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20 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall; Sarkozy Shares Berlin Memories; D.C. Sniper's Ex-Wife Says She Was His Real Target; Juvenile Life Terms Challenged; Radical Islamists Hail Hasan as Hero; Tropical Storm Ida Bears Down on Gulf Coast

Aired November 9, 2009 - 17:00   ET


CAFFERTY: And Ron writes: "It matters a great deal. It's hard enough to survive on unemployment benefits. Try paying a Cobra payment on top of everything else -- it can't be done. Of course, all that matters to the politicians is that they get reelected."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, check my blog at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack.

Thank you.

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

Happening now, a growing sense of urgency right now -- efforts to contain Iran's nuclear program apparently at a new stalemate and a unilateral strike by Israel a very real possibility.

How long will the Israelis wait?

I'll ask the country's defense minister, Ehud Barack. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, first to arrive on the scene of a massacre -- what was it like at Fort Hood in the moments immediately after the shooting spree that left 13 people dead?

Our first -- one first responder recounts the horror for us.

And 20 years today since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our own correspondent, Frederick Pleitgen, remembers that and much more. He grew up on both sides of the wall. The memories, the celebrations and a lot more -- we're going live to Berlin.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


An ominous new development in the case of three young American hikers that wandered into Iranian territory. After more than three months in custody, they now face charges of espionage. The news is chilling for their families and their case is now dramatically more complicated.

So what can the U.S. do?

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is over at the State Department -- Jill, what are you picking up?

What are they saying there?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the State Department still has not confirmed officially that the hikers have been officially charged with espionage. But they say if those reports are true, it would be outrageous and for the families, devastating.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) is hot, it's cause I'm in Iraq.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In a video shot days before they were arrested at Iran's border, the three American hikers look like anything but spies -- held for more than 100 days, now apparently accused of espionage. Once again, Americans appear to be bargaining chips for Iran, even as the Obama administration tries to engage with Tehran to stop its nuclear program.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever. And we would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them so they can return home.

DOUGHERTY: But beyond asking for compassion, the U.S. has virtually no leverage. Washington has no diplomatic relations with Iran, the hikers have been visited in a Tehran prison twice by a Swiss diplomat.

In a statement Monday, the families admit the hikers apparently strayed into Iran by accident, but say: "The allegation that our loved ones may have been engaged in espionage is untrue."

The families are trying to use public pressure, a Web site and rallies for Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal across the U.S. and in eight countries.

Monday, Iran's president insisted the Americans broke the law by crossing the border, but said he had no opinion on any charges of espionage. The mother of one of the hikers says.


CINDY HICKEY, HIKER'S MOTHER: It's way too long and we're anxious to get them home.


BLITZER: Jill, so what -- what's the assessment over there?

What are the Iranians up to right now? DOUGHERTY: You know, there are a lot of different possibilities, Wolf. No one is making a direct link right now between the hikers' case and negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, but both issues are happening at the same time. They're at a delicate stage. And also, some U.S. officials say this could be the Iranian government playing the anti-American card in order to shore up domestic support in Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very sensitive issue, indeed.

Let's hope for the best for those three Americans.

Jill will stay on top of this story at the State Department.

The case of those hikers comes on top of a growing sense of urgency in dealing with Iran's nuclear program. Efforts to reach a deal are in limbo right now. And outside of Washington, no one is more concerned than Israel, which fears it could be the target of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Would the Israelis act alone to take out Iran's nukes if, in fact, they ever get nukes?

I spoke about that and much more with the Israeli defense minister, the former prime minister, Ehud Barack.


BLITZER: And it's still possible that the Iranian nuclear program, the tensions with the US, the Europeans, with Israel, that can be resolved diplomatically?


BLITZER: I know you hope so, but...


BLITZER: you believe it will be?

BARAK: I'm not sure. I don't try to make predictions in the Middle East. We all prefer that it will be -- it will be solved by a certain kind of influence or even sanctions. But no one can tell you whether it will happen.

BLITZER: How much time is there, because that's -- everybody realizes that the clock is ticking and at some point, your government probably will take action.

