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The Degradation & Barbarity; Pres. to Gays: I'm with You; Barbra Streisand Auctioning Off Belongings for Charity

Aired October 12, 2009 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a teenage suicide bomber attacks a military convoy. Dozens are dead. As insurgents strike at will inside Pakistan, one of America's most crucial anti-terror allies, may be fighting for its own survival.

Hillary Clinton says no -- but does she really, really mean it?

The secretary of State answers a key question about her future political ambitions.

And "This Is It" -- more than three months after his death, a new single from Michael Jackson. You'll hear what all the excitement is about.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Taliban insurgents are targeting a key U.S. ally and right now they seem to be unstoppable. Whether they are lone suicide bombers or terror squads penetrating military headquarters, Islamic militants are, indeed, managing to strike, apparently at will, inside Pakistan.

CNN's Reza Sayah has the very latest from Islamabad -- Reza.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has been an awful two week stretch here in Pakistan -- four deadly militant attacks in eight days, hitting a variety of targets -- the latest attack coming on Monday.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Carnage in northwest Pakistan -- a teenage suicide bomber attacked a military convoy as it passed through a busy market in the Swat Valley Monday. Forty-one people died, six of them soldiers. It was the latest in a string of militant attacks that have renewed doubts about Pakistan's ability to win the fight against Islamic extremism. Observers say the attacks show both sophisticated planning by the militants and an apparent failure of security forces to do their job. Last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the offices of the World Food Program in Islamabad. He duped his way in by dressing as a soldier, then asking to use the bathroom.

Days later, one of the deadliest attacks this year -- more than 50 killed in a suicide attack in a busy market in Peshawar.

The most audacious attack came over the weekend, when militants, again dressed as soldiers, stormed the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and took dozens of people -- soldiers and civilians -- hostage.

After 22 hours, Pakistani commandos swooped in, killing the militants and capturing their leader, but not before 11 military personnel and three civilians died.

Facing heavy criticism, the Pakistani military went on damage control.

GEN. ATHAR ABBAS, PAKISTANI MILITARY SPOKESMAN: I think our reaction was quite satisfactory. And we are proud of all those who conducted the operation, laid down their lives and prevented the damage which could have been much more.

SAYAH: Analyst Maria Sultan says these attacks are the work of a new breed of professionally trained extremists and she says some officials expect Indian involvement.


Designed at embarrassing Pakistan internationally. That's why the -- the internal thinking is that it probably is India behind it.

SAYAH: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday India was not in the business of spreading terror in Pakistan. The army says telephone intercepts reveal the weekend attack on the army headquarters was planned by the Taliban in South Waziristan.

Washington watches events here with growing concern. The Obama administration says without a stable Pakistan, there can be no peace in Afghanistan.


SAYAH: Despite the recent setbacks, the Pakistani government says it's not backing down on moving forward with a major military offensive in South Waziristan. South Waziristan, of course, the hub of Taliban activity in Pakistan and according to Washington, a safe haven for Al Qaeda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah is on the scene for us.

Thank you.

The call for reinforcements by a top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan has kicked up lots of controversy and right now it's all about the numbers.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is here.

He's been digging into this story for us.

And you're getting some new information.

What are you learning -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we came at this asking, why not 20,000 troops or 200,000?

Why has 40,000 been so specifically brought up as an ideal amount of additional troops?


LAWRENCE: (voice-over): To understand why it's believed General Stanley McChrystal wants 40,000 more, you need to look at a map the way military strategists see it.

KIMBERLY KAGAN, ADVISER TO GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL: What 40,000 does is fill in the gaps around Kandahar, around Khost and Helmand Province. It does not, however, cover the entire country.

LAWRENCE: Kimberly Kagan is an adviser to McChrystal. She says it's the minimum number to root out the Taliban and identify and protect potential Afghan partners.

But the military's own counter-insurgency ratio dictates it would take well over half a million troops to secure Afghanistan's 33 million people.

(on camera): But General McChrystal is not applying this ratio to all of Afghanistan. He feels certain parts of the country are peaceful enough, like the north -- or just not as important, like the west -- that they don't need the same number of counter-insurgency fighters as these areas do.

