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Japan Nuclear Crisis Rivals Chernobyl; "Dirty Tactics" in Misrata Violence; Targeting Medicare in Budget Battle; D.C. Mayor Arrested and Hauled Away in Handcuffs; Courage and Defiance in Afghanistan; American Detained in North Korea; Chopping Billions From Budget

Aired April 12, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, the worsening crisis in Japan rivaling the infamous Chernobyl disaster. The country's nuclear accident now tipping the scales at level seven. That's the highest severity possible.

Also, urgent international calls for NATO to step up attacks on Moammar Gadhafi as forces loyal to the Libyan dictatorship pound the opposition in fierce new shelling. Stand by for details.

And a raging battle here in Washington on Capitol Hill, as Democrats and Republicans prepare to vote on that last minute budget deal packed with billions of dollars in spending cuts.

So what's really on the chopping block?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But up first, to a near nuclear meltdown in Japan, where a fresh round of intense quakes are rocking parts of the already disaster- battered country. Until today, the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was rated a level five, on par with the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, the worst ever in the United States.

But now, the Japanese suddenly declaring it a level seven. That's the highest possible rating on the international scale. That's equivalent -- equivalent to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine.

Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "The change in the level reminds us this accident is very big," says the government's point man in the crisis. "I apologize to the residents of the area, the people of Japan and the international community."

But activists aren't accepting the apology.

THOMAS BREUER, GREENPEACE GERMANY: For me, it looks like they are putting the agenda for nuclear energy ahead of the people.

LAH: Greenpeace calls the government's elevation of the crisis, quote, "woefully late."

Greenpeace tested the soil in a town outside of a mandatory evacuation zone and found dangerous levels of radiation, saying the disaster is much worse than what the government suggests.

The anti-nuclear group called for a seven level rating three weeks ago.

BREUER: It is Japan's Chernobyl. From -- from our point of view, it's -- it's even worse than Chernobyl, because we have three reactors with -- with huge problems with radioactive. The fourth reactor has lost a lot of the spent fuel. And on top of that, where the accident happened is -- is quite a densely populated area.

LAH: For the people who live near the plant, now evacuees, the numbers, whether a five or a seven, don't matter. Their towns remain empty. They may never be able to go home again.

Futaba residents say they're beyond anger or hatred. They've simply lost everything: "We lost something so big, it's unimaginable. We just don't know what to say."

(on camera): Japan's nuclear regulatory agency says there was no deliberate attempt to delay the elevation of this crisis. It just took a month to get reliable data. Japan's prime minister, in a nationally televised news conference, says progress at the nuclear plant is being made step by step, but there's still no room for optimism.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


BLITZER: All right, let's dig deeper right now into the worsening crisis.

Nuclear expert, Joe Cirincione, he's here.

He's the president of Ploughshares Fund.

That's a public grant making foundation focused in -- focusing in on nuclear weapons policy.

Joe, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Why, all of a sudden, did they raise this level to the highest level, the level seven? CIRINCIONE: Well, most experts have thought this was a much more serious crisis than officials had categorized it. And officials, I think, recognized that they did not have the situation under control, that we're looking at months, maybe years, of continued radiation leaks from this. As one Japanese official said today, over the long run, this could release as much radiation as Chernobyl.

BLITZER: How long is that supposed to go on?

I mean -- I mean why can't they fix it?

CIRINCIONE: Well, it is an extremely dangerous situation. You can't get too close to it. Many of the systems that are meant to control the reactors have collapsed. There is no coolant system anymore, so they continue to have to pump water in. The scientists over at "Nature" magazine just today, in an online report, said that it's going to take decades -- maybe a century -- to clean up after this mess. Remember, it took 15 years to clean up after Three Mile Island. It's 25 years after Chernobyl. We're still clear -- cleaning that up. And they estimate that Chernobyl will go into 2085 before it's done. So this is a major environmental catastrophe.

BLITZER: So you're saying this, potentially, is worse than Chernobyl?

CIRINCIONE: It's -- it's Chernobyl in slow motion. So it's not -- the accidents were very different. There was no big explosion. But there's much more fuel at the six reactors in Fukushima than there was at Chernobyl. And we're continuing to see radiation spill every day. We still don't have this under control. And some of the things they're doing to prevent it from meltdown, like pouring tons of water in, is creating a new danger, which is radioactive water that has to be stored and is seeping out into the ocean.

