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THE SITUATION ROOM
Amanda Knox's Verdict Expected Soon; What if Cuba Gives Up Free Lunches?; Fumbles in Va Tech Massacre; Winning the War in Afghanistan
Aired December 4, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're standing by for a verdict in the case that will decide the fate of an American exchange student on trial in Italy accused of murder.
Will Amanda Knox spend the rest of her life in prison?
We expect to know within the next hour or so.
Also, dramatic raids targeting illegal workers the favorite tactic of some in the Bush administration. But under President Obama, officials are taking a very different route and that's sparking new controversy.
Plus, a disturbing report reveals major fumbles in the first official minutes of the Virginia Tech University massacre.
Could more lives have been saved if officials had acted differently?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Critical new developments in the war in Afghanistan happening in Brussels right now. The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has secured a commitment from NATO allies for some 7,000 additional troops that will help fill the gap between the 40,000 troops requested by the U.S. military commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and the 30,000 additional U.S. troops being deployed by President Obama.
But there are some critical differences between the U.S. and the NATO forces.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is here to detail some of those differences -- Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, just yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he expects a lot of these new troops to be coming without some of the special rules that restricted their operations in the past. But wait until you hear how many of these caveats are still in place.
LAWRENCE: (voice-over): In Afghanistan, some U.S. troops joked that the coalition's code letters -- ISAF -- should stand for I saw Americans fighting. It's a dig at the restrictions some other NATO countries put on their troops by keeping them out of the most violent areas.
(on camera): When we take a look at map and look at where the countries are set up, we know that Germany can only operate in the north. We know that Turkey can only operate here.
But what are some of the other specific caveats that nations have placed on their troops, things they can't do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are restrictions on -- on forces that they cannot patrol at night. There are restrictions on forces that they cannot leave their armored vehicles when they patrol. And this is particularly problematic when you're in a counter-insurgency fight and the goal is to make connections with the local populace, to walk amongst them, to build relationships.
LAWRENCE: (voice-over): The NATO nations have reduced the number of caveats from 83 to around 70. NATO's former commander in Europe called that progress, but not near enough. General John Craddock says some nations ignore the larger war outside their area: "They don't want to do anything else when asked by ISAF to accommodate operations across the entire country."
British, Polish, Dutch and French troops are also fighting in those violent areas. But for some, the clock is ticking on their commitment.
(on camera): So we know the Taliban is very strong here in the south. And that is also where the Canadians -- when I was in Afghanistan just a few weeks ago, I saw the Canadians out on a lot of missions down there with the Afghan Army. But they're due to leave in about 18 months.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's correct, Chris. And the thing about that is that if we can't get an additional commitment from the Canadians for a longer stay period, what that means is General McChrystal is going to have to find forces to replace the Canadians. And I think what we're looking, at this point -- or at least the ideal situation -- is that the Afghan National Army, who is -- is a major focus of this -- this -- of the president's strategy -- will be able to backfill the Canadian forces when they leave and fill that void.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LAWRENCE: Now, ideally that's going to be the Afghan Army if its forces are up to snuff by then. But Wolf, NATO nations, they can't push some of these other nations too hard on dropping caveats because you run the risk of them just drawing their troops out altogether.
BLITZER: So they'd better get them to do something...
LAWRENCE: Something rather than nothing.
All right. Thanks, Chris, very much.
On the ground in Afghanistan right now, there's some new tension and a strong sense that change is coming.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is there -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while Washington has been full of Congressional hearings, statements and speeches, here in Afghanistan, the reality on the ground is everyone is getting ready for the surge of troops coming to this country.
We're going to be here for the next several days, moving around, talking to troops and commanders about what they need and what comes next.
Now, of course, President Obama has laid out his plan for a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops. But the wild card, of course, may be the Taliban plan.
What will be the plan and strategy by the Taliban and the insurgent forces in this country?
Will they stay and fight or will they run away and hide?
Either way, Defense Secretary Robert Gates hopes that he can bring enough security to this very troubled country so that the troops that are coming here can very quickly provide that security and turn around and begin to head home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr now on the ground in Kabul for us.
And we'll have extensive reporting from her coming up over the next week.
