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Democrats Seeking Lost Magic; Afghan Civilians Killed For Sport?

Aired September 27, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, American troops are accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport. We have the interrogation tapes and the shocking admissions as the troops themselves try to explain how highly trained soldiers allegedly could turn into a group of killers.

And Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and three more Republican presidential prospects are all under contract at FOX News. They are barred from appearing on other TV networks. So, who will ask them some tough questions?

And back to the future. Top Democrats are out on the campaign trail trying to find some of that lost magic from 2008.

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

We begin with a shocking story: American soldiers allegedly killing for sport on the front lines in Afghanistan. CNN has now obtained interrogation tapes, in some cases confessions, of the soldiers involved.

Three Afghan civilians are dead -- 12 U.S. Army infantrymen are accused. And the U.S. military is now trying to explain how a rogue band of American soldiers smoked hashish at night and killed for sport by day.

Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit has been digging into this story.

Drew, tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world what you have learned.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: It's almost hard to believe, Wolf. And most troubling is the details are coming from the soldiers themselves, casually explaining to investigators how these three Afghan men on three different occasions were pulled from their homes, stood up, shot, and blown up, for no apparent reason.

In the tapes obtained by CNN, the soldiers accused, in their own words, are not denying anything, but trying to explain how highly- trained soldiers could become a band of killers.

JEREMY MORLOCK, U.S. ARMY: And so we identified a guy. Like, you know, Gibbs -- Gibbs is telling it, like, hey, you guys want to wax this guy or what? And, you know, he would set it up. Like, he grabbed a dude.

GRIFFIN: Corporal Jeremy Morlock, accused of killing three civilian Afghan men, two by shooting. The third, which is described to a military investigator, was literally a setup, he says, by his platoon leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what did he do? Explain everything.

MORLOCK: We had this guy by this compound, and so Gibbs, you know, walked him out and set him in place, like "Hey, stand here."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he was fully cooperating?

MORLOCK: I mean, yes.


MORLOCK: No, not that we were aware of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And where did he stand him? Next to a wall?

MORLOCK: Yes, it was kind of next to a wall. It was where Gibbs could get like behind cover after the grenade went off. And then he kind of placed (NAME DELETED) off over here where we had a clean line of sight for this guy. And, you know, he pulled out one of his grenades, American grenade, you know, popped it, throws the grenade, and then tells me and (NAME DELETED) "All right dude, you know, wax this guy." Kill this guy, kill this guy.

GRIFFIN: Morlock goes on to describe two more killings, unarmed Afghan civilians picked out, stood up, shot and then blown up with a grenade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see him present any weapons or did he -- was he aggressive at you at all? Did he --

MORLOCK: No, not at all. Nothing.


MORLOCK: He wasn't a threat.

GRIFFIN: Michael Waddington is Corporate Jeremy Morlock's civilian attorney.

(on camera): I want you to tell me that this didn't happen, that this isn't true. Can you?

MICHAEL WADDINGTON, MORLOCK'S ATTORNEY: That three people were not killed?

GRIFFIN: That members of the U.S. military didn't go out and three Afghan civilians were killed for sport.

WADDINGTON: You have the you have the from what I understand, the case file. I mean, you know what the witnesses in that file say and what they say in their in their videos. But I that's what it sounds like.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): To defend his client, Mike Waddington will try to prove Corporal Morlock, already injured in two separate IED attacks, was suffering from brain damage, and, instead of treating him, Waddington says the Army drugged him.

(on camera): So your defense is that your client was mentally incapacitated and that the Army either knew it or should have known it, and he should not have been put in that position.


WADDINGTON: The Army knew it because they were prescribing drugs to him to try to treat his symptoms. His symptoms involved nausea, vomiting, inability to sleep. These are injuries that are common in traumatic brain injury. The Army knew that he had been blown up in two IED attacks. The Army then chose, rather than to treat him, to take his weapon, give it back to him, because -- for whatever reason, and then load him up on drugs.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The drugs, shown here districted in plastic baggies, included Ambien and amitriptyline, both of which carry FDA warnings about producing suicidal thoughts. The trouble began, Morlock says, in November of 2009, when the Stryker brigade got a new squad leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs.

