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THE SITUATION ROOM
Did Deadly Assault Follow Rules of Engagement?; Political Violence Engulfs Kyrgyzstan
Aired April 7, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in the "SITUATION ROOM." Happening now.
Gripping and violent video of an attack by U.S. helicopters that left nine people dead in Iraq. And it's right now raising serious new questions about the rules of engagement for U.S. troops and whether they were followed.
Also, new controversy about the confederacy. One governor's proclamation sparking intense debate, while opening old wounds. Now, he's conceding he has made a major, major mistake, and a major omission.
Plus, fire, smoke, and near-zero visibility. We go inside the simulator where rescuers train for a mine disaster like the one playing out in West Virginia right now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, and we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in the "SITUATION ROOM."
Gripping video that's just gone public has the Pentagon taking a second look at a deadly and controversial U.S. helicopter assault in Iraq that left nine people dead, including two journalists. You saw the video here in the "SITUATION ROOM" this week, but now, there are new questions about whether the helicopter crews followed the Pentagon's rules of engagement. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is in Baghdad. He's been talking to the family of one of those journalists, but let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, she's here taking a look at this incident and is being investigated because it's causing a huge uproar.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf. A U.S. military official now tell CNN, quote, "we are looking at this matter in its entirety."
STARR (voice-over): Military lawyers are now scrutinizing this 2007 video, showing an attack by apache helicopter gunships in Baghdad asking themselves if an initial investigation that troops took all appropriate precautions before firing was right. The video was posted on the WikiLeaks website which specializes in publishing classified documents. The military says it can't find its own copy of the video, and it's not certain all investigators saw this video back in 2007. Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt who served in Iraq says the new scrutiny may be in part due to public reaction.
GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (ret.): But when something like this, tape like this, hits the public view, there will be people asking, was everything done that should have been done. I think we'll find out that it was. We are asking our soldiers to make tough, tough decisions in combat. When people are shooting at them, people are trying to kill them. They have rules of engagement. Those rules of engagement specifically state under what authority and under what conditions they can use lethal force.
UNKNOWN MALE: Can I get a --
STARR: Back then, the insurgency was at its height. That day, U.S. troops were under fire. Helicopters were called in. Suspected insurgents on the ground killed. The pilots and crews repeatedly asked for permission to fire. It might all have ended there, but two employees of the Rogers News Agency were killed. Then troops shot at a van, which they later found had children inside.
Kimmitt points out insurgents have used children as shields against attack.
KIMMITT: When something like that happens, the first thing we do after the fact is sit down and review everything. The aviators did and the troops on the ground did to make sure that this was not caused by either error, omission, or co-mission on the part of those troops.
STARR (on-camera): Now, the first investigation found the troops did obey the rules, getting permission to fire. Now, if the Pentagon does more than half just a second look, if they do, in fact, reopen the entire investigation, many military officers say, Wolf, it will be second-guessing troops in combat years after the fact.
BLITZER: But don't they do that? Isn't that -- They do that often, don't they?
STARR: To go back and reopen something three years later after the first findings was -- were that basically the rules were obeyed, simply because a piece of video has come out, is pretty unusual. But even General Kimmitt says, look, if you get new information, you have to look at it again.
BLITZER: This is U.S. gunship video. This was available to the Pentagon over the past three years.
STARR: Not so clear that anybody saved it after the investigation was done. The U.S. military can't find it right now. They can't find a copy of it and not clear if it hadn't been posted on the internet, what might have happened, if anything.
BLITZER: Interesting. All right. Barbara, thank you.
For the family of one of the journalists killed in that incident, the video is stoking their grief all over again. They spoke with CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom, who is joining us now from Baghdad. Mohammed, what is it like for this family?
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when Iraqi journalist, Saeed Chmagh was killed in 2007, his family was devastated. Now, almost three years later, they're having to live through the unimaginable pain once more.
JAMJOOM (voice-over): A family in deep mourning all over again.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: He was an incredible man.
JAMJOOM: "What did they do wrong? asks Suma (ph). What did he do wrong that they would shoot him and kill him?"
