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THE SITUATION ROOM
Iranian Lawyer Fears For Life; BP's Drilling Plans
Aired August 6, 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: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with extraordinary and exclusive new details about a man who grew up in America and is now said to be al Qaeda's leader responsible for attacks on America. We're talking about Adnan Shukrijumah. He has apparently taken the place of his former boss, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Raised in New York and Florida, Shukrijumah has risen through the ranks and is now allegedly running the terror group's overseas missions from somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistani border. He's been linked to last year's foiled New York subway bomb plot.
CNN has exclusive new details of Shukrijumah, including an interview with his mother that you won't see anywhere else.
Here is our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The FBI says that after he left America, Shukrijumah started off as an al Qaeda dishwasher, doing menial tasks at training camps. But it believes he's much more than a dishwasher now.
BRIAN LABLANC, SPECIAL AGENT, FBI: Just like any other business, he would be equated with a chief of operations.
CANDIOTTI: Investigators have revealed to CNN they believe Adnan Shukrijumah is now directing al Qaeda's overseas operations.
(on camera): How dangerous is he?
LABLANC: He may not be somebody that's going to come into the United States to conduct the attack, but what makes him more dangerous is that he's out there plotting the attacks and recruiting people to actively do that.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The break-through came when FBI counterterrorism agent Brian LaBlanc linked Shukrijumah to the thwarted New York subway suicide mission last fall, the biggest post- 9/11 terror investigation.
Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay admit they plan to blow themselves up using homemade bombs. Prosecutors say it was Shukrijumah who called the shots, probably from somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
(on camera): What did Zazi that he, Shukrijumah, told him to do?
LABLANC: Adnan was the one that convinced the three of them to come back to the United States and conduct the attack here.
CANDIOTTI: He told them you go there and you blow up the subways.
CANDIOTTI: There are a lot of people that are saying now that he's involved in evil things, planning attacks on the United States. Can you imagine this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. That is not my son. My son is not a violent person. He is very kind, generous.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): In her only televised interview since her son was indicted in the New York plot, his mother insists he's incapable of doing harm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The way you call it -- the scapegoat.
CANDIOTTI: The eldest son of a Saudi imam, Shukrijumah came to America as a young child. His mother shared exclusively this beloved photo of the two of them.
(on camera): In the late '90s, Shukrijumah worked several odd jobs, including selling used cars. His family says that's how he paid for courses, including chemistry and computers, at this small college in south Florida. He even took classes to speak better English.
Well, a few years later, when the FBI began looking for him, his English professor remembered videotaping him at one of those classes and turned over the tape to the FBI. The FBI says that professor's actions proved crucial to their investigation some six years later.
(voice-over): On a hunch, LaBlanc asked agents in New York to show that video of Shukrijumah to would-be bomber Zazi.
LABLANC: From that video, he was able to make an identification.
CANDIOTTI: On 9/11, his mother, who doesn't want to be named, says he called home for the last time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He called me and he said, oh, maybe you'll hear what happened so on and so on and so on. They say they put it in -- they're putting it on the Muslims. I say, yes. I tell him do not come. Do not come because they're looking at all the Muslim people.
And he was arguing with me. He said, no, I didn't do nothing. I will come. Don't worry about it. CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Shukrijumah's mother adamantly denies her son is directing al Qaeda attacks. But when I asked about the admitted Times Square car bomber, she said this:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some time you have to do something very alarming for the people to wake up. It's not because you hate them or you want to destroy them or you want to hurt them.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): Is there anything that you would tell your son about what he should do or not do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I don't have nothing to tell him. He have his own guide and his own heart.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): For the FBI, it is all about staying one step ahead. Where will al Qaeda and Shukrijumah strike next?
(on camera): What do you think he's doing now?
LABLANC: He's definitely focused on attacking the United States and other Western countries.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): Shukrijumah's meteoric rise in al Qaeda's ranks may be thanks to both talent and luck. Two of his high-level colleagues were killed in U.S. drone attacks.
Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.
BLITZER: Let's continue the conversation with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, right now. She was President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser, also served in the Clinton Justice Department on the External Board of the CIA, as well in the Homeland Security Department.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a lot of our viewers are familiar with the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 attack. Now this Shukrijumah takes over as the operations commander. Give us a little bit of the significance of this job.
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the significance to U.S. officials, Wolf, this is actually good news. While he's probably the first American to ever hold that number-three job, a very important job to al Qaeda, the United States has had tremendous success targeting the number-three job.
I used to say that was the one nobody would give you life insurance for, because, if you're going to plan attacks, you have to have contact and communication with operatives, with planners, with people around the world. And that -- all of those are vulnerabilities that the U.S. has learned to very well exploit.
BLITZER: So, it's bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and then Shukrijumah, he's number three? TOWNSEND: Yes, that's exactly right. And it's a unique thing that you would have an American -- or I should say he was born in Saudi Arabia. And so Shukrijumah spent a lot of time in the United States and has a real significant role, like al-Awlaki like we have talked about in Yemen. He was born in the United States.
These guys who understand the culture and how people think, what appeals to them here in the United States, is very significant in terms of being a help to al Qaeda in terms of planning.
BLITZER: Hold on one moment. Stand by, Fran.
I want you to respond to this next report that you're getting. You worked at the Bush White House when this happened, the Associated Press reporting that some top al Qaeda terrorists held by the United States were moved around to avoid giving them access to attorneys.
Brian Todd is here to explain.
What do we know, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on September 6, 2006, President Bush made a major address that some of the top terrorists in U.S. custody were being sent to Guantanamo Bay.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 6, 2006)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
These men will be held in a high-security facility at Guantanamo. The International Committee of the Red Cross is being advised of their detention and will have the opportunity to meet with them. Those charged with crimes will be given access to attorneys, who will help them prepare their defense, and they will be presumed innocent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: But only now, four years later, are we learning from the Associated Press that these four men had been secretly held in Guantanamo before that, and then yanked out, according to AP, taken to black site prisons right before the Supreme Court gave Gitmo detainees access to lawyers.
The AP cobbled together flight plans and sources for this report. The high-value prisoners, according to the Associated Press, include the bombing of the USS Cole bombing, Abd Nashiri, two planners of the 9/11 attacks, and Abu Zubaydah, a top travel facilitator for al Qaeda.
They were secretly moved, according to the Associated Press, to Guantanamo in September 2003, and held there until March 2004, when it was announced that the Supreme Court would hear oral arguments about detainees having access to U.S. courts. That Supreme Court decision came in June of that year. The admitted terrorists were then, says AP, sent back to black site prisons until President Bush's announcement in September 2006 that you just heard that they were being sent to Guantanamo to face military tribunals. And that's where they still are today, Wolf.
BLITZER: Now, all of this information, Brian, coming in from the Associated Press, what is the CIA saying publicly about this?
TODD: CNN asked about the CIA about the AP report, and did not deny the accuracy of it, saying -- quote -- "The CIA's terrorist detention program ended over 18 months ago. The so-called black sites and enhanced interrogation methods are a thing of the past. While we continue to cooperate with inquiries into past terrorism practices -- counterterrorism practices, the CIA's focus now is exactly where it should be, on operations to protect this country today and in the future."
That is the CIA's reaction. Important to note they are not outright denying that AP report.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Let's bring back Fran Townsend.
You worked in the Bush administration during that sensitive time. You were working I think for Condoleezza Rice, who was the national security adviser, over at the White House. Did you know about all of this?
TOWNSEND: Well, you know, I remember sitting in the East Room listening to that speech that we showed the clip of in 2006. And it was a very proud moment, that they were coming back and going to face justice.
I will tell you, Wolf, I did not know -- in 2004, there had been reports that there was a CIA facility down in Guantanamo. But I was not aware if there had been movement back and forth in and out of Guantanamo to some of the black sites.