WADDINGTON: When Gibbs showed up at this unit, he bragged to the young soldiers underneath him, including my client, about killing innocent people in Iraq.

GRIFFIN: Staff Sergeant Gibbs is charged in all three killings and witnesses stated it was this new commander who orchestrated, coerced and threatened the Stryker brigade to both kill Afghan civilians and cover up their murders.

And there is something else. The U.S. Army accuses Staff Sergeant Gibbs of collecting teeth, leg bones and fingers as souvenirs.

(on camera): Did your client see those fingers? He says he did.

WADDINGTON: According to the statement, he did see that happen.


GRIFFIN: Wolf, it's alleged in the Army's charging papers and in this interrogation tapes that hashish was being smoked very frequently by this group of soldiers.

One of the attorneys involved says the hashish was even laced with opium, that came from the locals, and it was not hard to get. Hearings now under way for the soldier that we heard from involved, basically hearings to determine if they will face a court-martial in the military justice system -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story. We are going to go in-depth in little bit. Thanks very much, Drew, for that.

We also want to congratulate Drew Griffin and CNN's Special Investigations Unit for the Emmy nomination that THE SITUATION ROOM has received in the category of outstanding business and economic reporting in a regularly scheduled newscast.

You saw Drew's report right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. It was a shocking story of the price that taxpayers were paying for a wheelchair. It summed up the problems the country faces in overhauling the health care system. The Emmys tonight in New York, let's hope that drew and THE SITUATION ROOM win.

So what kind of fallout is likely from this still-developing atrocity story?

Our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, is joining us now.

Peter, will this do in Afghanistan, for example, what Abu Ghraib did in Iraq? Is it going to dramatically undermine the U.S. image there that American officials have worked so hard to build up?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, we haven't seen the pictures of the alleged incidents. We see the confession. I think it's a little bit different to see pictures of, you know, naked bodies being piled up in a pyramid, as we saw with Abu Ghraib.

However, already Afghans think -- this issue of Afghan civilian casualties is the most sensitive political issue. And in Afghanistan, we have had President Hamid Karzai repeatedly talk about it. It is the issue that is most damaging to the NATO and American soldiers there.

And the fact is, is that a fair number of Afghans now have access to television, and they're going to see this story soon enough themselves, with the confession of these soldiers for these crimes.

BLITZER: These soldiers apparently admit that they were using drugs, hashish, opium, which is so available in Afghanistan right now. Talk a little bit about the availability of these drugs and the impact potentially on soldiers.

BERGEN: Well, these drugs are -- you know, 92 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan. So, you know, it's very easy to find this, to find opium.

Also, there's a lot of marijuana. And Afghan soldiers and policemen I have been with have been smoking marijuana. And I have seen that in the past. However, it's very surprising that U.S. soldiers would be doing this. This is a, you know, all-volunteer force. There's drug testing.

This is, you know, a very different situation from Vietnam, where people were -- it was a conscript group and people were taking drugs. So I think this is quite unusual and not at all common in today's force in Afghanistan, Wolf. BLITZER: The -- we remember the Abu Ghraib incident had a dramatic impact not just in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East, throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Is this the kind of story that will have that impact?

MORLOCK: I just don't think it has the visceral impact of Abu Ghraib. The pictures were just -- particularly in the Arab world, where showing the naked body is such a sort of cultural taboo.

The crimes here are much, much worse than what happened in Abu Ghraib, if the allegations are true, but the pictures aren't there. And so while, you know, I think, you know, this story is pretty amazing and the fact that we have -- CNN has obtained these tapes is really quite a coup, it doesn't -- I don't think it will play with quite the same resonance.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, thanks very much.

By the way, we're going to have a lot more on this story here on CNN later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, on "RICK'S LIST." Stand by for that.

Jack Cafferty is off today, but among the stories we're working on in THE SITUATION ROOM, five possible presidential contenders, all Republicans, they are all working for FOX News. They're forbidden from talking to other TV news organizations here in the United States. What impact will any of this have on the race for the White House?