KAGAN: And that's what gets him from a figure of hundreds of thousands of troops down to a figure such as 40,000 or 60,000 troops.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): Kagan says McChrystal would use those troops to turn the tide, so the Taliban doesn't control every other town. She says 10,000 or even 20,000 troops just aren't enough.

KAGAN: It's not as though we can simply plug half as many holes with half as many troops and somehow seize the initiative from the enemy. On the contrary, half as many troops will probably leave us pinned down as we are.

LAWRENCE: The problem is roughly 25 million Afghans live in thousands of small, rural villages scattered all over an area the size of Texas. Up to 80 percent of the population could still be out of reach for coalition troops.


LAWRENCE: so when 30,000 American troops surged into Baghdad, that's where one out of every four Iraqis lived. Even if you took the top 30 most populated areas in Afghanistan, you'd still only account for about 20 percent of the population. That's how rural and spread out this country is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a huge, huge country. People don't realize how big Afghanistan really is.

The recommendations from General McChrystal, they're -- from what I'm hearing, there was 20,000, 40,000, even 60,000 additional troops. Usually they give three recommendations, hoping the middle will be accepted -- the middle ground.

Is that the strategy here?

They're hope -- really hoping for 40,000, but they threw in the 60,000 to make it seem like that's sort of a middle course.

LAWRENCE: It's hard to exactly get into the mind of General McChrystal and know exactly that's what he's thinking. But if history is any guide, that typically is what the military does is presents three options. Typically, if I gave you three options, I'd be more likely to hope you'd pick the middle one.

BLITZER: Yes, that's normally the way -- the way it's done.


BLITZER: Chris, thanks very much for that.

Will she or won't she -- we're talking about Hillary Clinton. The secretary of State speaking bluntly and candidly about another possible run for the White House. Details of what she sees in her political future coming up.

Also, Navy hazing revealed -- former sailors detailing brutal treatment, allegedly at the hands of their commander.

And we'll talk about that with a retired U.S. Navy admiral, now a United States Congressman, Joe Sestak. He's investigating.

And Michael Jackson has a single that has just come out more than three months after his shocking death. We have the song. We'll play it for you.

And a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Asked about her political future, the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, minces no words. In fact, she's made a one word statement that seems to say it all -- emphasis on the word seems.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- all right, Candy, explain what's going on.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, you know, Wolf, over the past nine months, I have run into so much CNN watchers, pretty much everywhere. And those who confide in me that they were Hillary Clinton supporters always have two questions -- one, why did she lose; two, will she run again?

The first question will be dissected for years, as you and I know.

But will she run again?

Here's that answer.


CROWLEY: (voice-over): As declarations go, this one on NBC was pretty darned declarative.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you ever run for president again, yes or no?





CROWLEY: A couple of weeks shy of her 62nd birthday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on the job -- diplomating her way through the British Isles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm delighted that she's taken time to visit us here today. I would, of course, like to take this opportunity to recognize and congratulate President Obama on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

CROWLEY: The Irish prime minister did say Clinton has been fundamental to Obama foreign policy, but it seems like kind of an ouch moment given what might have been or almost was. But the former Democratic presidential candidate claims she has never wished she was the decider.

CLINTON: No, not at all. My -- I am part of the team that makes the decisions.

CROWLEY: A debate over whether she's a key team player is one of Washington's 2009 parlor games. There are other foreign policy advisers the president knows better and many who are closer in proximity to the presidential ear. One paper called Clinton "largely invisible" on big ticket items. Columnists suggest she's been marginalized.

She calls that absurd and a misunderstanding as her nature as a delegator.

CLINTON: I would be irresponsible and negligent were I to say oh, no, everything must come to me. Maybe that is a woman's thing. Maybe I'm totally secure and feel absolutely no need to go running around in order for people to see what I'm doing.

CROWLEY: Clinton did make team play a hallmark of her Senate career and routinely won praise as a workhorse, not a show horse. And as one friend insisted recently, Hillary has been a policy wonk first, a politician second.

Is it possible that the former first lady with the famous last name and a lot of ambition, the senator who came this close and still that far from becoming president, looks no further now than where she is?

In the unlikely and predictable life of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, all things are possible.

CLINTON: This is -- this is this is a great job. It is a 24/7 job. And I'm looking forward to retirement at some point.

CROWLEY: Now, she just has to convince everyone else of that.


