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President: Block Detainee Photo Release; More At Risk of Losing Their Homes; Risky Repair Job in Space; President Caught in Abortion Uproar

Aired May 13, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president wants to block the release of hundreds of photos allegedly showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'll speak about that and more with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has a long history as a military lawyer.

It's the size of a school bus -- astronauts snag the Hubble telescope, reeling it into the shuttle Atlantis -- just the start of a very risky repair mission in space.

And boycotts and controversy -- something many college commencement speakers have come to expect -- what awaits President Obama at some well-known universities.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Five years after photos from a notorious prison in Iraq sparked anti-American outrage, President Obama is moving to block the release of hundreds of other pictures said to show mistreatment of prisoners in the war zones.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.


We've been watching this story and it's got some significant ramifications.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, Wolf. The president is now accused of breaking his promise of transparency. But Mr. Obama says the security of U.S. troops is paramount.

Now, we all know how controversial these images of Abu Ghraib were just a few years ago. And the White House now trying to avoid another such nightmare.


TODD (voice-over): The fallout resonates -- images of contorted, humiliated detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison ignited violent protests throughout the Middle East.

Now, President Obama, in a complete reversal, plans to fight the release of many additional photos allegedly showing the abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.

TODD: Just last month, the White House agreed to release the photographs, figuring it couldn't win an open records lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. But a senior U.S. official tells CNN America's top generals in war theaters -- David Petraeus, Ray Odierno and David McKiernan -- had, in recent days, gone to the administration with concerns that the release would trigger more violent reaction -- possibly toward U.S. troops.

The ACLU, which often files lawsuits to make secret documents public, isn't buying the security argument.

AMRIT SINGH, ACLU ATTORNEY: The fact is that these photographs depict what are likely to be serious crimes. And the victims of torture will affirm the need for accountability in this case.

TODD: The ACLU contends the pictures would show that abuse of detainees was systemic, extending far beyond Abu Ghraib's walls.

Who's now got the upper hand legally?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think the Obama administration here, is on solid legal ground, because when the president says national security requires something, judges usually defer to that judgment.

TODD: Still, the liberal leaning ACLU shows clear disappointment in the Democratic president.

SINGH: This decision makes a mockery of President Obama's promise of transparency and accountability.


TODD: Now, White House officials dispute that, saying the photos are associated with closed investigations of abuse cases. The existence of those investigations is still posted on the Defense Department's Web site and the release of photos has no bearing on any of that, Wolf. They say it would not affect the investigations or the transparency of these investigations.

BLITZER: Now, had they gone forward and allowed these pictures to be released -- supposedly, they were going to be released around May 28. And that opens up another potential nightmare for the Obama administration.

TODD: May 28th, seven days before Mr. Obama goes to Egypt to give a major speech on U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Now, these photos could have conceivably been circulating publicly by that time. A White House official told me this had no bearing on the decision. But you can imagine that would have been a public relations nightmare when he's smack dab in the middle of Egypt and these photos are all over the place.

BLITZER: Yes. You're right.

All right, Brian.

Thanks very much for that.

Another important story we're following involve -- involves foreclosures. It may be darkness before the dawn, but there's another sign that the housing situation remains bleak -- a stunning increase in the number of Americans at risk of losing their homes.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Mary Snow -- Mary, these are very disturbing numbers.


And, you know, despite some glimpses of hope in the overall economy in recent weeks, foreclosures hit another record high.


SNOW (voice-over): The numbers are so bleak, the company tracking foreclosures called April's report a shocker.

But behind it, could there be a potential silver lining?

RICK SHARGA, REALTYTRAC: I'm hopeful that we're seeing a peak right now in foreclosure activity and that things won't get significantly worse.

SNOW (on camera): Last month, one in 374 homes received foreclosure filings. Of all those foreclosures, the bulk -- about 75 percent -- were centered in 10 states. The states hardest hit by the housing crisis remain at the top of the list -- Nevada, Florida, California and Arizona -- Nevada having the highest foreclosure activity. One in 68 homes receiving foreclosure filings.

Rounding out that list, number 10, Ohio. One in 411 homes being affected.