And a Segway accident claims the life of a tycoon who took control of the company only months ago. We're learning new details of exactly what happened.


BLITZER: Top Democrats are trying to go back to the future, hoping to find some of that lost 2008 magic.

Let's turn to CNN's deputy political director, Paul Steinhauser, and our senior political editor, Mark Preston. They're both at CNN's political desk.

Paul, first to you.

Top Democrats, they are certainly out on the campaign trail today.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, that's absolutely right, Wolf. And tomorrow, the top two Democrats are going back to school. That's right, President Barack Obama heading to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, Vice President Joe Biden heading to Penn State University in Pennsylvania.

And the whole idea here -- and it's brand-new on the CNN Political Ticker right now -- the whole idea here is to get those surge voters, those first-time voters in 2008, most of whom cast ballots for Barack Obama, to go back to the polls in November. And that idea is to excite these people, motivate them.

And a lot of these voters, Wolf, these first-time surge voters, are younger voters. So that's why you're seeing the president, the vice president tomorrow doing this. And the Democrats are planning watch parties across the country.

The whole idea, to motivate those first-time voters. Maybe it will make a difference in the midterm elections.

That's what I got.

Mark, what about you?


You know, for more than 10 years now, Democrats have been running against President George W. Bush, except for this one. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, he is a Democrat locked in a very tight reelection. He has a new campaign ad out right now. Let's take a quick listen to that, Wolf.


NARRATOR: When George Bush proposed a Medicare prescription drug plan, Earl Pomeroy voted yes, putting seniors before party.


PRESTON: And that's what you have, Wolf. That's a 30-second ad right now up on air by Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota, very important right now because President Bush carried North Dakota by 63 percent back in 2004. John McCain carried it in 2008 by 53 percent.

Now, I spoke to Pomeroy's campaign. They said, look, this shows that Earl Pomeroy is independent, he is not beholden to the Washington interests, the Democratic interests, as national Republicans are trying to portray him. I also spoke to a House Democratic strategist. The strategist told me Earl Pomeroy does not need to worry about anyone back here in Washington. Earl Pomeroy needs to worry about getting reelected. So, there will be no fallout from this ad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very, very much, Mark and Paul.

From getting publicity, to venting hostility, to raising cash, the online social networking site Twitter is changing politics and the way campaigns are run.

CNN's Jim Acosta has been looking into that.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was another viral moment in a vicious race, supporters of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scuffling with backers of Republican rival Sharron Angle at a candidate forum. But even after tempers cooled, the fight was far from over. It had moved to Twitter, where one of Angle's campaign managers posted this video. The clip shows Reid supporters shouting at Angle.

Using less than 140 characters, that Angle staffer tweeted, "Check out the video here of Reidbots screaming and heckling."

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: It was inevitable that negative politics was going to transform itself into social media. That's exactly what's happened. Now you don't even need a complete sentence to change a campaign.

ACOSTA (on camera): Just less than 140 characters.

SABATO: Less than 140 characters. You can even -- you can tweet a phrase and it can change a campaign.

NARRATOR: First, Harry Reid votes to give tax rates.

ACOSTA: These days, attack tweets are almost as common as attack ads. Take this Reid tweet: "Sharron Angle mocks health coverage for autism." Then there's a link to a video.

SHARRON ANGLE (R), NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Everything that they want to throw at us now is covered under autism. So that's a mandate that you have to pay for.

ACOSTA: Or this Angle tweet: "Harry Reid's plan to save the Nevada economy? Coked-up stimulus monkeys," a reference to stimulus money being used for testing drugs on primates.

This tweet from an Angle staffer gets personal, referring to Reid's campaign managers as 13-year-old girls, and this tweet from one of Reid's advisers claims Angle caught in multiple lies.

MICHAEL PATRICK LEAHY, ELECTIONDAYTEAPARTY.COM: I think we're at the beginning of a new era in American political history.

ACOSTA: Michael Leahy is a Tea Party activist who pioneered a political use for another feature on Twitter, the hash tag. That's the pound sign placed in front of common phrases or acronyms. Leahy's hash tag, TCOT, topped conservatives on Twitter, has become a haven for Tea Partiers.