BARAK: I don't want to comment on this directly. But I say that basically there is not a lot of time. They've already accumulated enough material to be able to produce a single nuclear bomb if they go into high enrichment. And they now consider removing three quarters of it. If it will happen, it will take them backward one year. But it doesn't mean that it will stop them from keep enriching. BLITZER: I guess I'm...


BLITZER: I guess the question is how much time will you give the Obama administration and the Europeans to try to resolve this nuclear issue?

BARAK: Well, Wolf, we are not in a position to dictate to the rest of the world. We are small partners in the big game.

BLITZER: But you are in a position to take unilateral action, which you've done against an Iraqi nuclear facility...

BARAK: We...

BLITZER: ...a Syrian nuclear facility. And there's a lot of people wondering when is Israel going to take action against Iran.

BARAK: We still clearly prefer the issue to be solved by determined sanctions. But it should be done with a time -- within reasonable time limits, which is a month -- or the long month, but not years. And then the time will come to consider what's -- what should be done if that doesn't work.

Our position is clear and consistent. We keep to -- we do not remove any option from the table. We recommend to others not to remove any option from the table. And we -- we mean what we say.

BLITZER: Because the Iranians have made it clear that if Israel were to take action -- military action, a military strike -- they would retaliate. And they've got missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. They -- they can reach your -- your major populated areas.

BARAK: We -- we don't have any illusion that dealing with Iran is not going -- is not going to be a picnic, not for us, not for the rest of the world. But we believe strongly it's a major challenge for the whole world. I can hardly think of a -- a non-proliferation regime if Iran turns into a nuclear military power, not to mention any considerable stable world order, especially in the Middle East. And I think that they have beckoned the minds, the example of North Korea. If North Korea can keep getting away with whatever they have done, it signals to Iran that the whole world is not determined enough to stop.

BLITZER: Because if the Iranians retaliated, let's say, it wouldn't take long for Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza. They would certainly start firing rockets at your populated centers, as well.

BARAK: You know, Wolf, you -- you leave no doubt that you're interested in talking about the consequences of possible (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: People have to think about that.

BARAK: Yes. I -- I don't want to talk about it. I keep telling you it's still time for action, determined sanctions regime. But if these fail, I think that no serious player should remove any option from the table. And we are not removing.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the peace process with the Palestinians.

There is no peace process right now with the Palestinians, is there?

BARAK: We -- we see it as a -- probably the highest priority on our agenda and, we believe, on the regional agenda and to...

BLITZER: More than Iran right now?

BARAK: launch one. I think that we have to launch as early as possible not just a process, but a determined effort to -- to put an end to the conflict with our neighbors, the Palestinians, as well as with the Syrians and the Lebanese. And I think the time is right. I think that it could not happen without the leadership role of President Obama. I think that his leadership is essential and could contribute to it. And we have to be ready to contribute our own (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of frustration, as you know. Thomas Friedman, "The New York Times" columnist, writing in Sunday's "New York Times": "The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes with the same old tired cliches and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency, not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit."

And Friedman goes on to say: "The president of the United States, he doesn't see the Israelis or the Palestinians respond concretely and the Arab world very quickly, the U.S. should just walk away."

BARAK: If what Tom Friedman wrote reflects the mood in the administration's top level, I think we have a -- an urgent role to try to change this impression and to convince the American leadership that this government of Israel and the people of Israel are all right for the toughest, most painful decision in order to put an end to (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Because the Obama administration has very -- they -- they begged you to stop all settlement activity and your government said no.

BARAK: No. I think we -- we have done more than any previous government in Israel, including my own or Rabin's. And we are ready to -- to do more. But at the same time, it's -- you know, it's not through just exchange of criticism. It's through readiness to -- to be involved in action. I believe that we are ready. We are ripe for it. There is no higher priority. The alternatives are much worse.

BLITZER: And is there a partner on the other side, do you believe?

BARAK: I believe that Abu Mazen and Fayyad are making a -- a huge contribution to the Palestinian people. They are Palestinian patriots. They do not agree to our positions, but I think that there is enough common ground for both of us to launch a -- an effective negotiation and make it within a limited time frame, ending with a -- with an agreement.

