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Funeral of Top Ayatollah Turns Into Anti-Government Protest in Iran; New Order Makes Pregnant Soldiers Subject to Court Martial; Brazilian Supreme Court to Decide Fate of American Boy
Aired December 21, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, GUEST HOST: Well, someone was having a little bit of fun at the White House during the big weekend of snow. I want you to check out Bo the dog. He is frolicking in the drifts of the White House lawn. And the first family's pet proving once again he is living the good life there at the White House.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, he was a top ranking ayatollah once in line to become Iran's supreme leader, but he turned into a leading dissident. And his funeral turned into a massive anti-government protest.
Get pregnant and get court-martialed -- now, that's the warning to U.S. troops from the general in charge of Northern Iraq -- why there is a tough new order in the war zone.
And a record-breaking blizzard shuts down much of the East Coast in the last shopping weekend before Christmas.
Is it the final nail in the coffin from retailers this year?
Well, we're going to hear from a top economist.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Chants of "Death to the Dictator!" rang out in Iran's holy city today, as the funeral for a top ayatollah turned into an extraordinary anti-government protest.
Our CNN's Brian Todd is here -- Brian, this is no ordinary religious leader, no ordinary event.
Tell us what is happening on the streets there.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No ordinary event, Suzanne, because this was a funeral that turned into a very tense political standoff, witnesses telling CNN that protesters stood just steps away from security forces chanting slogans against the regime. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TODD: (voice-over): Tens of thousands of mourners and a very political tone at the funeral for Iran's grand ayatollah, Hossein Ali Montazeri. He was once in line to succeed the founder of this Islamic government, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as supreme leader, but fell out of favor 20 years ago for objecting to the executions of political prisoners.
This year, when reformers spilled out into the streets criticizing the government, Montazeri was their highest ranking supporter among clerics. Crowds at Montazeri's service in Qom, seen in this amateur video on YouTube, turned on Iran's leaders -- some chanting "Dictator! Dictator! Shame! Leave Our Country!" "Let Our Country Become Free!".
They also chanted the name of Mir Hossein Moussavi, the reform candidate who the government said lost June's election. Moussavi has scarcely been seen since the election, but did appear at Montazeri's funeral on Monday. One of Iran's most respected religious leaders, Ayatollah Montazeri had long been a political thorn in the side of the clerical establishment. He spent much of the last two decades under house arrest and was an outspoken critic of Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even before this June's disputed election.
(on camera): What about his religious stature, plus his willingness to speak out on political matters, made him such a significant figure with the opposition?
KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Well, Montazeri was really the only grand ayatollah in Iran who was willing to issue such scathing criticism of the regime. He was the only grand ayatollah who really questioned the religious legitimacy of the regime. So I think for the opposition, he was an enormous asset, because he reassured many of Iran's traditional classes who were disaffected with the regime that you could be both pious and opposed to the government. It's possible to reconcile those two.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: Now, after years without even mentioning his name, Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took to the national broadcast Sunday to express his condolences over Montazeri's death. And even though Montazeri was a close ally of Khomeini when they carried out the revolution in 1979, a White House spokesman was complimentary of Montazeri, saying he consistently advocated universal rights and freedoms -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And that's very significant that the White House actually spoke out about this. It really -- it gives you a sense of the importance of this figure.
What does this mean, his death, in terms of the reform movement going forward?
TODD: Well, analysts are split on that. One analyst told us that he thinks the death is a severe blow to the movement. But another one, Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment, said he doesn't think it will dramatically affect the movement. He says that near the end, Montazeri was, of course, old. He was isolated. He was not a strategic thinker of the movement. Sadjadpour thinks that the -- the death won't demoralize the opposition, more ra -- moreover, he thinks it will actually catalyze it and get things going in the streets again and we could see some significant events in the days and weeks ahead.
MALVEAUX: We'll obviously be watching very closely.
Thank you so much, Brian.
Well, U.S. troops in Northern Iraq recently received a tough new order. It governs all sorts of personal behavior in the war zone. And for women soldiers, especially, some believe there are some harsh consequences.
I want to bring back in our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who's joining us -- and, Barbara, what can you tell us about some of these rules that -- that are now being made clear to the soldiers there?
BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Suzanne, it's going to be pretty shocking for people to hear this, but, indeed, the top U.S. general in Northern Iraq says get pregnant in the war zone and you risk getting court-martialed.