LEAHY: If you go to search right now and just put in #TCOT, you will see what they call as the TCOT feed. And about, oh, 10 tweets every minute now is the pace at which there are TCOT tweets. It shows that there is a vibrant online conservative community.

ACOSTA: Leahy ranks Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin as the top three conservatives on Twitter based on their number of followers. When Palin, with more than a quarter million followers, tweets, she makes news.

SABATO: She can just put out a tweet and generate headlines in the traditional media. Why would you go to the extra trouble?

ACOSTA (on camera): She will have all these reporters re- tweeting what she just tweeted a few minutes ago.

SABATO: And writing a story about. The re-tweeting is how it really gets out there.

ACOSTA: Twitter is also an effective place to raise money. Candidates can tweet out a money bomb, directing supporters to their campaign Web sites, where a contribution can be made, all at no cost to the candidate.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Followers of presidential politics can now get tweets on another political campaign, John F. Kennedy's, even though it was 15 years ago. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is running a Twitter account that lets readers imagine what the 1960 campaign might have been like in the age of Twitter.

Take a look. They have been tweeting every day about the events of that campaign as if they were happening now. The rolling Twitter feed can be seen at, all one word.

Intriguing reports out of North Korea about Kim Jong Il's youngest son, never before mentioned, but the state-run news media -- by the state-run news media until now.

And the owner of Segway dies on a Segway. We're learning new details of the accident.



BLITZER: By the way, THE SITUATION ROOM is now on Facebook. You can go to Click on the like button to become a fan. You will get the latest show updates, exclusive behind- the-scenes material, THE SITUATION ROOM on Facebook.

Five GOP presidential hopefuls, they work for FOX News. They're barred from appearing on other TV networks. Anything wrong with that? Stand by.

And our new poll -- voters tend to blame congressional Republicans for the economic mess, but you won't believe who they think is more likely to improve that very same economic mess.


BLITZER: No fewer than five Republican presidential prospects, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and John Bolton, are all paid contributors to FOX News. And their contracts bar them from appearing on other TV networks. So, who will ask some of the really, really tough questions? What's going on here?

Politico's Jonathan Martin has been digging into this story. He's joining us now.

This is a rather unusual situation. You have reported today on Politico at length about it. What is the issue here? Describe the issue as you see it.

JONATHAN MARTIN, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, POLITICO.COM: This is new terrain, Wolf, that we're dealing with here, the specter of a news organization having on their payroll potential White House candidates.

Now, in the past, you had Pat Buchanan, who of course worked for CNN, in between running for president, but now you have got, as you mentioned, five possible candidates out there. And, now, FOX has said, Wolf, that they will sever ties when these candidates actually declare, but, as you well know, there is a gray area where these folks are going to be going to places like Iowa and New Hampshire, perhaps not as declared candidate, but certainly exploring a run.

And what is FOX going to do during that period, say January, February of 201, when Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, they're looking at a run, they're going to those early states, but they're still on FOX's payroll? How are they going to cover those candidates?

BLITZER: Well, so, what happens? Can they do interviews with, for example, local TV stations in Iowa and New Hampshire? Is that OK? Does their contract bar them from doing that? In other words, does FOX News have to approve all these TV interviews?

MARTIN: Wolf, it's my understanding that any news organization, at least TV side, I should say, that wants to have them on the air must get approval by FOX News in New York.

Steve Scully, respected journalist over at C-SPAN, even C-SPAN cannot have these folks on the air without getting prior approval from FOX nationally. So, that's, I think, what we're looking at here going forward.

And, again, this is new terrain here. We just haven't dealt with this in years past. And with the incentives seemingly geared towards the candidate putting off an announcement, you could have a situation next year where Palin, for example, is neither in nor out of the race, but is on FOX's payroll well into 2011, you know, while going to places like Iowa and New Hampshire. It's a brave new world out there.

BLITZER: And you make the point in the article that you posted on Politico that staying on FOX News gives all of these potential candidates an opportunity to really get their message across in a way that addresses a lot of the base of the Republican Party, the conservatives.