(voice-over): RealtyTrac blames lenders getting more aggressive on delinquent loans after a moratorium on foreclosures. And then, there's the 8.9 percent nationwide unemployment rate that's growing. Some housing experts say that is a big challenge to the administration's efforts to keep people in their homes.

NICOLAS RETSINAS, HARVARD JOINT CENTER FOR HOUSING STUDIES: Well, in some ways, it's a race between these government programs and the job losses. And right now, the job losses are winning that race.

SNOW: Still, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development says there are early signs the housing market is stabilizing. SHAUN DONOVAN, HUD SECRETARY: I do expect, based on everything that we've seen, that we should be out of the housing slump, certainly by the end of the year, if not sooner.

SNOW: Falling housing prices and lower interest rates are attractive to first time homebuyers. But the threat of job loss threatens to hamper a full recovery.


SNOW: And while RealtyTrac says it's hoping this month will be the peak of the bad news, it still anticipates high foreclosure rates for several months. It does expect those numbers to slow down significantly in the second part of this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary.

Thanks very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, add Mike Huckabee to the growing list of Republicans publicly taking one another down as they fight for the soul of their party.

The former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate is blasting some Republican leaders: "It's hard to keep from laughing out loud when people living in the bubble of Beltway suddenly wake up one day and think they ought to have a listening tour. And it's even funnier when their first earful expedition takes them all the way to the suburbs of Washington, D.C."

Huckabee is a funny guy.

He's referring to that National Council for A New America formed by the likes of Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and John McCain. Their first meeting was held in a suburb of Washington, D.C., a restaurant in Northern Virginia.

Huckabee also suggests that the Republican Party is at risk of becoming as irrelevant as the Whigs if the moderate -- if it moderates its policies. And that sounds very much like what Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh have been saying.

These right-wingers are not helping the Republican Party to portray itself as either more moderate or more inclusive. And while Huckabee is a lot more likable than either Limbaugh or Cheney, the message is just as shrill. And at the end of the day, it seems like Republicans are self-destructing without any help at all from the Democrats.

Meanwhile, speaking of the former vice president, his daughter is now picking up right where he left off. Liz Cheney suggests President Obama appears to be siding with terrorists for at first agreeing to release photos showing alleged abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush administration. The president has since changed his mind. He's now ordered government lawyers to object to the release of these photos, saying that it could endanger our troops overseas.

The question, though, is this: How damaging is it for the Republicans to continue to criticize each other publicly?

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

BLITZER: Democrats love to do that -- at least they used to like to do that all the time. Now the Republicans have a chance.

CAFFERTY: The Democrats, for a brief moment, appear to be remarkably well organized and in somewhat of an agreement on what the agenda is. That's totally unlike the Democrats.

BLITZER: Yes. It'll change.



BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments.

After years of top secret operations, a commander moves into the spotlight, taking charge of the war in Afghanistan. General Stan McChrystal is no stranger to combat or to controversy.

Plus, high above Earth, one of the most ambitious space repair missions ever attempted -- we're following the delicate work happening right now on the Hubble space telescope.

And lesson one group of schoolchildren will never forget from Michelle Obama herself. We're following the first lady as she does what she loves best.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story -- a major reversal from President Obama today, deciding to try to block the release of some detainee photos -- photos that earlier, only a few weeks ago, the White House was ready to release.

What's going on?

Let's talk about this and more with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He's a key member of the Armed Services Committee. He also has a lot of experience as a U.S. military -- a lawyer, himself a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves, a JAG officer.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You support the president's decision to try to block the release of these photos, although he himself says they're not really all that damaging, certainly not as bad as the photos of Abu Ghraib that all of us have seen -- have seen over these years.

So why is this a good decision?

GRAHAM: Well, it's more of the same. I think here's what the president did. He got some legal advice from the Department of Justice about the lawsuit. And he did something that is the sign of a good commander-in-chief -- he asked people what he should do that are fighting the war.

He got on the phone to General Petraeus and General Odierno and talked to Secretary Gates. And they believed -- and I think they're right to believe this -- if you release those photos, which are more of the same, you're going to inflame the public in the Mideast, where our troops serve, and you're going to put some young men and women at risk who did nothing wrong and it's not in our national security interests to do that.

So I applaud the president. He chose being a commander-in-chief over politics and that's a good -- a good thing for the country. He stood up for the troops. I think that's what motivated him. He listened to his commanders.

