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American Terror Suspects Arrested; BP Plugs Oil Well; Gay Marriage in Legal Limbo; Where Did All the Oil Go? Firsthand Look at the Gulf From Above; School Bus Crash Kills Two

Aired August 5, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: a number of Americans charged with aiding one of al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliates. Why some have even left the United States heartland to fight and die with a terror group in Somalia, new information coming in.

Even though key parts of Arizona's immigration law were blocked by a judge, it is still scaring many illegal immigrants into returning to Mexico. We're going to show you why the road back, though, is not necessarily all that easy.

And after plugging the ruptured well with mud, BP has now pumped cement in and sealed it off permanently, but what impact is the success at the bottom of the Gulf having on the surface? You're going to see the view from above.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

American citizens charged with aiding and in some cases joining an al Qaeda ally in the Horn of Africa. The Justice Department today took the wraps off of a series of indictments against 14 people accused of helping a Somali group which is viewed by authorities as extremely dangerous.

Let's go straight to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She has got the details -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a new State Department report describes Al-Shabab as one of al Qaeda's most active affiliates. And today indictments were unsealed against 14 people who the government alleges are part of a pipeline funneling funds and fighters to the group.


MESERVE (voice-over): Al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terror group, on the battlefield in Somalia, among its commanders, U.S. officials say, two of the indicted men, Jehad Serwan Mostafa and Omar Hammami, both U.S. citizens. Hammami has allegedly become a propagandist as well, appearing in the jihadist videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only reason we are staying here, away from our families, away from the cities, away from ice, candy bars, all these other things, is because we're waiting to meet with the enemy.

MESERVE: An expert on radicalization calls Hammami a jihadi rock star, a bridge between two cultures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mortar by mortar, shell by shell, only going to stop when I send them to hell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone who has feet in both worlds, fuses his jihadi narrative with American culture and rap music. This is not just someone reciting dusty old texts. This is someone Americans see glimmers of themselves in.

MESERVE: Born and raised in Alabama, Hammami was raised a Baptist, but converted to Islam as a young man. His mother tells CNN she has not talked to him since 2007 and she doesn't know if he is guilty as accused.

Also unsealed, indictments of 10 men from Minnesota's Somali community. All are believed to be overseas training or fighting with Al-Shabab. The government hopes the indictments send a message.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you choose this route, you can expect to find yourself in a United States jail cell or to be a casualty on a Somali battlefield.

MESERVE: But the indictments don't reflect the breadth of the homegrown terror problem. Recently, four young men from New Jersey, Virginia and Chicago have been arrested for allegedly trying to travel to Somalia to fight.


MESERVE: Also announced today, the arrest in Minnesota of two women who the government alleged raised money for Al-Shabab, sometimes through teleconferences. In some instances, the government says they misled donors, telling their money would help the poor, not wage war -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you.

Let's take a closer look Al-Shabab. It is believed to number several thousand fighters and controls much of the southern and central parts of Somalia. Al-Shabab has been waging an insurgency against Somalia's government since 2006.

In recent months, Al-Shabab's fighters have been battling for control of the capital, Mogadishu. Al-Shabab, by the way, means youth in Arabic, and the group has attracted hundreds of young recruits from around the globe, including from right here in the United States.

Just last month, Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for two bomb blasts in neighboring Uganda that killed 76 people who were simply watching the World Cup soccer games on television. Let's dig deeper now with our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, and our CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. We should not Fran is also an External Board Adviser to both the CIA and the Homeland Security Department.

Fran, these guys who were indicted today, most of them really grew up since 9/11, in these years since 9/11. And that is pretty disturbing, that they would grow up here in the United States, and they take these steps.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: It is disturbing, Wolf. But what does this remind us of?

Remember Al-Awlaki, who was also born in the U.S., goes to Yemen and then preaches and recruits Americans and those around the world, like the Christmas Day bomber, like the Fort Hood shooter. This is what we are seeing in Hammami, where he inspires others he tries to recruit.

And then there are those inside the United States, young, as you point out. It is interesting, Wolf, because that means that they don't have any obvious ties to things like al Qaeda and Al-Shabab, which makes it more difficult.