This is a new order from General Anthony Cucolo. He says it's meant to prevent the 22,000 men unit in Northern Iraq from losing soldiers at a time when the drawdown is stretching troops to the limit. He says: ""I need every soldier I've got, especially since we are facing a drawdown of forces during our mission. Anyone who leaves this fight earlier than expected -- the expected 12 month deployment -- creates a burden on their teammates."
He goes on to say that anyone becoming pregnant, for example, from sexual assault would not be punished. But this, he says, is a real effort to try and make sure that troops understand mission comes first. And if they get pregnant, the women soldiers and the men who make them pregnant can face, really, the most drastic of punishments -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And, Barbara, for, you know, civilians who are listening to this and hearing this, obviously, there are different kinds of rules for the military. It's -- it may sound quite -- quite shocking.
STARR: It -- it really does sound shocking...
MALVEAUX: How do you explain the difference here?
STARR: -- to those of us who are civilians. But when you are in the U.S. Military and especially in a war zone, you simply don't have the rights of privacy that someone in civilian life would have. And General Cucolo says that he knows many Americans may not understand this order and will be concerned about it. But he comes back, he says, to the point that mission comes first and he can't have soldiers doing something like getting pregnant that would make them have to go home early and then he's short of -- of the troops that he needs.
MALVEAUX: And these are men and women who would -- who would face punishment there?
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Barbara.
Will Brazil's highest court reunite an American father with his son? Lisa Bloom is standing by for the very latest.
Also, it is the only health clinic in the area and it's made of mud, with no water or electricity and no doctor willing to stay.
Plus, the sudden and mysterious death of a young actress -- will today's autopsy reveal what killed Brittany Murphy?
MALVEAUX: We are just getting word now from a so many from Brazil's Supreme Court that this ruling -- the decision will come tomorrow. That is a ruling that could end an American father's long battle to bring his son home.
David Goldman has been fighting for custody of his son Sean since 2004. And that's when his Brazilian mother left Goldman without warning, taking the 4-year-old with her to Rio de Janeiro. And there, she divorced Goldman and she remarried. And as the two waged this bitter custody battle, everything changed, though, last year, when she died in childbirth last summer. Now, Sean is living with his stepfather in Brazil, who's fighting Goldman custody of Sean.
Now, I want to bring in our CNN legal analyst, Lisa Bloom.
She is in Los Angeles.
Clearly, you've been fighting this case very closely.
Why do you suppose this is taking so long?
He has been battling to have custody of his son for five years -- very, very close to the end.
Why has this process dragged on as long as it has?
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, because David Goldman has won at various levels in the Brazilian courts, but the Brazilian family has then appealed and it's gone up and down through the process. There have been many delays. I mean, just last week, after David Goldman was awarded custody of his son and the right to take his son home, a stay was ordered that would have taken three more months for the boy to come in and testify in February.
Then there was the latest twist, where David Goldman has taken that up to the chief justice of the Brazilian Supreme Court, along with the attorney general, by the way. And I think that's a very significant development, that the Brazilian attorney general is now on David Goldman's side, saying release Sean Goldman to his father, it's a violation of international law for Brazil to continue to hold that child.
MALVEAUX: And, Lisa, what's left for the United States to do here to -- to help in this legal battle?
I mean, obviously, we've seen Secretary of State Hillary Clinton involved, we -- even President Obama, who's talked to his counterpart in Brazil.
Is there anything left for the United States government to do?
BLOOM: I don't think so. I think we have done everything, from a diplomatic point of view. It's up to the Brazilian courts to uphold what I think is very clear international law. I agree with the Brazilian attorney general that the law is absolutely clear under the Hague Convention that this was a child abduction. That child should be returned to his only surviving biological parent and that's David Goldman. I mean everything else is just further delay and obfuscating the matter.
MALVEAUX: All right, Lisa Bloom, thanks so much.
We'll be, obviously, awaiting the verdict for tomorrow.
BLOOM: Yes. Thank you.
MALVEAUX: Hundreds of dogs who could potentially save thousands of lives -- an up-close look at their rigorous training, as they learn to sniff out land mines.
Also, a Washington, D.C. police detective could be in trouble for what he did during a massive snowball fight -- and it was caught on tape.
Plus, President Obama's message to children about the true meaning of Christmas. We'll hear him in his own words right after this break.
MALVEAUX: Jessica Yellin is following some of the other top stories that are coming in right now to THE SITUATION ROOM -- Jessica, what have you got?