MARTIN: That's exactly right. And primary for the Republicans, having that platform is a very, very powerful thing. And there's no incentive for them to sort of give that up, especially when much of the questioning isn't exactly that tough, at least from the opinion side hosts on FOX. So, there's no reason for them to try and -- you know, before they even declare their candidacy to drop their affiliation.

And, Wolf, I should also add, if you're FOX News, someone like Sarah Palin, for example, you have every reason to keep her on for as long as possible, because, obviously, having her exclusive means, every time she makes news, it's going to happen on your air.

BLITZER: You know, we've seen some other conservative Republicans out there simply avoiding now -- avoiding the national news media and only wanting to appear, whether in local news media markets or on FOX. This is a phenomenon we've seen with Sharron Angle in Nevada, a little with Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, maybe Rand Paul in Kentucky. This is another new phenomenon, isn't it?

MARTIN: It sure is. And it may work in a primary, Wolf, especially in a place like Alaska or Delaware where you're talking about a small universe of voters. But when these candidates move to the general election, be it Senate races this year or next year's presidential primary contest, or I'm sorry, general contest, it's going to be tougher for these candidates do that. Because they want to, you know, appeal to a broader swath of the electorate.

And obviously, you're going to have to move beyond just the FOX universe to do that. But there's no question we're seeing more and more on the GOP side, candidates only wanting to do FOX to speak to their base.

BLITZER: Jonathan Martin writes for "Politico." Thanks, Jonathan, very much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: So who do voters blame for the economy and who do they think can fix it? In both cases, Republicans. Our newest poll reveals what some see as an odd contradiction.

Plus, an emergency landing all caught on tape from inside the plane. You can hear the urgency from the crew.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Head down, head down, head down. Head down, head down, head down, head down.



BLITZER: Is it a case of voter desperation or short memories? In a surprising new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, when voters are asked who's more responsible for America's economic problems, 41 percent say Republicans, 35 percent say congressional Democrats.

But when asked who's more likely to improve economic conditions, 47 percent say congressional Republicans; 41 percent say congressional Democrats.

Let's bring in CNN's John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING USA" that airs right at the top of the hours -- top of the hour.

John, voters kicked out Republicans in the midst of the economic crisis. Does it surprise you now that voters think they can do a better job than the Democrats in fixing the problem?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, those numbers give you a stunning example of the problem facing the Democrats right now, in the sense that, you know, the Democratic argument has been, "Don't blame us. The Republicans are more responsible for this mess." And guess what? The voters agree.

But they disagree with the Democrats when the Democrats say going back to the Republicans would only make things worse. Or you'd go back to the future, if you will.

And that is why you see the president doing events like signing the small business bill today on Capitol Hill today. They're blaming Republicans, saying that Republican policies would outsource jobs. The Democrats are trying to do anything they can, Wolf, to try to break through on this economic message. But here is the cold reality for them. Twenty months into the Obama administration, voters are not satisfied. They don't think enough has happened.

They don't believe the stimulus program delivered all the jobs the president promised. And they see persistently, significantly, stubbornly high unemployment across the country.

There's one other number in our poll, Wolf, today that I think sums it all up. Seventy percent, seven in 10 Americans, believe the country, things are going badly in the country today. When you have a number like that, history suggests this will be a very tough year for the party in power.

BLITZER: Yes. That right track/wrong track number is really, really important. And the president certainly underscored some of that frustration that he and a lot of Democrats feel when he was on "The Today Show" earlier today. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I'm seeing out of the -- the Republican leadership over the last several years has been a set of policies that are just irresponsible.

And we saw in their Pledge to America a similar set of irresponsible policies. They say they want to balance the budget. They propose $4 trillion worth of tax cuts and $16 billion in spending cuts. And then they say we're going to somehow magically balance the budget. What's not a serious approach. So, you know, the question for voters over the next five weeks is who is putting forward policies that have a chance to move our country forward?


BLITZER: Were the Democrats surprised by how long it's taking to really get this economy back into shape?

KING: Wolf, this has been one of the president's greatest frustrations and one of the arguments he has had with his own economic team. Why is it taking so long? Why did you tell me that jobs would come back quicker? They've had these arguments within the White House.