I would say that the ability of the FBI and investigators to identify these guys before they leave the country or after they have left by virtue of their contacts is progress. It is progress that we're able to identify them before they manifest a threat here in the U.S.

BLITZER: What is the U.S. military, Barbara, doing in Somalia if anything against these terrorists?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the most lily classified, secretive efforts by the U.S. military.

They have gone into Somalia several times before to go after al Qaeda targets, but we're talking about homegrown, if you will, Somali terrorism groups. The big concern is the foreign fighters that are there. The intelligence community now estimates up to 200 from Iraq, from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia.

They are able to go into Somalia, where there is no functioning government, set up training camps, work with the Al-Shabab, teach them how to do suicide bombers, and possibly export their terrorist activities even back to the United States.

That is why there is so much concern for the United States. That is why this matters.

BLITZER: Because we all know the U.S. now has almost 100,000 troops in Afghanistan going after al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents, al Qaeda terrorists. Is the U.S. going to start deploying troops to go after these targets in Somalia or Yemen, for example, where there are plenty of them as well? TOWNSEND: Well, I think what you will see, Wolf, is the United States military as opposed to deploying troops to actually fight and take direct action, as they call it, what they do is...


BLITZER: You say direct actions, that is targeted killings?

TOWNSEND: Well, and that is their ability to go in and act for themselves on their own.

I think what you see like in Yemen is where they try to identify those who would be allies and support their activities inside, where we are not at war, but where we see a manifest threat against U.S. interests.

STARR: But the difference in Somalia, of course, is there is no functioning government to work with.


TOWNSEND: That's exactly right.


BLITZER: In Yemen, there is.

STARR: There is.


BLITZER: Not a great government, but a government.

STARR: Right. I mean, let's be clear. In Somalia, there is really not a functioning government. That means the CIA or military commandos have done what they have done. They go in the dead of night. There have been drone strikes. There have been gunship strikes. And then they will land in helicopters, get on the ground, do whatever they do, and get out as fast as possible.

BLITZER: Because they can move ships up to the coast, whether of Yemen or of Somalia, and launch drones, for example, to try to kill these people.

TOWNSEND: That's right. But what Barbara describes is the most dangerous type and risky type of military action you can take. Remember -- and during the Clinton administration Black Hawk down, where you have a group go in, get caught and you have soldiers are killed. And so, this becomes a very dangerous, risky operation.

STARR: This is the difference with any other country, Somalia, the Specter of Black Hawk down. All these years later, you say Somalia to a three-star general in the Pentagon and they still shudder.

TOWNSEND: Yes. BLITZER: All right. We are going to continue to pursue this story. It is not going away.

We have all heard the stories of young men and women being recruited right here in the United States for terrorism from troubled places like Baghdad and Kabul and another city that lists on that list right now. We are talking about Minneapolis, yes, Minneapolis.

You may find some of the images in this upcoming story disturbing, along with the facts which our Brian Todd has uncovered right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to bring Brian in right now.

Minneapolis, Brian, explain what is going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when we first went to Minneapolis to investigate this last summer, an FBI official told me they had never dealt with anything like this. What started out as a couple of simple missing persons cases evolved into what authorities later called one of the most significant anti-terrorism investigations inside the U.S. since 9/11.

In recent years, several young people in Minneapolis have utterly disappeared, leaving families frightened and confused, the community increasingly suspicious of people inside and outside their ranks.

The families and U.S. officials now have confirmation many of those men ended up thousands of miles away in Somalia.


TODD (voice-over): Jamal Bana was the kind of son a modest immigrant family pins its hopes on, 20 years old, the oldest of seven, a college student studying engineering, preparing to live the American dream.

Then, in the fall of 2008, his family says, suddenly, without no warning, Jamal disappeared. A few days later, the phone rang. A local community activist who is now with Somalia's office at the U.N. translated for the family.

OMAR JAMAL, FORMER COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: And he said, "I'm in Somalia" and hung up the phone.

TODD: Somalia, violent and deeply poor, was the place where Jamal's family had fled, in hopes of building a better life. Now he was mysteriously back there. Why?

