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THE SITUATION ROOM
Gadhafi Survives NATO Attack; Misrata Civilian Areas Decimated; Royal Wedding Guest Drama; "They Shoot on Anything that Moves;" U.S. Threatens Syria with Sanctions
Aired April 25, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, a killing field in Syria prompting the United States to threaten new sanctions. Witnesses describe a trail of bodies after thousands of troops stormed the city where Syria's uprising began, reportedly shooting on anything that moves.
Plus, Libya reveals the damage to one of Moammar Gadhafi's compounds, proclaiming the Libyan leader survived a NATO attack.
Was the coalition specifically trying to kill Gadhafi?
And secrets to surviving a ferocious tornado -- how St. Louis officials developed an emergency plan that saved lives.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You can hear the bullets. You can see the chaos. You can feel the raw fear. That's just one slice of a new and brutal crackdown launched today in Syria.
Government forces are striking at the heart of the uprising against the president, Bashar al-Assad. CNN has not been allowed to report from inside Syria, but we are getting chilling video and firsthand accounts of the bloodshed.
Here's CNN's Arwa Damon.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): The tanks and troops moved into
Daraa at daybreak -- the town where anti-government protests began some six weeks ago. Its people were either still sleeping or getting ready for the first prayer of the day. Soon, they were cowering in terror, as the security forces unleashed the government's wrath, witnesses say, breaking into people's homes, firing indiscriminately. With communication cut off, those who were able to reach risked their lives to stand outside and tell the world, via satellite phone, what was going on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They have surrounded Daraa with eight tanks. They have snipers and automatic weapons and they're targeting homes. They turned off the power and there are no phone lines at all.
DAMON: In a Damascus suburb, security forces fanned out on every street, in every alleyway, according to one witness, who says the shooting lasted for hours. Video posted to YouTube, whose authenticity CNN cannot independently verify, shows residents running and hiding to take cover. In one clip, an unarmed man seems to be directly challenging Syrian forces in the street.
The Syrian government even shut down the border with Jordan, eliminating chances for anyone to flee the violence. The regime says it is cracking down on armed criminal groups wreaking havoc across the nation -- the most drastic move to date by a government that activists say is intent on using brute force to silent voices of dissent.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: And joining us now from Beirut is Arwa Damon -- Arwa, I just want to be precise. You're in Beirut. You've tried -- like so many other Western reporters, including a lot of our own reporters here at CNN, to get a visa to go cover this story firsthand in Syria, but the Syrian regime won't let you or virtually anyone else in, is that right?
DAMON: That's right, Wolf. We, as the team in Beirut, have put in our visa applications. We've had CNN teams in the past repeatedly requesting visas so that we can go and see firsthand for ourselves exactly what is happening. Those requests have repeatedly been denied, which, as you can imagine, it makes the job of trying to figure out -- piece together exactly what is happening inside that country, exactly how this very complex story is unfolding incredibly difficult, which is why we have to rely on these eyewitness accounts.
And in terms of pictures, we're relying on everything that is being uploaded to YouTube. Of course, we can cannot independently verify the authenticity of those videos -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Because some of those videos are so dramatic and powerful and -- and the brutality that they show -- they -- they depict Syrian troops simply not pointing at someone's feet, but pointing at someone's head or chest, including children who are out there. It's shocking to see the brutality deplay -- depicted in these videos. And I know that it's touching a nerve throughout the Middle East, Arwa, right now.
DAMON: That's right, Wolf. And this certainly is. What we appear to have here is a case where a government has continuously and just this morning, in an even more brutal fashion, unleashed its own security forces against its own people. That is exactly what activists and eyewitness are telling us. That is what these uploaded videos would appear to depict. And while all of this is unfolding, Wolf, the Syrian government has continued to maintain and blame armed groups for the ongoing unrest, for the ongoing violence. It has said that a number of its own security forces have been killed since this uprising began. And most recently, in reaction to the crackdown that happened in the southern area of Daraa, released a statement where it said that the army interfered upon request of the people, to protect them from what it's calling them radicals and terrorists that have been destroying that specific city.