Iraqi journalist Saeed Chmagh had worked alongside his friend and colleague Namir Noor-Eldeen since 2003. Aerial footage from a U.S. military apache attack helicopter shows the July, 2007 incident when both men were killed when they came under attack. The helicopters were helping ground troops clear insurgents in a neighborhood in Southeast Baghdad. The incident garnered international attention because Saeed and Namir worked for Reuters News Agency. All along, Saeed's family have asked how the men could have been killed when they were only doing their jobs.
The aerial footage made public by the website WikiLeaks has led to new revelations about exactly what happened. The family is devastated once more.
"We were in pain, the whole family was in pain," says Samir (ph). "He was a journalist. They saw the camera in his hand. They accused him of carrying a weapon."
The pentagon says its investigation concluded the apache attackers had no way of knowing the journalists were among suspected insurgents on the street.
Despite how difficult it is for Saeed's family to watch the tape, Saeed's brother is glad it was leaked.
SAFA CHMAGH, SAEED'S BROTHER: "Thank god the truth has been revealed and the blood of innocent people wasn't wasted," said Safa. "What did the two journalists do wrong that they deserved to be killed by this American pilot? They were just doing their jobs."
JAMJOOM (on-camera): Saeed's family tell us they still grieve for him every day, but more than that, they're proud of him, proud because he was a brave journalist who risked his life day after day going out into a war zone and trying to show the reality of what was going on here.
JAMJOOM (voice-over): The family says they have nothing against America, its people, or its military, but they would like to see justice carried out in this case and are considering filing a lawsuit against those involved in this incident. For now, it's the hurting they'll have to get through. Most painful for them, a portion of the video showing Saeed had survived the initial gunfire and was being rescued when the gunship's crew fired on the van to which he was being carried.
ZAHRA FALAH, SAEED'S MOTHER: "When I saw the tape, it's like he died yesterday," says Zarah. "I hadn't seen it before, but it's like this happened again yesterday. When I saw the video, it's like I went blind. I didn't see my son when he died, but I've seen it now."
JAMJOOM (on-camera): Saeed's family kept telling me today they want to make sure that he didn't die in vain, and they're hopeful that this leaked tape will make it safer for other Iraqi journalists in the future -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope. Mohammed, thank you very much. Mohammed Jamjoom, our man in Baghdad right now.
At least 40 people are dead in Iran and 400 wounded in political violence that is engulfing the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan. Late today, opposition protesters claimed to have toppled the president and to have set up an interim government. No independent confirmation of that claim is available at this hour. Earlier though, we received this photograph from an I-reporter from the country's capital of Bishkek, riots and street fighting erupted after the government arrested opposition leaders. take a look at this amateur video that shows the scene on the streets today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN MALE: Down the way, the White House straight ahead of them, there's a lot of police in front of the museum. In fact, people have tear gas going. That's going to sting a little bit. So, I can definitely feel the tear gas. Approaching the street, Touhy Avenue, which is in the center of the city and leads past the white house, and it's lined with people. And you can also hear the machines, trucks, progressing forward, and as people stand in their way. Tyranny, I guess there was some movement back. Fires. They're firing steadily. Most are louder booms. Smaller shots, I guess, are handheld canisters. The larger ones maybe large crowd dispersal. This is my walk that I take everyday home.
Man, firing. They're firing as fast as they can. They're backing them up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As you could see, this is a very violent and deadly situation. Kyrgyzstan is located just east of china, northeast of Afghanistan. A U.S. military base in the country serves as a key supply and transit link for U.S. forces moving in and out of Afghanistan. The latest word from the Pentagon, by the way, is that the base and U.S. personnel have not been affected by this crisis.
All right. There's a huge controversy erupting in Virginia right now involving the confederacy and slaves. Let's go to Lisa Sylvester, the governor, Bob McDonnell, is now apologizing to the people of Virginia.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is indeed correct, Wolf. And we'll give you a little bit of background on this story. Governor Bob McDonnell declared the month of April confederate history month, and he did so. He issued a proclamation to that effect, and he did so because he said he wanted to encourage the study of history and encourage tourism ahead of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the civil -- the civil war. But there has been quite a backlash, a lot of criticism about this, and just recently, in just a few moments ago, he released -- his office released a statement. And we've got -- we can pull from that statement as he says, the failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that, I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.