Through short, fitful communications in which Jamal always sounded guarded, the family came to believe this is what he was caught up in, a vicious, chaotic civil war between Somalia's government and a terrorist group called Al-Shabab, linked to al Qaeda. Family and friends believe Jamal was recruited to fight with Al-Shabab.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Omar Boley, a close family friend, says then came another contact in July of last year and the shock they never dreamed possible.

(on camera): So his father wakes up Saturday morning and someone has told him that there's a picture of his son.

What happened?

OMAR BOLEY, BANA FAMILY FRIEND: Yes, to the Internet. And he was really upset. And when he saw...

TODD: Jamal Bana.

BOLEY: That's Jamal Bana, yes.

TODD (voice-over): Pictures posted on the Internet show a man with a fatal bullet wound to the head, the same man being carried through the streets of Mogadishu. The parents believe this is Jamal. The circumstances of his death are unclear. His mother was barely able to talk about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And somebody must have put something in his mind. He must have been somewhat disillusioned and indoctrinated, because he didn't have any clue about Somalia at all.

TODD: Who convinced Jamal Bana to go to Somalia?

The latest indictment a substantial recruiting effort by that terrorist group, Al-Shabab, in immigrant communities across the U.S. More than a dozen young men of Somali dissent have disappeared from the Minneapolis area alone in recent years.

At least three, including Jamal Bana, have wound up dead in Somalia. There was also Shirwa Ahmed, who blew up himself and 29 others -- the first ever suicide bombing by a naturalized U.S. citizen. Minneapolis community activist Abdirizak Bihi lost his 17- year-old nephew, Burhan Hassan.

(on camera): Do you know about their methods?

How do they do this?

Do they come in and talk to these young men inside the mosque outside?

Do they call them on cell phones?

Do they kidnap them?

ABDIRIZAK BIHI, NEPHEW KILLED IN SOMALIA: They kidnap them in the sense of mental kidnapping, not physically. But they play a role of a male role, a mentor.

TODD (voice-over): The latest indictments cold comfort for families who fled violence and terrorism, only to find it followed them.

(on camera): How do you think his family will do from here? And he was the oldest.

BOLEY: Tough. The last time you were with -- with me and we went home. And she doesn't want to hear this story again because she told me whenever I see someone who is talking about my son, I feel bad. I cannot sleep. I get sick. So this happened. There's nothing I can do. We pray for him. That's what she says. And I that's what I believe.


TODD: Now, at the time we investigated this, an FBI official told me they could not rule out the possibility that some of the young men involved could be trained to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Today, Attorney General Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller said they will confront this threat with more coordinated efforts to disrupt these networks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I understand, Brian, you just learned some new information about how some of these young men got to Somalia.

TODD: Yes, we spoke with a local travel agent. We have been asked not to identify the agent's name or the name of the business. This person says that the agency sold plane tickets to two of the young men who later died in Somalia. The agent noticed a pattern.

He said the young men paid about $1,800 in cash for tickets to Nairobi or Dubai. Then the agent believes they made their way to Mogadishu from there on African-based airline. So, they had kind of a pipeline going on, a formula for getting these guys to Somalia.

BLITZER: Brian, good work. Thanks very much for that report.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Then: the hard road home to Mexico. Some families who want to leave Arizona because of its new immigration law are now facing some big hurdles simply to get out.

Also, even with Proposition 8 overturned, same-sex couples trying to get married in California find themselves right now in legal limbo.

And the success at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. There is the success right now, but what is the oil disaster look like from above? We are surveying the damage.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. economy, with nearly 10 percent unemployment, has millions of Americans struggling just to make ends meet, but you might not know that by watching the nation's first lady.

Michelle Obama, her youngest daughter, Sasha, and 40 of the first lady's closest friends are on a glitzy vacation in Spain. They're staying on the southern Mediterranean coast at a luxury resort hotel.

The resort in Marbella on the Costa del Sol is a playground of the rich and famous, including members of the Saudi Royal family, Spain's jet-setting crowd and Hollywood actors.

The first lady and her pals are expected to take up between 60 and 70 rooms. That's more than a third of the whole resort. Prices start there at about $400 a night and go up to $2,500 a night.