YELLIN: A surprising story from New York City. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says there's no excuse for two EMTs who refused to help a pregnant woman who collapsed right in front of them. The woman and her baby later died. Those emergency technicians were on break at a restaurant when the restaurant staff asked them to help a woman who was having breathing trouble. The EMTs are accused of telling those workers to call 911 and then leaving the restaurant.
Well, here's some good news -- goods news for Saab drivers. There could be a last minute reprieve for the brand and its parent company, General Motors. Dutch carmaker Spyker is giving G.M. an open-ended deadline to negotiate the possible sale of its Swedish car brand. G.M. had announced it would close Saab after talks with Spyker fell through last week.
Well, just in time for Christmas, Israeli archaeologists unveiled what they call the first dwelling in Nazareth, dating back to the time of Jesus. An excavation of the four acre area suggests that Nazareth was an out of the way hamlet of about 50 houses. It said that poor Jews there kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders.
All right. And this is an only in Washington story, you've got to think. A Washington police chief criticized a veteran detective for pulling a gun during an advertised snowball fight -- a snowball fight advertised on Twitter. The chief says video clips show that the off-duty detective pulled his gun after snowballs hit his car. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has weighed in on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY, WASHINGTON, DC: The officer in question has been put on non-contact status, which is a preliminary status, while an investigation goes on. The investigation is being handled by the Metropolitan Police Department Internal Affairs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Well, hundreds of people snowed up for that snowball fight, which took place on a major street during the massive snowstorm that hit here in Washington over the weekend -- and, Suzanne, Jeanne Moos will have more on this story in the next hour. I can't wait to see what Jeanne does with this one.
MALVEAUX: Oh, yes. That should be good.
MALVEAUX: That should be fun.
President Obama may be hoping for a Senate health care vote for Christmas being his gift. But schoolchildren, well, they've got some other presents in mind, that when the president walked into their Washington classroom earlier today and he reminded them that there is more to the holiday than gifts.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody want to tell me what they're asking for Christmas from Santa?
What are you going to get?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: An iPod.
OBAMA: An iPod?
Is that right?
What kind of music are you going to listen to on the iPod?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: A lot.
OBAMA: Like what kind -- what -- what -- who do you...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Rap music.
OBAMA: Rap music?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: Is that right?
OK. All right.
What are you -- what -- what are you going to get?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: An Apple.
OBAMA: You want an Apple?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No, the Apple -- like the Apple Touch. I want one of those.
OBAMA: Oh, is that like a...
OBAMA: It's like an iPod?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No.
OBAMA: That's not like an iPod?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's a phone.
OBAMA: It's a phone. It's like an iPhone.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's a touch screen.
OBAMA: It's a touch screen. That's why you need it.
Yes, what are you looking for?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
OBAMA: Oh, that is -- I love that Harry Potter books.
Now, which one is that?
Is that like...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: The last one.
OBAMA: That's the last one?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: So you've got the first six already?
You already read them?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: It's really good, isn't it?
I love that Harry Potter. I sure do. Malia and I used to read that every night until we read through the whole series...
OBAMA: My daughter -- all seven of them.
So how about you?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I would like a DSI.
OBAMA: What's a DSI?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: It's a Nin -- it's a Nintendo game that you play.
Does it have a bunch of different games on there like Sins and all that stuff?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: Yes. Sasha likes those, too.
All right, how about you?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: A PSP.
OBAMA: A PSP?
Is that -- that's another kind of game thing?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: ...portable.
OBAMA: Oh, OK.
How about you?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I would like Blow TV and a -- a DSI.
OBAMA: Jeesh. OK.
And what about you?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: A PSP.
OBAMA: A PSP?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: Now, let me ask you a question here, guys.
Whatever happened to like asking for a bike?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I already have one.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I have one.
OBAMA: Everybody has already got a bike.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Everybody has...
OBAMA: ...for walking.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I have three dirt bikes and I have a bike.
OBAMA: You have three dirt bikes?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes. And I have a (INAUDIBLE).
Yes, what do you think ?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I want a Playstation 3.
OBAMA: OK. All right.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Me?
OBAMA: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: A cell phone.
OBAMA: You want a cell phone?
Who are you going to call?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: And my family and my friends.
OBAMA: Your friends and family?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes. Yes.
OBAMA: What are you going to say to them?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: How are you doing?
OBAMA: How are you doing?
But don't you -- you're seeing your family and friends all the time.