This was a statement posted on the state-run Syrian Arab news agency, of course, depicting a drastically different image from everything that we have been hearing from the eyewitness from that very same place -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And in your report, you note that they've basically shut down their border, the Syrian regime, with Jordan right now.
Let's dig deeper into that right now.
What's behind that?
DAMON: Well, Wolf, it's very difficult to determine exactly what sort of logic the Syrian regime is, in fact, applying. But it most certainly would seem as if it does want to take every measure possible to choke off this area, bearing in mind that it is the same area, again, where these uprisings initially began and then spread out to virtually every single province in the country.
And it seems that the Syrian government is sending a very firm -- and according to activists and eyewitness -- equally brutal message that it is going to choke off these and various other areas, it is going to try to clear through them, using whatever measures and means are at its disposal, until it is able to completely stamp down on these voices of dissent.
One has to remember that the Assad regime, not just the current president, Bashar al-Assad, but also his father, especially Hafez al- Assad, does have a very brutal history when it comes to trying to clamp down on any voice of opposition.
BLITZER: You remember what the father did at Hama, back in 1983, I think, with -- at least 10,000 people there were slaughtered because they dared protest his regime. And now the son is following in that footstep.
All right. Thanks, Arwa.
Thanks very much.
1982, to be precise.
Now, the United Nations is preparing a new statement condemning the violence in Syria, saying the regime has been killing its own people for days and weeks despite international pressure to stop. And the Obama administration now threatening new sanctions against Syria. Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian -- Dan, so far, way short of what the U.S. has done toward Gadhafi and Libya.
But what's the latest?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, you know, White House officials say that's because we're talking about two very different countries here.
In Libya, you had Gadhafi, who was talking about showing no mercy to his people. He was advancing on a major city there. But, nonetheless, there is growing pressure on the administration to get tougher on Syria.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): The Obama administration had high hopes for Syria, establishing diplomatic ties when Robert Ford became the first U.S. ambassador to that country since 2005.
And President Bashir Assad, who succeeded his father, had promised political reforms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was this naive belief in the West that since Bashar al-Assad spent a couple of years in London, he speaks some English, he married into an elegant wife, quote, unquote, as "The New York Times said, that he would be a reformer, where, in fact, he is not a reformer. He is the product of a very brutal sectarian, repressive regime. And he may be a modernizer in the sense that he would introduce more computers and improve the bureaucracy and have a banking system and whatnot, but he's not a reformer in the traditional sense. He's not going to challenge the very basics of the -- of the -- of the Baath regime.
So I think the secretary of State.
LOTHIAN: And those pushing for reforms have run into a violent government crackdown, prompting pressure from the West.
President Obama condemned, quote, "in the strongest possible terms" the use of force and called on President Assad to change course now and heed the calls of his own people.
And White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said the administration is considering doing more.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We are pursuing a range of possible options, including targeted sanctions.
LOTHIAN: While there have been U.S. export and financial sanctions on Libya since 2004, senior U.S. officials tell CNN the Treasury Department is drafting an executive order covering an asset freeze, travel ban and business restrictions, targeting senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses.
But some experts say the administration has been slow in its response. HISHAM MELHAM, "AL ARABIYA" WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: We're saying maybe we'll do something in the next few days or weeks. And the president is absent.
I mean they issued a statement in his name Friday, but where is the president?
LOTHIAN: That cautious approach comes amid fears of destabilizing the regime of President Assad. The U.S. had been trying to pull Syria away from Iran, reengaging as part of a broader effort to reach a Mideast peace deal.
But some experts say that hasn't worked.
ELLIOTT ABRAMS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: He is in an alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. So he's not going to help us achieve peace in the Middle East. That's just a delusion.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LOTHIAN: Now, questions remain whether sanctions by the U.S. or along with other allies will work. Some experts say that additional sanctions will be ineffective, especially because the U.S. has very little leverage on Syria -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is the Obama administration, based on what we know, Dan, thinking about recalling its ambassador -- the U.S. ambassador -- from Damascus, severing diplomatic relations, if you will?
LOTHIAN: Wolf, you know, I talked to a -- an administration official a short time ago who told me there is no talk right now of pulling the U.S. ambassador from Syria. Of course, that ambassador installed earlier this year.