He said it was a major omission, not bringing this up originally -- in the original proclamation. He said slavery was evil, vicious, and inhumane and that Virginians should be quite pleased and thankful for its eradication from its borders. At this -- this language is essentially going to be modified, the proclamation's going to be modified and this language will be added, so you can see that he certainly has responded to this criticism -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. We're going to have more on this story coming up at the half hour. Lisa, thank you very much.
But once again, the governor of Virginia doing what politicians hate doing, coming forward, acknowledging they made a major mistake and apologizing for that mistake right now. All right. Thanks, Lisa, thanks very much.
The GOP party chairman, Michael Steele, as you know, he's engulfed in some major controversy with many in his party calling him to step down. Is it now hitting the GOP right in the wallet? We're taking a closer look at some revealing new fund-raising numbers.
Plus, the United States is targeting one of its own citizens for assassination. We'll show you what he said and done that now has him in the U.S. crosshairs.
BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, things are still bad here in the US of A but not nearly as rotten as they were a year ago. At least that's the headline that comes out of a new national survey. CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 67 percent of those surveyed say things are going badly in this country, but that's actually down ten points from a year ago. 32 percent now say things are going well. The poll indicates optimism may have peaked in November, when 37 percent of Americans said things were going well. As you might expect, the survey shows a big partisan divide of democratic president and Congress in charge, half of Democrats say things are going well, compared to just a fourth of independents and even fewer Republicans. With the national unemployment rate still at just under 10 percent, jobs remain the top issue in many Americans' minds. And even though the economy's showing some signs of turning the corner, just today, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, said we still face a long road toward recovery, quote, "we are far from being out of the woods" unquote. Bernanke highlighted unemployment, along with home foreclosures and weak bank lending as reasons why the economy's going to take some time to rebound. But he said he's optimistic that employment will slowly decline throughout the remainder of this year, which should increase optimism for consumers.
So, here's the question -- do you think things in the United States are better or worse? than they were one year ago. Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog. What do you think, Mr. Blitzer, better or worse?
BLITZER: I think -- you know, this is the question that pollsters love, because it's the right direction, wrong direction. They ask is the country moving in the right direction or the wrong direction, and if they're moving in the wrong direction, they want to vote out the incumbents. If they're moving in the right direction, they say, maybe they're not doing such a bad job. So that's why this is the most important question pollsters ask.
CAFFERTY: And if this poll holds, then two-thirds of the incumbents ought to get voted out in November, right?
BLITZER: I don't know if it will hold. We'll see. We can only wish, right, Jack?
CAFFERTY: Yes, we can hope.
BLITZER: All right. Let's go back out to West Virginia right now. The story just developing. Brian Todd is on the scene for us. Brian, what are you picking up?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've just learned that on the very day of the explosion, the Massey Energy Corporation was issued two citations for safety violations by the federal government, on the very day of the explosion. One of them was for having inadequate maps of escape ways and the other one was for having inadequate splicing of trailing cable for some equipment, but on the very day of the explosion on Monday, we have learned by looking up records for the mine safety and health administration that Massey was issued two citations for safety violations. I got the text of the standards for these two features.
This is for escape way maps. You're supposed to have maps for each working section and each area where mechanized mining equipment is being installed or removed. This is from the MSHA website. This is the standard for splicing cables, and it does show up here that Massey was issued two violations -- citations for violations on Monday. It is not clear whether those citations were issued right before or after the explosion, but on the very day, two citations for safety violations were issued to Massey. BLITZER: It's going to reinforce the notion that there were a lot of problems at that mine. Brian, stand by. We're going to get back to you. I know you're working on another report as well.
