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U.S. Proof bin Laden Was in Command; U.S.: Syria Crackdown is "Barbaric"; Farming Out the bin Laden Compound Evidence; Gingrich Announces 2012 Presidential Run; Democrats: New Shot at Big Oil; Flooding Along the 'Blues Highway'; Interview With Senator Marco Rubio

Aired May 11, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news we're following -- evidence that proves to the United States that Osama bin Laden was, in fact, in command plotting terror from his compound in Pakistan. Stand by. We're just getting in new details on that and the Al Qaeda leader's journal, as well.

Plus, the embarrassment in Pakistan that bin Laden's hideout was in the backyard of the country's elite military. The jokes and the anger in the town that's Pakistan's equivalent of West Point.

And harrowing accounts of brutality, psychological terror and repression in the Middle East. This hour, new clashes and deaths in Yemen and Syria -- the stain on those regimes and on their ties to the United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news this hour -- new details on the evidence from Osama bin Laden's compound and chilling evidence, in fact, that he was plotting against Americans to the very, very end.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been digging on this story for us -- all right, Barbara, tell us what you've learned.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was no out of touch man. As one official said, these are not the writings of an elderly jihadi. Bin Laden was very much in touch, very much in command. As the U.S. government continues to look at the material they seized from the compound, a U.S. official tells us there is growing evidence that bin Laden was communicating with the outside, was communicating with affiliate organizations. They were communicating back to him -- very direct command and control.

You know, we talked last week about the so-called Al Qaeda play book, when there was the first reference to the possibility of attacks on U.S. railroaded systems. Well, now, it is being characterized to us more as Osama bin Laden's journal, if you will -- handwritten notes by the Al Qaeda leader. They believe very much it is his handwriting. And what is in this journal, it really is chilling, Wolf. An official walked us through a couple of the details. Let's share them.

He says, first of all, one of the things in the writings, first, the importance of attacking the United States. Bin Laden writing about that. Bin Laden writing down guidance for how to attack the United States. And one of his pieces of guidance was to look at key dates on the U.S. calendar -- July 4th, Christmas, the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. U.S. cities mentioned, as always, as we have seen in these types of matters, Washington and New York mentioned. We are told that the official adding in very importantly, so far, they have no evidence of so-called "actionable intelligence," nothing with -- that marries up, if you will, a time, date and place. They are looking for that and they continue to go through this material as fast as they can.

But nonetheless, chilling evidence of what bin Laden was writing down and what he had wanted to do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the biggest concern, Barbara, that U.S. officials have about who bin Laden may have been communicating with?

STARR: Well, commun -- first, of course, if he was communicating with anybody out there that might have actually been able to carry off an attack.

And who might that have been?

Well, they have a lot of concern, of course, about the so-called affiliate organizations -- Ayman Al-Zawahiri, his, you know, so-called number two. But, of course, Wolf, once again, a lot of focus on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Yemen and its leader, the American-born Yemeni cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. That is a man who has demonstrated, through the underwear bombing in Detroit a couple of years ago, that he is able to reach out and touch the United States. It was a failed attack, but it was a failed attack that at least did make it to U.S. shores -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he did inspire that -- that -- that incident at Fort Hood, a U.S. military doctor who went on a rampage. We know that Anwar al-Awlaki inspired Nidal Hasan.

All right. Thanks very much for that, Barbara.

Now, fresh flood is spilled in brutal crackdowns on anti- government protesters in the Middle East. Witnesses say tens of thousands of demonstrators marched against Yemen's government in two cities today. And security forces opened fire with heavy weapons. We're told at least eight people were killed. At least 65 were injured, some critically.

The demonstrators were calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in a week or they vowed to march on the presidential palace. Security forces deny shooting at protesters, blaming the attacks on civilians by gangs of opposition. Other news we're following. We're getting word right now of deadly new confrontations in Syria. A human rights group reports Syrian military attacks shelled residential areas in three cities, killing at least 19 people. More than 700 anti-government protests reportedly have been killed, 9,000 arrested in Syria, since the uprising began in mid-March.

Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

She's working this story for us.

Syria is increasingly becoming a huge problem for the U.S., for Europe, for the entire region, but especially for the people in Syria itself -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And, you know, the debate really is when the repression gets bad, the Obama administration said that Gadhafi had lost legitimacy and said he should step down and leave the country. Well, in Syria, a brutal crackdown is getting worse, so why not demand Syria's president to step down?


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): "Barbaric" -- that's what the State Department is calling it -- hundreds dead, tanks firing on protests in two different cities. Reports of up to 20 killed Wednesday alone. Panicked Syrians fleeing over the border to Lebanon to escape the bloody crackdown by troops loyal to Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, including this sergeant, who told CNN he deserted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I swear I was not running away from death. I was running away from killing people.

DOUGHERTY: A top Republican says President Obama must be more forceful with Assad.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If Bashar al-Assad is successful, through the use of blood and steel, to repress the legitimate aspirations of his people, that would be a lesson to tyrants throughout the world.

DOUGHERTY: The Obama administration is slapping sanctions on senior Syrian officials, but stopped short of calling on Assad to step down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, there's a -- there's a window here and that window is narrowing.