CROWLEY: And, in the end, that has pretty much always been the secretary's problem, starting from the time she was a first lady up to now. She does seem to be able to make up her mind fairly quickly about what she does and doesn't want to do. It's just convincing people, Wolf, that she has made up her mind.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

The two top Democratic leaders in Congress, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, they're facing some serious political troubles, but for sort of different reasons.

Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She here.

Let's start with Harry Reid. He's got some alarm bells ringing right now.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There's a new poll back home in the "Las Vegas Review-Journal" that shows him trailing both potential Republican challengers to him. First, let's look at one. One shows that he is 5 points behind and the other, running against -- potentially running against Sue Lowden, he is 10 points behind -- 10 points behind. And here's the problem for Harry Reid. Those potential Republicans who are going to face-off against one another in a June in a primary there, they're relatively unknown. Harry Reid has 100 percent name I.D. Which is almost unheard of. Everybody knows him. So this poll suggests that Nevadans know him right now and they don't want him anymore.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember when Tom Daschle was the Senate majority leader. And he was targeted by the -- by the Republicans and he lost that race.

How worried are -- are Democrats right now about Harry Reid?

BASH: Well, they are worried because he comes from a state with 13 percent unemployment. It is a state that has a very high -- if not the highest -- home foreclosure rate in the country. And he is obviously the leading Democrat in the Senate, who is rushing through President Obama's policies.

And on the economy so far, at least in swing states like that, polls show that it doesn't necessarily -- they haven't resonated.

But in terms of supporters of Harry Reid, Wolf, they say that Nevada is a swing state. He has always had tough races and he always has trailed in the polls and has come through in the end. And they also point out that unlike South Dakota, Nevada has an exploding population and a very, you know, robust growing Democratic population. They're adding Democrats to the rolls every day.

BLITZER: Now, the top Democrat in the House, Nancy Pelosi, she's also being targeted by Republicans right now, but not necessarily in her liberal San Francisco district, but around the country.

BASH: No, but liberal San Francisco is the reason she is being targeted. And the reason is because they're trying to actually demonize Nancy Pelosi. And they're using that in many of the elections. And, you know, the ads that they're already making, Wolf, for the special election next month in New York and also for -- for tough races for 2010, they are using her already.

Look at some of those ads.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now Bill Owens wants to help Nancy Pelosi raise your income taxes. Bill Owens in Congress -- he would make the problem worse.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Obama/Pelosi plan would cut Medicare by $500 billion and Zack Space already voted for it. Space cast one of four deciding votes to help Pelosi push her plan through. Call Space, tell him to change his mind and oppose Pelosi's cuts to Medicare. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But they're trying -- they're trying to demonize her in the 2006, 2008...

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: ...use her picture in other campaigns against Democrats around the country. It didn't exactly work then.

Why do they think it's going to work now?

BASH: In the words of the political business, high negativities. I'll show you the latest poll from "The Wall Street Journal." It shows that she is -- 44 percent of people who say that she is -- they view her as somewhat or very negative. That's -- that's pretty high, as these polls go.

And I talked to Republican sources who say that they have done internal polling in some of these very important swing districts across -- across the country and those negatives for Nancy Pelosi are even higher.

They say that she is much better known than she was in 2006 and 2008, and that she is much more linked to liberal proposals that the president is pushing, that are not necessarily popular in some of these districts, like the stimulus and like climate change and things like that.

So, you know, House Democratic sources, as you can imagine, on the Democratic side, they say it's not going to work. They say we tried this -- the Democrats tried this against Newt Gingrich, it didn't work and they believe that still, these races are run on a local level.

And one other interesting thing. I talked to a Republican who's knowledgeable about the strategy on the GOP side. And he said that -- he has a warning. He said, look, this device using Nancy Pelosi, it's fine. But what we have to do as Republicans, still, is give the other side of the equation -- not just what are we against, but what are we for. And that still is not happening...

BLITZER: And just to...

BASH: -- on the Republican side.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, while Harry Reid may have trouble in Nevada getting re-elected, Nancy Pelosi is not going to have any trouble...

BASH: No. Oh, no.

BLITZER: ...getting re-elected in her district.

BASH: No. She is fine. She is fine.


BASH: This is about a national Republican strategy.

BLITZER: An excellent point.

Thanks very much for that, Dana.