The challenge now, though, with five weeks left, as the president just said there, is to make their case to voters. What the president just did there is part of a calculated administration strategy to try to appeal to independent voters who have broken for the Republicans in this election year, the deficit, spending. Balancing budgets matters a lot to independent voters.

So the president is trying to say, "Look more closely, people. If you look at their pledge, you look at their tax cut promises, they'll only add more red ink."

So what the president was doing there is trying to bring back some of the independents who have left the Democrats in this year's congressional campaigns. And the rest of the week we'll see the second part of the strategy, which is the president going to college campuses, much of his cabinet spreading out to college campuses around the country to try to re-create some of the appeal of the Obama policies for those younger voters who came out in 2008 but right now, Wolf, don't show much interest in 2010.

BLITZER: John is going to have a lot more on this at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

Thanks, John, very much.

Let's check back with Kate. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A merger, Wolf. Southwest Airlines is planning to buy AirTran for $1.4 billion. The merged carriers would fly under the Southwest name and policies including free checked baggage. Good news for fliers, I guess. AirTran currently charges passengers to check their bags. The deal still has to be -- has to be approved by AirTran shareholders and government regulators.

The U.S. government lawyer who prosecuted the late Alaska senator, Ted Stevens, has committed suicide, according to this attorney. In 2008, Nicholas Marsh won corruption verdicts against Stevens, who subsequently lost his reelection bid, but the verdicts were later thrown out amid charges of misconduct by the prosecution. Marsh had been under investigation by the Justice Department. Stevens died in a plane crash last month.

Officials say one person is dead following a small plane crash in Arizona. A CNN affiliate reports a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza hit a building right there -- you see the video -- as it was trying to land. And then it burst into flames. No word yet on other injuries or really what caused the accident.

Pope Benedict, well, he is defending the Vatican bank in the wake -- in the wake of a rare money laundering probe. The pope met with the director of the bank yesterday and told him that he trusts him and appreciates his work. Prosecutors seized some $30 million in questionable bank transactions last week. The bank's director says the investigation is the result of what he calls a misunderstanding.

And the Oakland Raiders are announcing the death of George Blanda, who held the record for the longest pro football career. Over 26 seasons, the quarterback played for the Chicago Bears, the Baltimore Colts and the Houston Oilers as well as the Raiders. He retired in 1975 at age 48 after throwing 27,000 yards and 236 touchdowns, earning a place in the Hall of Fame. George Blanda was 83 years old.

It was an amazing career, Wolf. Guess how many games he played in his career?

BLITZER: I love George Blanda, and I watched a lot of those games growing up. How many games?

BOLDUAN: Three hundred and 40.


BOLDUAN: That's amazing.

BLITZER: He was a great field goal kicker, too. And he just continued on and on and on. Old-school field, not the soccer style. You know, sort of the old way they used to do it.

BOLDUAN: The real football players.

BLITZER: Well, that was the old days. Thanks.

Our deepest condolences to the George Blanda family. He was really, really a great football star.

Corruption in Afghanistan. Has it reached so deeply that the U.S. is now investigating the Afghan president's own brother? And a legal battle over whether the U.S. government can assassinate American terrorists abroad. Why a government hit list is shrouded in secrecy.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: U.S. effort in Afghanistan hasn't been made any easier by accusations of serious corruption reaching deep into the government in Kabul. Now there's word of the U.S. criminal investigation of someone very close to President Hamid Karzai. Brian Todd is looking into this story for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has been simmering for a while. Accusations of corruption among members of Hamid Karzai's family. Now a report that Karzai's own brother may soon find himself the target of U.S. investigators.


TODD (voice-over): He's the eldest brother of Afghanistan's president and himself one of the most influential power brokers in the country. Now the "Wall Street Journal" reports federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation of Mahmood Karzai, trying to determine if they have enough evidence to charge him with tax evasion, racketeering or extortion. The newspaper cites unnamed U.S. officials for that information.

Contacted by CNN, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney's office in New York's southern district said it's their office policy neither to confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.

(on camera) I'm speaking over Skype with Gerald Posner. He's Mahmood Karzai's U.S.-based attorney.