I think it's possible. We are just 14 years after Rabin was assassinated, exactly the result of his direct (INAUDIBLE) peace. I believe that both peoples are ripe and should do it in order to live up to our responsibility for the next generation.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope that there is a peace process. And let's hope it achieves peace.

Defense Minister, thanks very much for coming in.

BARAK: Thank you.


BLITZER: He was among first on the scene at the massacre at Fort Hood.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next thing we heard over the radio was, "Shots fired, officer down."


BLITZER: First responders are recounting a horrifying scene.

And while thousands risked their lives at the Berlin Wall, how -- how was CNN's Frederick Pleitgen able to drive right through that wall every day during the cold war?

Stand by.

And Oprah Winfrey shares her new book club pick with CNN.


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

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the Army might have had a terrorist in its midst and not even known it. As the days pass now, there are more and more signs that Army major and psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who slaughtered 13 people and wounded 42 others, was an Islamic extremist who was sympathetic to Al Qaeda and had strong objections to U.S. policies in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Independent Senator Joe Lieberman says the shootings could have been a terrorist attack and that he'll launch an investigation into whether the military could have stopped it.

Lieberman, who chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, says there is evidence that Hasan was a "self- radicalized, homegrown terrorist."

If that's true, last week's slaughter could be the worst terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Witnesses say at the time of the shootings, Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar!" Arabic for "God is Great!" something that terrorists have used as a battle cry in the past.

Then there's this. Hasan apparently attended the same Virginia mosque as two of the 9/11 hijackers in 2001, at a time when a radical spiritual leader preached there -- a preacher who has since left the country.

ABC News reports that U.S. intelligence agencies knew for months that Hasan was trying to contact people associated with Al Qaeda.

And, finally, former classmates complained repeatedly about what they saw as Hasan's anti-American views. One says Hasan gave a presentation that justified suicide bombing and talked about how Islamic law trumped the U.S. Constitution. This is a guy in the Army.

The Army is not ruling out terrorism, but is concerned about a possible backlash against Muslim soldiers.

Here's the question -- do you think those Fort Hood shootings were an act of terrorism?

Go to and post your comments on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of questions out there, very disturbing questions.

CAFFERTY: Oh, huge.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Major Hasan is now conscious and communicating with doctors. He was shot several times by a police officer. He's still in critical condition, but we don't know yet if he's spoken to investigators.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now.

He's at Fort Hood -- Ed, you've been speaking to some who were first on the scene when the shots were fired.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it's interesting, Lieutenant General Bob Cone, the top soldier here at Fort Hood, says that as they prepare for the memorial service here at Fort Hood, that there are 600 people that were directly involved in yesterday's attack, either helping out or responding in whatever way and all the other families that were on -- on the post here. And he says that those people are their -- are their main concern right now because of stories like this one that you're about to hear.


LAVANDERA: (voice-over): The sound and images of what Billy Rhoads experienced in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings is just now sinking in.

CHIEF BILLY RHOADS, FORT HOOD FIRE DEPARTMENT: I feel like my -- my memory card is full, that I can't take nothing else in right now.

LAVANDERA: At 1:30 last Thursday, the Fort Hood fire chief was standing in this office planning schedules with a few co-workers.

RHOADS: The next thing we heard over the radio was, "Shots fired, officer down."

LAVANDERA: Rhoads raced to his office, grabbed a radio and a bulletproof vest, jumped in his vehicle and rushed to the scene. The radio sounds were chaotic and intense.

(on camera): Could you tell, based on what you were hearing, that you were about to confront such a horrifying scene?

RHOADS: Yes. Not -- not to the magnitude that it ended up being. I assumed that we would have some -- maybe, you know, several victims. But I had no idea -- no -- I just couldn't fathom what we were going to encounter. I think when I pulled up on the scene and looked over and seen the police uniform laying over on the ground injured, I think that was probably of the one of the most vivid things I seen.