BLITZER: All right. You were at a long hearing today in the Senate. And an FBI interrogator -- a former FBI interrogator, a man by the name of Ali Soufan, who speaks Arabic...


BLITZER: ...did major interrogation work for the U.S. government with suspected terrorists. He says, you know what, you don't need to do waterboarding.

GRAHAM: Right.

BLITZER: You don't need to do what -- what he called torture. You can get better information by good, proper interrogation.

Did you buy what you heard from him?

GRAHAM: Yes, I generally believe that. I believe that if you use waterboarding, whatever information you receive -- and some of it may be good -- you will wind up regretting have been done that. And look at where we're at as a nation. It did come back to bite us.

But the question for the country is, that when you look back, did people who pursue that line of thinking, were they criminals?

Clearly not. The people who were trying to come up with interrogation policy were afraid another attack was coming. And there are some CIA agents who said these kind of techniques did work. But, overall, they were a net negative. So I, like the president, want to look forward.

So, yes. I think there's a way to defend the nation without waterboarding people. But those who made that decision right after 9/11, in my opinion, are not criminals and we need to move forward.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the former vice president, Dick Cheney, that the country now is less secure -- less safe because of the policies that President Obama has enacted?

GRAHAM: No, I don't. I believe President Obama is trying to do two things that we need to do -- repair our image that's been damaged. He has talked to me and others about going forward on GITMO, how you deal with these detainees. I think we can come up with a legal system that would treat these detainees within our value system, give them their day in court.

But the president, Obama is very realistic about the nature of our enemy. But, no, I don't -- I think what he did with the photos is a sign of a -- a president who listens and is able to adapt and change his mind when necessary.

What they're doing about GITMO makes sense. It is now time to move the prisoners somewhere else, to start over with a legal system we can be proud of, that protects the nations from vicious people, but lives within our value system. So I want to help this president start over.

BLITZER: There are several supermax -- what they call supermax prisons in the United States, like in Marion, Illinois, for example...

GRAHAM: Right.

BLITZER: ...and elsewhere, that house some of the notorious criminals ever...


BLITZER: ...mass murderers, if you will.

GRAHAM: Right. Absolutely.

BLITZER: What's wrong with moving some of those 200 or so detainees from Guantanamo to these maximum security prisons?

GRAHAM: I think it should be a military prison. The Geneva Convention now applies in this war. And under the Geneva Convention, you cannot let prisoners of war be tried in civilian court because that's a violation of the Convention.

But you make a very good point. We had 450,000 German and Japanese prisoners in American prison camps on American soil. I have never bought the idea or the argument that you cannot move 250 people inside the United States and protect the nation. I think we can. I think starting over is a good thing for the country, to come up with a new legal system that allows these people their day in court but also realizes we can't let them go if they present a military threat and let judges help us make that decision.

So I do believe we can close Guantanamo Bay. We can find a place to house these people within the United States, protect our nation and move forward and keep people off the battlefield who deserve to be kept off the battlefield based on evidence, not whims of the executive branch.

The good thing about this president, he's collaborative. He understands there's a role for the judiciary to play. I've always understood that. He's reaching out to the Congress. He's not arbitrarily using executive power. And if he'll stay on this course of collaborating with Congress and allowing the -- the judiciary to play an important role in this war, we'll be stronger as a nation.

BLITZER: We're out of time. But a quick follow-up to an interview I did in the last hour with your governor, Mark Sanford, of South Carolina. He's under enormous pressure to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money. The legislature in Columbia, South Carolina -- they're apparently on the verge of forcing him to take the money. He doesn't want to take the money and he offered his explanation why.

Where do you stand on this?

GRAHAM: Well, I voted against the stimulus package. I thought it created more government than it did jobs. The $700 million will help some in South Carolina and if we don't take the money, it goes to other states and people in South Carolina will be required to pay it back.

So I think, at the end of the day, we lost the battle on the stimulus package. It would be in South Carolina's interests to take the money.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Feds crack down on an American breakfast classic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I eat them every morning. I love them. There's nothing wrong with Cheerios at all. The FDA is wrong, I think.


BLITZER: The Food and Drug Administration's beef with Cheerios -- why the government says the cereal is misbranded.