A piece in 'The New York Daily News" compares "material girl Michelle Obama" -- that's a quote -- to a modern-day Marie Antoinette, staying in the lap of luxury and not exactly cutting back in these troubled economic times.

The taxpayers are paying for transportation and housing an estimated 70 Secret Service agents who will accompany Mrs. Obama, not to mention the cost of Air Force Two to fly her and her buddies over and back.

"The Daily News" suggests that while the Obamas like to portray themselves as common folk, it doesn't really jibe with what we're seeing. The piece suggests a vacation on the coast of California, where the money would have been pumped into the local economy, might have been a more politically astute idea.

Michelle Obama's lavish trip comes at a time when eight out of 10 Americans describe economic conditions as poor and the economy is overwhelmingly cited as the top problem facing the United States today.

So, here's the question: What message does it send when the first lady takes a glitzy vacation to Spain, given our current economic climate in this country?

Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: I really want to see what our viewers think about that. I'm going to look at your blog, Jack. Thanks very much. I know you will be reading some of those e-mails later this hour. Jack, thank you.

The most controversial parts of Arizona's immigration law right now are on hold, but that is not keeping it from having its intended effect, as many families living illegally in the state want to return to Mexico.

But as CNN's Amber Lyon found out, it can be a very, very difficult journey home -- Amber.


AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are here in Arizona, where a rough economy and a statewide crackdown on illegal immigration has made it tougher and tougher for these illegal immigrants to find work. Combine that with a controversial new law, SB-1070, and some of these immigrants are saying they want out. They want to head back home. Now it is just a matter of how they will get there.

We are in central Phoenix, and we're here to talk to a family that wants to return to Mexico. In fact, they say they would have returned yesterday if they could have, but they can't afford the trip.

They are saying that, as the years have gone by, since the last three years, it keeps getting more difficult and more difficult to find work that will take him without papers.

They have a lot of kids.

(voice-over): This family of seven has sold most of their belongings in an effort to raise money to pay for the trip back to Mexico. They think it could take several months.

(on camera): We are here in Nogales, Arizona, and we're heading into Mexico. And we came in to see exactly what it's going to take to financially to reenter the country.

(voice-over): The immigrants have to pay the Mexican government to bring truckloads of belongings into the country.

(on camera): We just spoke with authorities. They say they are offering a special right now until the end of the month, the first $300 worth of goods per person free. Anything above that required a 16 percent tax.

How much did you just pay the Mexican government to cross over into Mexico?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five hundred dollars

LYON: We just caught up with this family of six from Tucson, Arizona. They are voluntarily returning to Mexico.

PAULINA, MOVING BACK TO MEXICO: It is costing me like more than $3,000. That includes shipping my furniture, mostly everything that we had in the house, plus getting the citizenship fixed, and gas money, and everything.

LYON (voice-over): The other alternative? Picking up the phone and calling Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and turning themselves in. They may get a free ride into Mexico, but they also get officially detained and deported.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It is very awful.

LYON: And a call to ICE means deportation without their belongings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have my tools. Like, if I don't have no tools, I can't do nothing over there for my families.

LYON: ICE says U.S. taxpayers should not have to pay to return the estimated half-a-million illegal immigrants who want to go back voluntarily. (on camera): Are you sad to have to leave?


LYON: Why?

FRANCISCO: I don't know. It feels better right here, because I was born here.

LYON: Do you want to leave?

CYNTHIA, 17 YEARS OLD: Yes, because my mom has so much stress, and it is just better over there than over here. My dad can get a job over there without having to worry about anything.

LYON: But being worry-free will come at a high cost. The longer the family waits around for the cash to head back to Mexico, the more of a chance they have of getting picked up by immigration -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Good story. Good work, Amber Lyon in Tucson for us. Thank you.

California's gay marriage ban is overturned in a controversial federal ruling, but when will same-sex couples be able to marry again in California? We are following some new developments happening on this day after this historic ruling.

And new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about that deadly accident involving two school buses carrying members of a high school band.



BLITZER: After Proposition 8 is struck down, a lesbian couple goes to get a marriage license today, but ends up in legal limbo. Is there more pressure now on President Obama to change his stance on gay marriage?