LAVANDERA: (voice-over): The officer was Kimberley Munley, the woman whose actions credited with ending the shooting spree. Two soldiers were treating a serious leg wound.

RHOADS: I got over to her and began trying to talk to her and keep her -- you know, keep in contact with me, staying conscious with us. The soldiers had done a great job. I credit them probably for saving her life. And there were soldiers everywhere taking care of their buddies, the wounded on the ground. The soldiers, the civilian workers, everybody was doing everything they could to -- to provide care to the injured. It was a -- a remarkable scene to see.

LAVANDERA: The only scene Bill Rhoads can't fully describe is what was going on inside the room where the shooting erupted.

(on camera): Can you describe what it looks like -- what it looked like in there?

RHOADS: I can -- I really -- I -- I didn't see it. I just seen victims. All's I know is that I was -- I was listening to people hollering for people and trying to get to -- in there to see, you know, exactly what we had. LAVANDERA: It wasn't until nearly two hours later, after all the wounded had been helped, that Billy Rhoads realized that this moment would stay with him forever.

RHOADS: You know, it -- it's very emotional for everybody when we -- when we lose our soldiers. But when we, I guess, have to lose them here at home like this it, it just puts it -- it takes it to a different level.


LAVANDERA: Wolf, here at Fort Hood, preparations continue for tomorrow's memorial service, which will be held by these massive containers that you see behind me. The memorial service will take place in that area that they're calling the zone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much.

And we're going to have special live coverage of tomorrow's memorial service at Fort Hood, including the remarks from President Obama. Our coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. I'll be anchoring our coverage for that. You can also catch full coverage on our Web site. Just go to

Alarming talk of war from one of Washington's most outspoken adversaries -- the warning coming in from the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.

And millions of American families use them. Now, a massive recall of a stroller you see almost everywhere. Details of the very real danger to kids -- that's coming up.


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

NGUYEN: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is warning his country's military to prepare for war with neighboring Colombia and he accuses the U.S. of laying the groundwork for such a war. Chavez expressed concern over Washington's military agreements with Bogota. These warnings come days after Venezuela sent 15,000 soldiers to its border with Colombia. So far, though, no combat has been reported.

OK, all you parents of young children, pay attention to this story, because a million strollers -- yes, a million strollers made by Maclaren are being recalled because of children's fingers -- and they can being caught and mangled in the hinges. The strollers were sold mostly at Target and Babies"R"Us. And we're going to give you the models. You see them right up there. They are Volo, Triumph, Quest Sport, Quest Mod, Techno XT, Techno XLR, Twin Triumph, Twin Techno and Easy Traveller.

Once again, these are umbrella strollers made by Maclaren. A million of them have been recalled.

And we want you to take a look at this picture live from Pensacola Beach, Florida. You see the waves crashing there. The winds are blowing. We're talking about Tropical Storm Ida, expected to make landfall overnight somewhere near Mobile, Alabama. We are watching it for you and, of course, we'll bring you the latest when we know.

BLITZER: And we hope everybody is ready for that storm as well, Betty.

Thanks very much.

He was a boy when the Berlin Wall fell. Today, CNN's Frederick Pleitgen and his father share some personal memories of life in the two Berlins before and after the wall came down.

And she went into hiding when John Muhammad went on his shooting spree. With the D.C. sniper's execution only a day away, his ex-wife tells her story -- why she thinks she was the ultimate target.

And a terrible mistake and lifetime in prison -- is life without parole too much for juvenile criminals?

The U.S. Supreme Court takes on the thorny question.


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

Happening now, the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, a triumph for individual freedom -- but should U.S. foreign policy still be based on human rights?

Senator John McCain says absolutely, positively, yes. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM live. That's coming up.

And he's accused of mass murder, the act of a madman -- but was he really just insane?

We're going to give you some special insight into Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

And the Gulf Coast braces for Tropical Storm Ida -- heading inland with high speeds and up to eight inches of rain.

How worried should you be if you live on the coast?