Plus, feeling increasingly abandoned by President Obama and increasingly angry -- is the White House pushing gay issues aside?

Paul Begala and Nancy Pfotenhauer -- Candy Crowley, as well -- they're here to discuss this and more.


BLITZER: Three hundred and fifty miles above the Earth, the space shuttle Atlantis begins a very delicate and treacherous assignment.

Let's get the details from CNN's John Zarrella.

He's watching what's going on.

It's very risk right now -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boy, it sure is, Wolf. You know, it's been seven years since a shuttle crew last worked on the Hubble space telescope. Today, the crew of the shuttle Atlantis caught up with and grabbed hold of the Hubble space telescope. It is the first step in what amounts to one of the riskiest repair missions in history.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): The Hubble telescope stood out -- a shimmering lone sentinel against the blackness of space -- the sun glistening off its solar panels -- the first time glimpse in seven years.

KYLE HERRING, MISSION CONTROL: From 200 feet, the Hubble space telescope. The first time it's been seen since March, 2002.

ZARRELLA: From a camera mounted on the shuttle's robotic arm, Hubble up close. Ever so slowly, at a speed of 1/10 of a foot per second, Commander Scott Altman positioned shuttle Atlantis to within 35 feet of the telescope.

SCOTT ALTMAN, COMMANDER, ATLANTIS: And just above that, coming into view, the forward shell of the telescope.

ZARRELLA: From here, Astronaut Megan McArthur, using that robotic arm, moves in and snags it.

GREGORY JOHNSON, ATLANTIS PILOT: Houston, Atlantis. Hubble has arrived on board Atlantis with the arm.

ZARRELLA: Then, a series of precise moves -- Hubble no longer facing the heavens, but eyeballing the Earth below. Like a school-bus sized fish, McArthur reels it in to Atlantis' cargo bay.

Astronaut John Grunsfeld, on his third repair mission, likes what he sees.

JOHN GRUNSFELD, ATLANTIS ASTRONAUT: Amazingly, the exterior of Hubble, an old man of 19 years in space, still looks in fantastic shape.

ZARRELLA: This was the first of what amounts to a six act play. GRUNSFELD: On the day when I'm there in the telescope, I'm sure I'm going to feel a little bit of pressure.

ZARRELLA: Thursday, John Grunsfeld and Andrew Feustel will be the first to man team spacewalking for nearly seven hours in the shuttle's cargo bay, upgrading and repairing Hubble.

In a swimming pool in Houston, they, along with astronauts Mike Massimino and Michael Good, have spent two years practicing for the five days of spacewalks.

GRUNSFELD: This is going to be running a marathon at a sprint pace.

ZARRELLA: The two teams will change batteries and gyroscopes, replace and repair cameras, cut through aluminum, and, in the weightlessness of space, handle hundreds of tiny screws.


ZARRELLA: The timeline for these spacewalks is so tight that there's a good chance they may not get everything done, especially if they hit any snags. And that's certainly a possibility because so much of what they are going to attempt to do over the next five days of spacewalks has never been attempted before -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to watch every step of the way.

All right. Thanks very much, John Zarrella, in Miami for us.

A commencement controversy -- it happens on some college campuses at this time of year, but it may be a new experience for President Obama -- why he's at the center of it right now.

And Sarah Palin signs a deal to write a book. It should be out just in time for the next presidential race -- how her big contract may pay off.

And the first lady reads to third graders and they tell her the lessons they learned.


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

Happening now, Pakistan's military offensive against the Taliban creates tens of thousands of refugees. It's also trapping orphans in the battle zone.

Pope Benedict XVI visits Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories. He indicates support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

And stocks tumble for a third straight day. The Dow loses 184 points, while the Nasdaq drops 51 points.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


President Obama on his way to Arizona right now, where he'll deliver the commencement speech later tonight at Arizona State University.

When it comes to graduation, there's no bigger get for a school than the president of the United States. But in some cases, the prestige also comes with some controversy.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here watching what's going on -- all right, Candy, explain the controversy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, in some cases a lot of controversies come. But it looks like all is well at Arizona State University, where officials believe they are past the kerfuffle over their decision not to give President Barack Obama an honorary degree tonight. It is not a slight, the school insisted, after multiple explanations -- just a matter of policy, since 2003, not to give honorary degrees to sitting politicians.