President Obama has ordered an increase in drone strikes inside Pakistan near the Afghan border. The expansion of the CIA program was confirmed to CNN today by a U.S. official. And that official says the strikes against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are extremely precise -- his words.
Meanwhile, 17 children are among 36 people killed today when suicide bombers stormed a crowded mosque near Pakistani military headquarters.
And we're going to get more right now on the carnage from CNN's Reza Sayah.
He's in Islamabad -- Reza.
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, militants in Pakistan showing that not even the most sacred areas are off limits to their attacks. Four militants targeting a mosque in the garrison city of Rawalpindi frequented by military officials. The mosque located inside a walled residential compound.
Police say the four militants climbed over a wall and that's when the horror started. They say they charged the mosque, heaving grenades and opening fire on panic-stricken worshippers who were racing out. Two of the militants were suicide bombers. Police say they went inside the mosque and blew themselves up. The other two shot and killed by security forces.
When the carnage was done, dozens of people were killed, scores were injured, among them, children, women, senior citizens. And according to the army, senior military officials were killed, as well. Among the injured, retired General Muhammad Yusuf, who was second in command in the Pakistan Army during president Pervez Musharraf's reign.
This attack comes three days after U.S. President Barack Obama put added pressure on the Pakistani Army to get tough on extremism. This appears to be a clear message on the part of the Pakistani militants, telling the army that if you go after us, we'll hit back by any means necessary -- and we'll even target mosques -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Reza Sayah in Islamabad for us.
Let's go to Jack.
He's got The Cafferty File -- very worried about what's happening in Pakistan right now...
BLITZER: Almost every other day, these huge terrorist suicide bombings at very sensitive sites, including, as we just saw, a mosque and a lot of teenaged kids killed.
CAFFERTY: Yes. And -- and they have those nuclear weapons. It's something to keep in mind.
Bipartisanship, Wolf, in Washington is virtually nonexistent these days except -- except for President Obama's new strategy on Afghanistan. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, which was conducted after the president's speech this week, shows that his plan is winning approval from 63 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Independents.
Gee, with a consensus like that you could actually run the country.
The president is getting thumbs up from people more inclined to extend their middle fingers when it comes to things Democratic. Karl Rove says the president's speech deserves to be cheered and insists that victory is attainable. Newt Gingrich out praising President Obama for showing political courage on Afghanistan and going against the anti- war left in his own party.
Well, that's not to say that there aren't critics of the president's Afghanistan strategy in both parties. But on the whole, this thing is getting support -- at least for now. If it doesn't go as planned, then, of course, all bets are off. But at least for a few minutes we have the leadership of this country agreeing on something. And this isn't just about President Obama and Afghanistan. The Democrats, you may recall, had no love lost for President George W. Bush, but they were mostly afraid to ever buck him on the wars, including the one in Iraq, which they funded and funded and funded while they screamed about how they were against it.
So here's the question -- why is it the only time there's bipartisanship is when the military is involved?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
Fifty-five percent of Independents, 72 percent Republicans, 64 percent Democrats -- that's enough to make a lot of things happen.
BLITZER: On the military. Whenever the military, as you point out, is involved.
BLITZER: Health care, not so much.
CAFFERTY: Or -- or anything else, for that matter.
BLITZER: That's right.
CAFFERTY: Any domestic issue.
BLITZER: Right. Good point, Jack.
BLITZER: Very good point.
We're standing by, once again, for that verdict in the trial of Amanda Knox. She's the American college exchange student. She's on trial for murder in Italy. We expect, we're told, to get that verdict within the hour or so, so stand by. We'll have live coverage.
Also, Magic Johnson -- he has some advice for Tiger Woods and the public relations nightmare he's facing.
And the Obama administration takes a very different tactic on illegal workers and that's sparking some new controversy. We'll have details.
BLITZER: Surprise and relief all around with an unexpected drop in unemployment. The Labor Department now says the jobless rate was 10 percent in November. That's now 0.2 percent from October -- the biggest one month decline in more than three years.
But with jobs still very scarce, there's continued resentment of illegal workers here in the United States and the controversy over how best to find them. Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here with more on this controversy.