We're going to get the latest from Chad Myers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


In the German capital right now, thousands of people are celebrating the demise of a notorious landmark that literally divided the city, but also divided the whole of Europe. 20 years ago tonight the Berlin Wall crumbled waiving the way for German reunification and the collapse of the soviet empire. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in Berlin and joins us now.

Fred, you grew up in Berlin, and you remember life, what it was like when that wall was there. What was it like?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I certainly do, Wolf. Basically what happened back then is that my dad was actually the correspondent for west German TV but working inside East Berlin so we were west Germans living in East Berlin and really we got a full glimpse of life, what it was like on the eastern side of the bothered, and every morning my mom actually had to take me through the Berlin Wall to get to kindergarten in the west side of the city, and I can tell you my parents weren't really treated very well by the border guards. Every time they went there they made my mom show her left ear. Had you to show that back then in your passport and were meticulous about things, searched a lot, my parents were, and really it was a very, very difficult time, you know. People didn't have a lot of things that other people had in the west, and certainly, you know, people were just trying to make due with what they got, but it was a very, very difficult sort of life that people had to lead there, Wolf.

BLITZER: 20 years ago today, Fred, where were you when the Berlin Wall fall?

PLEITGEN: Back then we had moved back to West Germany. I was actually watching it in front of the television, but I can tell you that for my parents back then who had lived so long in the east, it was a very difficult and very painful time because one of the things that they discovered after the wall came down is that basically during the five years that we had lived there, we had been spied on by a lot of people from the East German intelligence service, from the Stasi. They had miked up my dad's office. He had 15 informants spying on us at all times, people that we knew, friends with my family, were all reporting everything that we were talking about to the Stasi, to the East German Secret Police, so certainly after the wall came down a lot of friendships were broken up. There were a lot of disappointments and a lot of people my parents aren't talking to anymore, so certainly it was a very, very painful and difficult time after the wall came down, wall.

BLITZER: 20 years ago today. Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

Construction of the Berlin Wall began in august of 1916 and eventually encircled West Berlin reaching almost 100 miles in length. The section dividing East and West Berlin ranged in height from 11 to 13 feet, and on the eastern side of the wall was supplanted an area called no-man's-land or what they called the death strip. Anyone trying to approach the wall would first face land mines, electric fences, dog patrols and trenches as well as 300 towers where guards were under orders to shoot to kill. Despite all that, more than 100,000 people from the east tried to get past the wall. Somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 were successful. The fall of the Berlin Wall was such a momentous occasion for people all over the world. Now, 20 years later people are sharing their images and their memories of this historic event, including the French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Our internet correspondent Abbi Tatton is here with more on this part of the story, specifically Sarkozy.

Abbi, what is he sharing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Take a look at this picture. Look who was there that night or days afterwards, Nicolas Sarkozy, a younger Nicolas Sarkozy there posting a picture on Facebook over the weekend. Then he was a political official in his 30s, posted this to Facebook along with the description of being there in the days that followed the wall coming down. There's been some discussion about when exactly the photo was taken, whether it was the night the wall came down or in the subsequent days, but Sarkozy writing on Facebook that his memory was of families around him tearing at the concrete, reuniting after decades of separation.

There are people sharing their memories like this all over the web right now, and I want to point you to some pictures that are at This set really stood out to me from Mark Hayne studying in west Germany at the time and hitch-hiked towards Berlin as soon as he heard the news what. He remembers was the cars, the traffic everywhere. Whether that was people in East Germany desperately trying to get west as soon as possible or people trying to see history unfold heading into Berlin, an absolute crush of people. We always see the picture of the people right at the wall. As can you see from this there were so many more just trying to get close. Take a look at There's a lot of stories there that are quite incredible.

BLITZER: It's a valuable, valuable resource especially on this historic day. Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

The worst crime short of murder and the punishment short of death. The U.S. Supreme Court takes on a divisive question that could seal the fate of juvenile criminals.

And she says she tried to warn the world about D.C. sniper John Muhammad before he went on the rampage that killed ten people. The killer's ex-wife is now telling us her story.

