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THE SITUATION ROOM
Verdict in Landmark Terror Trial; China Diverted U.S. Web Traffic
Aired November 17, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Republicans prepare their way in the House of Representatives, but a tug of war with the Democratic Senate and the White House maybe setting the stage for two years of grinding gridlock. New polls show what the public wants right now.
A disturbing new claim now that China has managed to hijack and possibly spy on internet communications from U.S. government agencies and the U.S. military. We have new information.
And you know about fingerprinting and mug shots, but now, police are looking into the eyes of suspects with some high-tech scanners.
We want to welcome our viewer in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
Republicans may be flexing their muscles after forcing postponement of a bipartisan gathering over at the White House. But that delayed so-called slurpee summit may also be the first clear sign that gridlock looms in Washington. Joining us now Republican congressman, Aaron Schock of Illinois, along with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, host of CNN's "State of the Union" and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Thanks to all of you for coming in. Congressman, let me start with you and then I'm going to bring in Gloria and Candy. We're going to have a little serious discussion about what's going on right now. The Republicans keep saying that the leadership, Democratic leadership and Republican leadership have to listen to the people and decide what the people want.
In our brand new poll, we asked about the tax cuts, the Bush tax cut, should they continue at the current rate for all Americans 35 percent? For families making less than $250,000, 49 percent. For no one, 15 percent. So, only one-third, according to this poll, want all the tax cuts -- all the tax rates to continue as is. You're not listening to the American people, right?
REP. AARON SCHOCK, (R) ILLINOIS: Well, I can only speak about the district that I represent in the center part of the country in Midwestern Illinois. And I'll tell you the message I heard this last election cycle was we don't want anybody's taxes going up right now in a down economy. BLITZER: And when you said -- do you want millionaires and billionaires to continue to get the same tax rate, they said yes. Please make sure they only get 36 percent federal income tax as opposed to 39.6 percent?
SCHOCK: Well, that's certainly the argument that the president was making, but unfortunately for him, he didn't win that argument, because not only did the American people reject it, but Republican members of Congress and Democrat members of Congress overwhelmingly agree in a bipartisan way that that top bracket of income earners, a large percentage of nearly 80 percent of them are actually subchapter- S small business owners.
They're precisely the people that have hired in the last year. Seven out of the 10 new jobs created last year were done by small business owners, many of whom pay their taxes on that top bracket. So, we don't think their taxes should be going up.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So, if you were to have some kind of compromise, because there may need to be a compromise on this, and you've just come from a Republican caucus, do you think Republicans would go for a temporary extension of all of these tax cuts, the middle-class as well as the wealthy?
SCHOCK: Well, I think if the president offers that to us, and with Speaker Pelosi currently chairing the House, if she offers that as a vote to us, I think at the end of the day, the Republicans and Democrats will vote for that, and it could become law. The question really isn't whether or not the tax rates can stay the same. It's a matter of when.
And I hope that for the sake of our country and for the sake of stability and certainty in the private sector, that we can do it now as opposed to having to wait until January.
BLITZER: So, you don't care about the $700 billion that keeping the tax cuts for the richest people will add to the deficit?
SCHOCK: Well, I don't think that the president has made a good argument when he say says he wants to keep the tax cuts for those under $250,000 which costs between $300 and $400 billion. The argument is keeping these tax rates at the current level are the quickest way to get our economy growing, and the economic growth, quite frankly, is the quickest way to pay off the debts.
BLITZER: I want everybody to hold their thought for a second because we just are getting in some breaking news.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: There's been a verdict just reached their landmark federal terror trial at the case of Ahmed Ghailani, Guantanamo detainee, tried for conspiracy and murder in the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Let's bring in our own Deborah Feyerick. She was just in the courtroom listening to what's going on. What's the verdict, Deb? DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you this could be a major blow to the Obama administration. Ahmed Ghailani found not guilty on all but one of the 285 counts against him. He was found not guilty of attempting to murder U.S. nationals, not guilty of attempting to use weapons of mass destructions, the only count that the jury found him guilty of was conspiracy to destroy buildings and property belonging to the U.S., all of the other counts, though, not guilty.