And you're getting some new information -- Jeanne, what are you learning?
JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you'll remember, Wolf, that the workplace raids used by the Bush administration to round up illegal workers disrupted communities and families and drew a lot of criticism. The Obama administration is using different tactics. But controversy continues.
MESERVE: (voice-over): This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement busted illegal workers at a restaurant chain in Houston. But this operation is an aberration. Only a handful of workplace raids have been conducted during the Obama administration. ICE is shifting focus from illegal employees to law breaking employers -- auditing paperwork to ensure companies are checking workers' immigration status.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every single state in the union is going to see investigations and audits. And they're going to see them on a repeated and large scale and not just a very large raid here, a very large raid there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is no substitute for going out and actually enforcing the law and arresting individuals, indicting them and getting convictions against people who are in the country illegally.
MESERVE: With unemployment now at 10 percent, Smith says every job should be filled by an American. He says Bush administration workplace raids helped that happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands of illegal immigrants left those jobs. They were all filled by local American citizens and legal immigrants.
MESERVE: But those raids outraged Hispanics. And a former Bush administration official says that is why they were abandoned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it produced bad TV for the Hispanic members of the president's base. There was a concerted effort on the part of a lot of advocacy groups to make that a -- an enforcement tactic that couldn't be used anymore.
MESERVE: ICE statistics show a drop in the number of people arrested, indicted and convicted for breaking immigration laws since President Obama took office. But now, there are many more audits than under Bush. Some say the fines that the audits produce are so small, businesses would rather pay them than give up cheap illegal labor. But Morton insists consistent enforcement will pay off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just think it's a lot more effective, in a world of limited resources, to start with the employer and make sure that the employment process is one that is lawful and results in the hiring of authorized workers.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MESERVE: Some experts say the Obama administration is eager to demonstrate its commitment to enforcement before it tackles comprehensive immigration reform. The head of ICE says his goal is simply to enforce current law and create what he calls a culture of compliance -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A new strategy. We'll see how this one affects the situation.
Thanks very much for that.
Now, whether it's legal or illegal workers, the fact is most U.S. employers just aren't hiring at all. It's all part of a domino effect, as our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, explains -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, getting companies to hire once again is definitely the hardest part of the economic recovery. If we think in terms of a domino effect, it's easy to see why.
More than a year ago, the financial dominoes in the U.S. began collapsing. First, the markets. When the markets went down, so did bank lending. And that led business confidence to collapse.
Well, when business executives began worrying, what did they do?
Cut expenses by laying people off.
Now, fortunately in the past few months, we've seen improvements. The markets are certainly moving back up; bank lending a bit, although it could be better. The same for business confidence. Employment remains flat on its back. Business leaders want these dominoes to be somewhat more stable before they begin hiring again. And so far, the spending that's pushing these up, it's all government spending, not from the private sector.
CHERNOFF: (voice-over): Your federal tax dollars at work on a bridge expansion in Connecticut -- a welcome contract for Waters Construction Company. But the road and bridge building firm is not hiring any new workers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can say that I am not laying off as much.
CHERNOFF: Waters Construction is laying off. Federal spending, Mario Smith says, simply hasn't accounted for that much new building -- especially considering the cutbacks that strapped towns and states are making.
(on camera): The economy seems to be picking up.
Wouldn't that translate into more jobs for you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It might eventually. You can't turn construction on and off like a light switch.
CHERNOFF: Before hiring, business managers want to have confidence that they can increase revenue to cover the cost of adding people to the payroll. Right now, though, many businesses don't yet have that confidence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost the bid by $7,000.
CHERNOFF: (voice-over): A confidence buster -- Smith has just lost a contract competition, even though he says his $3.5 million bid was rock bottom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the profit margins are zero. So there's no profit.
CHERNOFF: No profit?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best we can hope for is to cover enough costs to pay for the overhead costs in the office.
CHERNOFF: (voice-over): Waters is operating so lean that job superintendent Mike Archer, a civil engineer, is doing double duty, allowing the company to avoid adding another worker to the payroll.
MIKE ARCHER: Even though I'm a superintendent, I'm out here working every day as part of our crew and then doing -- still doing the paperwork and the project management stuff.