But that shouldn't be surprising to people, because these programs, you know, we worried about leaks. We see leaks of classified information all the time. And so to ensure that there wouldn't be leaks, this sort of an operation would have been very tightly held. The CIA director would have been responsible for the operation itself of movement.
The secretary of defense would have had to have approved it, because Guantanamo was a military facility. But other than that, it would have been the president and vice president and the national security adviser among the principals. But that's five people, Wolf.
Other than that, the other people involved to actually execute such an operation would have only known the piece they needed to know. They wouldn't have known the overall operation.
BLITZER: As they say, on a need-to-know basis. TOWNSEND: Exactly.
BLITZER: But is that something they would normally share with Congress, with the Intelligent Committee chairmen, for example, or the majority leader or the speaker?
TOWNSEND: Well, it's funny. That would have not been -- not necessarily. I can't say. I didn't know about it and I wasn't involved in it, but not necessarily, if they were really worried about the operational security of it. If it didn't involve a notification based on a memorandum of notification for a covert action, they wouldn't have been required to, certainly not before the thing took place.
BLITZER: Years from now, historians will be learning all about it when they declassify all those documents.
TOWNSEND: And you can be sure there will be covert operations and sensitive operations going on right now during the current administration that we won't find about for years to come.
BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much.
TOWNSEND: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Fran Townsend is our national contributor.
Jack Cafferty is off today.
Among the stories we're working on right now, even as the Gulf oil disaster is still unfolding, BP -- get this -- now talking about drilling again into that very same reservoir that spewed all that oil, five million barrels we're talking about.
Also, the lawyer for an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning is now fearful for his own life and the safety of his own family. He's on the run.
And a hearing for a U.S. Army officer, decorated, a doctor, who is refusing to deploy to Afghanistan. He says it's because President Obama hasn't proved he was born in the United States.
BLITZER: He's a very prominent Iranian human rights lawyer who has represented a woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. Now the lawyer has fled Iran, fearing for his own life. He's taken refuge in Turkey, at least for now.
And that's where we pick up the story.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Istanbul in Turkey, CNN's Ivan Watson. Ivan, this is an amazing story that you're watching unfold right now. Not every day these kinds of things happen. But what's the latest with this human rights attorney?
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
This prominent human rights attorney, Mohammad Mostafaei, he spent six days in an illegal immigrant detention center right here in Istanbul. And he was released this morning, just had time to get back to his hotel, really, not even time to go up to his room and shower, when suddenly a car swept in with European diplomats who informed him that he was not safe, he was not secure, and they shoved him into the car and took away.
He's now under diplomatic protection with a European Union consulate here in Istanbul. And basically he fled Iran, smuggling himself across the border here to Turkey, as hundreds of other Iranians do every month, to escape what he said was illegal capture by Iranian authorities, because he says his wife right now has been detained without charge, in part because of the huge international attention he's been bringing to the case of a woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
She is a 42-year-old mother, Wolf, who is facing the death sentence by stoning after she was committed -- she was sentenced to death for committing adultery.
BLITZER: It's a pretty amazing story when you think about it. And he wanted to work through the system in Iran and go through the legal process. But, in the end, he decided he was under threat from the regime and, as you say, he escaped by land across the border to Turkey, leaving his wife and child behind. Is that right?
WATSON: That's exactly right.
And we just spoke with Mr. Mostafaei over the phone from his secure location here in Istanbul. And when I asked him how it felt as a father to leave his daughter, a 7-year-old Parmida, behind, he choked up. He said, it's hard just to hear her name right now, and also to have to leave his wife behind in prison.
He says, she has spent 13 days in solitary confinement. This was a very difficult, life-changing decision for this man to make. And he says he has been battling against the Iranian system for years now, defending, for the most part, many juveniles who have been on the Iranian equivalent of death row after being convicted guilty of various crimes.