And, in fact, Jay Carney, at the briefing today, said that it's been very helpful to have these diplomatic ties reestablished. Having someone on the ground is helping the effort of communicating directly, face-to-face, with Syrian officials -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian over at the White House.
Thanks very much.
Let's go to Damascus right now.
Joining us on the phone is the Syrian activist, Razan Zaytouni.
Razan, thanks very much.
Tell us what -- what you're seeing personally, your eyewitness account of some of the most damaging developments in recent days.
RAZAN ZAYTOUNI, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: I can't hear you very well (INAUDIBLE). But it's a very violent day and there's people in different areas (INAUDIBLE) and in Daraa, particularly, in the suburbs of -- of Damascus, you know (INAUDIBLE) there was a (INAUDIBLE) there are and that's the rest (INAUDIBLE) because we know that there is an (INAUDIBLE) inside the city of (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Razan, I'm going to interrupt for a moment, because we have a bad connection.
What I want to do is try to reconnect, get a better line, a better connection.
I know you're a courageous woman in Damascus right now, even willing to speak with us on the phone, given what's going on in Damascus, elsewhere in Syria.
We'll reconnect. We'll continue this conversation, because we're having a hard time understanding what you're saying, given the bad signal that we have.
Razan Zaytouni, stand by in Damascus.
Dramatic new details, meanwhile, about Osama bin Laden and how he had his back against the wall right after 9/11.
What does it tell us about the war on terror and the hunt for bin Laden right now?
And a Republican presidential hopeful takes himself out of the running. We'll take a closer look at where the race stands, as two other possible contenders prepare to reveal their plans this week.
BLITZER: An emerging economic giant in the works. Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Welcome back, young man.
BLITZER: Thank you.
CAFFERTY: The year 2016 -- mark it on your calendars -- that's the year that the International Monetary Fund is projecting that China's economy will overtake ours. Or as Brett Arends, a columnist from "Market Watch" writes, quote, "The moment when the age of America will end," unquote. He says that the IMF is right, whoever wins the presidency next year, 2012, will be the last U.S. president to preside over the world's largest economy, which is kind of sad and a little bit scary.
Other forecasters say that the U.S. won't fall in second place for a decade. The IMF projections are based on something called purchasing power parities, what people in both countries earn and spend domestically. Either way, China will pass us in a matter of years.
And it's another slap upside the head for this country's already battered economy. The job market is still beaten down, the housing market is horrible, the federal government still cannot agree on how to rein on spending, or what to do about a debt ceiling that expires in weeks. Last week, Standard & Poor's announced that it's downgrading the U.S. debt outlook from stable to negative over concerns that the White House and Congress won't be able to agree on a deficit reduction plan for 2012. Congress is still on spring break. Perfect.
The Obama administration downplayed the S&P announcement, saying it was political and should not be taken too seriously.
Well, they are wrong. Stock market took it seriously. Stock market had its biggest one-day loss since the threat of a nuclear melt down in Japan last month. When you bet the White House won't have much to say about this new IMF projection either. It's called whistling past the graveyard.
Here's the question: What does it mean that China's economy will probably surpass the U.S. economy within five years?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog.
This has been coming down the tracks for a good long while and we just sit and watch it happened I guess.
BLITZER: I know you must be encouraged, though, that a delegation of senators went over to China, including to Macau, where the gambling headquarters, I should say, of the world is right now to do a firsthand inspection of this situation on behalf of the American people. I know that's good news for you, right?
CAFFERTY: Well, and their itinerary was kept classified because of, quote, "security reasons." Except they all took their wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and whatever along. All of their spouses went along. And now, it turns out that they're in Macau rolling dice. Better they gamble over there than here I guess.
BLITZER: Have you been to Macau?
CAFFERTY: No. Have you?
BLITZER: No, but I'd like to go one of these days.
CAFFERTY: But Harry Reid and a bunch of their senators and their wives and families.
BLITZER: Nice place. A lot of casinos there.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, stand by. We're going to get back to you.
A so-called miraculous recovery now underway at St. Louis' main airport following a powerful tornado. CNN's Alina Cho is monitoring that and some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right.
Alina, what's the latest?