CHERNOFF: Only the paving division of Waters is showing signs of a pickup, thanks to some local projects. But until it wins more infrastructure spending contracts, Waters won't be hiring -- keeping expenses low to help weather what it anticipates will be a tough winter.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
CHERNOFF: And there are thousands of companies just like Waters Construction that fear these heavy dominoes could still come collapsing down. And that's the reason more companies are not yet hiring -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Allan Chernoff, thanks very much.
A good report.
So where should Americans currently unemployed look for job openings?
We did a little research and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top five occupations that will see growth over the next few years are registered nurses, retail salespersons, customer service representatives, food prep workers and office clerks. The list of top 20 occupations, including post-secondary education teachers, accountants and elementary school teachers, as well. Will an American college student spend the rest of her life in an Italian prison?
Amanda Knox is on trial for the murder of -- for a murder thousands of miles away from her home. We're expecting a verdict now in less than an hour. We'll have live coverage.
And history on the auction block -- a letter from George Washington to his nephew -- what's in it and what it might be worth.
BLITZER: Now, there's been a horrible blast in Russia.
Let's go to Brooke Baldwin.
She's got some details for us. This story just coming in -- Brooke.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, just crossing, Wolf. A breaking story out of Perm, Russia, Central Russia, about 700 miles east of Moscow. The latest number we're hearing, according to CNN wires, 100 people dead after this explosion late Friday night at a nightclub in Central Russia -- excuse me, according to Russian media as many as 100 dead. And Russian media also reporting that the possible cause might have been a fireworks display. Again, the number we're getting, according to Russian media, 100 dead out of Perm, Central Russia there.
As soon as we get more numbers, I will bring that to you live. Meantime, police in Jupiter, Florida have released new surveillance video of a man being hunted for the Thanksgiving Day shooting deaths of four family members. The video shows 35-year-old Paul Myers Merhige at a South Florida gun shop the day before the shootings. The reward for Merhige's capture has also increased, to $35,000. Police say Merhige shot and killed his aunt, his twin sisters and a 6-year- old girl during a family gathering.
And it is the sports scandal, really, that just doesn't seem to go away, does it?
Tabloid publications say they are scrambling now to try to keep up with the flood of tips about Tiger Woods. The pro-golfing champion is embroiled in allegations of infidelity. And last night on LARRY KING LIVE, words of advice from a former top athlete who has been there, as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE")
MAGIC JOHNSON, CHAIRMAN & CEO, MAGIC JOHNSON ENTERPRISES: It's probably a -- a tough situation right now for him. I'm hoping that he can get his wife and they can huddle up and try to work it out. And he should be just focusing on his wife and his kids right now.
LARRY KING, HOST: When you had a difficult situation, though, you came right forward with it.
Should he have gone public right away?
JOHNSON: Well, I know he's different than me, but I would hope that one day soon that he would come publicly and just say, hey...
KING: And sit here?
JOHNSON: Yes. I made a mistake, you know, and tell the honest truth and then just move on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: The scandal broke when Woods slammed his SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree near his home last week. He did suffer some minor cuts and bruises.
And on the block today at Christie's auction house in New York, how about this -- a letter written by George Washington to his nephew. In the signed four page letter, the first president of the United States is actually arguing for the ratification of the newly drafted Constitution. It is estimated that Washington's letter will fetch between $1.5 million and $2.5 million. Christie's calling this the most important Washington letter to ever come to auction -- Wolf, he wrote it in 1787, not too far from you, from his beautiful home in Mount Vernon.
BLITZER: Yes. That's not far from where I am right now.
Have you got $2.5 million?
Are you -- are you going to start getting involved in the biding, Brooke?
BALDWIN: I think -- I think I might reach into my pockets. It's definitely frame-worthy letter, I think -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A mere $2.5 million...
BALDWIN: I'll see what I can do.
BLITZER: ...2.5 million. Not -- not bad.
BALDWIN: You know, it's nothing for Wolf Blitzer.
BLITZER: Oh, yes.
OK, thanks, Brooke.