BLITZER: There is a huge concrete pump that's now being sent over to try to deal with this, from the United States. We've got a picture. We'll show our viewers what we're seeing.

Is this a viable solution to sort of pump concrete all over it?

CIRINCIONE: It is. And this is the same type of pump that pumped concrete over Chernobyl to seal that in a concrete tomb. And what they're using them for now is to pump water. That's their urgent need.

What they're hoping is that they can pump water for months into these reactors and eventually cool them to the point where they can start to take apart the reactors and then use these pumps to entomb them.

In the end, this is going to end up with four, maybe six, reactors entombed on the shoreline of Japan.

BLITZER: So how worried -- how dangerous is this to the people not only who live in the vicinity of these -- of this reactor or these reactors, but in -- in all of Japan right now? CIRINCIONE: Yah. This is a Japanese radiation disaster. And they get...

BLITZER: For all of the country?

CIRINCIONE: Psychologically for all of the country, but in the health risk, they've just extended the evacuation zone to 20 miles out. So they almost doubled it in the last week. And that's a heavily populated area. So we're looking at hundreds of thousands of people who are now being asked to leave their homes with no date certain when they can return.

If -- if there's a reactor breach, if the fuel melts and breaches through the containment walls, then it would be a wider radiation danger. But for now, the radiation danger is in that 20 mile zone.

BLITZER: What about here in the United States?

Any danger at all to folks in the United States?

CIRINCIONE: Even if the radiation increases to much more than it is now, it's still, by the time it comes over here, would be diluted to just trace amounts. So there's no health risk to Americans at this point.

BLITZER: Joe Cirincione, thanks very much for coming in.

CIRINCIONE: My thanks -- my pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Cost-cutting in Washington is on Jack Cafferty's mind.

Jack is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Without question, it's the most serious problem facing this country and if it's not addressed in a meaningful way, and soon, we're not going to have a country.

We're talking about a national debt of $14.3 trillion, annual deficits of $1.5 trillion and the inability of our federal government to even go near addressing this stuff in a meaningful way.

It took the threat of a government shutdown to get them to cut a paltry $38 billion from this year's budget. That is chump change. Critics say President Obama has failed to lead on this issue, perhaps until now. He's scheduled to give what's billed a major policy speech tomorrow on our budget crisis.

This is the same President Obama who appointed a deficit reduction commission almost a year ago and then has ignored their recommendations, which were given to him last December, conveniently, after the midterm elections.

Tomorrow, however, he is expected to deliver his plan to reduce the deficit and he's expected to build on some of those recommendations of his deficit reduction commission.

It's about time.

Like them or not, if it wasn't for the pressure being brought on the subject by the Tea Party, my guess is Washington would just continue to kick the budgetary can down the road. Tomorrow's speech could be a defining moment for President Obama. If Americans are not convinced that he and the Congress take our economic crisis as seriously as the rest of us do, they may all be looking for a job in 18 months.

Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing, either.

Here's the question -- what should the president say in his budget speech tomorrow?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: That's going to be an important speech. And we'll, of course, have live coverage during our 1:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Jack, here tomorrow.

We'll be anxious to see how many specific details the president provides, because we want specifics, right?



Thanks very much.

Urgent international calls for NATO to turn up the heat on Moammar Gadhafi, as rebel forces are pounding and pounding in brutal new attacks. We'll have the latest for you.

Plus, an American now detained in North Korea -- we'll have the latest on U.S. efforts to secure his release.

And the mayor of Washington, DC hauled off in cuffs -- why his city is being used as a bargaining chip in the looming budget battle.



Enough is enough. We're tired of it. We're tired of being dictated to by people who don't have a clue about the District of Columbia and wouldn't care about us otherwise but some ideological view that they want to impose upon us in the city.

So, yes, it was worth getting arrested.



BLITZER: Residents of Misrata in Libya are huddled together tonight. They're dreading what the dawn might bring. Today, the forces of Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, pounded the city. A doctor says at least 10 people were killed in the shelling. So many more were injured.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is joining us now from Tripoli with more on what's going on.