Why do you need a cell phone?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Because you can call.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Because like on the weekends and stuff...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I just want one.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: Well, can -- can I say this -- can I say this, though, guys?
I think one thing that's important to remember is that, you know, even though there's a lot of fun to Christmas...
OBAMA: ...you know, you've got -- especially when it's snowy like this, the -- you know, so it's pretty outside. You've got the Christmas tree. You've got the Christmas cookies. You've got -- you've got presents. You know, I think that the most important thing is just to remember why we celebrate Christmas, which is...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Ooh. Ooh.
OBAMA: Do you know? UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: The birth of baby Jesus.
OBAMA: The birth of baby Jesus. And the -- and what he symbolizes for people all around the world is -- is the possibility of peace and people treating each other with respect. And so I just hope that spirit of giving that's so important to Christmas, I hope that all of you guys remember that, as well. You know, it's not just about getting a gift, but it's also about doing something for other people.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I know.
OBAMA: So, you know, being nice to your mom and dad and grandma and aunties and showing respect to people, that's really important, too.
That's part of the Christmas spirit, don't you think ?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: Do you agree with me?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yes.
OBAMA: You do?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I do.
Do you have an interesting observation?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I know why we give gifts to other people.
OBAMA: Why is that?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Because the three wise men gave gifts to baby Jesus.
OBAMA: That's exactly right. But they -- but the three wise men, the reason they...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Oh.
OBAMA: Uh-oh. I thought that was the cookies going down. Oh, now...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: We can't have that.
OBAMA: We couldn't have that.
You know, the -- you know the three wise men -- if you think about it, here are these guys, they have all this money. They've got all this wealth and power and yet they took a long trip to a manger just to see a little baby. And it just shows you that just because you're powerful or you're wealthy, that's not what's important. What's important is what's -- the kind of spirit you have. And I hope everybody has a spirit of kindness and thoughtfulness and everybody is really thinking about how can they do for other people -- treating them well, because that's really the spirit of Christmas.
Does everybody agree with that?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Yes.
OBAMA: I agree with that. Well, you guys...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: They all agree with the president. All right.
They are especially trained to save lives in Afghanistan. The amazing way these dogs find hidden dangers, too, that are invisible to humans and why they're trained to understand commands in Dutch.
Plus, a grim symbol of the Holocaust has been found again. We'll update you on the theft of the iconic Auschwitz sign.
And later, she was only 32 years old. Now doctors are trying to figure out just why actress Brittany Murphy died.
MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the American Medical Association is weighing in on the Senate health care reform bill.
Well, will this group's input impact the outcome on Capitol Hill?
We'll see. Also, he is widely seen as a monster of the 20th century. Now some Russians are taking a second look at Joseph Stalin.
Plus, the sudden mysterious death of a young Hollywood actress -- will an autopsy today yield any clues?
I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A shootout in the center of town -- Afghan police today fought a three hour gun battle with Taliban militants who stormed a multi-story market building. Dozens of civilians were trapped inside during the clash in the regional capital of Gardez. That is 60 miles south of Kabul. NATO troops reportedly backed up the Afghan police, who say they killed two heavily gunned gunmen.
Now, a Taliban spokesman says that there were five attackers, all armed with suicide vests.
A legacy of past battles still are taking a bloody toll in Afghanistan today. Now, these are land mines, many of them decades- old. They still litter the landscape. But highly trained dogs are helping to find them and to save lives. Our CNN's Frederik Pleitgen -- he filed this report from Kabul.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Land mines -- the curse that haunts Afghanistan. The U.N. says hundreds of thousands are still strewn across this country. Afghanistan's mine sniffer dogs are among the best in the world. Kabul's Mine Detection Center, or MDC, has about 300 animals.
Rex is a German Shepherd and currently in training.
"We train our dogs to find various kinds of mines," Rex's trainer says, "including Pakistani, Iranian and Russian ones."
The canines can detect four different kind of explosives and 60 different kinds of mines, the MDC says. But first, they go through rigorous training. The commands are in Dutch so the dogs won't get distracted by people speaking Dari or Pashtu, the common languages in Afghanistan.
Good mine dogs can work for up to eight years. Decades of war have left Afghanistan one of the most mine-infested countries in the world, hampering economic development and killing or maiming up to 60 people every month, the U.N. estimates.
The most rudimentary mines are often the hardest to locate.
HABIBIULLAH MOHAMMADI, TRAINER: A mine detector cannot detect this, no matter. That's wood and TNT. But only the dog can find it.