BLITZER: Accused of her roommate's murder, American college exchange student, Amanda Knox, is about to learn her fate. An Italian jury is expected to deliver its verdict very, very soon. We're standing by for that. You'll have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our legal analyst, Lisa Bloom, by the way, she's also here to talk about some serious questions about the evidence against Amanda Knox. Stand by. And ban gays from saying I do and then ban divorce -- that's a California man's jab at California voters who outlawed gay marriage.
BLITZER: She's a young American who came to Italy on what was supposed to be a study abroad, adventure. But now she's facing spending the rest of her life there behind bars. Amanda Knox is accused of taking part in the gruesome murder of her roommate.
CNN's Paula Newton is joining us now live from Perugia, Italy. It's not that far from Florence.
I understand the verdict is expected fairly soon. It could -- it could happen within a half hour or so -- Paula?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. We expect a verdict within the hour, Wolf.
Right now the jury of eight people knows exactly the future of Amanda Knox. Amanda Knox and her family right now have probably had what has felt like the longest day of their lives.
NEWTON: Amanda Knox abandoned the poise and calm the jury is used to seeing to make one last impassioned plea. In Italian, her voice trembling and she told the jury that she was frightened, terrified of losing her way. [ speaking Italian ]
I'm afraid of having the mask of an assassin forced on me, she said. The year long trial of Amanda Knox is supposed to answer the question who killed promising British student Meredith Kircher. She was found in November of 2007 death sexually assaulted and her throat savagely slashed. The 21-year-old left to bleed to death in the home she shared with Amanda Knox.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to continue to hope, you know, that this -- that she is going to get a fair trial. You know, it looks like the judge and the jury are really paying attention and so we have to hope.
NEWTON: For more than two years here in Perugia, investigators have been picking apart this case bringing in forensic experts, criminologists and psychologists and yet those close to this investigation tell CNN they still are no closer to knowing the truth. That doesn't stop anyone from having their own opinion as to how these four young lives converged. Kircher allegedly murdered in her bed during a sex fueled attack and one has already been convicted and sentenced to 30 years and prosecutors accuse Knox of exacting revenge on a house mate she hated, so much so that the prosecution claim that Knox slit Kircher's throat as her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito held her down and another sexually assaulted her. Journalist Barbie Nadeau has been covering every development in the case.
BARBIE NADEAU, JOURNALIST, NEWSWEEK: Especially at very beginning before the trial started the portrayal of Amanda Knox was of an angel- faced killer, blue-eyed girl, an American assassin.
NEWTON: Now Wolf, something to keep in mind as we cover this verdict in the next couple of hours. The concept of reasonable doubt in this country is not the same as back home. If some of those jurors have reasonable doubt, that doesn't mean that they will not convict her or conversely actually pronounce her innocent. Sometimes they can say, look, we can't find you guilty but with reservation we have some doubts about your story so stay tuned, Wolf. It's going to be a very long night.
BLITZER: How does it work, Paula? Will they let cameras in the courtroom? Will we hear live the judge make the announcement, or will we wait for word to come out of the courtroom?
NEWTON: This is what's been interesting. We have been negotiating with the courts, and when I say we, media interests right here. We all know that a pool camera will be allowed not in the courtroom but just outside it. We will have that camera fixed on a television screen. The verdict will not be allowed to transmit live. We have people inside the court who will then read it out to me keeping in mind there are 11 counts here, and the jury only taking less than an hour, Wolf, to decide on each count.
BLITZER: 11 counts. We'll stand by, I don't want you to go away but I'm going to bring in our legal analyst Lisa Bloom to help us appreciate what's going on.
The legal system is different in Italy than here in the United States where everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and then there's got to be without a reasonable doubt here in the United States. It's different in Italy, isn't, it Lisa?
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's true. In addition this is a jury of eight, six civilians and two judges, and all of them have been allowed to follow the media accounts of this case throughout this trial. That would be absolutely prohibited in the United States. Judges would tell the jury constantly do not watch the media, do not listen and sometimes sequester them in a high-profile case. Amanda Knox was in jail for a year before she was even indicted and the trial has taken a year. Why? Because it's gone generally two days a week. Also, Amanda Knox and her co-defendant were allowed to speak during closing arguments. Would you never see that here, Wolf, so there are a lot of differences, but overall I have to say I think it was a fair trial. All of the evidence did come in, and in my view the evidence against Amanda Knox is weak, but I think she was allowed to put on the appropriate defense and overall, although the system is different, I think it was fair.