And where did all the oil go? We will take a closer look at where it may have went. We are going on a helicopter ride over the Gulf.

And what is supermodel Naomi Campbell doing at a war crimes trial? You may find the answer "Moost Unusual."


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Even with Proposition 8 thrown out, the future of same-sex marriage in California is very much still up in the air right now. CNN's Dan Simon is working the story for us. Dan, the federal court ruling had gay rights activists very, very happy, but so far, at least, on this day, no same-sex marriage in California. DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is right, Wolf. There is still the unanswered question about whether the same-sex marriage ban will stay in place during the appeal process. What we know is this, we know that the judge has asked the lawyers to submit all of their legal briefs before tomorrow. We know that there is not going to be a hearing tomorrow, and the judge will likely issue his decision on this issue sometime next week. What we know is that there are at lot of anxious couples out there, and including one I spoke with earlier today.


SIMON: Maria Ydil and Vanessa Judicpa had already made plans to get married, even if it was not recognized by the state. But when they learned that Judge Von Walker had found Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

VANESSA JUDICPA, WANTS TO MARRY: We figured from there why not walk to city hall and get a marriage license.

SIMON: To their surprise a clerk at San Francisco City Hall gave them the paperwork to fill out.

Were you thinking that at that point everything was going to sail through?

MARIA YDIL, WANTS TO MARRY: Yes, we were like, oh this could be it because six months ago they told us flatly no. We can't issue anything, but yesterday they gave us a form to fill out and we thought oh, this could be it, and then when we already filled out the forms and everything, we handed it to the clerk, and of course, there was a stay.

SIMON: She is talking about the separate ruling from Judge Walker that keeps the state's marriage ban in place, at least temporarily. It is not clear if it will remain intact during the appeal. Attorneys for Prop 8 have already filed the motions that will take this case to the federal 9th circuit.

AUSTIN NIMOCKS, THE ALLIANCE DEFENSE FUND: It is really disappointing any time a single federal judge takes it upon himself to cancel out the voices of over 7 million Californians. We know that Californians turned out for the vote in record numbers after having a full and fair debate, hearing both sides of the issue and making the decision that they wanted to make and for a single federal judge to throw out that entire process is really a tragic day for America.

SIMON: Back at the clerk's office, Vanessa and Maria's elation quickly faded, as they realized they would not get the marriage certificate after all.

JUDICPA: It was bittersweet feeling yesterday, but we won't let it get us down, definitely not. Like I said, a hold is simply just a delay, and you can't hold a stay like that for too long.

YDIL: And we told them, we will be back. Sooner or later we will be back to get that paperwork for us.


SIMON: That couple, by the way, having a spiritual marriage ceremony sometime this weekend. Again, the headline that we just found out a short time ago is that the judge wants everyone to submit their legal briefings before tomorrow or some time tomorrow. There won't be a hearing on this issue about whether the marriage ban will stay in place. Instead the judge expected to issue a ruling sometime next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dan, thanks for the news.

Let's discuss this a little deeper right now with our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. She is the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" which airs Sunday mornings. Does this decision now put this issue on the agenda in November of this year and 2012 the presidential election year?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: To a certain extent this issue is always on the agenda somewhere. We have seen a lot of same-sex marriage propositions that tend to crop up in various states. Sometimes when the conservatives want to get the folks out to vote, they will put a same-sex marriage proposition on the ballot. Will it be an overriding issue? If you have 9.5 percent unemployment, that is going to be the issue and I don't see same-sex marriage becoming a big issue.

BLITZER: I suspect though it does put pressure on President Obama to change his position. A lot of folks don't realize, he is opposed to same-sex marriage.

CROWLEY: He is, but he was also opposed to Prop 8 in California that you were talking about saying it was divisive and so he has always tried to straddle this thing. They don't want to have social issues be on the front part of the agenda. On the other hand, he has strong support in the gay community but he always been against gay marriage. He is for civil marriages. But you know, a lot of people around him, and indeed, some in the Republican Party I have talked to do believe that this is an issue that the time is coming eventually but this is society changing and not necessarily the politicians, but it is an issue that society sort of leads and the politicians follow.