He had been outspoken in defense of this woman, Ms. Ashtiani, to try to protect her from the death sentence by stoning. But in the end, what happened was, on July 24, he was brought in for hours of interrogation. When he was released then, that's when he discovered that his brother-in-law and his wife had been detained, he says, without charge.
That is when he realized he could no longer work within the Iranian judicial system. It was time for him to leave.
BLITZER: So, he left because he feared for his life. But I take it he still fears for his life now in Turkey. That's why he's got this diplomatic protection, because he thinks he's still a target.
WATSON: That's right. And when I asked about his wife, he says he's optimistic that she could be released soon. Why, we asked? Well, because he is now out of the reach of Iranian authorities. He is now in safety outside of Iran. And now he says that the Iranian authorities don't really have a reason to hold on to her any longer.
He argues that they have been using her as a hostage to try to get him to cooperate. Now that he's completely out of their jurisdiction, he argues that there is no reason for them to continue holding her.
Big question that this man must be considering right now, will he ever be able to see his wife and child again?
BLITZER: And the woman he was representing, who has now been sentenced to death by stoning for allegedly committing adultery, what do we know about her? When is this sentence going to be implemented?
WATSON: There's a lot of questions right now as to just what the Iranian judicial system is going to do.
First of all, one fact that just kind of blows your mind is that she was actually flogged nearly 100 times years ago after first being caught and accused and sentenced for adultery. And, despite that, she has been battling within the legal system there, battling against subsequent penalties, the death penalty, basically.
And the lawyer says that that was one of his defense arguments to try to get her off of the death penalty. The latest we have heard is that the judicial system has argued there's no more room for appeal. Now they must rule within the next week whether or not to execute her and whether or not that will be carried out through stoning or perhaps simple hanging.
And when an Iranian ally, the Brazilian president, Lula da Silva, when he offered asylum to this woman to help her escape the death penalty, the Iranian government announced this week that it would reject that offer.
BLITZER: A slap in the face of Brazil, which voted against those United Nations sanctions, like Turkey did, against Iran.
All right, Ivan, stay on top of this story for us. And we will check back with you. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: Wyclef Jean announcing he's running for president of Haiti, and sparking a war of words with the actor and activist Sean Penn. Why is he questioning the hip-hop star's candidacy?
And Fidel Castro back in the spotlight and warning of nuclear war.
BLITZER: Another month of net job losses. Can Democrats turn things around before November? President Obama offers a history lesson, while Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele says his party's future is bright. Candy Crowley is standing by.
And decades after his death, vindication now for a Vietnam War general accused of ordering unauthorized airstrikes.
BLITZER: For the second straight month, the U.S. economy has lost jobs. The Labor Department reports 131,000 jobs disappeared last month, mainly due to the end of 143,000 temporary U.S. Census positions.
The private sector added 71,000 workers, but that was less of a gain than some economists had expected.
President Obama insists things are getting better, offering some historical perspective. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know from economic statistics what the stories of America's families have been telling us for quite some time -- that the recession that we're still recovering from is the most serious downturn since the Great Depression. We also know, from studying the lessons of past recessions, that climbing out of any recession, much less a hole as deep as this one, takes some time. The road to recovery doesn't follow a straight line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's discuss with our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She is the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," which airs Sunday morning.
I guess a lot of folks are wondering, is time running out for the Democrats between now and the midterm elections in November?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, anything can happen, but we're still at 9.5 percent unemployment. You can't find an economist that is going to tell you that it's going to get any better between now and November.
And, in fact, the administration says, well, it will stay over 9 percent until 2012. And, as we know from the first George Bush, the father, that people do tend to make up their minds about the feel of the country in the summer before an election, because we know that George Bush, the dad, was in the middle actually of a recovery, but it felt like a recession to people, and he was tossed out of office.
Now, President Obama doesn't have that problem. He doesn't come up until 2012. But it does not spell good news for Democrats up in the midterms in November.