BLITZER: Is it really the burden on the defense in Italy to prove that she's innocent as opposed to the prosecution really to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she's guilty?
No, I don't think that's the case. Some people have said that. I do think that it's the prosecution's obligation in Italy to prove the case. It is not the defense's obligation to disprove it, but Amanda Knox did choose to testify and she chose to speak a second time during the closing arguments which you just played and addressed the jury directly and the jurors, I guess, they will decide whether the proof is there, whether it's more likely than not, whether it's proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they will make that decision and by the way, Wolf, in Italy the prosecution can appeal a finding of not guilty, also another different that would never here because of double jeopardy.
BLITZER: And here obviously it's a very different situation, but what I hear you saying is if this case were here in the United States she probably wouldn't be convicted, is that right?
BLOOM: Well, you know, I can't say that. People are convicted on scant evidence. There is some evidence against her. She acted peculiarly at the police statement and gave a pseudo confession which she immediately recanted. There is some DNA linking her to this crime though I think the DNA is weak so there is some evidence against her. People have been prosecuted and convicted here on less evidence. Innocent people have certainly been convicted here as all of the work of the innocence project has shown us so I don't want to be too high on my horse and saying our system is so much better. There's clearly differences but overall I think she has had a fair trial.
BLITZER: And getting back to the whole tabloid aspect of this case because the tabloids in Italy have certainly been all over this story and the jurors, as you mentioned, they can read all of this and they can get information that may or may not be submit as evidence in a courtroom.
BLOOM: Well, that's right, and her second statement to the police was excluded from the trial, Wolf, under the Italian rules of evidence because she did not have an attorney present but that was widely reported in the media so the jury could read all about it. They could read about his past and her nickname Foxy Knoxy which has nothing to do with the game which they said she had to play on the soccer field and there's no history of her having any acts of violence, any criminal behavior, any threats, nothing in her past, and so to think that she just one night masterminded a sexual assault and murder of her roommate, that to me is an astounding prosecution theory that would require a substantial amount of DNA evidence to prove and I just don't think they have it in this case
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Lisa. Paula Newton will stand by. She is on the scene for us in Italy. We'll go there live as soon as we see what's going on. We expect that to be fairly, fairly soon. We'll have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lisa, thanks very much. She's not going very far away.
Meanwhile disastrous mistakes in the first critical minutes of that Virginia Tech massacre. We have new details of this report that's just coming out about what went wrong.
BLITZER: There's no such thing as a free lunch except in Cuba. But what if the communist regime is forced to get rid of some basic subsidies? CNN's Shasta Darlington reports from Havana that it's already happening.
SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pedro Guerrero has used Cuba's ration book since it was created in 1962.
PEDRO GUERRERO, HAVANA RESIDENT: Meat, chicken, eggs, everything was in rationed card.
DARLINGTON: In good times he barely needed it.
GUERRERO: No, this one has changed.
DARLINGTON: But the retired driver says that's where he and his wife get most of their food.
What you get on the ration book is enough to feed you for about two weeks, is that right?
GUERRERO: It's enough to survive for one month.
DARLINGTON: For one month.
GUERRERO: Not to survive, not to grow with belly, no. Into the too much rites here.
DARLINGTON: Despite its isolation, Cuba has been hit hard by the global economic crisis, and many of the benefits and subsidies that Cubans take for granted are being scaled back or even eliminated by the socialist state.
GUERRERO: It's finished.
DARLINGTON: During a recent speech President Raul Castro told Cubans what to expect.
PRES. RAUL CASTRO, CUBA (through translator): The elimination of free services with the exception of those established in the constitution and unnecessary subsidies.