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


BLITZER: Appeals are running out for the convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad. The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to block Muhammad's scheduled execution by lethal injection tomorrow evening in Virginia. Muhammad was the mastermind before the 2002 killing spree in the D.C. area that left almost a dozen people dead. CNN's Jeanne Meserve spoke with his ex-wife.

Jeanne? JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Washington sniper killed ten people, but John Muhammad's ex-wife Mildred believes she should also be counted as one of his victims.


MESERVE: The cries for help began years before the first sniper shooting. When John Muhammad returned from desert storm depressed and despondent, Mildred Muhammad asked the military to give him counseling. He didn't get it. Instead, he turned on her.

MILDRED MUHAMMAD, EX-WIFE OF JOHN MUHAMMAD: He told me that pretty meant stupid so I wasn't intelligent enough to make decisions on my own without him, that I wasn't smart enough to do anything unless he had his hand in it.

MESERVE: Why didn't you leave?

MUHAMMAD: Because I wanted to keep my family together.

MESERVE: When Mildred did eventually file for divorce, John threatened to kill her. She says police were unresponsive. She got a restraining order to keep John away from her, but when he took her three children out of the country without her knowledge or consent she says an FBI agent said to put herself in jeopardy.

MUHAMMAD: He said, well, Miss Muhammad, since we know he's looking for you, we want to put you in the middle of a parking lot and use you as a decoy. This way we can lure him out. I said, excuse me, sir. It's going to be a head shot. He said, okay, well, we're just trying to help you out.

MESERVE: Many people, including Mildred, believe the sniper shootings were intended to mask John's real turns, killing her to get custody of his children. Even after his arrest Mildred was scared. At his trial he asked for and got extra protection in case he tried to rush her.

MUHAMMAD: He was going to snap my neck, that would be the quickest way to kill me, just, that's it.

MESERVE: Despite the fear and trauma she endured at the hands of John Muhammad, his ex-wife says some people blame her for the shooting spree. How does that show itself?

MUHAMMAD: Well, they indirectly say, well, you know, it's a terrible thing and if you wouldn't have taken the children away from him, then maybe he wouldn't would not have come over this way to kill you. If you would have stayed with him, then he just would have killed you. If you would have stayed on the west coast, then the people on the east coast would still be alive. If you would have treated him better, then maybe he wouldn't would not have turned out the way that he did. Even John, when the detective questioned him, asked him why did he do this, and he said it's Mildred's fault.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MESERVE: But Mildred Muhammad feels no guilt. She says she tried repeatedly to warn people about John but no one listened. Now she has started a non-profit to help other victims of domestic violence. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you. Jeanne Meserve reporting. How much is too much punishment for juvenile criminals, particularly those convicted of crimes other than homicide? The U.S. Supreme Court today heard arguments in the cases of two Florida inmates sentenced as juveniles to life without the possibility of parole. One for rape, the other for armed robbery. CNN's Kate Bolduan went to Pennsylvania, a state with one of the highest number of juvenile lifers as they are called and she found compelling arguments for both sides.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a story of two murders, both committed by juveniles. One is spending life behind bars. The other got a second chance and now the Supreme Court is considering just what type of punishment young criminals deserve.


BOLDUAN: This park just one block from Dawn and Darryl Romig's house in Allentown, Pennsylvania serves as a reminder of a horrific February day six years ago.

Does it ever get easier to see this?

DARYL ROMIG, PARENT OF MURDERED CHILD: Not really. Because I even go past to where she was actually found. I go past that every day so it's never really any easier.

BOLDUAN: Their 12-year-old daughter Danni left home to play with friends and never returned. She was brutally beaten, raped and killed bay 17-year-old neighbor.

DAWN ROMIG, PARENT OF MURDERED CHILD: He had a written plan on paper that they found in his school back, 23 things to do to a girl in the woods and he did it all.

BOLDUAN: Brian Barr was convicted as an adult and is serving life in prison with no chance of getting out. Dawn Romig says that's exactly where he belongs despite recent action in Pennsylvania and across the country to end what some view as sentences too harsh for young people.

ROMIG: We can't get her back if he can get his freedom back. He needs -- they need to serve their sentences, fully carried out.