Meanwhile, closer to home, right here in Washington, problems, serious problems, for the Republican party, but is the controversy over Chairman Michael Steele taking a financial toll on the national party? Take a look at this. In March, the Republican National Committee raised $11.4 million, while the Democrats took in $13 million. Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here to talk about this. For politicians, like for so many others, Gloria, money talks.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Money talks. And if you just looked at the numbers that you showed, Wolf, you'd say, gee, the Republican party did pretty well, didn't raise as much money as the Democrats, but consider what happened during that month, the Republican base was all riled up because of health care reform, very mad about big government, and there are lots of folks that I've been talking to in the Republican party saying that number should have been bigger given the public outcry, and it helps --
BLITZER: And here's another number that's worrying some Republicans.
BLITZER: Cash on hand. How much money you have to actually spend, in January 2009, more than a year ago, the Republican National Committee had $22.8 million. Right now, it's down to $11.3 million.
BORGER: You know, you look at that and there's something called the burn rate, which is how fast you burn through this money, and in talking to a couple of big Republican donors today, one of them said to me, too many private planes, chewing up too much money, spending money where they shouldn't. This is not going to encourage big donors to start -- to continue to give money to the Republican Party. In fact, I talked to one big donor today who said to me, look, that the RNC only collected last year $3 million in big donations, and that's not a good number for the Republican National Committee.
So, they do have problems with these donors. And, Wolf, they've got other places to go. They can go to the Republican Governors Association, raise $31 million bucks, that's a lot of money. There are a lot of other organizations like American Crossroads run by two former Bush people, Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, they're collecting money. So, if those big donors don't want to go to the RNC, they have places to write their checks with a lot of zeros at the end.
BLITZER: Right. And they got the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
BLITZER: The House Campaign Committee. So, there are other -- if they don't like Michael Steele, for example, if they don't like the RNC, they can spend their money elsewhere.
BORGER: Yes. They don't think it's going to be well spent, they'll go elsewhere.
BLITZER: Or just give it to the politicians.
BORGER: They can do that.
BLITZER: Gloria, thank you.
For the second time in two days an arrest over threats to a democratic lawmaker. This time, the house speaker, Nancy Pelosi. We're learning new details. Stand by.
And the controversy over the confederate history month declaration in Virginia with no initial mention of slavery. We have details of the uproar and a debate, including the former governor, Doug Wilder.
BLITZER: Controversy's erupting over a decision by the Virginia Republican governor who designate April confederate history month. CNN's Kate Bolduan is following this story for us. Lots of passion on both sides.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lots of passion, Wolf, and we're getting some very late developments, very interesting developments in this story. The Virginia governor is now apologizing for a mistake in his words, a major omission.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Virginia is known for its civil war battlefield. Its capital, Richmond, was the capital of the confederacy, but now a new battle over that legacy. Virginia Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has declared April confederate history month.
GOV. ROBERT MCDONNELL, (R) VIRGINIA: I wanted to focus on primarily the -- the role of the confederate veterans.
BOLDUAN: The proclamation reads in part, quote, "it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our commonwealth shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the confederate leaders, soldiers, and citizens during the period of the civil war. But glaringly absent, any reference of slavery. Civil rights advocates accuse the governor of trying to, quote, "whitewash history."
UNKNOWN MALE: To, you know, not take even a second to acknowledge that the civil war, you know, the main purpose of it, the main reason for the, you know -- for that fire that burned across this country was the south's refusal to let go of slavery, which is a deep and abiding crime against humanity, does suggest that he lacks courage. BOLDUAN: The governor says he did this at the request of the group Sons of Confederate Veterans. They say the outcry is politically motivated.
UNKNOWN MALE: What Governor McDonnell's doing is trying to help educate people, and these -- the people who are complaining refuse to look at anything. They're one sided. They need -- they're the people that need confederate history education more than anybody.
BOLDUAN (on-camera): For better or worse, Virginia is steeped in confederate history. Monuments like this one can be found throughout the state. Governor McDonnell in the proclamation suggested that the move was meant to help boost tourism ahead of next year's 150th anniversary of the start of the civil war.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): So, why didn't he mention slavery?
MCDONNELL: Slavery was an absolute abomination on this nation. It was a vial and horrific practice that I'm delighted has wiped off the face of this country, and so I didn't mention it solely because I was trying to keep the focus on really the war aspects of it.