They did not allow during this trial evidence from what could have been a key witness for them, the man who actually sold Ahmed Ghailani the bomb components, and the reason they did not introduce that evidence is because it was obtained while Ghailani was at Guantanamo. He's the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in the United States, but there was evidence that was collected during this enhanced interrogations, and some of that evidence including the man who sold him the bomb components that was not allowed to be used.
Remember, this was not about war crimes, this was about the U.S. embassy bombing back in 1998. Now, that courtroom, Wolf, was packed, packed with the U.S. attorneys from the southern district, and many others who were involved in this case. The tension before the verdict was read was palpable, the disappointment after even greater. There was just a sense that they had put on a very tight case. The judge thanked the jury, said that what this shows is that the constitution does work.
It was the judge who said that the evidence of that key witness could not be brought in during this trial. He said this verdict shows that the constitution is supposed to works the way it's supposed to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What kind of prison sentence is he facing with the conviction on that one count, the lesser count, of conspiracy as opposed to the formal terror and murder charges?
FEYERICK: Well, we're not 100 percent sure what it means specifically. We know that he was facing life in prison on all those other counts. The sentence is likely going to be less than life, but the judge did stipulate at the very start of this trial that even if Ahmed Ghailani is acquitted, he is not going to be released into the general public until hostilities between the United States and al Qaeda are resolved. So, technically, he will still be held as an enemy combatant -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, he's not going anywhere, Ghailani. All right. Thanks very much for that. Let's get back. I don't know, congressman, if you want to react to that, but if you do, go ahead.
SCHOCK: You know, I didn't witness the trial, and, you know, I hope that based on what I've heard, he stays behind bars for a little while longer. It's disappointing.
BLITZER: Well, he's obviously not going anywhere at least for the time being. All right. Candy, let's pick up our conversation get back to politics. This is a pivotal moment right now, this lame duck session really gets going.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. There's lots that you all have on the table, but the biggest one, I think, has to be the tax cuts. So, I just want to make sure I'm clear about this. You would go for a temporary extension of tax cuts remaining for the wealthy? Is that correct?
CROWLEY: And you believe the House would go for that?
SCHOCK: I do.
BLITZER: For two years?
SCHOCK: Yes, I mean, look, at the end of the day, we don't control the chamber. We won't control the chamber until January, and even then, we control the House and not the Senate. Now, I do believe in January, we stand a much better chance of keeping the current rate indefinitely. In other words, a permanent extension of the current rates even though we don't control the Senate --
BORGER: So, why not postpone it and do it in January?
SCHOCK: Because I think -- that is the debate, and I think it will be a debate that Republicans have amongst ourselves, but I am one who believes, in all honesty, as I travel the district, the small business guys are saying you're killing us. What are you going to do with the estate tax? What's happened with capital gain rates? What's happened with my marginal rates? And they want us to make a decision.
And so, I'm willing to put the perfect bill aside and compromise on the good bill to get something done, so that we can establish some certainty in the private sector, and we don't waste two months, and hopefully, the economy can be in recovery.
CROWLEY: The other thing I want to ask you is about this meeting today between John Boehner, soon to be Republican Speaker of the House and Harry Reid who will stay as the Democratic leader on the Senate side, and then the decision not to meet with President Obama. Now, we're too busy. We've got a lot of things going on. He set that timetable. We weren't really consulted on that.
Don't you all risk the appearance of not, of still wanting to remain what they've retied to tag you with which is party of no? Why not just go up and talk to the president and look as though you're open to things?
SCHOCK: Well, I think, we will have that meeting, and I wasn't again involved with the date setting, if you will --
CROWLEY: But does it worry you that they delayed it for appearance? SCHOCK: Well, literally, before I walked on your show here tonight, we just voted for John Boehner to be speaker-elect. So, I think they wanted to be mindful not putting the cart before the horse. Obviously, one quarter of our conferees are new, and they're being very mindful of what our leadership is doing.
And so before the leadership goes out and speak for the conference, they want to make sure that they are the elected leadership, and they get a good sense for not only the current members but the incoming freshmen members stand.