The doctor also says, Fred, and you've heard this, that Gadhafi forces are using what they're calling dirty tactics.

What does that mean?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly what he said, Wolf. And he said this pertains to artillery strikes that the Gadhafi forces apparently are conducting within the towns. Of course, these are very heavy weapons. And the use of these weapons alone in an urban area is really something that can cause a lot of casualties.

But what the dirty tactics pertain to, as this doctor says, is that apparently the forces are shelling a certain area and then waiting for people, especially children, to come out and check out the damage and then shelling that exact area again. That is, of course, causing a lot of carnage.

Now, the Libyan government hasn't said anything about this yet, hasn't had any reaction on what this doctor said. However, they keep saying that they're trying to minimize civilian casualties, that they're not trying to hurt anybody in this town of Misrata. Of course, I was there two weeks ago and -- and they are using very heavy weaponry in -- in downtown Misrata. You're seeing artillery, tanks, as well as mortar fire in the downtown area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a lot of our viewers will remember, Fred, when you went in yourself to Misrata, with that humanitarian aid mission, to see what was going on, you had that dramatic report.

What are you hearing right now about NATO air strikes, especially over the past few weeks, that the U.S. is no longer taking the lead in attacking certain Gadhafi positions?

PLEITGEN: Well, there's been a lot of criticism of NATO. And it doesn't just come from the rebels in Benghazi, who are really not very happy with what they say has been NATO not living up to its promise and not conducting enough air strikes. But now, the French and the British also say that they feel they're having to shoulder too much of the burden in trying to stop Moammar Gadhafi's forces from attacking civilians that they say.

There was one statement from Britain's foreign secretary. I just want to you listen in to that, because it's very telling.


WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Well, we must maintain and intensify our efforts in NATO. That is why the United Kingdom has, in the last week, provided additional aircraft capable of striking ground targets threatening the civilian population of Libya. Of course, it will be welcome if other countries also do the same.


PLEITGEN: So the French government, Wolf, is also saying the same thing, saying the French and the British are basically conducting a bulk of the air strikes against Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

Of course, for the record, I do have to give you the Libyan government's reaction to all of this. They say they are very saddened by the comments made by the British and French foreign secretaries and, of course, again, they say that they are not harming any civilians and that they are only targeting the rebels who are fighting against them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen on the scene there in Tripoli. Thanks, Fred, very much.

Egyptians toppled a dictator only a few weeks ago, but now, out of power and out of favor, their former president is suffering in other ways. Stand by, new information.

And the general talked his way out of the job. His silence may have helped him find a new one, though, with the same boss that fired him.

And lawmakers were eager to slash spending in the budget, now we're finding out where the ax actually fell and who will feel the pain.


BLITZER: There is news involving North Korea. State Department officials are now saying an American citizen has been detained in North Korea. Efforts are under way right now to secure his release.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is with us. She broke this story earlier today on CNN.

What do we know about this individual and what is going on, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Not a heck of a lot, Wolf. You know, we know that it's a man. We know that back in November, we're told by senior administration official, is when he came over the border, but it's not known whether he walked or whether flew or what happened.

He's being held by the North Koreas, as you said, and since the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, the Swedes, consular officials are representing the United States and we've been told that they have access to this individual, that they are asking for regular access. And, in fact, CNN did contact the Swedish embassy and they won't give any details either. All they say is that they are working the case.

Here is what we heard, very little of it, at the briefing today from Mark Toner. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I don't have any details on what this individual was doing in North Korea. But we would call on the government of North Korea to release this citizen on humanitarian grounds and we would ask that they respect and treat this citizen in a manner consistent with international human rights law.


DOUGHERTY: So, again, not a lot known.

However, in previous cases, Wolf, as you well know, since you've been there, presidents -- former presidents have been able to get Americans out of North Korea; Jimmy Carter did it with one American and Bill Clinton did it with some journalists. So perhaps we understand that Jimmy Carter would be returning to North Korea. That may be a leap, but we'll have to see how this case develops.

BLITZER: Yes, maybe Jimmy Carter could bring this individual out of there. Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., he also brought some individuals out of North Korea over the years. Let's see what happens.

If you get more information, get his name, for example, where he's from, family members, let us know. We're interested in this story, obviously. Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including the health of Egypt's ousted president, Hosni Mubarak.