Now, about Notre Dame.


CROWLEY (voice-over): By the time they graduate, American students are well schooled in free speech.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not believe it's right to celebrate a man who has gone so against Catholic principles.

CROWLEY: The man is President Barack Obama, supporter of abortion rights, who will give the commencement address to and get an honorary degree from Notre Dame -- a school founded by Catholic bishops -- a religion which considers abortion a mortal sin.

Thus, the exercise of free speech on campus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't afford to be sending the message to people that we view power and fame over our Catholic identity.

CROWLEY: It's not just students -- anti-abortion activists, Catholic and non, have seized on the moment to make their case, lacing a campus protest with a heavy dose of politics.

Among those joining the dissent, former presidential candidate, Alan Keyes, and conservative anti-abortion activist Randall Terry.

RANDALL TERRY: I and about 25 others, including Dr. Alan Keyes, we pushed baby strollers, peacefully, quietly, carefully on campus. And in the strollers were baby dolls covered with stage blood and an Obama bumper sticker saying, "Obama '09: One Dead Baby At A Time: Notre Dame" -- to make a statement. CROWLEY: Having won the Catholic vote last year, the president is on firm territory when he takes to that Notre Dame podium. And critics of the protesters note that both President Bushes and Ronald Reagan addressed Notre Dame despite their support of the death penalty -- also against Catholic teaching.

From the Vietnam War era on, protest has become a time honored graduation exercise. Most recently, then President Bush was the commencement speaker at Furman, some faculty members boycotted, others wore t-shirts saying "We Object" to a variety of Bush policies. And John McCain was interrupted constantly by protesters during his graduation speech at New York's new school.

In the end, none were dis-invited and all finished their speeches. And that's part of Democracy 101, everyone gets free speech.


CROWLEY: Notre Dame has said that those who object to President Obama's appearance can boycott the ceremonies but it appears there are far more students than parent who is will show up. And church doctrine or those who have heard of the controversy, 13 percent of folks support the invitation. Although far more are likely to oppose the invitation.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Don't go away Candy. I want to expand this discussion.

Joining us now is our Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Nancy. She's former advisor to McCain campaign. What do you think about this whole protest at Notre Dame University, the president's going to be there on Sunday?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Dissent is always good. Criticizing the government is always good. But free speech is always good as well. In other words the protesters should have their right to free speech, even if it's a little distasteful, some of the things Mr. Terry does is perhaps not as pleasing as you might like. But welcome opposing views. Bill Clinton spoke at Notre Dame, it was before he was president, but he spoke there. Condoleezza Rice, pro- death, pro-war, pro-abortion. She spoke at Boston College, a Catholic school. So I think there needs to be more consistency here. People are upset that Mr. Obama is speaking.

BLITZER: The protesters at Notre Dame say they want free speech, they want the president of the United States to come and speak, what they complain about is honoring someone who supports abortion.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There is a lot of controversy here, I have to confess, full disclosure, I married into a strong Notre Dame family, and I have to say there's dissension even in our family on this topic.

BLITZER: Disagreement? PFOTENHAUER: Some think it was a good decision and some think it was not and I think what it comes down to is people who go to Notre Dame really believe that Notre Dame is different from other universities. There are plenty of wonderful Catholic causes but they believe Notre Dame is different and the signaling is significant. I think you should watch this one and read the chapters after the speech a couple of months down the road and see whether there might be changes at the university.

BEGALA: I'm a faithful Catholic and a regular church goer as well.

BLITZER: What about the Catholic University of America?

BEGALA: I spoke there recently, just a couple of weeks ago.

PFOTENHAUER: I am Notre Dame, but I have been briefed chapter and verse about how it's different.

BLITZER: Let's talk a bit about Arizona State. They're making fun of that school, saying basically earlier, maybe he wasn't qualified to get this honorary degree. Last night on the daily show, Jason Jones had a funny little bit. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama had been head of state and stuff like that for 113 days, that's nothing compared to the accomplishments of previous recipients, like this lady, who needs no introduction. Actually she needs quite an extensive introduction.

Turns out, this lady is Kim Campbell, the former prime minister of Canada, who served 142 days before being voted out of office and into an ASU honorary degree.