Mr. Posner, have you or has Mr. Karzai been contacted about any possible probe by U.S. officials?

GERALD POSNER, ATTORNEY FOR MAHMOOD KARZAI: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, Mahmood Karzai found out that there might be a probe, a criminal probe from the U.S. attorney by a call from a "Wall Street Journal" reporter.

TODD (voice-over): We contacted the Justice Department, the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the Afghan embassy in Washington. None of those entities would comment. We could not reach anyone with President Hamid Karzai's staff to comment, possibly because of the time difference.

Carl Forsberg with the Institute for the Study of War has written papers and testified before Congress on corruption in Afghanistan.

(on camera) What is the general concern, do you think, regarding Mahmood Karzai and his brothers and the whole corruption situation there?

CARL FORSBERG, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: A lot of concerns about Mahmood Karzai stem from his business associations. He has connections to a lot of some of the most notorious Afghan warlords and their own business partners.

TODD (voice-over): I posed the idea that Mahmood Karzai associates with warlords to Gerald Posner. POSNER: I don't know who he means by warlords. I'm not sure who Mahmood Karzai's supposed to associated with. He has investors with him in real estate projects. He's trying to build the infrastructure of the country.


TODD: Posner says Mahmood Karzai is a, quote, "vanilla businessman" who doesn't deal with warlords. He says Karzai plays by the rules, is an American citizen who files U.S. taxes. And Posner points out Mahmood Karzai has given his tax returns to reporters, namely the "Wall Street Journal," in the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, if the U.S. attorney's office or others investigate Mahmood Karzai, that's obviously going to ratchet up the tension between the Obama administration and President Hamid Karzai.

TODD: There is a real risk of that. On the one hand, U.S. officials know they can't turn a blind eye to corruption. It's going to undercut their strategy of trying to bolster Hamid Karzai's credibility in his own country, but there have been feuds that developed recently between Karzai and U.S. officials whenever they've gone after Karzai's associates on charges of corruption.

Now, if they investigate Hamid Karzai's own brother and anger him, that could affect a lot of U.S. operations on the ground in Afghanistan. This is a very delicate tight rope that the U.S. is walking right now.

BLITZER: Certainly is, Brian. Thanks very much.

Some background now on Hamid Karzai. He was educated in India. He's fluent in several languages from '92 until '93. He served as deputy foreign minister in the Afghan government after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Later he briefly aligned himself with the Taliban but declined to become Taliban ambassador to the United Nations.

In 1999, his father was murdered in Pakistan, allegedly by the Taliban. Two years later, Mr. Karzai worked with the U.S. government to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. Shortly after, he was chosen as interim leader of Afghanistan.

December 2004, Mr. Karzai was elected president of Afghanistan. Remains president right now.

Can the U.S. government assassinate an American citizen accused of plotting terror attacks? Details of a legal battle that's unfolding right now.

Plus, the joyous end to a harrowing flight, l of it caught on top. Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.





BLITZER: U.S. authorities are on the trail of an American cleric accused of recruiting and inciting terrorists. But if they find him, should they be allowed to simply assassinate him?

Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.

Chris, a real legal battle over a secret hit list. What's going on?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, on one hand, the U.S. government is arguing that no way should the courts get involved in tracking down terrorists. On the other hand the ACLU says they're not going to give a blank check to President Obama or any president when it comes to targeting American citizens for assassination.


TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials say he recruited the Nigerian man who tried to blow up a plane full of Americans on Christmas and exchanged e-mails with the U.S. Army chaplain who opened fire at Ft. Hood.

Officials at Yemen tell CNN they're tracking Awlaki and now believe he's holed up in Yemen's Riyadh (ph) Valley, known al Qaeda stronghold. But they also told CNN correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom Yemen's government is purposely downplaying al-Awlaki's importance.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Because he comes from such a powerful tribe that is so powerful within Yemen, that the government has to be very sensitive and very delicate in how they approach how they're going to try to capture him.

TODD: To find and fight al Qaeda and alleged terrorists like al- Awlaki, the U.S. military wants to spend more than a billion dollars worth of equipment and training to Yemen -- guns, helicopters, patrol boats -- and allow American advisors to go out with Yemeni troops in noncombat roles.