BOLDUAN: That is the controversial question now before the high court. Is life without parole cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile criminals? Human rights watch estimates more than 2,500 juvenile offenders are currently serving life without parole in the U.S. 44 states allow for these sentences including more than a dozen states for criminals as young as 13.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The male role models out here are the male role models on the corner and that's who he lived up to.

BOLDUAN: Edwin has lived both sides of this debate. Convicted of murder at 16 he was paroled after eight years behind bars. He has since returned to the same rough Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up forming a non-profit group to help keep kids out of trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The message I'm trying to say is that you're capable of so much but we can skip the prison part. A lot of our kids believe that system -- the system is a part of their lives. They believe that they have to go through that or that's a part of life because they see it so much.

BOLDUAN: He argues the courts should consider age and environment when dealing with juvenile criminals. By and large, he says, they deserve a second chance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm dealing with kids out here today where they are living in rough conditions. They are in a home where they are being abused, physically, mentally, and -- and that's -- it's an issue.

BOLDUAN: Still you think if they commit the crime they can turn around and live a good life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most definitely. Most definitely. I turned around


BOLDUAN: Specific case before the high court deals with two non- murder crimes. The issues are wide ranging and give the justices an opportunity to rule fairly or cause sweeping change throughout the juvenile justice system. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kate Bolduan reporting for us, good report, thank you.

Last week's shooting at Ft. Hood in Texas is certainly no secret to the Arab and Muslim world. CNN's Octavia Nasar is standing by to examine the mixed reaction.

And CNN's and Oprah book club are joining forces right now for the new novel "Say You're The One."

Stick around. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Getting some reaction coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the Arab and Muslim world about the Ft. Hood massacre. CNN's senior editor of Mid East affairs Octavia Nasar has been monitoring it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) OCTAVIA NASAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On TV and among ordinary Arabs and Muslims condemnation of the attack was front and center. But radical Islamist groups were quick to hail Nidal Hasan as a, quote, hero. They described the shooting rampage at Ft. Hood as, quote, the blessed Jihadist attack. Over these images from the shooting aftermath, they play jihad songs glorifying the act and a chilling caption that reads our attacks will never stop till you take out your army from our land. Photos of Major Nidal Hasan, the suspect in Thursday's shooting spree, were flashed on TV screens across the globe, including in the Arab and Muslim world. On Arab networks the coverage focused mainly on the facts. Hasan's Palestinian background with a stress on the fact that he was born, raised and schooled in the U.S. and served in its military. Then editorials such as this one from al Arabia tied the killing to racism as it tried to answer why would a professional such as Hasan allegedly commit such a heinous act. "It's a paradox that when the U.S. celebrates its first president of Muslim origins, a Muslim American has no qualms killing 13 fellow Americans." In the meantime, this political cartoon says Hasan committed atrocities as a result of American influence.

Octavia Nasar, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: We're going to continue to monitor reaction coming from the Arab and Muslim world.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He has the Cafferty File. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is do you think those Ft. Hood shootings were an act of terrorism?

Ed writes from Texas, "Too early to speculate and those doing so better be right. There are 300 million Americans and 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. However, less than one percent are committing violent acts against us. Let's not get the remaining 99 percent mad at us for no reason."

Charles in New Jersey, "It was terrorism of the worst kind, from within, insidious because the Army facilitated it. How many more Islamic soldiers are wondering what side they're on? We thank the good American Muslim soldiers but politically correct tip-toeing allowed Hasan to fester and explode. Religious tolerance could become a smoke screen that we regret providing."

Mode in Oregon says, "It's obviously an act of terrorism but I don't think there was a state sponsor for what Nidal Hasan did. So it's not terrorism of al Qaeda caliber. I think Hasan simply went nuts when he realized he'd be forced to do something that he really couldn't justify ethically."

Robert says, "This question is irrelevant when the answer is obvious. The real question is why now are Muslims serving in the U.S. military? How can a faithful Muslim have peace of mind about what the military is doing in the Middle East? It's obvious not all do, such is the case with Army Major and psychiatrist Nidal Hasan. In my opinion, while this war wages on, no Muslim should be allowed to serve in a military against other kinds of Muslims."