BLITZER: That's why politicians and analysts, they look so closely at that right track, wrong track number, is the country moving in the right direction or the wrong direction, and that's so significant in determining where people stand.
CROWLEY: Right, how they feel.
And, you know -- and it also -- it's sort of a vicious circle in some ways, as you know, because if people feel good about the economy, they will go out and spend. And, if they spend, then it helps the economy. But, if not, and it still looks as though, with other figures, that people are still sitting on their money.
BLITZER: Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican Party, spoke out today. I want to play a little clip. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Remember the headlines. The GOP was finished with nothing more than a regional party. Even our good friends at "Time" magazine, advertise their postmortem on us by declaring the GOP an endangered species. Right on their front cover. How does it feel to be so endangered? If this is endangered, I'll take it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's wearing the red baseball cap that says fire Pelosi. I guess that's going to be a theme for Republicans.
CROWLEY: Yes. As you know, Nancy Pelosi has been a favorite target. As Newt Gingrich was for Democrats and too Pelosi is to Republicans. Listen, Michael Steele believes that he has a lot to sell for his tenure, which has been rocky at the very least. And saying, look, there have been three good Republican victories, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, and he's looking forward to good wins in November. Republicans will say, even if we just sat here, it would probably be a good year for Republicans. So I think he's right in saying that the punditry was wrong. They did write out the Republicans. The question is, whether there's an over-expectation here now by Republicans, that they are now sort of expecting that there will be big wins when in fact I don't think that's all that certain.
BLITZER: The fact that they won those races in Virginia, New Jersey, and even in Massachusetts shows that they were not simply becoming a regional party, that if they could win in Massachusetts, they would win anywhere.
CROWLEY: Exactly. That's what they are counting on. They are looking at all of these numbers and the dissatisfaction with incumbents, most of whom are Democrat. They are looking for a good year and Michael Steele feels that he can get some credit for that.
BLITZER: Is this because of Michael Steele's leadership at the RNC or some of his critics are saying within the Republican Party despite his leadership?
CROWLEY: That will all be sorted out. Listen, I think it's mostly because of the economy. If you had to look at why, first of all we know historically the party in the white house tends to suffer in midterms because that's who you have to blame. But the fact of the matter is, the economy at this point still feels so bad to people, regardless of some signs of recovery, it still feels bad to people. I think that, more than anything, is what is driving people now to say that they are looking at a more Republican Congress, if not a Republican dominated one.
BLITZER: Who is going to be on "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday?
CROWLEY: On "STATE OF THE UNION" we have Bob McDonald, governor of Virginia, Jennifer Granholm, governor of Michigan, to take a look at the economy from the state point of view. Also, Thad Allen so I can as him where the oil went.
BLITZER: Good question. All right. Thank you. We'll be watching 9 a.m. Sunday morning, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley.
A U.S. army officer was in a military court today after refusing deployment to Afghanistan because he says President Obama doesn't have the authority to send him there. Lieutenant Colonel Terrence Lakin insists that the president has not proven that he was born in the United States and therefore is ineligible to be commander in chief of the United States. It's a stunning stance for a relatively high ranking decorated U.S. army doctor. Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us with more on this story. Chris, what else is going on?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, obviously he's being court-martialed because he's refused a direct order to deploy. Now, today he decided to postpone the decision whether to plead guilty or not guilty and bought himself a couple more weeks while his legal team moves ahead with plans to try to get all of the charges against him dismissed.
LAWRENCE: Lieutenant Terry Lakin refuses to back down. He walked out of court still believing that President Obama was not born in Hawaii. Still refusing to deploy to Afghanistan until he sees proof. His legal team is going to file a motion to dismiss the case against him.
PAUL JENSEN, LT. COL. LAKIN'S ATTORNEY: I put it to you that if the records are released and proves that the president is ineligible, that the prosecution would have no taste for ending Col. Lakin's career. LAWRENCE: But there is a record of President Obama's birth. His campaign even put it on the internet two years ago. A CNN producer asked attorney Paul Jensen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is it that I can see it on the internet and Lieutenant Lakin can't?