BOLDUAN: Now, Governor McDonnell issued a lengthy statement late today saying not including any reference to slavery was a mistake. He's also apologizing for offending any Virginians, and he is also revising the proclamation to include this. It would say, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given, inalienable rights, and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history.
BOLDUAN (on-camera): It's all developing right here. You could definitely see that one thing that a politician never wants to have to do.
BLITZER: Yes, apologize like that openly to his constituents. All right. He did it, and we're going to discuss it. Thanks very much for that.
We're going to talk about all of this with the former Virginia Governor, Doug Wilder. He's standing by live, and Richard Heinz, a member of the group Sons of the Confederate Veterans. That's coming up next.
Also, what will it be like for rescue teams when they're finally able to resume their search for those trapped four miners in West Virginia? We'll take you inside a simulator used to train those rescuers.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more now on the controversy over the Virginia governor designating April Confederate History Month.
Let's talk about this with the former Virginia governor, Doug Wilder, and Richard Hines. He's a member of the group Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Gentlemen, thanks to both of you for coming in.
Let's start off with the news that just developed, Governor Wilder. Your successor, a few governors removed, Governor McDonnell, now apologizing to the people of Virginia for not condemning slavery in that initial proclamation.
I assume you're happy he's done that?
DOUGLAS WILDER (D), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Well, I'm glad he's done that. I had talked with him earlier today. He called me and he said he was going to revise his statement, as well as the proclamation.
And I think it's the right thing for him to have done so, because most people recognize that slavery was the cause of the war. The war was not a glorious thing in our past. It was something that we were able to withstand in terms of tearing the country apart.
I want to point out something, though, Wolf. Some of my very good friend are -- are Confederate relatives of people who fought in the war, who died in the war. Yet they don't talk about glorifying what took place during that period of time. They recognize the sacrifices and I do, too, acknowledge those sacrifices that people made.
But slaves and slavery was the cause of this war. And thank God that war ended with the Confederacy losing.
BLITZER: Richard Hines, did Governor McDonnell did the right thing today, coming out with this dramatic statement apologizing to the people of Virginia, saying: "It was a mistake. I apologize to any Virginian who was offended and disappointed?"
RICHARD HINES, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS, PRESIDENT, RTH CONSULTING: Well, Wolf, I mean that -- that's up to the governor. I think the governor deserves a great deal of credit for issuing the Confederate History Month proclamation. And he certainly hasn't retracted that.
Governor Wilder, who we're talking with, never did issue a proclamation.
WILDER: That's correct.
HINES: As mayor of Richmond, he never did anything to help us with the Confederate graves, say, at Oakwood Cemetery. We asked you, Mr. Wilder, to help us there. The city had broken those headstones and had done nothing to preserve that important part Virginia's history. And you did nothing to help us. So you have been sort of in a pav -- a pavolian sense, very an anti-Confederate since the get-go. I don't know why because a plurality of Virginians have Confederate soldiers (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: I want to get into that, Mr. Hines, but do you condemn slavery?
HINES: Of course. I don't know anybody that supports it.
BLITZER: All right, so on...
HINES: And you?
BLITZER: No. Of course, not. So that's -- I just wanted to make sure that we got that out of the way.
But go ahead, Governor Wilder, and respond to Mr. Hines now -- his assertion.
When you were governor, why didn't you declare Confederate History Month in Virginia?
WILDER: Oh, I don't intend to engage in any debate with this gentleman about anything. Facts speaks for -- speak for themselves. When I was governor, I did what I thought I should do. I removed the Confederate insignia from the shoulders of those persons in the National Guard. I thought. It was the wrong thing for that to take place. I issued statements recognizing the contributions that were made during the period of the war from people on all sides.
And having said that, as I just pointed out to you, I don't intend to engage in any debate, because it's not a debatable issue.
BLITZER: So let me -- but just on this one issue, Governor Wilder, the proclamation -- forget about the slavery issue. He's apologized for that now, Governor McDonnell. But the proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month, did he do the right thing by doing that, Governor McDonnell?