What are you learning?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we have some news on that front, Wolf.

Egyptian state television reports that Hosni Mubarak was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack today. The former president fell ill while prosecutors were grilling him about corruption charges, but prosecutors denied questioning Mubarak. Military sources say Mubarak's condition is not critical. We will have more on this coming up at the top of the hour.

Lawyers for a jailed Egyptian blogger say they were tricked into missing his sentencing. On Sunday, a judge sentenced the vocal critic of the military to three years in prison without his lawyers present. The defense team claims the military said there would be no hearing until Tuesday. The State Department said the United States is deeply concerned about the sentence. The blogger tried to draw attention to recent claims of violence against protesters.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal, he is apparently back in the good graces of the Obama administration. The former leader of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan will help lead a new initiative to assist military families. Companies like Wal-Mart, Sears and Cisco pledge to provide jobs and training to eligible family members. McChrystal fell afoul of the president last July over mocking comments he and his aides made to "Rolling Stone" magazine.

And the Flip has apparently flopped. Cisco is shutting down the division that made the once popular digital video camera. Cisco bought Flip just two years ago for almost $600 million, but sales last quarter grew just 15 percent year over year, that's half of what was expected. The decision to close several businesses will cost 550 employees their jobs.

And Lady Gaga's fans were agog as their idol fell down during a recent performance in Houston. Take a look at the video here. The 25-year-old pop star lost her balance while singing her song, "Even I." But as they say, the show must go on and like a true professional she is, Lady Gaga did not miss a beat. But, ouch, that looks like it hurt a little bit.

BLITZER: She did. Didn't look fun. But she does an amazing performance. I was at the Verizon Center here in Washington a few weeks ago when she was there, watched the whole concert. She's Lady Gaga.

SYLVESTER: That's right. You can sing a couple of her songs.

BLITZER: Yes (INAUDIBLE). Too bad she fell, but she's a real trooper.


Can we afford food safety in the age of austerity? That's just one victim of the latest budget cuts, but it's far from the only one. Stand by.

And Pakistan says thanks, but no thanks to the CIA. An ally in southeast Asia wants Washington's money, but also hopes to give American CIA officers the boot.

And CNN journalists caught in the crossfire of the battle for Bahrain. Ahead, a campaign of hope waged against a campaign of fear. Amber Lyon was there, her special report, part two of her report, that's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Lots of anticipation here in Washington. Only two days, just two days before Congress gets ready to pass that last- minute deal to cut $38.5 billion from this year's budget.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill with a closer look at what is at stake.

Thirty-eight and a half billion dollars, we didn't know until now specific details. You have them for us, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. From cops on the beat to first responders, these cuts do go far and wide. That's why many Democrats who are seeing the fine print for the first time say they are going to vote against this deal that their leaders hatched with Republicans late last week.

And at the same time, Republicans, many of them say that these cuts don't go far enough to really deal with the problem of, from their perspective, too much government spending.


BASH (voice-over): High-speed rail, one of the president's biggest priorities, on the chopping block for nearly $3 billion. Programs to promote clean drinking water cut nearly $1 billion. And slashed by $500 million, federal grants to help pregnant, low-income women and children with food and nutrition. Some examples of cuts many Democrats say their leadership should not have compromised on.

REP. PAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: Most Democrats think it is a bad deal. We think that too much was given up.

BASH: But plenty of Democratic priorities were spared even steeper cuts. Republicans wanted $88 million in cuts for food safety inspection. Democrats pared it back to a $10 million cut.

The Head Start Education Program was slashed $1.1 billion in GOP legislation. Now it will see no cuts.

National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, favorite targets of Republicans, will still get federal subsidies.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: There are many examples where they wanted to cut recklessly, and we insisted on cutting responsibly.

BASH: The president got even more money for pet projects like his Race to the Top Education Program. It gets an additional $700 million.

Still, throughout the tense, down -to-the-wire negotiations, both sides said the conflict was as much about what to cut as how much.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: We're talking about real spending cuts here, no smoke in mirrors.

BASH: And now the reality is that some of what look like tough cuts, may not cut as deep as they appear.