President Obama renews his vow to end the ban on gays serving openly in the United States military, but when?

I'll speak about that with an Iraq War veteran fluent in Arabic, who was kicked out after coming out.

Plus, the accusations of Navy hazing are startling, but it's the alleged perpetrator that's the real shocker.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: More than three months after his death, a new single for Michael Jackson, released on his Web site just hours after being leaked online and now a heavy rotation on the radio.

Our entertainment correspondent, Kareen Wynter, is joining us now with more on this story -- Kareen, first of all, what's the name of the song?


Well, it's called "This Is It" and it's really the first new piece of music available to fans since the singer's death.


WYNTER: (voice-over): "This Is It" is here.


WYNTER: The new single off six Michael Jackson's upcoming album was posted on the singer's Web site Sunday at midnight. Fans will have to wait to get their hands on it. For now, the song is only for radio air play.


WYNTER: As of 11:00 a.m. Eastern on Monday, the single received 486 plays on the radio, since its midnight release. That's according to Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems, which monitors 1,300 radio stations.

According to Sony executives, it's still unclear when the single was written or recorded and whether it was ever meant for release. It's one of at least 100 songs the record company says it has in its archives.

KEITH CAULFIELD, ANALYST, "BILLBOARD" MAGAZINE: It's sort of a love song, a sort of classic Michael Jackson from, say, the late '70s, early '80s. According to Sony, there are hundreds of songs -- unfinished demos from Michael in the vaults. I can imagine there are probably going to be a lot of plans going forward about more songs like this coming out.

WYNTER: The song is also featured in Jackson's upcoming movie, "This Is It," which hits theaters worldwide October 28th.


CAULFIELD: This is only going to help generate even more buzz for the film. And I -- I have a feeling that this is going to help the album become a huge seller.

WYNTER: As for the new single, some music lovers have hit the blogs writing: "We got chills listening to this." "M.J. has left a legacy beyond our imaginations."



WYNTER: Classic Michael Jackson, indeed.

And, Wolf, what's really interesting here is our music expert tells us that this new single is actually an old demo recorded probably from the 1980s, possibly before that. The same lyrics were used in a song, Wolf, released by an artist named Safire in 1991 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A good song. I like it.

Do you like it?

WYNTER: I love it.

BLITZER: OK, good. Me, too. All right. So we're both on the same page.

Kareen, thanks very much.

President Obama vows to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the United States military. But when and if that happens, it will be too late for one West Point grad and Iraq War veteran. Now, an outspoken gay rights activist, Lieutenant Dan Choi -- he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to react to the president's speech.

Plus, former Navy admiral and current Congressman, Joe Sestak, he's also here to talk about some truly disturbing allegations of vicious hazing underway in the United States Navy, allegedly at hands of a commander. Stand by for all that.


Happening now, NFL players are called to action by their union over the prospect of Rush Limbaugh's buying the St. Louis Rams. There are new developments in a growing controversy.

The Obama administration touts the success of its mortgage modification program, but our viewers are telling a very different story about their efforts to keep their homes. We have a reality check coming up.

And a mixed day on Wall Street. The Dow gained 20 points, edging closer to the 10000 mark, while the Nasdaq lost less than a point and the S&P -- the S&P was up more than 4 points.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Those who endured it describe it as so degrading and so barbaric, it's hard to comprehend -- brutal hazing of Navy men and women at the hands of their own commander.

CNN's Carol Costello is joining us with details -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak calls it a rogue unit. Sestak, a former Navy admiral, is so disturbed about allegations of abusive hazing in the Navy's canine unit in Bahrain, he's demanding answers from the Navy, asking the same questions some sailors are -- where is the accountability?


COSTELLO: (voice-over): Joseph Rocha is not hiding anymore. He's out and proud. But it wasn't always that way. Rocha's journey to Washington's gay rights march has been painful, thanks, he says to a stint in the Navy.


JOSEPH ROCHA, FORMER NAVY DOG HANDLER: I could not wrap my head around the degradation and the barbarity of it.

COSTELLO: Rocha was 18 in 2005 when he joined the Navy's canine unit in Bahrain. He played by the military's rules and kept his sexual orientation under wraps. But even though he says no one in his unit knew he was gay, he still suffered because of something the Navy has long outlawed -- hazing.

