $100 million certainly sounds like a lot of money and it is a lot of money but compared to nearly $4 trillion for an annual budget, it's a tiny, tiny drop.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The president made it very clear that this is the first step in a very long and deep process. First they will find the immediate savings and then they will start going line by line, but I suggest that do other stuff. Congress will soon take up the appropriations bill in all of the various committees and they should also go line by line in the process to see if we can find other inefficiencies.

BLITZER: Because all of us know there's a lot of waste on these huge government budgets.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If you make $100,000 which is about what a quarter of what you make, $100,000 a year, it's four zeros and a three. For your $100,000 to be like my wife saying you need to save $3, which is one Starbucks.

BLITZER: The president is saying it's symbolic, let's start finding some of that waste and then get to the bottom of it.

GALEN: I'll give you symbolic, how about taking away the car and driver, for the big cabinet officers from every agency says in this town that has a car and a driver. It's the same thing that we hl pulverize the CEOs of GM and Ford for. These guys have aides and drivers.

BLITZER: The cabinet members or lesser officials?

GALEN: Lesser officials.

BRAZILE: We didn't get here overnight, as you know, we got here after years and years of unchecked spending. Congress has turned a blind eye to this kind of spending so I think the president's on the right track in telling the agencies, it's time to trim the fat.

GALEN: The president said that the Republicans left him with this deficit. That was just a lie. The Congress of the United States has been in control of the Democrats since 2007. The last two budgets were Democrat budgets. That wasn't Republicans, our guys didn't have a vote.

BRAZILE: Rich you and I both know that when Bill Clinton and Al Gore left office, they left $291 billion in surplus and a foreseeable 5.6 trillion. And I wish I did make $100,000 every quarter. BLITZER: But the point is when Bush took office eight years ago, the national debt was about $5 trillion. When he left office after eight years in the white house, it was approaching $11 trillion.

GALEN: We have a war that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

BRAZILE: And we had those pesky 2001/2003 tax cut which cost us $1.4 trillion which we could not afford.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about Rudy Giuliani because in an interview in the New York Post he was responding to the governor of New York, David Patterson, who wants legislation that would allow gays to get married in New York State. Giuliani is saying this. "This will create a grass roots movement. This is the kind of issue that in many ways is somewhat beyond politics, I think gay marriage will obviously be an issue for any Republican next year because Republicans are either in favor of the position, I'm in favor of civil unions or in many cases Republicans don't even favor civil unions." This is from the former mayor who's very supportive of gay rights when he was mayor of New York City and participated in gay rights parades and other activities as well as you remember.

GALEN: One of the things that we forget about is how far we have come and how relatively quickly we have come here. It wasn't until 1967 that the Supreme Court in loving versus Virginia knocked down making interracial marriage illegal which at that time was illegal in 15 states. It wasn't enforced very much but it was still illegal. The world is clearly moving in a different direction. Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor has to run for a primary in New York and I think he's trying to stake out a position.

BLITZER: We all assume and you watch politics very, very closely that Giuliani is going to try to get the Republican gubernatorial nomination and then challenger either David Patterson if he gets the Democratic nomination or David Cuomo if he gets the Democratic nomination.

BRAZILE: It looks like he's preparing for a run for governor. And that's fine, but he's out of step with most Republicans, 53 percent of New Yorkers support gay marriages. And also, Wolf, as you know, Massachusetts, Vermont, also allow gay marriages and individuals who marry in those states can now -- you can go to New York now and those marriages are allowed so. I don't know what the problem is that he's flip-flopping again. He's flip-flopping on the wrong side.

GALEN: I think that's right. I think that this is something you had in an earlier segment. You need to get the politics out of it. Some people are going to be for it and some are going to be against it. It does not make you a good or a bad Democrat or Republican.

BLITZER: He's been consistent on that.

BRAZILE: When he ran for president, he backed away from it.

BLITZER: From civil unions. BRAZILE: Yes.

BLITZER: I don't know, but we'll check. Thanks very much.

Tomorrow both chambers of Congress will be back in session, the Senate returned from break today t house returning tomorrow. What's the most important issue you want to see Congress tackle in the weeks ahead? Submit your video questions to room and we'll get some of them on the air tomorrow.

It's a law believed to support spousal rape and it's drawing international condemnation. Now we're about to meet the man who wrote who says it's a misunderstanding of sorts.

Plus NATO forces capturing pirates and setting them free. It's a legal loophole and now secretary of state Hillary Clinton wants it filled.


BLITZER: An update now on a story that has sparked international outrage. A new law in Afghanistan that critics say gives men permission to actually rape their wives. Now we're hearing from a supporter of that law and one man that says that law actually benefits women. CNN's Atia Abawi is following developments.

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Shiia state law is still being reviewed by the ministry of justice in Afghanistan, a law that critics say strip women of basic human rights. We spoke to the man behind the formation of the law.