WILDER: To the extent that he wanted to promote tourism for people to come to visit the sites of slavery, to see the battlegrounds where, as he points out, most of the war was fought, in many instances, there's nothing wrong with people coming to see what took place. But to put it in the emphasis and the thesis of glorification and people should be proud and that all Virginians should share in the contributions made by those people who fought to enslave them -- there were 500,000 people of African descent living in Virginia during that period of time -- almost half the size of the state itself. Those people weren't happy nor do their descendants have anything to be happy about.
BLITZER: Mr. Hines, you understand why a lot of people are not happy with the governor, despite his admission today that it was a mistake on slavery...
HINES: Yes. You know, my... BLITZER: -- they're not happy with declaring April Confederate History Month.
HINES: I understand why people like Mr. Wilder want to make this a comic strip version of history. The fact of the matter is it's not. You know, we had the same thing last year, when the president of the United States, who every year is presented a wreath at the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Wilder may have been -- been on this group of people and organizations that called on President Obama not to present that wreath.
And it was a glorification of the service of those men -- those hundreds of Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. And he did the right thing. He went ahead, he sent the wreath. He ignored the criticism. And I think Governor McDonnell has done the same thing here.
BLITZER: All right. I -- I don't think you're going to agree, necessarily, on Confederate History Month. So let's -- and you don't want to get into a debate. So let's just leave it right there.
WILDER: I'm not going to be involved in a debate.
BLITZER: And -- and we'll move on.
The governor -- once again, though, the governor of Virginia, Governor McDonnell, announcing just a little while ago in a lengthy written statement that his failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake.
WILDER: And for that -- and for that he should be commended.
Doug Wilder, Richard Hines -- guys, thanks very much for coming in.
What's it like for search and rescue teams right now rushing into a mine after a disaster?
We're going to take you into a training simulator.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Extraordinary -- truly extraordinary levels of lethal and explosive gases are keeping rescuers out of that West Virginia mine where four men are missing after an explosion that killed 25 people. Once they get inside, they'll be taking advantage of training that simulates a disaster in remarkable detail.
Let's go back to Brian Todd -- he's in West Virginia -- who's been watching this story -- what did you find out, Brian, about this training?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The training is extraordinary, Wolf. The rescue teams, at this hour, are poised to push into this mine as soon as those dangerous gasses are cleared out. Just a short time ago, we got an inside look at what the rescue teams are going to be up against.
TODD: (voice-over): The rescue teams can't set one foot back into the Upper Big Branch Mine until these drills vent out the dangerous gases. One that's done, it's by no means safe for the rescuers, but they'll still head underground to see if any miners made it into rescue capsules like this one.
We went to the place many rescuers learned their crucial skills -- a simulator at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy run by the federal government.
MACK WRIGHT, MINE RESCUE TRAINER: All right. Let's venture in.
TODD: (voice-over): Mack Wright spent 30 years as a rescuer and now trains these teams. He takes us into a mine chamber where fake fire and smoke make you almost instantly disoriented. In seconds, we have almost no visibility -- and that's part of the drill. This chamber is designed to teach rescuers how to make their way around, communicate, fight fires if they have to and, most vitally, to locate miners.
Mack Wright's placed a mannequin in here and I've got to crawl to find it.
(on camera): I've found a body.
What does the rescuer have to do first?
WRIGHT: Check vital signs.
TODD: (voice-over): He says rescuers have portable oxygen and other tools to stabilize disabled miners on the spot. Then it's a matter of getting them to the nearest underground vehicle.
(on camera): Generally, how far do I have to go?
WRIGHT: Travel for mine rescue teams is limited by conditions and communications. It could be anywhere from 100 feet to probably no more than 15,000 to 1,600 feet.
TODD: (voice-over): Obstacles are everywhere. In another chamber, Wright takes us through a tunnel with a simulated conveyor belt. It gets lower and lower to the ground. We have to crouch, then crawl our way along, looking under it, feeling our way along the walls. The rescuers, five or six people on a team, are tethered to a common lifeline rope around five feet apart from each other. Even if enough methane is cleared out of the Upper Branch Mine to let the rescuers in, that highly flammable gas is still Wright's biggest worry.
WRIGHT: One spark, rock falling, striking a piece of metal and a spark could cause it to explode.