DARLINGTON: Last month Cuba began to close workers lunch rooms which provided cheap hot meals and help supplement meager salaries of about $20 a month. Those workers get a daily stipend of 15 pesos. It's less than $1 but enough to buy a box of chicken and rice or even a pizza and a soda at lunch stands like this one. The ration book, a foundation of the country's socialist system, could be the next to go. The Communist Party Daily recently wrote, "The ration book was a necessity at one time, but it's become an impediment to the collective decisions the nation must take." During the cold war, Cuba rationed everything from Bulgarian blouses to canned soviet beef. Today, 11.2 million Cubans get basic foods like rice, beans and chicken with the ration book. Even so, the government coughs up more than a billion a year for food subsidies. Pedro says he trusts the statement will make sure those who depend on rations to survive will be taken care of. GUERRERO: We have to be a step by step.
DARLINGTON: But if the ration book goes, so does a key part of the state's monolithic role in the life of the Cuban people.
Shasta Darlington, CNN, Havana.
BLITZER: Could more lives have been saved if -- if officials had acted differently in the first moments of that Virginia Tech attack? We have some new details of a troubling report. That's just coming in.
And we're only minutes away, we're told, from an Italian jury's verdict in the murder trial of 22-year-old American exchange student Amanda Knox. You'll see it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Troubling new details are emerging right now about the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. We're talking about the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University that left 32 victims dead. Brian Todd is back. He's been looking into this new report on the tragedy. What have we learned from it?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, two and a half years after the shootings took place still new information coming out and chilling new details about the shootings. Now to clarify, this is not necessarily a new report. It is an amended version of a previous report that the state of Virginia had commissioned, the governor had commissioned, to look into exactly what happened at Virginia Tech because family members have said all along they didn't necessarily know all of the information. They have pretty much nudged the state and state officials to clarify some things and said that some things may be needed to be amended so what they have come up with to be released today are a couple new details.
One is that after the initial shootings in the morning, on that April morning in 2007, those shootings at West Ambler Johnston Hall in Blacksburg on the campus where two students were killed, that building was then put in lockdown, but roughly an hour later, according to this new amended report, the lockdown was released and students were allowed to go. At that point at least two students from West Ambler Johnston Hall went over to Norris Hall according to the new findings. Norris Hall is where those two students were killed by the gunman. They were released from the lockdown at West Ambler Hall and went over to Norris Hall for class and were killed there, according to the new amended findings.
Now the report has also said that one of the students killed, the student named Emily Hillshire, had been wounded for at least three hours, was transported to a hospital and that her family was not notified that she had even been wounded until after she had died so those are two amended findings. Again, Virginia Tech has not really responded directly to the new findings, but officials at Virginia Tech, Wolf, said all along they had improved safety standards since the shootings. Virginia Tech and the families of all the victims, except for two, have reached settlements in this case, so we have to say that as well, but these two new findings, pretty chilling, that two students were released from that lockdown and they were allowed to go to class and got to Norris Hall and were killed there.
BLITZER: Sad, sad. We were there at the time.
TODD: We were.
BLITZER: And it was a very, very sad story then, still is very sad right now, Brian.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Let's check back with Jack. He's got "the Cafferty File." Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour why is it the only time there's bipartisanship in Washington is when the military is involved? Obama getting high marks even from the Republican side of the aisle on his Afghanistan strategy.
Bob writes from Kentucky, "The reason there is bipartisanship when the military is involved is that the military industrial complex which president Eisenhower warned was a serious threat to the nation's well- being has both Republican and Democrat members of congress in its hip pocket."
Patricia in Boise, "Sadly, it's not really bipartisanship. It's that Obama happens to fall on the Republican side of the issue because he is escalating the war. They understand the kill more bad guys approach to problems, that's also why they're struggling with the no one to call it quits strategy."
Simon in New York City writes, "The only reason bipartisanship exists when the military is involved is because politicians are afraid of going against the war and then being perceived as weak or even un- American. It's no surprise, most politicians are cowards."
McPherson in Spanish Fort, Alabama, "There will always be bipartisanship when it's time to make money."
Roger says, "It's because both sides of the aisle are terrified of being accused of not supporting the troops in a combat situation. Also it's because military production and bases are huge businesses and support hundreds of thousands of jobs in their districts. Stop and think what would happen to the German economy if we pulled all the troops out. Whole cities there would lose their economic well being."