PLEITGEN: The Mine Detection Center breeds its own canines. Training starts when they're just puppies.
(on camera): These dogs look pretty cute right now, but they're also a valuable commodity here in Afghanistan. This dog could potentially save hundreds of lives.
(voice-over): Several animals have lost their lives on the job. But the agency says the main obstacle for mine clearance in Afghanistan is ongoing violence.
ABDUL JABAR BASID, HEAD OF TRAINING: Most of the provinces in the south, there is lots of minefields which are still needed to -- to be cleared. But we cannot send or deploy or teams due to security -- the bad security situation.
PLEITGEN: These animals are considered heroes by many Afghans. Sadly, it seems the one thing they may never run out of is work.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kabul.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MALVEAUX: In rural Afghanistan, the odds are often stacked against people from the day that they're born there. For those who try to help by bringing in babies into the world or trying to treat the sick, it can be an incredibly challenging task.
Our CNN's Atia Abawi, she's taking us inside a mud hut health clinic with that story.
ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Arifa is moving into her new workplace, which will also be her family's home. Success for the Afghan government and the U.S. Marines in the village of Hanesheen (ph) depends on whether Arifa, a midwife, stays or goes -- and it's not looking good.
"I was checking the patients on this bench in that plastic chair," she says. "There are a lot of difficulties. There's not even a table."
Arifa and a doctor were invited by the district governor to help bring health care to a place the Marines took back from the Taliban. But because the clinic she must operate in is extremely rudimentary, she's not sure if she will stay.
(on camera): As you can see, this clinic is made of mud. It's very basic. It doesn't have running water. It doesn't even have a bathroom. And it's made of four rooms. Three rooms are connected.
If you come through here, they're just setting up at the moment. The doctors don't know how long they're going to stay. They say that they want to stay because they want to help the people. But at the same time, they don't have the means.
(voice-over): Several doctors have come and gone. The Marines say they need to know a doctor is committed to stay before they can build a proper facility.
LT. COL. RICK CREVIER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: With regards to some of the things that the clinic may not have right now, those things are going to come in time. So you can't, as the saying goes, Rome wasn't built overnight.
ABAWI: The doctors say without even the basics like water and electricity, they can't do their jobs. They said they had to throw all the vaccines away because there was no refrigeration system. So they've expired. They've thrown it on the ground outside the clinic because they have no way to burn it. The newest physicians here say no matter the conditions, they're here to help their countrymen.
We're Afghans, we grew up in Afghanistan, studied here he says. If we don't help our country, who will? Unlike some of the predecessors who came and went, these doctors say they will try and stick it out. But there is no definite commitment. I'm here for now she says, let's see what will happen if the problems will be taken care of or not. If they're not, Arifa will be the next doctor to leave, another disappointment for the people of this community, and a small battle lost for coalition efforts to stabilize Afghan society.
Atia Abawi, CNN, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Before soldiers go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq, they go to war in California, sort of. Campbell Brown takes a fascinating look at the most realistic training facility in the world. It's a Campbell Brown series "War before the War," that is tonight at 8:00 eastern right here on CNN.
Scandal explodes as a government admits it harvested organs from dead people for transplant without their family's permission.
Plus, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confronted with now documents and he's answering charges that his country is trying to build a nuclear bomb. Stay with us.
MALVEAUX: Jessica Yellin is monitoring some of the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Jessica, what are you working on?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne here's an unseemly story. Israel harvested organs from corpses in the 1990s without permission of family members. The former head of a state-run forensic laboratory there admitted the gruesome details saying that corneas, heart valves, skin and bones were all taken to be used in Israeli hospitals. Officials say although the practice was done without permission, they emphasized that it ended years ago.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says there's nothing to a secret document that reveals the country's attempts to develop components of a nuclear bomb. ABC's Diane Sawyer spoke with Iran's president about the paper which he waved away and dismissed as fabricated by the U.S. government. According to a London newspaper, the document shows Iran has been secretly working on testing a neutron initiator. That's the part of the nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion.
Here's some big news from Mexico. Lawmakers in Mexico City have legalized gay marriage making it the first city in Latin America to do so. That change gives same sex couples more rights over personal wealth and the right to adopt children there. The bill passed 39-20 to cheers of supporters. The mayor of Mexico City is expected to sign the measure into law.