For example, $3.5 billion of cuts to the Children's Health Insurance fund, known as CHIP, is actually unspent money in the program.

The bill also calls for $2.5 billion in cuts from health care co- ops, but the money doesn't actually exist yet because the program won't kick in until 2014.

Then there are those controversial policy riders that has nothing to do with spending. Many, such as eliminating Planned Parenthood funding, were killed, but some made it through.

For example, gray wolfs are taken off the Endangered Species Act in states like Montana where they caused problems for livestock. One Democratic source called it a political gift for Democratic Senator John Tester, up for reelection next year.


BASH: I talked to both Democrats and Republicans today, everybody is unhappy with some of the things that are in and not in this spending bill. And perhaps, Wolf, that is a sign, a symptom of compromise.

BLITZER: So even though some very conservative Republicans will vote against this bill later this week, some very liberal Democrats will vote against it, there's no doubt, Dana, it will pass and the president will sign it into law. Is that right?

BASH: I can answer that by telling you what the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said today, which is that he does believe that they will get the majority of Republicans to vote yes and that this will pass the House when they vote on Thursday.

BLITZER: If it passes the House, it will pass the Senate. All right. Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She is here.

The whole issue of Medicare, Paul Ryan's proposal that he unveiled last week, it dealt with the issue of Medicare.


BLITZER: He wanted to make some major changes and potential cuts.

BORGER: Yes, he does, Wolf. And the problem that he's got is that Democrats are clearly going to take advantage of it because in the last election, you remember this, in the midterm elections, in district after district, the Republicans ran against the Democrats for calling for cutbacks in Medicare as part of health care reform.

Take a look at this ad that ran against a Democratic congressman who lost in Michigan.


NARRATOR: Maybe Schauer is trying to hide his own vote to cut $500 billion from Medicare.

Listen to Schauer caught on tape.

MARK SCHAUER, FMR. MICHIGAN CONGRESSMAN: Yes, there are Medicare cuts.

NARRATOR: Did Schauer really vote to cut Medicare?

SCHAUER: There are Medicare cuts.

NARRATOR: Let's save Medicare and cut Schauer.


BORGER: Well, there you go, Wolf.

BLITZER: But this assumes that the president won't deal with Medicare. He's got to deal with Medicare. That's so much of the budget right there.

BORGER: Well, he's going to call -- I would argue he's probably going to say, let's find ways to control the cost of Medicare. But what Ryan does is essentially call for a voucher program. He changes the entire way that Medicare is formulated. And so -- and that will end up in cutbacks in Medicare.

And here's the key number, Wolf, that I look at, is that there are 61 Republicans who now hold seats in districts that Barack Obama won in 2008. And in every one of those districts, they're going to take a look at these House members and whether they vote for the Ryan budget and the end of this week.

BLITZER: Here is Jay Carney today. He was tight-lipped in offering details of what the president is going to say tomorrow.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Listen to this.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I won't do with any specificity is preview or detail the elements of the president's speech without. Previewing the president's speech in any detail -- I will not preview the president's speech.


BLITZER: Why not? What's wrong with previewing the president's speech?

BORGER: Well, and I got the same thing, I might say, when I talked to a senior White House adviser. What he did say though is that people should not expect a line-by-line thing. It's more about the goals we need to have in a deficit reduction plan.

What's wrong with previewing it is, A, they don't want to steal the thunder from the president. But, B, they don't want to put a big fat target on their back.

You know, this has been a White House who likes to sort of stay above the fray. We saw that in health care reform, and we saw it in the last budget fight that we just finished on the shutdown of the government. And I guarantee you they are going to say, there are lots of budgets out there.

The president does have a budget out there. Ryan's got his budget out there. The Gang of Six bipartisan senators are going to have a budget. The Deficit Commission has a budget. And so the president will be the mediator.

But, Wolf, lots of people are going to say the president should be a leader, not a mediator.

BLITZER: Well, take the best of all of these deals and make a compromise, and save the American people from this huge deficit and debt. That would be good, if they could get together.

BORGER: That's what he would like to do, of course. Of course.

BLITZER: Let's see what he announces tomorrow.

A programming note for our viewers. Please be sure to join us for the president's speech tomorrow. Our live coverage here on CNN will begin at 1:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, right here on CNN. The president will be speaking at George Washington University here in the nation's capital.