BORGER: Do you think they were, to pop on Candy, do you think they were getting any pushback inside the conference from the new members saying don't meet with the president yet?
SCHOCK: No, I didn't sense that at all.
BLITZER: Do you think this TSA pat downs at the airport are good or bad?
SCHOCK: Well, when I'm getting one --
SCHOCK: No. I take four planes a week, honestly. You know, I am for intelligence screening. In other words, I think we get a lot further when we're smart about why we're screening people. In other words, I'm --
SCHOCK: Well, I'm disappointed when someone who buys a one-way ticket from Yemen and then the bomber who got through the TSA lines quite frankly was able to get there --
BLITZER: The underwear bomber?
SCHOCK: The underwear bomber should have been (INAUDIBLE) fits the profile of what we know to be terrorists. When I travel overseas on many occasions, I get pulled out because I maybe buying a one-way ticket, I maybe traveling with my sister and we have different last names. That's smart profiling. Just pulling people out one at a time when we have millions of passengers in random screenings I'm not sure is the best way to do it.
BLITZER: Congressman, we're out of time, but one quick final question, are you still the youngest member of Congress?
SCHOCK: Unfortunately, with 90 new freshman, I still be the youngest one.
BLITZER: You're what, 29 years old?
SCHOCK: Twenty-nine, yes.
BORGER: But he's growing older every day. CROWLEY: In dog years, you're really old at this point, right?
SCHOCK: I tell my constituents, they say don't change now that you're in Washington. Yes, I will get older.
BLITZER: Another year, we'll start seeing the gray hair. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
SCHOCK: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: And of course, thanks to Candy and Gloria as well.
Another troubling side effect of the recession. Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: As most of us get ready to gather around a bountiful Thanksgiving feast next week, gorge ourselves on turkey and pumpkin pie, think about this, 45 million Americans were food insecure last year. That's a government word, food insecure, according to an agriculture department report. It means they had difficulty feeding one or more members of their families because they don't have enough money. They're hungry.
That's 14.7 percent of all U.S. households about 1 out of every 7. Situation was especially bad for about one-third of the households which reported very low food security. That means very hungry. These numbers are higher than in 2008, and represent the highest level since the government starting keeping track of this 15 years ago. Where are we going here? The report found that households most likely to go hungry included those headed by single parents.
Access to food was worst in the big cities and among African- Americans and Hispanics. Out of the 50 states, food insecurity was the highest in Arkansas nearly 18 percent, lowest in North Dakota, close to 7 percent. With numbers like these, it's no surprise then people are participating more and more in government-sponsored food programs. More than 15 million households use food stamps in any given month during 2009.
That's a 20 percent increase from the year before. Rates also rose for the free-lunch program and supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children. The report shows the number of households getting emergency food from a food pantry almost doubled between 2007 and 2009.
Here's the question, what does it mean when U.S. hunger is at the highest level it's been at in 15 years? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post your comment there.
BLITZER: Depressing. Very depressing. All right. Jack, thank you.
Critics call them degrading and intrusive, but are those airport security pat-downs unconstitutional? Two pilots are claiming exactly that, and now, they're suing. And shocking allegations of a hacking on a massive scale. China is accused of rerouting internet traffic from the United States, including from military communications, sensitive ones.
BLITZER: A new claim that China has managed to divert and possibly spy on internet communications from inside the United States, including from inside secret government agencies and the U.S. military. The apparent web hijacking is detailed in a report from a congressional commission. The report was released today. Brian Todd has been going through this report. Brian, it's very disturbing. What are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. The allegation is that for a period of 18 minutes this past April, much of the internet traffic to and from key sites in the U.S. was rerouted to pass through servers in China. Think about this, 15 percent of all web traffic including communications to and from crucial government sites. The army, the navy, air force, the marine corps, NASA, the office of the Secretary of defense, and the Senate.
The investigator said that someone could have surveilled sensitive data as it was passing through, Wolf.
BLITZER: Could someone have actually read, for example, the e- mails of the Defense Secretary Robert Gates or the intelligence links that were there?