ROCHA: I was ordered to get on my knees, pretend to have oral sex with another service member. I was instructed as to how to be more queeny, more queer, more homosexual, more believable.

COSTELLO: (on camera): And who was instructing you to do these things? ROCHA: My chief.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Rocha says the hazing was widespread - gay, straights and women in his unit were targets too.

In its own investigation of the Bahrain unit, the Navy found more than 90 incidents of hazing and other abuses, with sailors hog tied, force fed liver dog treats and told to make dog and duck sounds and duct- taped to a chair, rolled outside and then left in a dog kennel until released. According to the investigation, Rocha and several others in his unit also alleged the man who ordered much of the abuse was Chief Master at Arms Michael Toussaint.

SHAUN HOGAN, NAVY RESERVIST: He loves his authority, he loves his power.

COSTELLO: Shaun Hogan says he was hazed too. He and other sailor told CNN that Toussaint created such an atmosphere of fear, no one was immune, even Toussaint's number two, Jennifer Valdivia.

HOGAN: On video, I witnessed another training scenario where Michael Toussaint ordered Jennifer Valdivia, his second in command, to - well, she was dressed, apparently, only in a bed sheet and she was handcuffed to a bed in a barracks room and she was in a - almost like a cat fight with two other women.

COSTELLO (on camera): It's unclear whether Toussaint was found to have violated any rules or if any disciplinary action has been taken against him. We do know he has since been promoted to Senior Chief, working with the Navy SEALS. We tried for a week to reach Toussaint for a comment - he didn't respond. Navy spokesman told us he is now deployed and declining interview requests.

COSTELLO (voice-over): As for Toussaint's number two, Jennifer Valdivia, her father told us she expected to take the fall for what happened in Bahrain. She committed suicide after posting this message on MySpace: "Tired of being blamed for other people's mistakes.

COSTELLO (on camera): Do you still love the Navy?

ROCHA: I love the Navy. I love the Navy...

COSTELLO: How is that possible now?

ROCHA: Because I understand that this is not a representation of the military.

COSTELLO (voice-over): But Rocha has left the Navy. He's in college now and hopes one day the Navy will do what's right and hold someone accountable for what happened in Bahrain.


COSTELLO (on camera): Rocha believes the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is in part responsible for creating a climate within the military that allows such abuses to go unpunished. The Navy is now reviewing actions taken since its 2007 investigation, telling CNN, "The incident that occurred within the Military Working Dog Division does not reflect who we are as a Navy." Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you. Shocking stuff. Let's talk a little bit more about it with Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania. He's a retired US Navy admiral, spent three decades in the Navy and wants a full investigation.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Good to be here, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: What do you make of this, as someone who served in the Navy for so many years?

SESTAK: This is certainly a rogue - absolutely a rogue unit, and I don't understand how it has happened. But I also agree with what Joe Rocha said. This Navy of ours is excellent. We have a wonderful Chief of Naval Operations, Gary Roughead. I have no doubt that he will investigate this and find out what occurred in two regards. First, how could this leader of this unit ever be permitted to have done that and fix it with accountability for him and, second, how high up the chain of command did this go, that once an investigation was done and they had found out that damage was being done to our sailors, that those up the chain of command did not enforce that type of accountability that the investigation, the original one, had recommended be done?

I just don't understand how this occurred.

BLITZER: Because he's been apparently promoted, working with the elite Navy SEALS right now, which sounds, you know - we haven't heard necessarily his side of the story, but based on what we heard from these eyewitnesses, pretty incredible.

SESTAK: When you read the investigation, it - it's outrageous, and it's almost nauseating. Look, our leaders who are out there, chief petty officers, commissioned officers, are given the highest honor that our country can give to anyone, and that's to lead our men and women into harm's way. These individuals are responsible for those we entrust in them, but they're also accountable with that trust, and in this case something broke down. It broke down both with that individual who damaged his people - one committing suicide - but it also broke down in that this systemic problem in this unit once we found out about it, we just didn't fix it.

It's a wonderful Navy, but - again, I believe that this is an aberration, but if it's not handled correctly, it speaks volumes because our public institutions serve our nation and we can't lose that trust as often we have in Congress, quite frankly.

BLITZER: Is it appropriate - you're on the Armed Services Committee, to hold hearings on this so that everyone learns from these incidents?