An angry mayor of Washington, D.C., arrested and hauled away in handcuffs. Why the city is caught in the looming budget battle.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: The looming budget battle is hitting close to home right here in Washington, D.C., and the city's mayor, Vincent Gray, is furious about what's going on.

Let's bring in Lisa Sylvester once again for this part of the story.

He's very upset.

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's an understatement, Wolf.

You know, the mayor was arrested, and he is calling this an act of civil disobedience. He is so fed up with what he says is needless interference by the federal government in D.C.'s affairs.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): It's not something you see every day, the mayor of a major city being hauled away in handcuffs. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and 40 others were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly during a protest over the negotiated federal budget deal. They were released after a few hours, holding a news conference in the rain, even more fired up.

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Enough is enough. We're tired of it. We're tired of being dictated to by people who don't have a clue about the District of Columbia and wouldn't care about us otherwise with some ideological view that they want to impose upon us in the city. So, yes, it was worth getting arrested.

SYLVESTER: The mayor is mad because unlike any other American city, Congress has a final say on Washington, D.C.'s laws and its budget. As a result, it can be used as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations, which is exactly what happened Friday. The White House and congressional leaders agreed to bar D.C. from using public funds for abortions.

Here is the way D.C.'s only representative in Congress, delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, sees it --

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: They made a deal. They sold us out.

SYLVESTER: But the White House says the president had to make tough choices.

CARNEY: He is a firm supporter of D.C. home rule, and continues to be that. And the choices that had to be made in this negotiation were not easy ones.

SYLVESTER: From 1996 to 2009, there was a ban in place that prohibited congressional funds for elective abortions in Washington, D.C., known as the D.C. Hyde Amendment. The National Right to Life Committee supports reinstating that ban.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The D.C. Hyde Amendment prevents the use of congressionally-appropriated funds for elective abortions, and so it saves human lives, because when you have less funds available for abortions, less abortions take place.


SYLVESTER: This was, however, about more than just the abortion issue. There was also a controversial voucher program supported by conservatives that was restored. And for Mayor Gray and the council members, they say they are just tired of Congress saying how the city spends its money and not having a voting representative in Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Taxation without representation. That's a big issue here in Washington, D.C.

Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

An Afghan woman faces a future without her murdered husband. She is showing the Taliban she isn't scared. She talks to us next.


BLITZER: Afghanistan's spy agency now says it's captured an alleged Taliban executioner who carried out gruesome beheadings on behalf of militants. The Afghan people have lived under the threat of vengeance at the hands of Taliban killers for many years now. One woman is showing them how to fight back years after the Taliban tried to intimidate her in the worst possible way.

Mary Snow is here in Washington working this story for us.

It's an amazing story, Mary. Tell us what you've got.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is. And two courageous women, Wolf.

This is a mother and daughter team fighting back with their business skills. They are in the U.S. trying to raise awareness about the conditions women face in Afghanistan, and they don't want their progress overturned.


SNOW (voice-over): Just publicly telling their stories can bring its own risks, but 42-year-old Fatema Akbari and her daughter Shahla have come to the U.S. to keep women's rights in Afghanistan in the forefront. And it starts with the businesses they have built.

Fatema runs a furniture business. Twenty-year-old Shahla is following in her footsteps, making shoes.

SHAHLA AKBARI, AFGHAN BUSINESSWOMAN: And people say for me, maybe we will kill you, maybe we will kidnap you. She's encouraging me, don't think about anything. Just, don't think about anything. Don't be afraid.

SNOW: Fatema's business was born out of necessity. She taught herself carpentry in Iran, where she went with her three children after the Taliban killed her husband. In 2002, she decided to return to Afghanistan, and the majority of her 90 employees are women, which is astounding, considering at one time, girls weren't allowed to attend school there.

FATEMA AKBARI, AFGHAN BUSINESSWOMAN (through translator): My aim is really to bring a change in the life of those women that they are in a prison. And I want to empower them.

SNOW: Fatema and Shahla also got help through the Ten Thousand Women Program run by Goldman Sachs, where they learned business skills. They are now using money and jobs as an incentive to open men's minds about educating girls and women.