And Ken in California says, "Don't know. I do know the constant redeployment back to hell (war) over and over has turned out volunteer military into a bunch of mental cripples. This is cruel and unusual punishment for those who serve and for the families who wait. Next time we go to war, get the nation on board, have a war tax, a draft, rationing like gasoline, maybe there would be some reluctance to gamble lives on the battlefield if we were all involved."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog and look for yours there. Wolf?

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thanks very much.

It's already unleashed deadly flooding in Central America. Now the storm called Ida is churning toward the Gulf Coast. You're looking at live pictures coming in from Pensacola Beach in Florida.

And Senator John McCain on the attack at Ft. Hood. What he has to say about that and a possible terror connection.


BLITZER: Certainly don't see them all that often this time of the year. Tropical storm Ida, though, is churning toward the gulf coast and people are hunkering down. Let's bring in our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's tracking Ida's progress.

What's going on right now? How worried should the folks along the gulf coast be?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, if you're anywhere from Biloxi all the way toward Panama City and Destin, you could see a storm surge of about five feet. If your house or you are less than that above sea level, especially with waves coming on top, you should be concerned. Otherwise, the biggest concern will be, I think, probably up here to the north, where it will be raining so much and there will be actually more flooding up there. There's the storm. Here's New Orleans here. This storm, the center right here and it will be moving up very close to Mobile. The big story is how it's going to make a big right-hand turn, maybe almost a 90-degree turn before it's all done.

Here are some of the wind gusts that we have now for you Wolf. Mobile, 33 miles per hour, Pensacola, 23, Panama City, 24. So the wind is blowing. This is not a category 3 hurricane. This won't be all that much. You get a wind gust at 60 miles per hour, you could get shingles off a home. Don't take it lightly by any stretch of the imagination. It's going to turn as a tropical storm, become a tropical depression and run over Tallahassee. There will be a lot of rain on both sides of this path, whether it goes to the right or the left of this path, we don't know yet. But we could see 5 to 6 inches of rainfall in any area here. This has been a wet area for a while. This could actually be a flooding threat more than anything else, I suppose.

BLITZER: It's a little late in the season. But the folks will deal with it hopefully in an appropriate way. We hope only the best. Thanks very much, Chad. Chad Myers reporting. He'll continue to monitor this Tropical Storm Ida.

CNN and Oprah's book club are teaming up to bring you a special book. Say you're one of them tells stories through the eyes of Rwandan children who tells stories unimaginable. A boy who tries about his sister who tries to stop her from selling her body to pay for his schooling, a young girl whose father is forced by an angry mob to kill her mother. The book was written by a Nigerian-born catholic priest.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's interesting the title of the book, "Say You're One of Them," which refers to a story in Rwanda during the genocide, it can also be interpreted as the reader being asked to imagine that each reader is one of the kids in this story. It's sometimes hard, I think, for folks here at home to put themselves in the shoes of somebody living in Africa. That's something even harder to interpret on television, to get people to do that.

OPRAH WINFREY, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": What is really hard, I will tell you this, over the years, I probably have not selected more than three or four books that had settings in places other than the United States because traditionally, Americans want to read about Americans. And Americans don't like names of foreign countries and they don't want foreign names in their stories. That's just a fact. So to choose this book and to have this book become number one on "The New York Times" bestseller list, but more important than that. I didn't even know if that could happen. More important to me is the reaction from people in the United States and all over the world to the stories of these children in the book. First of all, I got an e- mail from somebody who wasn't even aware of what had gone on in Rwanda. And to hear stories from people who have read this story, the stories in "Say You're One Of Them" and to hear how their hearts are opening up about conditions that children all over the world face all the time, that, to me, is why we read.


BLITZER: For special online content, go to You can read excerpts from the book and watch Oprah's video blogs. Also be sure to register for this Oprah book club event. Then join the event on the new tonight at 9:00 p.m. eastern, 8:00 central.