TODD: This is treacherous, excruciatingly slow work and often ends in heartbreak. Wright counts the number of deceased miners he's pulled out in the double digits.
(on camera): Did you know any of them?
WRIGHT: Yes, sir.
TODD: How tough is that?
WRIGHT: That is extraordinarily tough. It's -- it gets it even more personal. Miners are -- you may not know a miner, but you know one. They're -- they're kin.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: And what he means by that is that the rescuers in this situation, as they are in most places in the United States, are miners themselves. They will push themselves beyond their own limits to try to find everyone inside. We're told in this operation, Wolf, that about 30 miners -- well, 30 rescuers -- will go into the mine at one time.
BLITZER: And those rescue chambers that you were reporting on, Brian, how do they work?
And is there any indication that any of those four miners might be in one of those rescue chambers?
TODD: Wolf, the chambers are big enough to fit 15 miners inside and they've got enough oxygen for 96 hours. Now, if only four miners are missing and they happen to be alive and they get to the chambers, since that's not 15, obviously, they have many more hours of oxygen in there. They could last for a little bit longer than the four days of oxygen there.
And once the -- once they get into that chamber, they -- it's a signal that actually gets emitted. Balloons pop out so that if they lower cameras in there and they see a chamber, if they see balloons outside the chamber, they know that some people are inside -- some people have at least tried to get inside.
Now as far as the chambers in this particular mine, they have not found any that have been opened.
BLITZER: Brian Todd will continue to cover this story for us in West Virginia.
Thank you, Brian.
Thanks very much.
Good luck to those four missing miners.
He's a U.S.-born Muslim cleric -- an American citizen who has declared jihad against America. Now he's wanted by the federal government, dead or alive.
But if he's captured, how will he be charged?
What's going on?
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Earlier, we told you that that United States military base in Kyrgyzstan was not affected by the political violence -- the deadly violence that's going on right now. But the latest word from the Pentagon is that U.S. -- the U.S. military is now halting flights in and out of that air base. The base is an important part of the supply operations for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says there are contingency plans in place. We're watching what's happening there -- an important story for the U.S.
He's the man believed to be linked to the deadly Fort Hood shootings and the thwarted Christmas Day bomb plot. And now he's wanted dead or alive by the U.S. The U.S. government confirming today that the American-born Muslim cleric, Anwar Al-Awlaki, is a target to be killed or captured.
Let's talk about this with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend.
She was Homeland Security adviser to President Bush and worked in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.
All right. This is potentially uncharted territory -- a United States citizen living abroad about to be targeted for potential assassination by the United States government, is -- is that right?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's right, Wolf. And it's not exactly uncharted territory. In November -- few people remember, in November of 2002, immediately after 9/11, there was an Al Qaeda leader who had been implicated in the USS Cole attack against our ship in the Port of Aden in Yemen. He was with five others in a car outside of Sana'a, about one miles East of Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, when he was targeted by a Predator drone -- a HELLFIRE missile...
BLITZER: Was that an American citizen?
TOWNSEND: He was an American citizen. And he was killed along with the five other lower level Al Qaeda operatives. There was some press about this. Paul Wolfowitz and Don Rumsfeld, then the secretary and deputy secretary of Defense, made statements, basically acknowledging the U.S. hand.
BLITZER: So if the U.S. wants to assassinate an American citizen who's suspected of being a terrorist, Adam Gadahn of Al Qaeda, for example, or Al-Awlaki in Yemen right now, does the president of the United States need to sign a finding saying go ahead, kill the guy?
TOWNSEND: Well, certainly, Wolf, the U.S. president has the authority, if an individual poses a direct threat to the -- to Americans, either at home or abroad. And clearly, what we're -- our understanding now is President Obama, like President Bush before him, has taken this unusual step, to do this as -- as regards Al-Awlaki.
We should remind our viewers, Al-Awlaki, remember, was -- was a religious guy to two 9/11 hijackers when they were in the United States in San Diego. He was an inspiration and spiritual guide to Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter here in the United States.
And then most recently, of course, the attempted Christmas Day bombing on the Northwest Airlines flight.