And John in Brentwood, Tennessee, "Bipartisanship exits exclusively for military affairs because we are a nationalistic society. Historically it has been seen as unpatriotic and therefore unpopular to oppose the military in almost any regard. Politicians are up for re-election and they will almost always find themselves on the right side of this issue."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, check the blog CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Wolf, you go there every night don't you?
BLITZER: I go there everyday. A lot of people do. You've got a huge following as you should. Jack, stand by.
President Obama adding more firepower to the war in Afghanistan, but some who know that culture and the country very well say brain power is what's really needed.
BLITZER: Joining us now, Greg Mortenson. He's the author of the already best seller "Stones Into Schools, Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Thanks very much for coming in.
GREG MORTENSON, AUTHOR, "STONES INTO SCHOOLS": Thanks Wolf. Great to be with you.
BLITZER: We'll talk about the book in a moment. But is President Obama doing the right thing by sending an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan now?
MORTENSON: Well, I have mixed feelings. I had based my decision on talking with many of the elders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it's called is Sura, the trial elders, what they really want is not firepower, but they want brain power, they say they can take care of the Taliban themselves, but they're happy to have what I call the trainer troops, these are veterinarians, horticulturalists, police trainers, they're happy for that. On the other hand, they're very disturbed by the fact that they were never consulted. This decision was made in secrecy behind closed doors. As you know, there was no testimony on Capitol Hill about this decision. And most of all, there was no consultation with the Afghan Suras.
BLITZER: It sounds to me like you think it's a plunder.
MORTENSON: In many ways because and I also have a lot of respect for the military, we have helped General McChrystal over the last six months meet many of the Sura. They have a very subsequent message, number one is they do not want us to bomb them, number two, they would like to arm themselves. There was actually a very successful disarmament program, but unfortunately, we took arms away from all the good people and now they feel very humiliated because when the Taliban come in, they're unable to defend themselves.
BLITZER: You know, you have spent years now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, am I hearing you saying this is going to be a very unhappy ending for the United States?
MORTENSON: Well, unfortunately, Wolf, I think our casualties are going to go way up. The U.S. had started about two or three years ago deploying forward operating bases, these are in very remote areas and part of the program mandate was to build relationships with the elders and the tribal people. In some areas, that was quite successful. But now the plan with additional troops is actually to retreat back into the urban centers and secure a few areas. But unfortunately, that doesn't involved building relationships with people in these very volatile areas. So actually, we have been able, this year we have been very successful in setting up schools and including girls' schools.
BLITZER: Because we saw what was happening in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban, girls weren't allowed to go to school. Women were treated awfully. If we were to retreat right now, would the Taliban come back and revert to all those horrible practices?
MORTENSON: I think in some areas they would. There's also -- the Taliban in some respects are seen more as a mafia or kind of criminal element, they're getting involved in kidnapping, extortion, heroin trafficking, illicit lumber trafficking and there's some of the older Taliban that are a little more ideological. We're able to work with them. We don't entirely get their blessings, but because we empower the Sura, we're able to work in the area and put schools in the area. But if we pull out now, there definitely is a threat of things returning back to what they were ten years ago.
BLITZER: Greg Mortensen is the author of "Three Cups of Tea" we all remember that one. Good luck with the new one. Greg, thanks very much.
MORTENSON: Thanks Wolf.
BLITZER: A drive to ban gay marriage sparks a new and very unusual effort.
Details of the drive to make divorce illegal. What's going on?
Plus, we're only minutes away from a verdict in the Italian murder trial of Amanda Knox, the American college exchange student, she faces the possibility of spending the rest of her life in prison. We're standing by for that verdict. You'll see it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A constitutional amendment in California banning divorce? Organizers of a satirical effort online say that's the next logical step to the protect marriage movement behind Proposition 8 that which defines marriage as that between a man and a woman. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is watching this for us.
Abbi, who's behind all of this?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It's this Sacramento web designer John Marca. He says if you really want to protect traditional marriage, then Proposition 8 didn't go far enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now traditional marriage is under attack. An epidemic is sweeping our nation and you have the power to help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If outlawing divorce was good enough for the Babylonians, then it's good enough for California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we allow anyone to get divorced, before you know it, people will be divorcing their dogs.