BLITZER: If you take a look at some of these honorary degree recipients that Arizona State University deemed worthy and the president of the United States, not worthy, it's pretty embarrassing.

BEGALA: It's pretty different from the Notre Dame thing which is painful and without conscience. There are really good people on both side of that. ASU gets a black aye. They hosted the debates, but this is a black eye. If you give an honorary degree to the former president of Canada, you give it to the president of the United States.

CROWLEY: My son went to the University of Arizona, so you they're rivals, but I'm going to defend Arizona State because they did put a policy in place in the early 2002-2003 saying we're not going to give honorary degrees to sitting politicians. Having said that, they really need to kind of spruce up their PR.

BLITZER: They should have explained that at the beginning.

CROWLEY: Oh, well, he isn't qualified. He hasn't done much yet.

PFOTENHAUER: I have to agree with Candy here. They established a policy and they are uniformly applying it and they are establishing, I understand a scholarship program for freshman and they're trying to find other ways. But they dropped this ball, they fumbled this ball badly.

BLITZER: Let's talk about gay rights right now because there are elements in the gay community who are increasingly frustrated with the president especially his decision to delay action on revoking the don't ask, don't tell policy that doesn't allow gay service members to serve opening in the United States military. Andrew Sullivan writing online, he says I have sickeningly -- I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away, they want us to go away. Andrew Sullivan is gay as you know. Is that fair, that criticism?

BEGALA: This fellow does a good job of learning from the mistakes of others, including the mistakes of the Clinton administration. We walked right into that buzz saw. In 1993, only 44 percent of Americans supported allowing gays to serve in the military, now 75 percent do. Mark twain said a cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. This stove is cold, President Obama needs to leave, let these men and women serve honorably.

BLITZER: What's irritating to a lot of people is an era of linguist served in Iraq two terms, a graduate of West Point, speaks air Arabic, kicked out because he chose to acknowledge publicly that he's gay.

PFOTENHAUER: That's the premise of the don't ask, don't tell policy. When you talk to military people, it's one of the issues that causes really the most heart ache, I think. I think the administration and the Obama team in general, they talk, they talk right and they walk left. But there are a couple of issues where if they walk left, the rest of the country is going to pay attention. And one of them is don't ask don't tell. There are certain issues that make it a little bit more difficult for them to position themselves the way they want to be with the electorate. And whether you think that's a good idea or a bad idea, they have obviously concluded that it's smart on politics.

CROWLEY: On the issue of don't ask, don't tell, I think he's waiting on the military, they're looking at it. He was very clear during the campaign, he wants to repeal don't ask, don't tell. On the issue of gays in the military, you only have so many times you can spend your political capital, it's limited. Are you going to do it on gay marriage or the political issue, or are you going to do it spending a lot of time on the economy and getting it back.

BLITZER: A matter of priorities. All right guys. Thanks very much.

Why should president -- who should President Obama, that is, pick to be the next Supreme Court justice? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's important that no one being excluded or chosen based solely on race, gender or sexual preference.


BLITZER: Our I-Reporters weigh in on the president's first Supreme Court announcement. And the timing of an announcement could be sooner than a lot of us think.

And Cheerios says it can do something for you that the government can do something for you that only drugs can do. The FDA now cracking down on one of the most popular breakfast cereals.


BLITZER: He's led the hunt for some of the world's most wanted, now he's been picked to lead the war in Afghanistan, but controversy follows in his footsteps. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, she's working this story for us. What's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Every morning, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal puts on his sneakers and runs five miles to work here at the Pentagon, but that's just the beginning of his day.


STARR (voice-over): Behind this door, every day at 6:30 a.m., Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal chairs one of the most secret meetings in Washington. Senior military officers gather to discuss what has happened in the world overnight. McChrystal has never let a reporter inside, he's rarely spoken publicly in recent years. After leaving the Pentagon in 2003, he spoke at Ft. Bragg. It was a tour that would be controversial.

STEPHEN BIDDLE, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Many of the collateral damage incidents in which Afghan civilians have been killed have been associated with Special Forces operations and parts of the country where we didn't have a large ground force presence.