JENSEN: Well sir, I don't know what you're seeing but I haven't seen an original long form certificate signed by the doctor that gave birth to him, the very same document that Colonel Lakin was ordered to produced in order to deploy.
LAWRENCE: That's the hang up. Hawaii does not release actual birth certificates. It's a state policy. They did publish a certificate of live birth and Hawaii's Republican governor says her health director has seen the actual birth certificate with his own eyes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The troubling but compelling information that calls into question whether President Obama is a natural born citizen as our constitution requires him to be for him to hold the highest office has gone unanswered because he refuses to release his original birth certificate dating from 1961 and bearing the signature of the doctor who delivered him.
LAWRENCE: People who question the president's birth call them crazy or ignorant by their critics. Those labels do not fit the colonel. He is a doctor of osteopathic medicine with a master's degree in public health. The medical effects of ionizing radiation, that's just one of the military courses that he's taken. Lieutenant Colonel Lakin is deployed overseas six times including Afghanistan. He was awarded the bronze star.
LAWRENCE: And the thing is he's not alone. A new CNN Opinion Research poll shows that 27 percent of Americans think President Obama probably or definitely was not born in the United States. Now, the other 70 percent majority, a lot of those folks think the 30 percent are fairly ridiculous and some of them say that cases like Colonel Lakin are being used to try to drum up money and raise money for certain political causes. Wolf?
BLITZER: I've heard stories for a long time, never heard anything like this one. All right. Thanks very much for that, Chris Lawrence, our man at the pentagon.
The Russian capital choking on a thick cloak of smog from raging wildfires nearby. We're going to Moscow and the unfolding crisis. Standby.
And BP talking publicly now about drilling once again near the very site of the gulf oil disaster.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Hundreds of blazes are still burning across Russia. The wildfires among the worst in the country's history and the capital is choking on smoke, smog and haze as millions and millions of Moscow residents are struggling simply to breath. Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is on the scene.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we all thought the smoke in Moscow couldn't get any worse, but this is easily the worst day the Russian capitol has endured since the wildfires producing this thick, choking smoke was ignited. That is the cathedral on the red square. You can hardly make out the multi- colored onion domes. Visibility is just a few hundred yards and this entire city is coated with a blanket of smog. We're all wearing these masks because pollution levels are well over the safe levels. My eyes are red and sore. In a city of 10 million people, that's not really practical. Travels have been greatly affected, roads are congested and airports at times have had to be closed for flights. Worse, there's still no sign of a letup in either the searing temperatures, still close to 104 Fahrenheit here, or in the intense wildfires that are still coating this entire region with their poisonous fumes.
Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.
BLITZER: Decades after his death, the Vietnam War general gets his reputation back. What does it mean for the reputation of the civilian bosses?
And the pop star Wyclef Jean announcing on CNN that he's running for president of his native Haiti. Why is the actor and Haiti activist Sean Penn openly questioning Jean's motives? We're going to hear from both of them.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Just days after killing the well that spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP is talking publicly about drilling into that very same reservoir again. Listen to the chief operating officer Doug Suttles.
DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Clearly there's lots of oil and gas here and we'll have to think about what to do with that at some point. What we've always stated is the original well, the well that had the blow and the relief wells would be abandoned and that's what we're doing.
BLITZER: The national incident commander retired Admiral Thad Allen says he has no information on BP's future plans and can't comment on possible new drilling.
Mary Snow is monitoring some of the top other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we're just now learning that the state of West Virginia have been served with two federal subpoenas. The office of Governor Joe Manchin says neither he nor any other state employee is under investigation and that Manchin has ordered direct cooperation. The justice department will not comment but the independent group watchdog.org says the subpoenas are part of a grand jury probe seeking information on businesses that have done work at the governor's mansion.