S. AKBARI: And three men came to my mama, and they said, "We know how to make shoes, but we don't know how to run a business."

SNOW: Shahla runs her shoe business in Kabul, but Fatema has expanded into areas controlled by the Taliban with some surprising results.

F. AKBARI (through translator): I've been talking with some of them. Some of them have been instrumental in terms of, like, even finding some women for us.

SNOW (on camera): The Taliban? (voice-over): Fatema tells us she has talked with what she calls more moderate voices of the Taliban. She says she's very concerned about extremists regaining control, atrocities to women. But she sees a window for some Taliban members in a future government.

F. AKBARI (through translator): Some of them are the moderate ones that have joined us and they are good. They realize that violence is not the solution to the problem, but of course it's very important that we have to be concerned about the Taliban, the radicals, that there are very extremes and dangerous Taliban.


SNOW: Fatema Akbari says many women in Afghanistan don't even know their rights. She told us a story of a woman not knowing she had the rights to her father's inheritance. She says one of her key jobs right now is to raise awareness.

And they are in D.C., as you know, Wolf, to get the Vital Voices Award tonight here in D.C. And you'll be there.

BLITZER: I'm going to be at the Kennedy Center. She and some other courageous women from around the world are being honored by Vital Voices at the Kennedy Center. I'm honored that they've asked me to make a presentation and give this award to this woman who has done some amazing work.

SNOW: Extraordinary women.

BLITZER: I've got my Vital Voices tie on.

SNOW: I know that.

BLITZER: And a few years ago I gave an award there as well. It's a nice tie.

SNOW: It is a very nice tie.

BLITZER: And congratulations to Fatema and all the women who are being honored tonight. I'm sure it will be a lovely event at the Kennedy Center.

SNOW: Looking forward to it.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks for the story.

Jack Cafferty is asking, what should the president of the United States say in his budget speech tomorrow? Your e-mail, that's coming up.

Then, numerous reports that the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak may have suffered a heart attack. Why some say this is suspicious, the timing.

Also, growing tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan could take a toll on joint efforts to target al Qaeda and other terrorists. And Donald Trump, now potentially among the leaders in the GOP race for president.


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

CAFFERTY: The question is: What should the president say in this much-anticipated budget speech he's going to make tomorrow?

Rich in Texas says, "I would like the president to explain to the American people just why they elected him in the first place. When Obama took office, gasoline was $1.85 a gallon. Now it's $3.78 a gallon. When the president took charge, there was a national debt of $10.6 trillion. Two years after Obama, it stands at $14.3 trillion."

"Please, Mr. President, explain to me how when you and the Democrats controlled both Houses for two years, you couldn't balance the budget and reduce the federal deficit, and then last week the Republicans had to do your job."

Sherrie in California writes, "He ought to explain we don't have a deficit crisis. We have a failure to levy taxes against those who can afford it crisis."

Troy in Pennsylvania says, "He has ultimately lost his credibility. He needs to tell us exactly where the cuts are going to be made, and he needs to propose a solution to keep this from happening the next time we run out of money. You can't campaign on transparency then do everything secretly and expect us to listen to false promises."

Mark in Brooklyn writes, "Withdraw from three wars and cut the defense budget. Come home from Europe, Japan and Korea, and cut the defense budget, and then cut it again. End subsidies to the most profitable corporations in history, the oil companies. Tell U.S. corporations to repatriate the trillions they hold overseas or face a new tax levy anyway."

"End mortgage rate deductions on vacation homes, but continue for the primary residences. The plutocrats will just have to pay for those McMansions in Vail, Aspen, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara themselves. Once we fix the revenue deficit, then we can spread the pain just a bit to the working and middle class."

John in Ohio writes, "It doesn't matter to me what he says. His actions have already spoken for him. He is the biggest spender of all the spenders who have occupied the White House. If he offers a budget that has a more aggressive deficit reduction plan than Paul Ryan's, then he will get my attention. If he pushes for a balanced budget amendment, and proposes elimination of the IRS in favor of a fair tax, I may believe he has been born again."

If you want to read more, go to the blogs, -- Wolf. BLITZER: Lots of strong views. And we'll see what the president has to say tomorrow about all of this.

Jack, thank you.

The deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak lost his grip on power. Could his health be failing at the same time that Egyptians are looking to punish him for his alleged crimes?

Also ahead, we travel to place where citizens look at their hospitals with fear knowing security forces may be lurking there waiting to spring a trap.

Stick around. You'll want to see this right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Protesters in Bahrain are short on allies right now. As CNN witnessed firsthand, even hospitals are off limits for many when they desperately need treatment.

CNN's Amber Lyon saw what they are up against and the sacrifices they are making for freedom. We have to warn you, part two of her report right now will be hard for many viewers to watch.


AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beyond the glitz and glamour of downtown Manama --

(on camera): We're going to hang out with these protesters for a little bit.

(voice-over): -- we venture into the dark side of Bahrain. A side the government tried to prevent us from seeing.

Tear gas, a regular occurrence here, suffocating the boys' chance. We smelled it ourselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is it? What is it?

LYON (on camera): My eyes are burning. It felt like I shot a lemon in my eyes. You can feel it in your throat right now. It's hard to breathe.

(voice-over): We're just a short drive from the United States Fifth Fleet naval base.

(on camera): So this is the tear gas that they have been using?

NABEEL RAJAB, BAHRAIN CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: This is -- three pieces of tear gas comes from here.

LYON: These are them?

RAJAB: No, this is another thing either for the rubber bullet or for the tear gas, a different type of tear gas.

LYON (voice-over): Human rights advocates like Nabeel Rajab say every day, security forces have also been shooting into neighborhoods with birdshot, he says striking unarmed civilians.

(on camera): People spray-painted the names of the martyrs on the walls. But then it's been covered up with this white paint by the government. I mean, it's everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is -- already, I removed around 40 from my body in the hospital.


LYON: This is birdshot. He says that the police have been use thing to shoot them. They are just little pellets that get in the body. But look what something that small can do. You see where he has them all over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They shoot from a very close distance. That's why it's killing people. And this one, you can with one shot -- you can hit 20, 30 people at once.

Right here you can feel where some of the pellets are in his body. Still in his body because he's too scared to return to the hospital after the military took it over last month. He got out of the hospital and ran away.

LYON: Right here you can feel where some of the pellets are still in his body.

(voice-over): Still in his body because he's too scared to return to the hospital after the military took it over last month.

(on camera): So he got out of the hospital bed and ran away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, because he was afraid.

LYON (voice-over): He would rather try to remove the pellets one by one with a needle than go back.

Doctors and human rights organizations accuse security forces of using hospitals to identify, capture and then torture protesters.


LYON (on camera): Oh, you run (ph) me tea? Thank you.

He said he took a razor blade on his own and cut the bullets out of his leg because he was too scared to go to the hospital, because he says that the riot police came in and beat him while he was in his hospital bed. So he fled, and he still has the bullet in his eye.

He can't see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can't see. LYON: Oh, my God. What happened to him?


LYON: A sound bomb?

(voice-over): That's the literal translation in Arabic for what in English are called flash bang grenades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have people wounded every day, and you don't know how to deal with them. You don't know where to take them.

RAJAB: Doctors are getting beaten, tortured inside the hospital. Nurses, getting arrested and beaten inside the hospitals. It's a very humanitarian crisis we are going through now.

LYON: Even ambulance drivers say they have become targets. This man says police opened fire on his vehicle and then beat him up, breaking his leg.

Bahrain's government gave us a packet of documents telling its side of the story, blaming Iran for instigating demonstrations and unrest. In one paragraph, they accuse activists of doctoring photos, fabricating injuries. And Bahrain's foreign minister says security forces are not firing on unarmed civilian.

SHEIKH KHALID BIN AHMED BIN MOHAMMED AL KHALIFA, BAHRAINI FOREIGN MINISTER: The police would not walk into a neighborhood and start shooting people. The police would be at a checkpoint or at the post.

LYON (on camera): So they are not shooting into the neighborhoods right now?

KHALIFA: No, no.

LYON (voice-over): Bahrainian officials also say that the overall situation in the country is calming down. But we saw people hiding in their homes.

(on camera): This whole place has been tear-gassed.

(voice-over): We heard gunshots in broad daylight.

It seems security forces have contained the opposition in the villages, making it invisible to the rest of the world.


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.