STARR: Already the parents of explain NFL star Pat Tillman says McChrystal's record should be reviewed. The general earned the Silver Star for Tillman even while suspecting that he had been accidentally killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. A senior Congressional staffer tells CNN there were also reports that McChrystal's troops mistreated detainees in Afghanistan.

McChrystal has gone after the military's most high profile targets. Saddam Hussein, his son and Zarqawi and he's been hunting the world's most wanted man. Former homeland security advisor Fran Townsend worked with him closely on delicate security matters.

FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: I view General McChrystal as crucial, as a critical player in the hunt for Bin Laden. (END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So how covert really is General McChrystal? Several years ago, I unexpectedly ran into him in the mountains of Afghanistan. He was wearing a beard, he wasn't wearing his standard military uniform and I have to tell you, it took me a couple of minutes that he was standing right in front of me.

BLITZER: He's one tough guy. Thanks very much Barbara for that.

From the war in Afghanistan to Cheerios, Cheerios, yes, we're talking about the breakfast cereal busted by the feds over health claims. Let's bring in Kate Bolduan who's working this story for us. What's going on?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly Wolf. The federal government considers it a serious violation of federal law, telling the maker of Cheerios it's advertising make drug-lake claims in fighting heart disease. The problem here? The government says they don't have approval for that.


BOLDUAN: Swirling controversy, Cheerios, one of America's best known cereals is being slapped with a warning for what the government says are misleading claims about the breakfast food's health benefits. The Food and Drug Administration is taking issue with the message that in just six weeks, Cheerios can reduce bad cholesterol by an average of four percent.

SALLY GREENBERG, NATIONAL CONSUMERS LEAGUE: They have made a drug claim. And there's no proof that food can do that. That's why we have drugs and drugs go through a review process to make sure they're safe and effective. There's no way to prove that with this product.

BOLDUAN: Sally Greenberg in the National Consumers League, a Washington based advocacy group filed against with the FDA against Cheerios. The FDA agreed and told General Mills, quote, your Cheerios product is misbranded. General Mills defends it's advertising saying the science is not in question. The clinical study supporting Cheerios' cholesterol-lowering benefits is very strong. Consumer reaction is mixed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it or doesn't it lower cholesterol? If it's true, leave it on, what's the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I eat it every morning. I love them. There's nothing wrong with Cheerios at all. The FDA is wrong, I think, on many things.

BOLDUAN: Meanwhile the FDA is threatening enforcement action including seizing the allegedly misbranded products.


BOLDUAN: General Mills is pushing back saying they are looking forward to discussing this with the FDA and also look forward to reaching a resolution, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens with the controversy. All right. Kate, thanks very much.

The accidental tweets, a Utah politician learns the hard way if you have sensitive information meant for one person, here's what you should do, don't send it out to everyone.

Plus the First Lady reads to first graders and they tell her what they learned.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: He had a terrible, horrible, very bad day.


BLITZER: Here's some important information if you're thinking of announcing that you want to run for the Senate on Twitter. Make sure you know how the site actually works. Utah's attorney general is red- faced discovering the difference between public and private messages.

Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton, she's been looking into this. It's a blunder but what happened?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Yesterday, two politicians used Twitter to jump into the Republican Senate race to challenge Bob Bennett. The thing is only one of them actually meant to. That would be Tim Bridgewater who posted this yesterday, he was going to explore a run for federal office. Look at that flawless execution on Twitter. A couple hours later a series of tweets appeared from Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff. One of them "I'm announcing I'm running at 12." The next one "time to rock 'n' roll" and shortly after that, "should have no trouble raising up to $2 million" and then this, "take down my last reply." it seems that Shurtleff thought he was sending a text message about his as yet unannounced plans for a Senate bid whereas he was sending the messages to more than 1,500 followers who were then telling other people. The messages disappeared, the tweets disappeared quickly, replaced by this one, a joke about texting while drowsy, an announcement that says a formal announcement will come on may 20th. Thanks but I think we already got it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I think the key is before you hit "send" on anything, always make sure what you know what you're doing. Abbi, thanks very much.

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

CAFFERTY: The lesson in the story it vindicates old guys like me. I stay the hell away from the technology. I don't understand it, not interested in learning about it but these old doofuses think it's cool. He thinks it's cool to go on there, I'll announce on Twitter and does more damage to himself in 30 seconds than -- I mean it's not cool. You don't get it. You never will, and just put it in the newspaper.