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, some amazing pictures just coming into our newsroom. This was the scene on Friday as the tornado packing winds up to 165 miles per hour tore through the airport, shattering windows and ripping off part of the roof.
The clean-up power however was pretty quit. Today, amazingly, the airport is back opened, operating at 90 percent capacity and, though officials say it could take months to clean up the damage. Missouri's governor says it's amazing that there were no fatalities.
Some 25,000 Japanese troops are joining U.S. forces in a massive search for bodies along the Pacific Coast following that devastating earthquake and tsunami. A separate search which began last week is taking place inside that evacuation zone around the crippled nuclear plant. More than 14,000 people were killed in last month's disaster, 12,000 are still missing.
Just south of St. Louis, hundreds of residents are being ordered to evacuate ahead of what's being considered as an imminent catastrophic levee failure -- scary stuff. The city of Poplar Bluff says the levee has been compromised after a week of heavy rains there. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning and says the levee is weakening by the minute.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Alina, thanks very much.
An escalating death toll in the Libyan city of Misrata as Gadhafi royalists unleash brutal new force against civilians. Just ahead, I'll speak with one journalist who is there in Misrata. She's saying it's, quote, "just hell."
BLITZER: We're learning some disturbing new details about the man believed to be behind an alleged bomb plot near Columbine High School on this, the 12th anniversary of the shootings. Authorities have just released the new photo of Earl Albert Moore. CNN's Ted Rowlands has more.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixty-five-year-old Earl Albert Moore was released from a federal prison two weeks ago. Last Wednesday, investigators say that he was seen by surveillance cameras at the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton, Colorado.
Moore is the subject of an FBI manhunt, suspected of leaving an explosive device near the mall's food court on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine shooting massacre.
SHERIFF TED MINK, JEFFERSON COUNTY, COLORADO: There is an urgency to find the individual for obvious reasons. And we're using all available resources.
ROWLANDS: The FBI believes this video shows Moore riding a city bus the night before the bomb scare. Moore, who was serving an 18-year sentence for robbing a West Virginia bank in 2005 was released early after cooperating with authorities in another case. Moore has ties to the Denver area. He was living a few miles from the mall prior to his bank robbery conviction.
The question still unanswered is, if Moore indeed did plant the device, did he realize it was the 12 anniversary of Columbine?
MINK: We're concerned about the date, the times, and things of that nature. But we don't have anything solid that would indicate that there's any link at all other than certainly circumstances.
ROWLANDS: Moore has several tattoos, including a flower, a dagger, and a Viking. The FBI considers him armed and dangerous.
BLITZER: Ted Rowlands reporting for us.
Libyan officials say NATO warplanes sent a powerful message to Moammar Gadhafi at the wrong address. We're going to show his bombed-out compound in Tripoli.
And who was conspicuously left off of the guest list for the royal wedding this week? CNN's Richard Quest, he'll join us. He's got answers. Was the former Prime Minister Tony Blair snubbed?
BLITZER: New scenes of destruction in Libya in Misrata. Witnesses tell us Libyan forces are shelling and decimating civilian areas. In Tripoli, Moammar Gadhafi's compound is in ruins after being bombed by NATO forces.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen was taken on a government tour of the wreckage.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Libyan government says that this is an office building in the Bab Al-Aziziyah compound. And as you can see, the structure was pretty much flattened by the bomb or bombs that hit here last night.
Now, the Libyan government also says that three people were killed in this air raid. At least 15 were critically injured and about 30 have sustained lighter injuries. They called this an assassination attempt on the leader Moammar Gadhafi. They say that NATO is directly targeting Moammar Gadhafi in violation of the (AUDIO BREAK) fly zone here in this country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To attack this building is (AUDIO BREAK) is proof that the coalition forces are not seeking peace, are not seeking the protection of civilians, but are seeking political assassination.
PLEITGEN: The Libyan government claims that Moammar Gadhafi was not here when this building was targeted, that he is alive, that he is well and that he is still directing the daily affairs of this country, of course, also, leading the battle against the rebellion.
Now, NATO of course, has a very different take on what this building actually was. They say that this was, quote, "a command in control headquarters" in the heart of Tripoli and that civilians were being attacked from the structure.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tripoli, Libya.