SHEIKH MOHAMMED ASIF MOHSENI (through translator): We have given rights to both men and women, even better rights than what is given to women in the west. We give women more in this law.

ABAWI: But Mohseni, a father of five daughters says that it dictates that a man can withhold food from his wife if she refuses to sleep with him and that if the husband desires, the wife must dress up and wear makeup for him.

MOHSENI (through translator): This prevents a man from thinking about other women on the street and just think about his wife. This benefits women.

ABAWI: A group of university students say the law is just and they wouldn't have it any other way. She just said that this isn't something new, that this has been in the culture that a girl wouldn't leave the house without asking her father first, a girl wouldn't leave the house without talking to her husband first. This isn't anything new, this is just part of the culture and now part of the law.

But there are many more women who are against the law.

DR. SIMA SAMAR, AIHRC: I feel discriminated against, clear cut. I don't feel equal in this country.

ABAWI: After an international outcry, the minister of justice is reviewing the law. The outcome will determine what the future holds for Afghanistan.

In an interview with CNN yesterday, President Hamid Karzai said that he had no idea these articles were in the law when he signed it. But when we spoke to the head of the human rights commission, she said that she had been taking these articles to President Karzai for the past year hoping that he would amend them and she was shocked when she found out that he signed it into law. Wolf?

BLITZER: Atia, thanks very much.

In the weeks ahead, thousands more U.S. troops will be headed to Afghanistan and into a rather volatile situation, one where U.S. military leaders say sneak attacks are in norm and insurgents are getting well organized. Our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr got a look at who and what is waiting for American forces.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: 39,000 U.S. troops are now here in Afghanistan. We asked four key senior U.S. officers on the ground to tell us how tough the fight is for those on the front line.

Are there places where the Taliban are now in control?

BRIG. GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, U.S. ARMY: Uh-huh, there are some areas because we don't have -- we haven't had to date sufficient forces on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It remains stalemated in the south.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Insurgency has grown dramatically in the last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will likely see casualties rise over what they have been.

STARR: In the weeks ahead, 8,000 more marines alone will come here. The Taliban are setting up their welcome party. One man in particular U.S. troops are looking for goes by the battlefield name Zakir. He was released from Guantanamo Bay. U.S. troops think he's now operating in southern Afghanistan.

We asked the top U.S. commander if Zakir, released from the military prison camp two years ago, is now a serious threat?

GEN. DAVID MCKEIRNAN, ISAF COMMANDER: Absolutely. And we are seriously after him.

STARR: Here's what the U.S. troops are now up against in the south. Insurgents are launching increasingly sophisticated ambush attacks. Roadside bombs are the number one killer. Mine detectors haven't been working as well as expected. Conway is concerned whether there will be enough helicopters to evacuate wounded marines quickly off the battlefield.


BLITZER: Barbara Starr is now back from Afghanistan. She's here THE SITUATION ROOM. what else did you learn while you were actually there on the ground.

STARR: Well, Wolf, what commanders are now saying is they are concerned not just about the south, but of course in the east where they believe there is new intelligence that Mula Omar, you remember him, back front and center coordinating with other leaders in the insurgency and planning new attacks.

BLITZER: Mula Omar, the former leader of the Taliban, we have seen one picture of him with sort of an eye patch. Is that the guy.

STARR: That is the guy and even more disturbing, they think he is coordinating with the man said to be responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

BLITZER: Is it true that these guys, the Taliban and al Qaeda, they just go across that border between Afghanistan and Pakistan into the so-called tribal areas at will?

STARR: That area remains very much out of control and that southern border with Pakistan, there are no U.S. troops down there, very few coalition troops and a lot of concern that insurgents are now freely moving across, though, that southern border as well.

BLITZER: The U.S. could really use some help from the NATO allies in Europe, but so far, they're saying never mind. I know that's pretty frustrating for the U.S. military forces out there, Barbara, glad you're back safe and sound, thanks very much.

A predator who's using a popular website to find his victims. Police say they think the so called Craigslist killer has already struck three times, but ahead, the big clue that may just crack the case.

And a rocker who's in one of the most famous bands in the world, U-2. What the Edge, as he's called is doing in California that has some neighbors really angry.

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


BLITZER: Let's head over to Jack and "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour: One Republican senator called President Obama's appearance with Hugo Chavez irresponsible. Do you agree? Lane writes: "Never irresponsible to forge ahead, make your friends trust you and your enemies listen to you. Olive branches are cheaper than warships."

Rob writes: "Irresponsible doesn't even start to describe President Obama's with this thug. Our current administration will give away our country. Wake up Americans."

Audrey writes: "It's no different than going into your office every day knowing you hate your boss but you smile, shake hands, kiss but, you get the idea. President Obama is showing that he is the bigger person and is not lowering himself to Chavez's level. Chavez is an idiot."

Pete in New York writes: "Politeness is one thing, a love fest is another. Remember this guy is trying to crush democracy in Venezuela. Opponents are hiding in fear of their lives and Obama is acting like he is just another guy he met at a barbeque."