SESTAK: Yes, it is. This is - would probably be addressed by our Personnel Committee. I'm waiting to see what Admiral Roughead - who, again, I want to emphasize, I have great trust - handles an institution that takes care in a transparent accountable way and makes the outcome of it transparent is the best way, I believe to handle situations like this. Because again, I don't believe this is systemic throughout the Navy. As a matter of fact, I know it's not.

This truly is an aberration, but we've had them before at Abu Ghraib and other places, and I also believe at Abu Ghraib where we didn't see who up, above that young woman we saw who had someone with a dog collar chained to a - chained to an Iraqi, how high up - how high up the chain of command did this actually go?

Look, we officers, commissioned officers, are ultimately the ones responsible, and that's why I want to know who actually up the chain knew about the accountability that wasn't taken.

BLITZER: Congressman, you heard the sailor say he - he kept his - his homosexuality secret while he served in the Navy under the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, but he believes that policy was partially responsible for this incident. Do you, as someone who's served in the Navy for more than 30 years, who retired as an - as an admiral, I believe a three-star admiral, do you believe it's time to do away with "Don't ask, don't tell?"

SESTAK: We should have done away with it years ago. I have a petition that's ongoing right now, gathered a thousand signatures this weekend, to repeal "Don't ask, don't tell."

How could I, having gone to war, where public surveys let us know we did have gay members come home and say they don't have equal rights - we are losing good men and women, and we're not adhering - we're absolutely not adhering to the ideals that - of our nation, that everyone is treated and respected equally, and I think that was part of what led to this, although, on the whole, it's a lack of accountability.

And I hope that this year, prior to December, that our president, having taken care of the creating (ph) of out economy, having - dealing with health care, takes care of something having to do with our ideals, and that's repeal "Don't ask, don't tell." Our service will be better (ph) for it.

BLITZER: And you're not - you're not worried about good order and discipline? Because some of your former colleagues in the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Army, the Air Force, they're afraid of what they called good order and discipline if this is changed right now.

SESTAK: Two items: first, on an aircraft carrier, there's 5,000 sailors, and I commanded an aircraft carrier in a battle group (ph) in a war. The average age of those 5,000 sailors is 19 and a half, and, frankly, they don't care. That's how they've become the younger generation. And second of all, if you have good order and discipline being enforced by a commander, then you wouldn't have any problems. We learned that as we integrated our forces both with people of color and women.

Good order and discipline is what is all needed by a good commanding officer, and people respect someone who actually respects others as equal, and that's what those are who are who have different orientation, sexual orientation. I strongly believe that.

BLITZER: Congressman Sestak, thanks for coming in.

SESTAK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: President Obama is pledging solidarity with gays and lesbians, but is it enough to placate the growing frustration with what many see as his inaction on some critical issues, including what we just discussed, "Don't ask, don't tell"? I'll ask an Iraq war veteran who is being kicked out right now, a west point grad.

And it's the auction of a lifetime for Barbra Streisand fans. The star telling us why she's selling so many of her personal items.


BLITZER: President Obama could not have asked for a friendlier audience. He was the main speaker at the annual dinner Saturday night of the Human Rights Campaign. That's the nation's largest gay rights group. His speech came amid growing frustration, though, amongst some who say the president is not doing enough to fulfill campaign promises he made to advance gay rights.

The president acknowledged that in his speech, and he promised he will be doing more.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This story, this fight continues now, and I'm here with a simple message. I'm here with you in that fight, for even as we face extraordinary challenges as a nation, we cannot and we will not put aside issues of basic equality.

I greatly appreciate the support I've received from many in this room. I also appreciate that - I also appreciate that many of you don't believe progress has come fast enough. I want to be honest about that, because it's important to be honest among friends. Now - now, I've said this before. I'll repeat it again. It's not for me to tell you to be patient any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African-Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago, but I will say this. We have made progress, and we will make more.

We are moving ahead on "Don't ask, don't tell." We should not - we should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we're fighting two wars. We cannot afford - we cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight, any more than we can afford for our military's integrity to force those willing to do so in their careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie.

So I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the Members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end "Don't ask, don't tell." That's my commitment to you.