BLITZER: And Fred is joining us now live from Tripoli.
Fred, you're talking to Gadhafi's aides in Tripoli, where you are all of the time. Do you sense a difference in their tone, in their attitude today, as opposed to only a few days ago, before this NATO airstrike on Gadhafi's compound?
PLEITGEN: Well, I certainly sense the difference in tone when these airstrikes hit, because they were very, very large and you could hear them from far away. These were massive ordnance that was dropped on that building in downtown Tripoli. And you could tell afterwards that the government minders who do watch over us pretty much 24 hours a day, that they were very nervous about this, they were very angry.
They started yelling at some of the journalists. You could tell that they were more nervous than in other situations.
Now, of course, publicly, they will come out and say that all of this is just going to make them stand more firm behind Moammar Gadhafi. In fact, Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, he went on Libyan television right after these airstrikes, and he said that this is just going to make the regime stronger. And then you have demonstrations that are out in the street. But you can feel that they are getting more nervous, they are getting more itchy, they're getting more jumpy, and they're getting more angry every time these airstrikes come in.
So, certainly, yes, you do notice that there does seem to be somewhat of a change in mood -- Wolf.
BLITZER: One purpose of these airstrikes hitting so close to Gadhafi's compound where he lives is to scare his aides and to convince them that it's over, Gadhafi is going to lose, it's your last chance to live and survive if you break with the regime.
Is there any evidence that this happening, at least based on what you can see? And I know you're restricted in what you can see right now.
PLEITGEN: Yes, it's very difficult, but we do try to look for the signs, whether or not the government structure, the Gadhafi structure, if you will, seems to be crumbling. So far, it's hard to say that anything like that is happening.
It still seems as though he does have the support of the military. He also still actually seems to have the support of a large amount of people here in the Tripoli area. And one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that this is a very vast country. About 40 percent of the population in this country is actually in the Tripoli area.
Now, having said that, yes, he does have big support here in Tripoli. But there are also signs that there appear to be smaller uprisings in some neighborhoods here in Tripoli.
You do hear gunfire at night, quite a bit. Some will say celebratory gunfire. But then you do hear reports that there were little skirmishes in some places, that government checkpoints are being attacked. So, yes, it does appear, Wolf, as though he still has a pretty tight grip on power here in the Tripoli area, still has a lot of followers. It doesn't appear as though his regime is collapsing, but there might be a couple of cracks -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen, on the scene for us in Tripoli.
Thanks very much.
We're also learning a lot more now about what is going on in Misrata. The foreign correspondent for "The Sunday Times of London," Marie Colvin, is joining us on the phone. She's been in Misrata now for a week.
What are you seeing there? Because we understand there's a very brutal situation in Misrata right now, Marie. What are you seeing?
MARIE COLVIN, REPORTER, "THE SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON": Well, Wolf, it's changed dramatically for the worse just within the last 24 hours.
What we've been seeing up until now is fierce fighting between the rebels and Gadhafi's army and militia along Tripoli Street, which was once a rather nice boulevard right through the middle of this port town. And they've lost (ph) building by building.
That finally finished, a very bloody finish last night. The Gadhafi forces were holding out in a hospital which they had taken as a base on the western end of Tripoli Street, the end going towards Tripoli.
They fled to another building, there was a standoff. The rebels asked them to surrender, they refused, so most of them were killed.
Since then, that meant that the center of Misrata is now free of Gadhafi forces. Within hours we've had shelling of civilian neighborhoods, and with a velocity that I have not seen.
Neighborhoods that are completely civilian -- I was in one today. It's called the Rasamal (ph) neighborhood, small houses, two stories. These are artillery shells, so they are standing back and shelling the city.
Two holes right through a family. That family lost three members. A little 8-year-old boy ran out to get in the car, another shell hit that car, killed him and two other neighborhood children who jumped in. There's another neighborhood that was hit late this afternoon, a neighborhood near the port, where a lot of the families had moved from central Tripoli Street over there because it seemed safer. That was -- we had artillery shells slamming into it.
Now, remember, Misrata is besieged. It's surrounded. No one can get out. There's about 400,000 people here.