Question: How damaging is it for the Republicans to continue to criticize each other publicly?

Bob in Indiana: "I view it as amusing. It confirms the Republicans have no direction or leadership. A three-party system may well emerge from the fall of the GOP." I'm hearing something in this, I'm going to get rid of it.

Biz in Pennsylvania writes: "I remember a line from The Godfather movie: 'Every now and then you have to have a war to get rid of the bad blood.' I think this is what's happening now in the Republican Party. If the end result is Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and the rest of the bad blood still pumping through the party's veins, then the party's doomed."

Stefan writes: "Very damaging. You would think after their tough defeat last November that they'd come together. I guess they haven't learned their lesson. They have no clear leader because everyone wants to be that person."

Missy writes: "I actually don't think it's damaging at all. It's time for the Republicans to weed out their weakest links. It would be a lot worse to pretend there were no problems in the party."

Chuck in Ohio writes: "Republicans can continue to argue, yell and scream at each other. they can send out all the high profile Republicans they want to listen to the people and gather ideas but they won't get anywhere until they retrieve their soul from the religious kooks they sold it to many years ago."

And Carl writes: "My party always wants to tout Reagan. Well rule number one they forgot was thou shall not speak ill of another Republican. I mean really, how bad is it if we make the Democrats look well organized?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and look for yours there among hundreds of others. Do you Twitter, Wolf?


CAFFERTY: Let me put this in so I know what you're saying.

BLITZER: The answer is no, not yet but I assume one of these days I will.

CAFFERTY: Do you have one of those Facebook things?

BLITZER: No, good-bye.

CAFFERTY: I have both of those but CNN did it, I have nothing to do with either one of them. Some kid found them on the internet, look here, what there is.

BLITZER: We'll talk later, Jack. CAFFERTY: Very busy.

BLITZER: New revelations in the deadly plane crash and the role fatigue may have played in a deadly plane crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People can come in between their flights on duty and take a nap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is napping sleeping?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a definition I'm probably not prepared to answer.

BLITZER: The airline is accused of giving a wink and a nod to violations of its own policies and relatives of the victims are outraged.

Plus the first lady telling school kids what they can do right now to help the president. We're going to hear from Michelle Obama in her own words.


BLITZER: The first lady Michelle Obama visited a school here in Washington today. She read to the kids, and then took some questions.


M. OBAMA: It's very hard to be the president, yes. Being the president is one of the hardest jobs in the world, I think, because you're dealing with every kind of problem you can imagine. Almost anything that goes on in the world at some point, the president has to think about it and help fix it. So you imagine waking up every day, thinking about the biggest problems that are facing this country and the world, and people are looking at you for the answers, right? You know, he needs all of your help, right? And you might think, well I'm in third grade. How can I help the president? How do you think you can help the president make his job easier? What do you think? By doing what you're supposed to do. I love that. And what is that you're supposed to be doing? Working hard, right? What else? You listen to the teacher. Learning and stop being bad, yes, but I'm assuming nobody's bad, then they don't have to stop being bad because they're not bad in the first place, right? What else can you do to help the president? Never quit. That's such a good -- let's stop there with that, never quit, OK? You guys remember that. Will you promise me that, right?


OBAMA: When something gets hard, because it will be. There will be plenty of things that will be hard for you. There are things that are hard for me. Will you promise me that you will not quit. All right, when you have a terrible, horrible, very bad day, that you won't quit, that you'll know that that's just one bad day, right? OK, because if you do that, you will help the president so much, if you do that every day, from now as 8, 9, 10-year-olds, until you are grown up, you will help the president. You'll make his job a lot easier and we'll be so proud of you, just like we are right now.


BLITZER: Mrs. Obama, by the way, read to the students from the classic book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" and she admitted that she and even the president sometimes have very bad days.

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

Happening now, new anger over allegations of torture. The top Democrat vows to expose lies about water boarding and other Bush era tactics. Did a star witness tell the full story?

Top crew members of a doomed plane may have been too tired to fly. This hour the crash investigation and the problems of sleepless pilots.

And Pope Benedict at the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Did he tell Palestinians protesting Israel what they wanted to here? We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.