TODD: The Pentagon is implying no at this point as Pentagon spokeswoman told us the security of defense department information is not affected by the misdirection of internet traffic. Presumably now, any sensitive e-mails are encrypted. The researchers say they don't know what if anything was compromised, but here's the hypothetical from one of the investigators if someone in China had access to the stream of military e-mails for 18 minutes.
LARRY WORTZEL, U.S. CHINA REVIEW COMMISSION: You may get a little interesting information out of it if you had really good computers, and you could sort it out, you may. The more important thing if you were a pretty knowledgeable intelligence service is you would get the internet addresses of everybody that communicated. And then you could socially engineer a fake e-mail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That means a hijacker or a hacker could send a virus to a user at a U.S. agency, and when they open the e-mail attachment, the virus could sneak in, still pretty dangerous stuff.
BLITZER: The Chinese government is denying all this, right?
TODD: As they always do. The spokesman here at the Chinese embassy in Washington who we contacted pointed out that the state- owned China telecom has denied that they rerouted anything. And the spokesman told us this, quote, "the commission's specious and unthwarted allegations against China and its enterprises are irresponsible. China will never do anything to harm other country's national security either in real or virtual worlds."
U.S. investigators say they cannot tell if the Chinese government was involved of even if the hijacking was intentional. But, Wolf, 18 minutes and all that internet traffic, something could have been gleamed there. Pretty disturbing.
BLITZER: Yes, they could have copied it, saved it, and who knows --
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
Forty-six percent of Americans now believe China is an economic and military super power that's more than double the number who held that deal a little over a decade ago. The findings are from a brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll.
Other news we're following right now, the late night comedians are playing it for laughs, but there's a lot of anger right now over those increased security pat-downs at the nations' airports. At issue, those intimate body scans as well as the hand's on pat-downs. Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is working this story for us. A lot outrage out there especially on the eve of an enormous holiday travel period in the coming days.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: There is. And today, Wolf, there was even a lawsuit filed on behalf of two pilots who say the new security procedures are profane, degrading, intrusive, and indecent, and violate the 4th amendment of the constitution which protects against unreasonable searches, but, not everyone is taking the controversy quite so seriously.
MESERVE (voice-over): Privacy has become a punch-line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know what TSA stands for? Does everybody know? Touch someone's ass. That's what it stands for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The excessive body pat down, there's your stimulus package, hello.
MESERVE: Even overseas, the new protocols are generating laughs. A Taiwanese animation asks, what's next? But not everyone is amused, including members of Congress.
SEN. GEORGE LEMIEUX, (R) FLORIDA: I wouldn't want my wife to be touched in the way that these folks are being touched. I wouldn't want to be touched that way.
MESERVE: The head of TSA said he and other top officials had gotten the pat-downs. Yes, they were intrusive, but --
JOHN PISTOLE, T.S.A. ADMINISTRATOR: If you're asking me am I going to change the policies, no.
MESERVE: Pistole said that old pat-downs procedures weren't thorough enough to find threats like the underwear bomb. But he said technologies being tested now might provide us solution. The images created by next generation scanning machines look like paper doll cutouts. Possible threats are highlighted, but there is no anatomical detail. But in tests, he says, the machines are sounding alarms when they shouldn't.
PISTOLE: With high rate of false positives, that results in more pat-downs toward trying to stay away from that.
MESERVE: In the meantime, a few passengers receiving pat-downs have become angry, belligerent, even physical. A group representing screeners says in Indianapolis, one screener was actually punched by a passenger.
MESERVE (on-camera): That group, the American Federation of Government Employees is asking TSA to distribute educational pamphlets explaining the new procedures to every traveler and asking them to respect screener right to be treated to dignity and respect -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is there any way to determine how deep this resentment toward these new procedures are?
MESERVE: It really is very difficult. A lot of people were on the internet talking about this very unhappy, but the TSA says since the new pat-downs were implemented on November 1st, it has received only 700 formal complaints, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.
The high price of unemployment, we have details of a new CNNMoney analysis revealing just how much U.S. taxpayers have spent on jobless benefits during what is now called now the great recession.
And Sarah Palin gives the most direct sign yet that she will challenge the president of the United States in 2012. We're going to hear what she's saying in her own words.