And so he's shown and there's a -- a real sort of history here to suggest Al-Awlaki is a threat to the United States. The interesting thing to me, Wolf, is remember now, this is an authorization to target for potential assassination an American overseas by the same administration who, of course, said it's not consistent with our values to use enhanced interrogation techniques against non-US or U.S. persons to prevent an attack.
BLITZER: It's already causing quite an uproar. The ACLU issuing a statement condemning this.
We're going to have more on this, Fran, tomorrow and in the days to come, I'm sure.
Jack Cafferty is coming up next with your e-mail.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, do you think things in this country are better or worse than they were a year ago?
Kim in Illinois: "A year ago, we were talking Great Depression 2.0. We're now talking about how many jobs were created in March. Let's be realistic, though, we were starving a year ago. Now we're just hungry. Of course, we're better off, but we have a lifeline unless we get some amnesia and put the bankrupt Republicans back in office."
Mark writes: "Nothing has been accomplished in this country other than expanding the size of our wasteful government. I think we're currently about the same and the future is grim."
Eric in New Jersey : "I'm in banking. I deal with hundreds of business owners. I can say with certainty the consensus is that business is up, profits are returning, but not enough to start hiring people back yet. The economy is heading I the right direction, but it seems Wall Street is moving at lightning speed and small businesses are the lagging indicator."
Jerry in North Carolina: "Here in North Carolina, it still seems about the same -- jobs going to illegal immigrants, taxes always and still on the rise, especially for small businesses.
But they don't think we notice these things?
And how about them gas prices?"
Mike in Tampa: "I just drove 500 miles of back roads. I've never seen so many closed businesses. Depressing. Things are definitely worse."
Lorraine in Maryland: "I'm still unemployed, but I'm seeing more job openings. More people seem to be buying and selling."
And Bob in Kansas City: "It depends how far you went to bottom last year. Wall Street was hurting. So by that standard, we're better. But it's Main Street that has born the brunt of the irresponsibility that got us to this point and that's the opinion that counts."
Amen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
See you tomorrow.
Jeanne Moos, when we come back.
BLITZER: It's a most unusual crowd pleaser -- President Obama taking it off -- his jacket, that is.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Definitely rated PG. It's the presidential strip.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a little warm in here.
MOOS: As the campaign to sell health care heated up.
OBAMA: It's a little hot, I think.
MOOS: -- off came the president's jacket.
OBAMA: I'm going to take off my jacket, guys. So if you want to do the same thing -- it's a little hot.
MOOS: And sometimes the crowd reacts as if he's hot.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a...
MOOS: There's no whistling at the president. Look how happy she looks.
(on camera): But then again, the crowd tends to cheer for anyone who takes off their jacket.
(voice-over): Watch how they reacted to Joe Biden.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my neighborhood...
BIDEN: In my neighborhood.
MOOS: Though one snarky critic noted that at the exact moment Joe Biden took of his jacket, the Dow dropped 4 points.
BIDEN: In my neighborhood...
MOOS: Of course, no president took it off quite like Bill Clinton.
MOOS: In this JibJab video, George Bush's crowds...
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you think it's all right if I take off my jacket?
MOOS: Tended to be more sedate about presidential stripping.
BUSH: Thanks for coming out. I hope I didn't spill any sauce on my shirt after I had barbeque at The Whole Hog.
MOOS: Remember how Bush supporters went whole hog attacking President Obama for taking his jacket off in the Oval Office and even putting his feet up on the historic desk?
But Obama defenders struck back with their own photos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "COUNTDOWN," COURTESY MSNBC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same desk, different shoes. If you don't recognize the guy, it's George W. Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS (on camera): And then there's the matter of what to do with the jacket.
(voice-over): President Obama either puts it on something or hands it to his aide, Reggie Love, along with his BlackBerry of...
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE) are you going to hold my coat?
Yes, well I...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You answer all the tough questions, I'll hold the coat.
MOOS: Just so it's just the coat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM NOXZEMA COMMERCIAL)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take it off. Take it all off. Nothing takes it off like...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...
OBAMA: Thank you, Fort Lewis.
MOOS: -- New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Leave -- leave it to Jeanne Moos.
Thank you, Jeanne.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for joining us.
"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.