Tony writes: "Obama shook Chavez's hand, smiled with him and accepted a book from him. And guess what? It worked almost immediately to improve relations. Chavez walked over to Secretary Clinton and told her that he's ready to restore diplomatic relations. Irresponsible, ha. Pure genius."

Mike in Denver writes: "I believe the correct term is common courtesy. You do not have to like someone to be polite and shake hands. This is a lesson many forget to teach their children."

And Clare writes: "No, distasteful to some including myself, but necessary. We can't continue giving the finger to everyone we disagree with."

If you didn't see your e-mail: you can go to my blog,, look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

President Obama defending his decision to release those so-called torture memos from the Bush administration, and he's doing it inside the very agency at the heart of the controversy. What he said today, what he did today over at CIA headquarters.

Plus, chaos erupts at a United Nations conference on racism as the Iranian president goes on an anti-Israel rant. There's new fallout right now. We're following all the latest developments.


BLITZER: Just getting this in from the Associated Press. Boston police saying they now have a man in custody in connection with the death last week in a luxury hotel of a woman who advertised massage services on Craigslist. The suspect apparently under arrest right now. More information coming in. We will share it with you as soon as we get it. Looks like they have made an arrest, this according to the Associated Press in a report coming in from Boston.

One of Malibu's celebrity residents is making waves in that exclusive seaside enclave with his building plans. That would be U- 2's the Edge. Ted Rowlands has details -- Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Take a look at this. This is arguably one of the most beautiful areas of the country. You have the Pacific Ocean here and gorgeous mountain areas here above the city of Malibu. This is where David Evans, the guitarist for U-2, wants to build five homes, right along this ridgeline here. He says these homes are going to be environmentally friendly. Residents here disagree and say this project is an environmental disaster.


ROWLANDS: Known as the Edge, David Evans has earned a fortune as the lead guitarists of U-2. While he may have the money to build five homes on this scenic ridge above Malibu, he doesn't have the support of some people already living here. There are concerns about large trucks on this narrow road and the threat of slides. Some would be neighbors believe the rock star's plan is hypocritical for someone who claims to be an environmentalist.

JIM SMITH, MALIBU RESIDENT: This is his own backyard he's talking about doing this in, which is totally confusing.

ROWLANDS: Jim Smith will be Evans' closest neighbor if the project goes through. He is the project's harshest critic. He says this isn't a case of not in my backyard. He says he's upset with the fact that Evans is building five homes.

SMITH: I think the best case scenario would be if he would build his house and then do what he says he is, be an environmentalist, take the rest of the land he owns up there and protect it.

ROWLANDS: Evans, who already lives in Malibu, purchased this 130 acre parcel in 2006 and plans to live in one of the homes with his family. His real estate partner plans to buy the other. The rest will be sold. Evans released this statement to CNN, saying, "My family and I love Malibu, having maintained a residence there for more than a decade. These homes will be some of the most environmentally sensitive ever designed in Malibu or anywhere in the world. I'm disappointed that certain critics either don't have the facts or have ulterior motives."


ROWLANDS: For Evans to get these homes built, he has to get through the California coastal commission. They plan to take a look at the plans coming up at a hearing in June -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Ted, thanks very much.

They're a fixture in parks and streets, sometimes annoying, but there is one thing we usually don't associate with pigeons. Criminal activity. Tim Lister shows how the birds are being used for smuggling.


TIM LISTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Detained on a smuggling charge, name unknown, hidden in its pigeon-sized suitcase, parts for a cell phone. Its mission, to get the parts to someone on the inside of the jail in central Colombia. Authorities at the prison say the feathered felon was brought in for questioning after heavy rains forced it into an emergency landing. Trouble is, the area around the prison is home to thousands of pigeons. Any one of them could be in training to be the next smuggler. As for this one, it was dispatched to an animal shelter. But just what can a small bird carry? A swallow carrying a coconut? Carrier pigeons were widely used in the First World War to carry information about troop positions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just what they're looking for, a pigeon with that something extra.

LISTER: Disney even made a movie about a carrier pigeon during the royal air force pigeon service which really existed. But in modern times, it's clear that pigeons have turned to crime. Just two weeks ago, a pigeon was detained at a prison in Brazil as it dragged a cell phone charger across the exercise yard. Apparently bred inside the prison, the pigeon was smuggled out, then just flew home. Brazilian prison gangs often use smuggled cell phones to organize criminal endeavors beyond the walls. Now they seem to have an accomplice.

Tim Lister, CNN, Atlanta.


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

Happening now, President Obama defending the release of one top secret memos about alleged torture. He's being accused of compromising national security and emboldening terrorists.

Iran's president rants about racism and dozens of diplomats storm out. The controversy at a conference the United States is refusing to attend.

A handshake backlash. Some Republicans are blasting the president's close encounters with the Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, calling them irresponsible. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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