BLITZER: Uncle Sam is about to get some money back after the big bailout of the auto industry. Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What are you learning, Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, a pretty significant amount. The General Motors initial stock sale is on track to be the biggest ever when trading begins tomorrow with demand rising. The company priced common shares at $33, the top of its range that will bring GM more than $20 billion from its initial public offering, almost $12 billion of that going will go to U.S. taxpayers who bailed out GM last July.
A U.S. Congressional advisory panel says China continues to manipulate its currency. It says that and exclusionary policies are contributing to the massive trade deficit between the U.S. and China. The panel says lawmakers should urge the Obama administration to respond and find ways to overcome trade barriers.
And 2 million Americans could lose their unemployment benefits at the end of the month unless Congress votes for another extension. Much of the debate will focus on the cost, and it's already staggering. A CNNMoney analysis shows jobless Americans have collected $319 billion in benefits over the last three years -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.
Sarah Palin, she's sending new signals that she is weighing a run for the presidency. That she thinks she can win. She thinks she can beat President Obama. Stand by.
And Haiti's deadly cholera epidemic is now hitting home right here in the United States.
BLITZER: Sarah Palin is sending out new signals that she may run for president of the United States in 2012 as she is making it clear that she thinks she can win. Brian Todd is here. He's taking a closer look at her latest comments which are sparking all sorts of speculation.
TODD: It always does, Wolf, whenever she speaks. Sarah Palin has shown the ability to garner attention for even the slightest of actions. Now, she's sending a signal, one of her strongest indications yet that President Obama may have to contend with her in two years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD (voice-over): She joked about it with someone who sang the national anthem.
SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Do you like to sing at an inauguration? Not necessarily mine.
TODD: She was more deliberate when asked what it would take for her to run for president?
PALIN: It would be prayerful consideration, and then getting a good lay of the landscape, too, the political landscape, because I'd be in it to win it.
TODD: Now, the most serious indication yet that Sarah Palin will challenge for the White House in 2012. Ask if she is weighing a run, she tells "The New York Times" magazine, I am, saying, "I'm engaged in the internal deliberations candidly and having that discussion with my family."
When asked by ABC's Barbara Walters if she could beat Barack Obama...
PALIN: I believe so.
TODD: Palin has established a team of advisers, some young and untested, but also veterans like Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's foreign policy adviser in 2008. Scheunemann told me he's advising her not in relation to running for president, but for her speeches and writings on issues.
When we called and e-mailed several other advisors and her political action committee, we got no response. But Sarah Palin has charted her own very effective course into media land. She's a fixture in "People" magazine, on Facebook. She has some of the most influential tweets in politics.
(on camera) And that's part of the Palin paradox. While Sarah Palin is undoubtedly a major media star on several platforms, she and her staff often don't respond to requests for comments on stories, at least from those she calls the mainstream media.
(voice-over) As for what's called Palin Inc., between her book deals, TV gigs and speeches, Palin is reported to have earned at least $12 million. Her new TLC reality show drew 5 million viewers, a basic cable bonanza, but Republican heavyweight strategist Karl Rove told a British newspaper, "I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of 'that helps me see you in the Oval Office'."
I asked David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network about that.
(on camera) Does the reality show hurt her chances for the presidency?
DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, I think it strengthens them for a lot of different reasons. I mean, think about it. She's in Alaska scaling mountains, for goodness sake. She's in Alaska fishing with brown bears all around her. When we see things like this, when we see impressions like this as Americans, we think, you know, that person is pretty impressive. She's pretty tough.
TODD: Brody says he's met recently with other prospective GOP contenders like Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty. He believes Palin's not leaning quite as heavily toward running as Gingrich and Pawlenty, but he says if she does run, she'll shoot straight to the top, Wolf, among those contenders.
BLITZER: Our most recent poll on a hypothetical matchup between Palin and President Obama shows he would win pretty decisively.
TODD: That's right. That poll in late October showed him with an eight-point lead, but again, look at the swing. He was a very popular president when he took office two years ago. The Democrats were popular. But look at what just happened. In 2012 she can turn that around.
BLITZER: I think everybody knows that, whatever the economic situation is in 2012...