This is a heartbreaking story. A horrific scene in Maryland, two women and two small children were found shot to death in a home so messy that the police are comparing it to a landfill. Police say the house was so filled with waste that no human being should have lived there. There was no running water, no air conditioning, no toilets, and the home was filled with trash and human waste. The women were both in their late 30s and the children were just 3 and 5-year-old.
The NTSB is trying to figure out what caused that horrific school bus crash yesterday in Missouri. Two school buses full of kids on a field trip were in a chain reaction collision and two people died, including a student. Today the NTSB says they are looking into new technologies, including a system that would alert bus drivers to a potential collision and automatically activate the brakes if the vehicle is heading towards a stopped object. Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that.
A war of words between Wyclef Jean and Sean Penn; why the actor is questioning the singer's bid to become the next president of Haiti.
BLITZER: It's a case that in some ways symbolizes the Vietnam War, troops and commanders accused of going too far in caring out the often unclear directives for a conflict ran by civilians back in Washington. Now decades after his death, there is vindication for a U.S. air force general accused of ordering unauthorized raids on North Vietnam. Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, tell our viewers what we now know.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this general became a classic political casualty, dragged through the mud during the darkest days of the Nixon administration for ordering very controversial bombing raids in Vietnam. The trail of orders, we now know, went right to the top. No one ever defended this man and he's only now nearly 40 years later being exonerated.
TODD: After leaving the air force in disgrace, General John Lavelle finally gets his reputation back. President Obama has asked the Senate to restore Lavelle's two missing stars. It's been a long time coming. 1972, North Vietnamese surface to air missiles or S.A.M.s, were getting proficient at hitting American planes. The Americans countered by bombing the S.A.M.s radar sites, even if no missions had been launched from those sites. That was against the rules of engagement saying that the U.S. planes could only hit the sites that had fired first or had locked radar onto the Americans. The pentagon found General Lavelle, commander of all air operations in Vietnam ordered those raids without authority. Lavelle got two of his four stars stripped away in 1972 and was forced into retirement. Just seven years after his exit from the air force, General Lavelle died and he took to his grave here at Arlington Cemetery some genuine anguish over what he called a catastrophic blemish on his record for doing a job he believed he was expected to do. A job, it turns out, General Lavelle was authorized to do by his commander-in-chief.
PRES. RICHARD NIXON: He can hit S.A.M. sites, period, okay? But he is not to do it with public word.
TODD: President Richard Nixon in February of 1972 said Lavelle's superiors could give him more liberal authority to hit the S.A.M. sites. We got the tapes from the Nixon library. Lavelle always maintained he was following rules of engagement passed to him by his superiors but he likely never knew Nixon had authorized the raids. Nixon himself later that year had attacks of conscious.
NIXON: I just don't want him to be made a goat. I don't feel right about our pushing him into this thing and then giving him a bad rap.
TODD: But there's no indication that Nixon or then national security adviser Henry Kissinger who was in those meetings or any of Lavelle's commanding officers even publicly defended him, even years later. In fact, Nixon even said publicly his removal was proper. Lavelle's record wasn't cleared until an attorney of the family dug up some declassified records. Virginia Senator Jim Webb has since been a catalyst for Lavelle's rehabilitation.
How difficult was it for commanders who got some orders from civilians and others from a meter leader?
SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: There are so many examples that I could give of how the political process in its desire to end the war and end the American involvement in the war didn't really understand the impact on the daily environment of people who were out there fighting the war. And so you have people like General Lavelle who were in the middle of that.
TODD: The only person still alive who knew that Lavelle had authority to bomb those sites and who could answer why he never came out to clear him? Henry Kissinger. After our repeated calls and e- mails, Kissinger's assistant told us he was not reachable for comment.
BLITZER: So he's also accused of covering new this incident.
TODD: Some military officers said he covered up or had ordered others to falsify records. There were records falsified during that time under his command, but it now shows he has no part in that.