BLITZER: Sort of the same kind of evolution and thinking about gays serving openly in the United States military as well.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

BLITZER: Folks who 10 or 15 years ago thought that was not at all acceptable, now support it.

CROWLEY: Right. And look at the conservatives who supported this effort to overturn what Proposition 8 had put into place.

BLITZER: Ted Olson, one of the lawyers. CROWLEY: Yes, Ted Olson and so you have conservatives on board here and there are a number of people who think it is a matter of time rather than politicians.

BLITZER: Thanks, Candy.

The well is dead, but is the damage still being done? We are taking a new survey of the gulf oil disaster from the air. We are going on a ride. Stand by.

A horrifying crash involving two school busses, a truck and an SUV. We are learning new details of who was killed.


BLITZER: With heavy mud plugging the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, authorities were already confident there would be no more leaks. Now BP has just finished pumping cement into the well to seal it permanently, but the government's point man, retired U.S. coast guard admiral Thad Allen says that the relief wells must be still finished over the next two weeks or so before the blown out well can be considered officially dead. Given the success at the bottom of the gulf, what are things looking like from above? CNN's David Mattingly just got back from a helicopter tour of the area. David, what did you see?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I went up with the U.S. coast guard over an area that had been hit hard by the oil. What I saw was really absolutely remarkable. I saw some marshes that were actually growing new green grass, and I saw flocks of pelicans diving for food. These were all signs of an ecosystem that is on the rebound. One thing I didn't see a lot of was oil. Just a few patches of sheen here and there, but nothing at all like there had been there just a few weeks ago. The coast guard tells me that the oil is disappearing faster than even they had hoped.


REAR ADM. PAUL ZUKUNFT, FEDERAL ON-SCENE COORDINATOR: So what we are seeing is a very rapid degradation of the oil.

MATTINGLY: Faster than what you expected?

ZUKUNFT: Certainly. Because we prepare and always prepare for the worst, but now in three weeks when the trajectory shows little to no oil on the surface, we were expecting to see more than what we see right now.


MATTINGLY: This oil seems to be biodegrading at a rate twice as fast as what they thought it would. This oil they thought would be around for at least a month after they capped the well causing problems. Instead, it started breaking up and disappearing just after a couple of weeks. So they are looking at that as a positive sign that perhaps we will be able to get people back down for tourism, back down here for fishing, and just a sign of some of the tourism that is going on, you can hear the playing of the steamboat behind me trying to bring the tourists on.

BLITZER: I hope that the tourists come back, because the region could use the tourism and music. Good to hear. David, you have covered the story from day one and done a great job. Let's step back a little bit. Yesterday, we were told that most of the oil has either been skimmed or evaporated or dispersed or whatever. It sounds sort of too good to be true. Give us your perspective.

MATTINGLY: After so much bad news, Wolf, it is awfully hard to digest anything positive coming in here without a great deal of skepticism, but what we are seeing, we are seeing this oil disappearing. Biodegrading just like they said it would. What we are also seeing is the marshes and the wildlife seeming to bounce back pretty quickly just like they said it would. It is happening. We don't know however what the long-term effects could be from the oil that is still out there in the environment. 4.9 million gallons of oil got out into the Gulf of Mexico. We know from NOAA the study they did that half of that is no longer in the environment, and the rest of it under the water, on the water, in varying stages of decay, and they still don't know what long-term effects that might have, and for that reason, you won't see anybody in the gulf ready to let down their guard.

BLITZER: One correction, 4.9 million barrels of oil and not gallons, but barrels.


BLITZER: A lot more gallons than that.

MATTINGLY: Thank you.

BLITZER: And good work, David, and let the music play on, and let the tourism come back to New Orleans. That whole gulf coast, music to their ears. Thank you very much.

Horror on the highway and mass casualties as two school buses packed with students collide with a semi-truck and an SUV.


BLITZER: Pictures are really, really horrible. A horrifying scene in Missouri, at least two people are dead and dozens injured in an accident involving two school buses, a truck and an SUV. Brian Todd is getting more information on what happened. It is pretty horrendous. Tell our viewers what we know.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is horrendous, Wolf. The images alone enough to make any parent's heart skip a beat. Anytime you see a school bus involved in an accident like this, you fear the worst.