What Gadhafi is doing now is standing back. He's got artillery shells, which we know because we've seen the remains of them in these houses, and he's just lobbing these shells right into residential neighborhoods.
I was in the hospital today. It's all civilians streaming in. I'm now standing in the hospital parking lot. They've brought in a refrigerator truck, and they're putting bodies in there.
It's horrific -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And in a sense, are you seeing evidence that NATO is doing anything to help the folks in Misrata right now deal with Gadhafi's forces?
COLVIN: Well, Wolf, this is the question everyone in Misrata is asking, because it's very clear that, you know, U.N. Resolution -- Security Council Resolution 1973 is for the protection of civilians.
Now, what we're seeing here in Misrata, this is not a gray area. These are all civilian casualties.
We haven't seen any NATO strikes -- now I can't be categorical. It's a large city, but there's been nothing stopping these artilleries. I mean, we think probably grand (ph) missiles, although I can't confirm that. That's certainly what people here believe.
We've seen one NATO strike that I can confirm, and that was on the Faculty of Science, where Gadhafi people, both militia and army, had been holed up until four days ago. It was cleared by the rebels four days ago. It was bombed by NATO last night, an empty building.
They called in the target and it took four days to hit it. By then, the rebels had cleared it and, luckily, were not in it. It was an empty building.
That's the only NATO strike we've seen, and it is incomprehensible, because these artillery pieces (ph), they must be visible from the air. So it's a mystery. I can't really tell you why, Wolf, but I can tell you that the victims are civilians.
BLITZER: We know a lot of journalists have been detained, some have been killed. Marie, you're one of the most courageous journalists on the scene right now. Give us a flavor of what it's like to try to cover this war in Misrata.
COLVIN: Well, I think one of my worst moments was last night. I was out in an ambulance, and one of these missiles landed so close, the ambulance sort of leapt two feet into the air.
I later found I was seeing casualties being brought in, and there was my ambulance driver who dropped me off 15 minutes earlier. He was lying on a gurney injured.
I just can't describe the amount of injuries. And, of course, we had two colleagues killed last week, which does make one -- makes you very nervous. And I was going with the rebels to the front -- well, there's no phones here, there's no landlines, there's no mobile phones. I'm talking to you on a satellite phone now, but I can't communicate with anyone in Misrata to actually find out even where the fight is.
I have got to drive there and see what it is. And that -- then you're in the middle of volleys of machinegun fire, you can't tell where it's coming from because it bounces around the buildings, and then in comes mortars. It's a very, very difficult story (ph) to cover.
BLITZER: Would you say this is the most dangerous environment you've covered over the years? And I've watched and seen you reporting over the years. How would you rate what is going on in Misrata right now?
COLVIN: I think this is -- (INAUDIBLE), because Chechnya was pretty bad. But it's the most dangerous environment, and part of that is because it's -- largely, because it's so unpredictable. The front has changed building by building the entire time I've been here. And when I say front, we're talking about rebels who, two months ago, hadn't even scene a gun. So they are unpredictable.
And remember, you know, much of Libya is kind of a heart of darkness to a lot of us Americans. Libyans haven't actually ever been in a war, so they don't know what they are doing when they are fighting.
There's very, very high morale of the rebels. But -- and you're seeing it in Misrata, because they have nowhere to run -- their families are here, their homes are here -- they're standing and fighting. So it's a very different situation than you have out in the east, in Benghazi.
And also, Gadhafi wants Misrata more because it's right in the middle of his western path. So if he can cut Libya in half and keep the left, that looks to be his strategy. Well, he's got Misrata right in the middle of that, blocking his road. It's a port city. So we're talking oil and transport.
And then Misrata rebels are -- I mean, we're talking shopkeepers, engineers. It's an extraordinary situation and very, very difficult to deal with as a journalist trying to tell you what is the true picture, what is going on here.
BLITZER: Marie Colvin of "The Sunday Times in London."
Be careful. We'll check back with you this week if we can make a connection, Marie. Thanks very much for what you are doing.
She's a really outstanding, very courageous woman who is reporting the news from Misrata.
There's new pressure on Republicans who signed a no tax pledge to take it back. Will they do it? Will it hurt them?