Pieces of the stolen Auschwitz concentration camp sign have been welded together and restored. Polish police have arrested five men yesterday, the sign which reads "work sets you free" was found in the snow about 200 miles from the camp while officials look at whether the Nazi memorabilia market may be behind the burglary. They're promising a new system to protect significant Holocaust objects.
And finally Suzanne, a San Diego Christmas boat parade has been cut boat when the Coast Guard patrol and a pleasure boat collided killing an 8-year-old boy. The boy's father was driving the 26 foot Sea Ray last night when he says the 33 foot Coast Guard vessel turned and slammed into him. Five people including two children were seriously injured. The Coast Guard is now investigating that crash.
MALVEAUX: Sad story. Thank you Jessica.
Let's get the latest on this weekend's massive storm. CNN's meteorologist Reynolds Wolf is in Annapolis, Maryland.
Reynolds, you're pretty close to where we are. What are you watching?
REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Suzanne, coming to you from Annapolis, Maryland, where the snow is still melting. The sun is out, things looking pretty good. Traffic is moving very well in town. If you look down at my feet, you can see that we've got little tiny bit of water on the roadways. The city was dealing with 20.8 inches of snowfall that fell here during the big storm. They had 30 snow removing vehicles that helped clear most of the snow but as you can tell behind me, they had a lot of snow clumps here and there but really no major issues here in the city. They handled it pretty well.
City services here back on track for the most part. They restored a lot of the mass transit here in town around 5:30 in the morning but trash, no pickup for today. They may resume that as we get to tomorrow.
Let's cross the street. We've got CNN photo journalist Ken Tillis with us. We're right in a crosswalk. We'll make our way across. And something else to mention, the city paper wasn't annual to be delivered yesterday due to the heavy snowfall so they'll be sending out a double edition, not only the Sunday but also Monday, little bit of a two for one for all the subscribers. That's some good news I suppose.
Something else that's good news, we can expect the weather to stay pretty good for the next couple days. However, we've got a major storm system that will be making its way across the country and that can really affect millions of Americans. Millions of Americans are also going to be affected at the major airports. Although the weather is improving on the eastern seaboard, we've got backups like you wouldn't believe, all the major airports. If you're heading out there trying to catch that flight, be patient. That's the latest we've got for you. Suzanne, let's kick it back to you in the studio.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Reynolds, looking at 24 inches in my own neighborhood. I know what you're talking about.
Let's take a look at some other totals. Newport, Rhode Island, 20.5 inches, Manhattan 10.9 inches, Medford, New Jersey, two feet of snow, Baltimore not far behind with 21, Philadelphia, 23.2 inches. That's the city's second highest snowfall ever from a single storm. Many schools closed to give the city time to clear those roads of course. Roads across the northeast also a mess. This is Bethesda, Maryland, close by where 23 inches of snow fell. Officials are warning drivers to be wary of black ice tonight. Here is the nation's capital right here which recorded 16 inches of snow. That is the highest one-day total on record for December. Breaking all records there. Officials dispatched sent out about 333 plows to clear those roads. It's the largest deployment in D.C. history. All of this trying to clean up all this mess here and get things moving again. This record-breaking blizzard also shut down some stores, shopping malls, along much of the east coast. The question really, is it the final nail in the coffin for retailers this year? We'll be answering that question up next. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: Retailers expecting a big holiday rush this past weekend found their hopes put on ice as a major snowstorm paralyzed much of the northeast. What impact does this have on the bottom line this year on the economy? Peter Morici is a business professor at the University of Maryland. He's also the former chief economist for the U.S. international trade commission.
Thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. First and foremost, this monster snowstorm we all experienced over the weekend, what impact did it have overall on the economy?
PROF. PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Well the northeast is about 25 percent of sales. Saturday is expected to be normally to be a $15 billion day. Not all those sales were lost because a lot of them shifted online. That meant some storms picked up like Wal-Mart, Target that have good online presence whereas those like J C Penney's that doesn't lost out. Also more money went into shipping costs and people paid higher prices because they missed those in-store sales.
MALVEAUX: What does this mean for the northeast? How does it either drive up the overall spending that we see in the economy? How significant is how much people spend in the northeast?
MORICI: It's very significant. It's a quarter of the economy. We had had a quarter of the economy go down the last Saturday before Christmas. That's really not a very good thing. Now, this week we're going to get a lot of makeup. We also got a lot of makeup on the net. Over all the holiday season may be a little bit off from what we expected, but not dramatically.