BLITZER: All right. Todd, thanks very much. It's a good story. I'm glad it ended this way.
Wyclef Jean versus Sean Penn, the actor is critical of the singer's bid for president of Haiti. Now Wyclef Jean is responding.
BLITZER: Hip hop, star and Haitian-American activist Wyclef Jean has made it official announcing last night on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" he's filed for papers to run for president of Haiti. I was filling in for Larry last night.
BLITZER: But let's get right to the business. Very serious business. You want to be the president of Haiti, right?
WYCLEF JEAN: Yes. This is my first time announcing it live. Today I went in and I signed and I am running to be the president of Haiti.
BLITZER: The election is scheduled for the end of November, November 28. You have a few months to campaign right now. You're 40 years old. Most of your life you've lived in the United States, you were born in Haiti. You feel strongly about Haiti. Why do you want to be president? Why have you made this decision?
JEAN: Well, after January 12, I would say over 50 percent of the population is a youth population, and we suffered for over 200 years. Now that our country has toppled, it's a chance to rebuild from the bottom on up. And I don't even say I'm trying to be president. I'm being drafted by the youth of Haiti. Right now is a chance for us to bring real education into the school, infrastructure, the security and proper jobs. So this is some of the reasons that I'm running.
BLITZER: What qualifies you to be president of Haiti?
JEAN: Well, what qualifies me to be president of Haiti, when I look at the past 200 years with what our people have suffered, Wolf, political instability, coup after coup d'etat, I feel that me running it brings a neutral situation meaning that Wyclef Jean can sit with any politically party, have a conversation. I'm coming in neutral. I think 200 years we have suffered the exact same thing. What I'm saying is when you vote for Wyclef Jean, you basically try something new. I represent the voice of the youth which is over 50 percent of the population.
BLITZER: But the actor and activist Sean Penn has emerged as a critic of Jean's candidacy. Penn has lived in Haiti for months to try to help the displaced Haitians living in camps and is questioning Wyclef Jean's motives.
SEAN PENN, ACTOR: We are talking on CNN, which has primarily an audience outside of Haiti. And I think what's really important, the last thing that Haiti needs -- and I'm not accusing Wyclef Jean of being an opportunist, I don't know the man -- but I think it's extremely important we pay attention to both the individuals in the United States who are enamored with him, maybe not for his political strengths, and in particularly for corporate interests that are enamored for them and those who may be opportunistic on the back of the Haitians.
Right now, I worry that this is a campaign that is more about a vision of flying around the world talking to people, as he said. It's certainly not one of the youth drafting him. I would be much -- I would be quite sure that this was an influence of corporations here in the United States and private individuals that may well have capitalized on his will to see himself flying around the world doing that.
What the Haitian people need now is a leader who's genuinely willing to sacrifice. I see in Wyclef Jean somebody who could well have been influenced by the promise of support from companies. I think that Haiti is clearly vulnerable to, particularly the manufacturing concerns it so desperately needs and the jobs it so desperately needs. But with a history of American interests coming in, and underpaying people. This is a culture that earns $1-2 a day that they were making. And we really can't -- if we help them in fixing this house, if it had a leak before the earthquake, it doesn't make much sense to rebuild it with a leak again.
So what I'm encouraging is that we look very hard at all the donors, because this is -- this is somebody who's going to receive an enormous amount of his support, if he continues this campaign, from the United States. And I'm very -- I have to say, I'm very suspicious of it, simply because he, as an ambassador at large, has been virtually silent in terms -- for those of us in Haiti, he has been a non-presence.
BLITZER: Wyclef Jean later responded to Penn on the Gail King radio show saying, "The first thing I would like to say to Sean Penn in the area in which he operates in Haiti is one area in particular. He hasn't seen me for six months. I've been going to Haiti for over five years. I'm not absent in Haiti. Maybe the tent city you're in, maybe I'm absent in that." This feud presumably will continue.
That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.