And the royal wedding guest list. President and Mrs. Obama are of it. How did the Crowned Prince of embattled Bahrain make the cut?
BLITZER: After months of anticipation, Prince William and Kate Middleton are only four days away from tying the knot. We now know more about the royal wedding list.
Let's go to London. CNN's Richard Quest is standing by.
Some big names not invited. Who made the cut and who didn't, Richard?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I suppose the name that everyone is saying that wasn't invited, besides the obvious, Sarah Ferguson, who was never going to be invited, the duchess of York, President Obama of course wasn't invited. This isn't a full state occasion. Therefore, it would have been improper to invite the president any more than Sarkozy or Medvedev of Russia. And in any event, Wolf, President Obama is coming to London for a state visit at the end of May.
Also not invited, former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. That is just bizarre.
There's a valid -- the reason the palace gives is because they say they are not members of the Order of the Garter and others are members. Frankly, not to invite a former prime minister of 10 years standing does strike one as being a little bit odd -- Wolf.
BLITZER: For those of us who don't know, what is the Order of the Garter?
QUEST: Well, it is the high -- yes, it's the highest order of chivalry in the British system. There's 24 members.
All of the members have been invited, and that includes Lady Thatcher and Sir John Major, two former prime ministers. But Brown and Blair are not members, so they are not going to the wedding.
You know, I've looked at the list of the chivalry order. Some odd names, some people who have been there for years. It just does strike one as a little bit odd, particularly since Tony Blair was the prime minister who coined the phrase "The People's Princess" for Princess Diana and did so much for the royal family during that whole incident back when Diana died.
BLITZER: We'll check in with you every day, Richard. Thanks very much.
Richard Quest, our man in London, getting ready for the big wedding Friday morning. Once a lightly GOP presidential hopeful just announcing he's not going to run. What about all the other potential candidates? We'll talk about it in our "Strategy Session."
Plus, hundreds of Taliban prisoners escape an Afghan jail. Wait until you see how they did it.
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."
Joining us, Donna Brazile -- she's the interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee -- and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.
Guys, thanks very much.
Why, Ed -- four years ago there were so many candidates already announced, full speed ahead. And now, on the Republican side, it's sort of very, very slow. They're reluctant to get formally into this race.
What's going on here?
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think the game has changed, I think. First of all, a lot of people saw an opening last time. And I think to a certain extent, you now have social media and a whole different way of doing campaigns that you may not have to jump in quite as quickly.
My sense is that there will be a very strong team once we get going here. But at this point in time, they don't think they've got to spend two years or three years running for president. And two of them ran last time, Huckabee and Romney. And they know there's a fatigue factor if you're out there too long.
So, my sense is, by the time we finished here, we'll have a good field. And Haley obviously is a loss. He's a great friend of mine, worked for me in the White House, and a tremendous asset who will support someone, I'm sure.
BLITZER: Is this smart on these Republicans' part, Donna? You're an outsider looking in on the Republican field. Is it smart for them to wait? Some say they want to wait until June, July, August, who knows?
DONNA BRAZILE, INTERIM CHAIRWOMAN, DNC: Well, if you look at the Republican field right now, Wolf, the race is completely wide open. And I believe what worries some of the Republicans right now is that they're looking at President Obama's numbers, especially in some of the key battleground states, and they're saying can this guy be beaten?
They know that Republicans are not going to begin to put money into the race until they know that they have a solid candidate who can beat President Obama. And that requires the Republicans not just speaking to the choir, their base, but also Independents. So I think that they'll wait until mid-summer. You'll see some of the more serious contenders jump in. But I think on Governor Barbour, we all know that he's good friends with Governor Daniels. And maybe this is a signal that, while Haley Barbour decided not to run, Mitch Daniels might be preparing to toss his hat in the ring some time later this spring or early summer.
BLITZER: He says he's still undecided, Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, the former budget director in the Bush administration.
You think now that Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor, is not running, that Mitch Daniels might, Ed?
ROLLINS: They both worked for me in the White House and became very good friends. And they sort of made a pact. I have to do commentary and they're out being governors. So it says something about good staff people.
BRAZILE: I know.