MALVEAUX: Is it possible that because of the snowstorm the federal government is closed today, a lot of kids are out of school, that folks are now in the malls, they're shopping, that we could see maybe an uptick to make up for the loss over the weekend?
MORICI: Washington that's certainly the case. There were long lines outside of pentagon city, all the way out to I-95. In Philadelphia, though, that's a private sector town. That was where the biggest blizzard was hit. It's going to be some help in Washington but not so much in other places where people will go to work today.
MALVEAUX: All right. I want to show you a recent poll. I find this really fascinating because I'm one of the people that hasn't done any of her Christmas shopping yet. Procrastinators, recent poll by Consumer Reports said last Wednesday only 12 percent had done all their holiday shopping, 30 percent don't expect to finish until Wednesday, 40 percent say they have not even begun to shop. What do you do about the procrastinators, people like me? How do you change their behavior? How does that impact the market here?
MORICI: You don't want to change their behavior, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday will be great days. It's a great day for retailers and it will even get better as we go through the week. The real problem is all those people that would have shown up on Saturday are going to do it on Wednesday. So Wednesday, Thursday are going to be some of the most hectic days retailers have ever seen even on what has been sort of a tepid holiday season.
MALVEAUX: All right. Professor, I'll be out in the crowds. Wish me good luck.
MORICI: I wish you luck. I'm all done.
MALVEAUX: Good for you. All right, not one of those procrastinators. Thank you.
The search for clues in the mysterious death of a young actress, what caused Brittany Murphy to suddenly collapse and die. That story after the break.
Plus, why some Russians are changing their views of the dictator blamed for the deaths of millions of people.
MALVEAUX: An autopsy was scheduled today for actress Brittany Murphy whose death at age 32 was sudden as well as shocking. CNN entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter is working that story for us in Los Angeles.
Kareen, this is obviously a very talented actor. What do we know about the circumstances?
KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, there are still obviously many questions surrounding the death of Brittany Murphy. Coroners say the autopsy results could take six to eight weeks. The news of her death has shocked friends and fellow actors Suzanne and left many wondering just what happened to this young actress who lit up the big screen.
WYNTER: You may remember her from movies like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you a virgin?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not a prude, I'm just highly selective.
WYNTER: The 1995 hit teen comedy "Clueless" that propelled actress Brittany Murphy into the spotlight. Her career which began on the small screen would eventually blossom into bigger roles like the 1999 drama "Girl Interrupted" and the 2002 critically acclaimed "8 Mile" with rapper Eminem. Fans are still stunned over her sudden death on Sunday which the coroner's office says appears to be due to natural causes. Officials have released few details and many people are puzzled by what could unexpectedly kill a 32-year-old woman. Vanderbilt University Doctor Corey Slovis says it could be one of a number of factors.
DR. COREY SLOVIS, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Range from the head, a stroke or a bleed to the heart, a heart attack or arrhythmia, to the lungs, a blood clot or a pulmonary embolism to the aorta which can rupture and then finally, some medication, an intentional or unintentional overdose or medication effect.
WYNTER: Over the years Murphy's weight came into focus as she appeared extremely thin prompting rumors of an eating disorder. Dr. Rashmi Gulati of Manhattan's Patient's Medical Center says there are health concerns any time a patient's weight drops dramatically.
DR. RASHMI GULATI, PATIENT'S MEDICAL, MANHATTAN: Being underweight impacts all organ systems of the body. The most commonly that is impacted is, of course, our kidneys, the renal system, the gastrointestinal tract and the heart system as a result of the electrolyte imbalances.
WYNTER: Murphy's family has asked for privacy at this time saying in a statement, "The sudden loss of our beloved Brittany is a terrible tragedy. She was our daughter, our wife, our love and a shining star." The actress starred in the 2003 comedy "Just Married" with Ashton Kutcher and later dated the actor. Kutcher posted his reaction to his ex-girlfriend's shocking death on twitter Sunday. It read, "Today the world lost a little piece of sunshine. My deepest condolences go out to Brittany's family, her husband and her amazing mother, Sharon. See you on the other side, kid."
WYNTER: Murphy's husband hasn't released a statement Suzanne but her father has spoken out calling his daughter an absolute doll and a regular gal that everybody loved.
MALVEAUX: All right. Kareen, thank you very much.