That's why I support ensuring that committed gay couples have the same rights and responsibilities afforded to any married couple in this country. I believe strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away and passing laws that extend equal rights to gay couples. I've required all agencies in the federal government to extend as many federal benefits as possible to LGBT families as the current law allows, and I've called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and to pass the Domestic Partners Benefit and Obligations Act.


BLITZER: Now, let's talk about the president's speech and more. Joining us now is Army National Guard Lieutenant Dan Choi. He's a West Point graduate. He's fluent in Arabic. He served in Iraq. He was - he's in the process right now of being discharged from the US Army because he revealed he's gay and that goes against the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

You were there at the Human Rights dinner when the president made those statements, made those commitments. Did you believe him?

LT. DAN CHOI, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: There's a lot of words, a lot of promises. Maybe it's because I'm a military man and I tend to judge people based on their actions and not their - their words, but I'll wait to see what he actually does.

But I did see that he's a commander in chief and he's essentially saying I will end don't ask, don't tell. He didn't say I was going to change it or I was going to wait for, you know, a different kind of compromise. He said I will end it.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Just get rid of it and allow men and women like you to serve openly in the United States military?

CHOI: That's right. But what I heard is he's putting all of his leaders in the Pentagon and everywhere else on notice, this is what's happening. Get in line with it.

BLITZER: But you realize he can't just do it by himself. Congress has to pass legislation.

CHOI: Well, there are a lot of people that say that, but there is an executive order option that he can use, and so he can halt the discharges.

And so already there's been about 600 people during his tenure in office this year that have been kicked out, over 13,000 have that have been kicked out since the beginning of this policy.

BLITZER: But if he gets Congress to enact new legislation, pass a new law, then his successor wouldn't be able to revoke that executive order. It would be the permanent law of the land, which would be better, right? CHOI: Well, it's interesting that you bring that up. There's a lot of people who say we shouldn't put pressure on the president, on our commander in chief to do the right thing right now. They say that that that's the reason why they don't want him to do that.

But if you look at it, if you stop firing people for telling the truth, then they will be the same situation like you see in Israel or in Canada or in any of our NATO allies that are fighting right alongside in Afghanistan. They have no discriminatory bans. They are OK with soldiers being honest, and you'll see there's not a problem with it.

BLITZER: Listen to Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. He spoke yesterday on why he doesn't think this is necessarily a good time in the midst of two wars to change don't ask, don't tell. Listen to this.


SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, (R) GEORGIA: Well, my question back to the president is why? We've got a program that's working within the military. It's been very effective, very accommodating for about 15, 16 years now, and it's worked well and I think there's no reason to change it.

I get calls from military personnel on a regular basis every time this issue gets stirred up, and this is not a popular discussion within the military, I can assure you.


BLITZER: Obviously he strongly disagrees with you. What do you want to say to Senator Chambliss?

CHOI: Well, for people who actually know what's going on on the ground -- I get messages, too. I get messages from soldiers that say thank you for speaking up on our behalf, because we felt isolated or we felt alone.

And as a leader, as somebody who actually cares and sees the truth on the ground, I know that my responsibility is to make sure that they are not isolated. When we're going to war, when we're in two wars right now, why would we kick out soldiers that are honest about themselves?

Yesterday I was at the march on Washington. I saw thousands of young Americans, patriotic, fighting for equality. So many of those college students that would join their ROTC programs in a heartbeat, that would go and be a part of the surge in Afghanistan if they needed to be, and we are kicking them out.

BLITZER: Why -- why did you decide to come out and become public in your sexual orientation?

CHOI: Well, I look at my West Point ring and I'm reminded of the honor code that we learned on day one. Beyond all of the things that we learn or any of the things that we're forced to do, we learn on the first day that a cadet will not lie or tolerate those who lie. It's that simple, and it says it right there on my West Point ring -- "honor."

So all of those soldiers, all of those future soldiers and future leaders that aren't willing to join right now because they would be forced to lie, they say our integrity is more important than anything else. Our integrity is the most important thing.

BLITZER: So what's your bottom line message to President Obama right now, having heard his speech Saturday night, knowing that he made in commitment Saturday night, that it will end, don't ask, don't tell, just give him some time, he's got some other pressing issues on his agenda right now?

If they are watching you at the White House, what do you want to say?

CHOI: There's so many things on everybody's plate right now, and if we need soldiers in Afghanistan, I am willing to go, and there are thousands that are willing to go, but they just don't want to lie anymore.