TODD: That's right.
BLITZER: ... if there are jobs or no jobs, that will have a huge impact on who the president is going to be.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. And 2012 is a hot topic in San Diego right now, where close to three dozen Republican governors and governors-elect are meeting. Among them half a dozen possible presidential candidates or running mates.
Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now. Tell us, Jessica, about some of these possible presidential candidates in San Diego where you are.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, there are so many that you never know who it could be in this crowd, but the ones who are the most likely already include Tim Pawlenty, some of the names Brian Todd just mentioned, Haley Barbour, the head of the Republican Governors' Association, and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who's known for his budget-cutting ways.
And Tim Pawlenty, the first name I mentioned, opened the whole event here. He is the governor of Minnesota, and he said this has been a signal year for Republicans. It marks an important turning point for America, he argued, and the start of a push for smaller government and no doubt a push to a few presidential campaigns, as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: Tell us about some of the new rising stars among Republican governors and governors-elect?
YELLIN: Well, it's no secret that the organization is announcing to the world that the Republican Party is not the white man's party, that there is enormous diversity in their ranks, and they start their whole event with a panel discussion of some of the new faces in the Republican Party.
Here are some of the new faces of some of their governors. Suzanna Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, soon to be, she is the first Latina governor in the nation. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, an Indian-American woman. Brian Sandoval, a Latino man in Nevada, and Mary Fallon, a woman in Oklahoma.
Some of those people, again, just spoke and are still on the stage, I should say, inside. And one of the messages, Wolf, they're delivering is about the push not just for smaller government, but again, unfunded mandates against health-care reform as it currently exists.
But beyond that, the message they're delivering is something Nikki Haley said, Wolf. She said that this government -- this election, I should say, was about people who were never before politicized standing up not for the Democrats, not for the Republicans, but for a new kind of government which is smaller, and which listens more directly to the people. She says we will push that not only in our states but in the 2012 races. And that is the theme I think we'll hear repeated for the next two years.
BLITZER: And like the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, also a Republican, Nikki Haley is an Indian American. So there are two Republican governors, or soon-to-be a governor in South Carolina whose family came originally from India. Thanks very much for that.
A deadly outbreak in Haiti, and now a cholera case, confirmed right here in the United States, another one in the Dominican Republic. The death toll is climbing.
And its nickname is "blackout in a can." Now the government is cracking down on caffeinated alcohol drinks.
BLITZER: There's now a report of cholera in the United States. Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What's going on, Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, Wolf.
Well, Haiti's deadly cholera outbreak is spreading, with one case now reported in Florida and one in the Dominican Republic. Both victims had recently visited Haiti where the death toll has now topped 1,100 with more than 18,000 cases reported. The Clinton Foundation announced today it is committing $1.5 million to fight the outbreak.
And Pope Benedict is calling on Pakistan to release a woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani, was convicted of insulting the prophet Muhammad and calling the Koran fake, crimes punishable by death in dominantly Muslim Pakistan. But a former Pakistani supreme court justice says death sentences like these are almost always overturned on appeal.
And makers of seven caffeinated alcohol drinks have 15 days to change their formulas or the Food and Drug Administration said it may seize their products. The government is cracking down on the beverages citing a public health concern. The maker of Four Loko, nicknamed "blackout in a can," says it will remove the caffeine.
And the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton was on the cover of every British newspaper today. Headlines include, quote, "With Mummy's Ring, I Thee Wed," "'Kate's Very Special', According to Prince," and "Sealed with Diana's Ring." Meanwhile, one retail research firm says next year's royal wedding could boost the British economy by almost $1 billion with increased tourism and sales of wedding-related merchandise.
It would be a good assignment for you, Fred, if you want to go over there.
WHITFIELD: It would be nice.
BLITZER: You would accept, right?
WHITFIELD: Yes, I would be OK with that.
BLITZER: All of us would.
WHITFIELD: Yes, I think we'd all want to go. One big group.
BLITZER: Yes. The nation's highest civilian honor. President Obama will award the Medal of Freedom to one of his predecessors. Stand by.