For decades, Josef Stalin has been known as a mass murderer. Now a new school book is raising fears that his legacy of death might be sanitized for a new generation.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: He was one of the last century's most notorious dictators but Russia's communist party today celebrated the 130th birthday of Josef Stalin laying flowers at his grave in the red square. Millions of people died during Stalin's reign but many Russians today think of him as heroic nation builder. Others can't forget the harsh reality of those years. Our CNN Matthew Chance reports from Moscow.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's a survivor of Stalin's great terror, one of millions of Russians with painful memories of life under the late soviet dictator.
YURI FIDELGOLOSH, GULAG SURVIVOR (through translator): When we were young, my friends and I, we liked having philosophical discussions together. We also wrote some poetry. The three of us were arrested as members of an anti-Soviet group. We were accused of anti-Soviet agitation.
CHANCE: A dangerous crime in paranoid Stalinist Russia. Yuri, now 82, told me he was denounced to the secret police by one of his closest friends and sentenced to nearly a decade in remote Siberian labor camps.
FIDELGOLOSH (through translator): We were fed very poorly. I nearly starved a few times. I had to do work but I was physically too weak to perform. They gave me a small loaf of bread daily, but I couldn't survive on that. We quickly became too thin and weak.
CHANCE: Historians differ on exactly how many soviet citizens died at Stalin's hands. It's certain that hundreds of thousands were executed for political crimes and that millions died in the Gulag. Few doubt Stalin's place in the history books as one of the 20th century's biggest mass murderer is fully justified.
But not all history books tell the whole story. In Russia there's been controversy over this one. It's a school textbook called the History of Russia. It talks of Stalin as an efficient manager who defeated the Nazis in the Second World War and saved Europe. It says his Soviet Union he ruled was the best model of a fair and just society for people all over the world. For teenagers who are studying this in school, the millions of people that Stalin killed are simply papered over.
Take away the mass murder and Russians are left with a hero. In this nationwide television poll to find the most popular Russian ever, for weeks it was Stalin led the field. He was eventually nudged into third place, but it was uncomfortably close. Then when this Moscow metro station re-opened after a costly refurbishment, its original soviet imagery had been painstakingly restored complete with a gilded slogan praising the leader. Stalin reared us on loyalty to the people. He inspired us to labor through heroism, it reads. It's all very alarming for those who believe the Kremlin is rehabilitating a sanitized version of Stalin for the sake of national pride. Alarming, too, for those who suffered during the dictator's reign.
Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.
MALVEAUX: A shattering explosion or a hail of bullets from an unknown enemy. Well this is the situation in Afghanistan. Death can suddenly come at any time and children find it especially hard to understand all of this. It could lead to an increasingly radical new generation. Our CNN's Arwa Damon is reporting from Pakistan.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ask this girl what her favorite part is about school and you will get a typical 7-year-old's response.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My favorite part in school is games.
DAMON: Games, really? What kind of games?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hide-and-seek.
DAMON: But no matter how hard she tries, there are some things this little girl and her friends can't hide from. Her home, the city of Peshawar is tucked right up next to Pakistan. The Pakistani military has launched multiple offenses targeting its own home grown militants. The retaliation was felt here. Suddenly, nothing was safe. A truck bomb at a popular market killed more than a hundred. Government buildings and security forces became regular targets. Outside the school is a checkpoint and a once bustling market, both ideal targets. These days her school door remains bolted and the bus drivers act as additional guards.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When there is an explosion, it feels like the Taliban are here, she tells us. I imagine corpses are lying on the ground. I get scared.
DAMON: She laughs, but psychiatrists say it's deadly serious. The children, they say, confront a faceless and unknown enemy.
DR. RIZWAN TAJ, PSYCHIATRIST: In the exterior smile is a deception. It's the only coping mechanism that the child has. The child needs counseling, protection. The child needs an explanation. He's not getting that.
DAMON: The children Dr. Rizwan says don't understand why their little world is affected. At the school we meet a 10-year-old as well. What do you like to do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like to do painting. And I like to -- but I don't like because she's so bad and also in India.
DAMON: She says that's what her parents are telling her. The problem Dr. Rizwan explains is that the parents can barely cope with the paralyzing fear that defines their lives. As those emotions intensify, people tend to look for scapegoats. In this case, blaming foreign countries for their problems. Having children grow up in this atmosphere can have detrimental impacts on society.
TAJ: You have a very insecure population, a population that can be easily polarized, a population that can be further extremetized.
DAMON: Pakistan's medical institutions can't cope with the magnitude of the problem. These children are left to their own devices, carrying (ph) with them the knowledge that each day could be their last.
Arwa Damon, CNN, Peshawar, Pakistan.