The time is now to do it. We cannot wait. As our commander in chief we are begging you to restore integrity to our service.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Choi, thanks very much for coming in.

CHOI: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just a short time ago, by the way, the California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill mandating equal treatment for gay partners in matters of health insurance.

But the governor's signing statement is already sparking controversy. It says that any gay marriage performed legally in any other state during the period when gay marriage was legal in California is also legal in California.

The governor also signed into law a bill creating a day of commemoration on the birthday of Harvey Milk, a gay activist, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in a major U.S. city.

Rush Limbaugh wants to own a piece of the NFL's St. Louis Rams, but will the players union try to stop him at the line of scrimmage?

Stay with us, you're in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other important stories coming in to "The Situation Room" right now. Betty, what's going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a series of deadly suicide bombings in the Iraqi city of Ramadi is raising fears of renewed violence in a former Al Qaeda stronghold. At least 19 were killed in the blast yesterday. Iraqi police closed off the city, which is north of Baghdad, and imposed a curfew. Authorities believe the coordinated bombings were carried out by the Sunni militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq.

It's something new even to the most hardened Cubs fans. Their beloved team is in bankruptcy. The Cubs filed for Chapter 11 today. But it's part of a plan to sell the team to a new owner for $845 million. The bankruptcy is expected to last only a few days.

In Baltimore yesterday, a proper funeral and burial for poet and master of macabre Edgar Allan Poe. The ceremony sought to make amends for Poe's first burial some 160 years ago only a handful of mourners attended back then. But yesterday hundreds lined the streets and crowded a hall where two funerals.

The services reported celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth. You remember the "The Tell Tale Heart," "The Raven," al those.

BLITZER: Who doesn't? Thanks Betty, very much.

The insurance industry firing back at the Democrats' health care reform plan, warning that the current plans could raise your costs by thousands of dollars. The White House and Congressional Democrats are firing back.

And Barbra Streisand fans get the chance to bid on some of her personal items. The star herself tells CNN why she's putting them up for auction.


BLITZER: It's a fan's dream come true, a chance to own personal items belonging to your favorite star, in this case, Barbra Streisand. Once again let's go to CNN's entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter -- Kareen?


Get your money ready if you want to own something Streisand.


Award-winning entertainer Barbra Streisand is putting more than 500 items up for auction, clothes, knickknacks, and artwork, all available to the highest bidder.

DARREN JULIEN, PRESIDENT, JULIEN'S AUCTIONS: We estimate the sale to bring between $400,000 to $600,000.

WYNTER (on camera): Even in this economy?


WYNTER (voice-over): Darren Julien of Julien's Auctions gave us an exclusive early look, a rare glimpse into an iconic life, stuff that's kept away in closets and cupboards. So why is Streisand doing it? I talked to her on the phone.

BARBRA STREISAND, SINGER SELLING BELONGINGS: If you can't really use something anymore even though it belonged to you for a long time and you loved it, it's great to pass it on.

WYNTER: All the proceeds from the auction, like these dolls and teddy bears, will go directly to the Streisand Foundation which has doled out millions for a variety of charities for 23 years.

The items are plucked from her various homes, and you can bid on everything from her rugs to her drapes, and lots of antiques.

STREISAND: I've had that dentist cabinet since I was about 18. Was one of the first things I ever bought. I kind of will miss it, but I can't really use it. I haven't got the space for it.

WYNTER: Belongings tied to her music are expected to fetch competitive bids, like this dress she wore when she returned to stage after a 25-year absence, this outfit she wore to accept a Grammy in the mid-'80s, and her baby grand piano.

STREISAND: That was when I was eight pounds heavier, I have to tell everybody.

WYNTER: And you can't forget the accomplished movie career spanning four decades.

A robe she wore in "The Way we Were," a vest and yarmulkes from "Yentl," a bridesmaid's dress from "The Mirror has Two Faces," and loads from "Meet the Fockers."

STREISAND: Some of those things are back in style, I swear to god. If you hold onto something long enough it comes back in style.


WYNTER: The auction atarts this weekend and, if you want to have a little more Streisand in your home, you can always bid on this cardboard cutout.


BLITZER: Kareen, thanks very much. Kareen Wynter reporting.