And you know about fingerprinting and mug shots. But now police are looking into the eyes of suspects with some high-tech scanners. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: New York police are looking into the eyes of criminal suspects with the help of electronic scanners, and that is sparking a serious debate.
Let's go CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York working to story for us.
What's going on, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you ask the NYPD, they say there is no debate. It says it's using the digital imaging technology because it's accurate and quick, and its goal is to prevent mistaken identity. But some critics are raising concerns.
SNOW (voice-over): Tom Cruise made them famous in the sci-fi film "Minority Report": iris scanners identifying people before they commit crimes. Police in New York aren't doing that, but they are now using iris scanners after making arrests which require fingerprinting and mug shots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just move in a little bit for us. Keep your eyes open nice and wide. And we have an iris capture.
SNOW: The New York Police Department showed us what a suspect will now go through.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move out a little bit. OK. There you go. SNOW: Within seconds an iris image is taken and stored.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once we have you coming into the arraignment courtroom, we move over to the next station.
SNOW: In court, the suspect is again scanned. That image is then checked to see if it matches with arrest records in the system. A green box indicates it's a match; red does not.
Police say they're trying to prevent suspects charged with serious crimes from swapping identifies with someone charged with a lesser crime.
(on camera) The NYPD had two cases earlier this year where felons were able to slip through the system. And that's why they say they decided to use these iris scanners.
(voice-over) The city's police commissioner calls it a common- sense approach in a city where an estimated 400,000 arrests are made each year.
(on camera) Why not just fingerprint, because all the prisoners are also being fingerprinted?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they're being fingerprinted, and they're being photographed. This is an easier way of -- of checking.
SNOW: But that way of checking concerns the head of the Legal Aid Society.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been an extensive legislative debate in New York state in which the legislature only permits the police department to collect DNA evidence in certain kinds of cases, and so it's incumbent upon the police department not to find a whole new technology and then forge ahead without any legislative authority.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are authorized to take a picture. This is simply a picture of the iris. And again, we are matching that iris at the end of our process to make see if you're the same individual. Now our lawyers said we don't need a legal mandate to do it.
SNOW: One of the questions is will this technology have other potential uses, such as a tool to track terror suspects? The police commissioner says it does have potential to do that, just like all technology, but stresses that is not the police department's intention. It's being used to better identify suspects -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that.
BLITZER: What does it mean when U.S. hunger is at the highest level in 15 years? Jack Cafferty is next with your e-mail.
Also, politician, sports legend, artisan, more. We now know who will be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Plus, conspiracy theories are swirling around Bristol Palin and "Dancing with the Stars." CNN's Jeanne Moos will take a "Most Unusual" look.
BLITZER: President Obama's awarding the nation's highest civilian honor to 15 people. The White House announced recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom today. Politicians are on the list, including the first President Bush, the German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Two legendary sports figures will also receive the medal: baseball hall of famer Stan Musial and five-time NBA most valuable player Bill Russell.
And a posthumous award will go to Dr. Tom Little, an optometrist who was killed by the Taliban during a humanitarian mission to Afghanistan. Also on the list, the poet Maya Angelou and the cellist Yo Yo Ma, and the billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett.
Let's get back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: "What does it mean this week before Thanksgiving when U.S. hunger is at the highest level it's been in 15 years?"
Lenay writes from Illinois, "It means we need to bring jobs back to the U.S., stop giving our resources out to people who don't belong in this country in the first place."
Doug in Arizona: "It simply, although gravely, means that we need to stop spending money on these useless wars overseas and start taking care of our own people, for God's sake."
D.J. writes, "Obviously, it means the Bush tax cuts are working."
Robert in Connecticut, "It means we are truly well on our way to being a third-world country."
Candy in Massachusetts: "My husband's a pediatrician in an urban, low-income area. The biggest problem he sees? Obesity. Doesn't compute. Resources and education are needed on so many levels."
John writes, "Looks to me like we need to be focusing on jobs, jobs and more jobs. The focus on health care and all the other issues is starting to catch up to our leaders. If people aren't making any money, they will get hungry."
Dave in New Hampshire: "Before America spends another dime on foreign aid, we ought to make sure all Americans are fed. I don't want to sound cold, but what business do we have feeding other countries if we can't even feed our own?"