Now we know that one of the two people killed in this massive was a high school student on one of the buses, that's according to CNN affiliate KTVI. The other fatality happen d inside of the SUV sandwiched between that one bus and the big rig.

This happened on Interstate-44 about 40 miles southwest of St. Louis Missouri. The two buses were carrying members of a high school band from St. James, Missouri. They were going to Six Flags amusement park. The first bus was carrying the girls, the second bus boys.

We know that about 50 people at least were hurt in this accident, 40 of them students who were taken to nearby hospitals. Most of the injuries are nonlife threatening, but some students are still hospitalized tonight.

Our affiliate KTVI caught up with one man at a local hospital. His wife was driving that second bus, his son was onboard as well and he called his dad from the accident scene.


LUKE MCENNIS, ACCIDENT VICTIM: People crying and traffic jammed up and everything. Just broken glass and people on the floor.

I just said, you need to get down here.

CHRIS MULLENIX, FATHER: I jumped in my truck, and drove down here to -- and they -- I drove to the scene, and they said that they had brought him here and I came here and he's fine.


TODD: Now, Luke's mom Kelly (ph) broke both her wrists in the accident, but she is otherwise OK.

Word of the accident spread quickly in that town of St. James where the kids are from. That is a town of about 4,000 about 100 miles west of St. Louis. One official with the chamber of commerce says everyone is anxious, just wants to know what's going on here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do they have any idea how this accident occurred?

TODD: Well, officials are kind of piecing it together now. They say that it started with a collision between a GMC pickup and a semi- tractor on the left side of the road. The two busses were coming along after that.

According to one state highway patrolman, the driver of the first bus, a woman, noticed some other vehicle on the right hand side. She apparently moved around, tried to move around and was looking in the rearview mirrors, took her eyes off the road, didn't see the accident on the left hand side, slammed into it. The other bus, according to the State Highway Patrol, was right behind her and I guess she just did not see it in time.

That is what they are saying now, but the NTSB is sending their own team of investigators.

BLITZER: What a nightmare. Every parent's nightmare. TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on, Lisa?


Well, the recession is taking a toll on Social Security. It's trustees report that with fewer people contributing due to unemployment, the system will pay out more than it takes in this year and next year. It's the first time payments are exceeding revenues since the 1970s; that crisis was fixed by increasing the withholding rate.

And tough times for the U.S. Postal Service. It's reporting a $3.5 billion quarterly loss. Plunging mail volume is partly to blame, it's down 20 percent since 2007 and combine that with soaring retiree health care costs and the agency says it may not be able to meet all of its 2011 obligations. Keep in mind the Postal Service receives no tax dollars.

And it's six months probation for a former hot dog eating champion Takera Kobayashi (ph). He faced trespassing and other charges for rushing the stage at the famous Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest this past Fourth of July. He had been barred from the competition due to a contract dispute. So he couldn't compete, he tried to rush on stage and well, you saw what happened there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Great story, indeed. All right, Lisa, thank you.

Jack Cafferty's coming up. His question to you this hour, What message does it send when the first lady takes a glitzy vacation to Spain given the current economic climate? Jack standing by with your email.

And what is a supermodel doing at a war crimes trial. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What message does it send when the First Lady Michelle Obama takes a glitzy vacation with a daughter and 40 of her friends in Spain given the current economic climate here?

Rhoda writes from Scottsdale, Arizona, "I think it's a slap in the face to all who are unemployed, those living on unemployment, those struggling to make ends meet by working several small jobs and those who have lost their retirement. There are a lot of wonderful places in the U.S. that would be fun for the children and relaxing for her. What's Camp David for?"

B.J. writes from Quincy, Illinois, "Very bad taste."

Jeff in Illinois also, "Who does this woman think she is in the queen of America? There are 40.5 million people on food stamps in this country. Gulf Coast beaches are deserted, and our tax dollars are going to Spain. Sickening!"

Jim in Colorado writes, "Even if she stayed home and washed all the windows on the White House, the right wing would still whine and moan. Go on, Mrs. Obama, and have a good time."