ROLLINS: At the end of the day, they're very, very close. And I think they didn't want to run against each other.
So I think Mitch is itching -- or inching more and more to get into this race. He'd be a very strong candidate.
The only counter to what Donna said, who I love dearly, is that I think re-elections are about the incumbent. I think this president has some tough sledding ahead. His numbers are not great. A viable candidate, which will emerge in a year from now -- it's going to take a year before we have someone who's a serious candidate, ready to go -- basically will give him all he wants.
BLITZER: And you know, Donna, that if you look at that key indicator, right track, wrong track, is the country moving in the right direction, or is the country moving in the wrong direction, right now it's a horrible number for the Obama administration, for his re- election prospects. He's going to have to do a lot of work to get that right direction/wrong direction number better.
BRAZILE: Well, you know, Wolf, that number is not just their feelings about the White House. That's overall people worried about the economy.
Where are we going? Can we create jobs for the future? Can we live within our means?
I think they're worried about the future. And that's why that number is so lopsided right now. Once they see jobs return, once they have a feeling that things in the country are more settled in terms of our economy and the future, I think that number will transform itself and the president will be in a strong position to win re-election.
BLITZER: In a re-election campaign for an incumbent president, Ed, how important is the right direction/wrong direction number in the scheme of things? ROLLINS: Well, it's a very important number. You know, in fairness to Donna, she's right, if those numbers turn around, jobs come back, all the rest of it, the president will be tough to beat.
I don't think it's going to happen. I don't want it not to happen for America's sake. But I think if those numbers stay bad, and I think the wrong track number stays bad, then it's going to be very, very hard for this president, no matter what he does to get re-elected.
BLITZER: Ed Rollins, Donna Brazile.
Guys, thanks very much.
ROLLINS: Thank you.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: New clashes and new danger in a country where al Qaeda has clout. Stand by for some powerful new video that's just coming in from Yemen.
And new information about Osama bin Laden. He's been on the run since 9/11. He's sort on cash, supposedly. We'll share what we know when we come back.
BLITZER: Deadly new violence in the al Qaeda stronghold of Yemen. Security forces tried to break up anti-government protests in several cities, reportedly using water cannons, batons and gunfire. Witnesses say dozes were wounded and at least two protesters were killed.
Several hundred thousand demonstrators turned up in some places, many of them chanting slogans against the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The unrest coming despite a deal in principle for him to step down within 30 days. He hasn't actually signed the agreement yet.
Jack's back. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What does it mean that China's economy could surpass the U.S. economy within five years? The IMF, International Monetary Fund, out with that prediction today.
Lou writes, "It means they're hitting their growth stride just like we did in the mid 1900s. The same is happening in India. We seem to think that we are the only country capable of going through an industrial revolution."
"Most of our citizens have already benefited from our rise out of the gutters. We shouldn't worry so much when other countries begin to do the same."
Pete in Ontario, Canada, "It's not surprising considering that the Chinese are playing with an undervalued currency and we continue to let them flood our countries with cheap products. Not to mention the fact that our manufacturing business has all but left North America." Bob in Kansas City, Missouri, "It means big business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce won. You know, those guys who advocate outsourcing every American job possible and at the same time they buy off the politicians to keep their mouths shut about the raw deal that the rest of us are getting."
Greg in Arkansas, "Their economy is on a roll since China doesn't have to deal with all those pesky regulatory agencies like the EPA, FDA, USDA and OSHA. And with no worries about equal rights, human rights, consumer product safety or freedom of speech, they may soon have all the money in the world, but money will never buy clean air, clean water, safe food or personal dignity. I would rather live here and be cash poor, healthy, happy and free."
Jane writes, "It means we've given away the store. Our manufacturing base is now in China. We're left with such jobs as flipping burgers for minimum wage. Low wages equals low tax revenue, equals America going backwards, while China's barreling into the future with high- speed rails and green technology."
And Ray in Georgia writes, "I remember the same thing when the Japanese were buying up lots of real estate a decade or so ago. Japan was going to own everything. It didn't happen that way. China has plenty of problems, so I wouldn't throw in the towel just yet."
(AUDIO GAP) (In progress) -- blog/cnn.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: Thanks Jack.