And Dave in Florida writes, "I think at least half of us know what it means, who was responsible, and why the greatest nation in the world has to be shamed once again with statistics like this. But I'd like to make a suggestion: go out, buy a Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings. Take that basket of groceries to your local firehouse and tell them to give it to some family who really, really needs a break. I guarantee you they'll know just who to give it to."
You want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: Great -- a great idea from our viewer, Jack. A great idea. Thanks very much, Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."
Allegations of voting fraud for Palin, but not Sarah but for her daughter, Bristol, on "Dancing with the Stars." CNN's Jeanne Moos will take a "Most Unusual" look.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's start in China. Members of the India and Uzbekistan water polo teams tread water before competing at the Asian Games.
In Moscow, honor guards take place in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin wall.
In England, villagers walk through a flooded street after heavy rains drenched the region.
And in Paris, a Persian cat -- look at this -- owned by a hotel, poses for a picture on a desk. Somebody likes those cats.
"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.
Bristol Palin twirls, now a conspiracy theory swirls around the "Dancing with the Stars" dancer. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Let's just call it Bristol/Brandy-gate.
(on camera) Who should have won? Brandy or Bristol?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brandy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brandy.
MOOS (voice-over): We all know by now that Brandy got cut from "Dancing with the Stars."
TOM BERGERON, HOST, ABC'S "DANCING WITH THE STARS": Brandy and Maks.
MOOS: And now the boos have translated into messages to ABC: "Lost a viewer," "Shame on you," "Crying foul," "Boycott."
Jimmy Kimmel interviewed the loser.
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "THE JIMMY KIMMEL SHOW": This was an outrage what happened tonight, true? True!
BRANDY, COMPETITOR, ABC'S "DANCING WITH THE STARS": True.
KIMMEL: I blame America for this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, America, what the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is going on?
MOOS: What some say went on was a Tea Party effort to inflate the vote of Sarah Palin's daughter. The Web site Jezebel cited comments on a blog called HillBuzz: "Vote like crazy," "Lord have mercy. I voted for three hours online! I got 300 in." The Web site's run by an independent who supports Sarah and Bristol Palin.
KEVIN DUJAN, EDITOR/FOUNDER, HILBUZZ.ORG: It's not scamming a game show. What it is, it's a way for people to show their fervent support for her.
MOOS (on camera): Comments advise how to get through loopholes: "Votes don't have to be from valid e-mail addresses. You can make them up," "I created ten fake ones last week and I was able to vote 50 times, I swear."
I mean, this is not, like, cool to do to the contest.
DUJAN: I think it is actually cool to do to the contest, because the media has been so horrible to this young woman.
MOOS: Bristol herself chimed in on her Facebook page, thanking supporters and saying, "The haters are already pulling out all the stops this week to destroy."
(on camera) Maybe some folks felt like throwing something at the TV set during the competition, but it a Wisconsin man who took that a whole lot further.
(voice-over) Sixty-six-year-old Steven Cowan got so mad watching Bristol Palin dance that he shot the TV with a shotgun. Authorities ended up surrounding Cowan's house after his wife called them. Complaint says Steven did not think she was a good dancer.
Nor does this guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Bristol Palin's a horrible dancer. She can't -- my God. Corpses have moved better in rigor mortis.
MOOS: But even so, he doesn't think there's anything wrong with the call-in campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, I had a friend on "American Idol" once. We called from every phone. We were calling from pay phones. We were calling from -- that's just how it rolls. I mean, at the end of the day, it's not like an election.
MOOS: If it were an election, one person posted, "Bristol is this year's chad." Hanging chad.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.
Earlier I mentioned some of the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom that the president announced today. He announced 15 recipients. This is the nation's highest civilian honor.
Some others included John Adams, the co-founder of the National Resources Defense Council. He did that back in 1970. The artist Jasper Johns. Gerta Weisman Klein, a Holocaust survivor and author. Sylvia Mendez, a civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. Jean Kennedy Smith. And John Sweeney, the current president emeritus of the AFL-CIO.
Congratulations to all the recipients. Work well done.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.