Mike in Phoenix writes, "Here's a great place to take a vacation if you like fresh air, woods, try Greer, Arizona and the Red Setter Inn or The Little American Inn in Flagstaff, Arizona. At least keep the money here, not over there."

Steve in California, "Sends a message of how privileged the privileged few are. Whatever happened to Mrs. Obama's fiscal conservatism when she first came to live in Washington? I guess it's no longer a case of keeping up with the Joneses. It's all about keeping up with the Obamas, but at this time hardly anybody in the United States can."

John writes from North Carolina, "No message at all. The Obamas are self-made millionaires living out the American dream. They can vacation where they want. Aside from transportation and security, the first lady probably has to pay for the rest of the trip, just like any other government employee. Spain is a wonderful country --" never mind.

Riley, "That's the same kind of mistake the Clintons made having that fancy wedding last weekend. And when Obama and Clinton run again, it will become an issue."

And Audrey writes, "You know, Jack, my husband thinks you are always right but even he said this was beneath you. Big time."

If you want read more about this, you'll find it on my blog,

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: Polls are closing soon in Tennessee where the battle for governor is making some headlines. One candidate is talking about secession and another is questioning whether Islam is even a religion. It's all coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."

Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, far from the catwalk, supermodel Naomi Campbell takes the stand in a war crimes trial. CNN's Jeanne Moos getting ready to take a most unusual look.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots."

In Pakistan, a young refugee sits on the remains of his shelter after severe flooding destroyed much of the region.

In Japan, a woman holds a candle to remember those victims of the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima back in 1945.

Off the coast of England, a French surfer competes in the annual Boardmaster's Surf Festival.

And in Australia, look at this, a baby pygmy hippo explores her new den over at the zoo.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

A supermodel in a most unusual setting. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've seen her on the catwalk. We've seen her to the perp walk, but whoever imagined seeing a supermodel at a war crimes trial.


MOOS: Fashionably late, but only by a few minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You told us you were late for breakfast the following morning.


MOOS: Naomi was wearing an evil eye necklace, but you may think of her as a diamond-loving diva like Marilyn Monroe.

But the diamonds discussed here weren't the kind of friends you brag about -- blood diamonds, allegedly used by war crimes defendant Charles Taylor to fund his deeds. Taylor, the former president of Liberia.

CAMPBELL: I actually never heard of Liberia.

MOOS: But while at a dinner given by Nelson Mandela, Charles Taylor appeared, as Naomi pointed out with a manicured finger.

CAMPBELL: Myself, Charles Taylor, Mr. Mandela.

MOOS: Later that night she was awakened by two men at the door saying --

CAMPBELL: A gift for you and they gave me a pouch.

MOOS: Now if two guys knocked on your door in the middle of the night and handed you a pouch, what would you do with it? First thing, open, it right? But Naomi says she went back to sleep. CAMPBELL: I opened the pouch the next morning when I woke up.

MOOS: And what did she see?

CAMPBELL: And there were very small dirty looking stones, dirty looking pebbles. I'm used to seeing diamonds shiny and in a box, you know.

MOOS: Now, we're totally accustomed to seeing Naomi Campbell in court, but she's usually the defendant, not the witness. She's always in trouble for throwing cell phones.

CAMPBELL: You stupid cow!

MOOS: Always being mocked for anger management issues. She even swatted at an ABC camera after the interviewer asked about Charles Taylor supposedly giving her diamonds. And she didn't want to testify at this war crimes trial either.

CAMPBELL: This is a big inconvenience for me.

MOOS: She said she was worried about her family's safety.

Isn't it correct that your account today is not entirely truthful because of your fear of Charles Taylor?

CAMPBELL: No, that's not correct.

Madam president.

MOOS: Naomi says she gave the pouch of diamonds to the then head of Nelson Mandela's children's fund so they could do some good. The whole story sounded like a James bond plot.

After what must have seemed like forever, Naomi walked out in heels so high they were a war crime against her feet.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Hip hop star Wyclef Jean makes it official later tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE" announcing he's running for president of Haiti. I'll be filling in for Larry, 9:00 p.m. later on tonight.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.