A U.S. official told us al-Awlaki is continuing to plot attacks beyond that country. There's no doubt that he needs to be dealt with. He doesn't belong on the battlefield, on the street or anywhere else he could do bad things."

But even though al-Awlaki may be hiding in Yemen, he's an American who's been put on a hit list to be captured or killed. The Obama administration evoked state secret privilege against an ACLU lawsuit which says, "Targeting American citizens outside a battlefield is unconstitutional."

JOHN BRENNAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERROR ADVISOR: Individuals shouldn't be able to hide behind their U.S. passport, the U.S. citizenship.

TODD: The government says it's not going to tell an active terrorist how it fights. The ACLU says the government leaked information about al-Awlaki as part of a coordinated political press strategy, to prove to the American people that it was going after terrorists.

BEN WIZNER, ACLU ATTORNEY: When they want to see this published on the front page of the "Washington Post," it's not a state secret. When we want to set some legal limits on what the government can do to a U.S. citizen, all of a sudden that same conversation is off limits.


TODD: Well, there's a court hearing on this in just a few weeks, and both sides tell us they expect a judge to rule very quickly. There is a time element on this, because there are reports that al- Awlaki has already been targeted by some drone strikes and air strikes. And U.S. officials told us they're still going after him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence with that debate. Thanks very much for that.

Fighting terror versus your privacy rights: e-mail, Twitter, Facebook. Should the government be looking at what you write? John King has the debate at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

Plus a flight that the passengers on this plane will simply never forget. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


BLITZER: There's a look at the "Hot Shots."

In Rome, a worker performs maintenance on the basement of the historic Coliseum.

In Moscow, a dancer wearing a giant red skirt performs in a gymnastics championship ceremony.

In London, viewers walk past a sculpture which is part of an exhibit being displayed in Kensington Gardens.

And in Los Angeles, over at the zoo, a 3-week-old giraffe is guarded closely by its mother.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

An emergency landing caught on tape from inside the plane. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ever wonder what an emergency landing is like? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heads down. Stay down.

MOOS: You don't have to wonder any more. These two passengers shot one on their iPhone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heads down. Stay down! Heads down! Stay down!

MOOS: The sparks are from the wings scraping the runway because the landing gear didn't properly deploy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He kind of looked at me like I was crazy. I said, "We're going do record this."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As she's yelling "Brace," I'm kind of holding the camera like -- like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so we're all here and the flight attendant is yelling, "Head down, head down!"

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Head down. Stay down. Heads down. Stay down.

MOOS: This isn't the first emergency landing caught on tape by passengers.


MOOS: Flight attendants chant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brace, brace. Heads down.

MOOS: Are almost identical from airline to airline.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brace, brace. Heads down.

MOOS: This plane landed in Washington after its front tire blew. Passengers have recorded oxygen masks deployed and even plane evacuation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave the aircraft. Leave the aircraft.

MOOS: All the way down the emergency slide.

The most recent video of the Delta emergency landing included the incredibly calm warning from the pilot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brace for impact.

MOOS: Alessandro Albero (ph) and Chase Bensenberg (ph)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't think we were going to die or anything.

MOOS: ... also captured the applause when they didn't die.


MOOS: ... and passengers thanking and hugging the pilot afterwards.

As the video flew around the Web, it sparked a minor debate.

(on camera) Just for doing her job...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heads down! Stay down!

MOOS: ... yelling, "Heads down, stay down"...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heads down! Stay down!

MOOS: ... the flight attendant got her head handed to her by critics.

(voice-over) Her instructions were described as nerve-racking. "If the last voice I heard on earth was that one, I'd be one very annoyed dead guy."

But others responded, "Give that lady a raise" and "That nameless voice is my hero." Someone suggested the airlines adopt something more calming, like the chill out mantra...


MOOS: ... of a performance artist called Zefrank.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll be fine.

MOOS: But I prefer my emergencies with greater urgency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Head down! Stay down!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


Moos: Fortunately, they're all OK.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. Get my tweets, @WolfBlitzerCNN.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.