DOUGHERTY: One reason, says a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, a wounded Syrian regime could be dangerous.

TED KATTOUF, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: The truth of the matter is that Syria does not have much to offer in the way of positive incentives to Western countries to deal with it. So it basically opts to ensure that the nuisance factor is there, if you will.

DOUGHERTY: Syria has banned international journalists. But "The New York Times'" Anthony Shadid was allowed in for a few hours to speak with officials.

(on camera): What Assad and his government seem to be saying is, if I am gone, it could get a lot worse.

Is that a theory that you accept?

ANTHONY SHADID, "NEW YORK TIMES": Now, in some ways, the greatest legitimacy, if you can call it that, of the government is the fear of what might follow if it fell. And it's something that the government pronounces. It's something you hear internationally, that there's a sense out there that there is not a viable opposition or at least an opposition that can negotiate a transition right now.

And I think what the government has going for it -- or at least thinks it has going for it and what it's been trying to tell both its own people and the rest of the world is that you not -- no idea it will follow us.


DOUGHERTY: Right. And the question hanging over all of it is that -- that very one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself is asking -- what comes next if Assad goes -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So is -- are you getting any sense over there at the State Department, at the White House, Jill, that this administration, the Obama administration is getting closer to what Senator McCain and others want, namely, for the U.S. to say, Bashar al-Assad must go?

DOUGHERTY: You know, the -- the frustration factor is enormous when you see what is going on right now. But to really call for him to step down, the Libya scenario, is something that, at this point, they don't feel that they can do. That's not to say that they won't do it. Any idea that Assad could be a reformer or carry through on his promises is really gone.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

This programming note. Later this hour, I'll be speaking live with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He's got some very, very strong views on what the U.S. should be doing toward Syria right now. Stand by for that interview. That's coming up later this hour.

The White House confirms today that President Obama will deliver a major speech on his Middle East policy in what White House officials call "the relatively near future." The press secretary, Jay Carney, would not give an exact date. There are, though, reports the speech could come as early as next week. The president is expected to touch on many flash points in the region, from the anti-government uprisings and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the death of Osama bin Laden.

We're learning more about who is reviewing the items seized from bin Laden's compound. A lot of people in quite a few places apparently are getting their hands on the material.

And inside Pakistan, big questions about the Pakistani Army's credibility after bin Laden was found hiding in the town where soldiers are trained.


BLITZER: Very few people knew about the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound beforehand, but now it seems quite a few FBI agents are getting a look at some of the evidence that was seized.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- she's working the story for us -- is here -- Jeanne, you've got some new information?


Many of the 56 FBI field offices across the country are checking out information that has been gleaned from the materials seized in Pakistan.

According to a law enforcement source, the multi-agency task force that has been sifting through this small library of materials has come across leads or potential leads, like phone numbers. And those are being pushed out to the logical places for follow-up.

Several sources say that to their knowledge, no new plots have been uncovered, though in pursuing the evidence, some new investigations, in a technical sense, may have been opened. A law enforcement source said all the potential leads are being looked at and checked out to see if and how they might fit in with other information that may have already been acquired. But the source says it is incorrect to think that there were plots in the making that are now being stamped out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are law enforcement agencies taking other measures?

MESERVE: They are. I talked to a couple of people in the counter-terrorism field yesterday who said they were doing things like increasing surveillance, increasing intelligence. Some of them, of course, have also stepped up protections around certain key infrastructure. They're well aware of the potential risk for retaliatory action and they're on the lookout.

BLITZER: Yes. And they're continuing to review all those documents --

MESERVE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- computer files and everything else. So we should get some more soon.

Thanks very much for that, Jeanne.

Let's go to Afghanistan right now, where four boys have been detained, accused by Afghan intelligence authorities of being recruited from Pakistan for suicide missions targeting foreign troops.

CNN Mohammed Jamjoom got rare access to Kabul's juvenile rehabilitation center where they're being held. He spoke exclusively with two of them. They won't be names for safety purposes.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The amulet around this 9-year-old's boys neck contain Koranic verses. He says it was given to him by a religious teacher to strengthen his faith, keep him safe, and make him brave. Three years before, that very same mullah sent him on a suicide mission.

He told us to go and put on bombs and explode and that we wouldn't die, explains the boy. When we came to the border, we asked people if we put on bombs and exploded ourselves, will we get killed? They said yes, you will get killed. So we returned to go home, but then we were arrested and they brought us here.

Here is Kabul's juvenile rehabilitation center where the boy and his 10-year-old companion are being held. Afghan intelligence say they and two other boys were coming in from Pakistan to carry out suicide bombings, that they had been told Afghanistan was full of infidels.

Now their fates are in limbo. Afghanistan's government hasn't decided if they'll be charged and tried. Their detention might last days or could last years.

The center's director insists they are in dire need of help, but it's not that simple. We don't have any particular program for these boys, says Aziza Adalat Khan.

So far, the rehabilitation has been comprised of attending classes taught in a language they don't speak, sitting among boys far older, doodling and drawing while other students take dictation.

Unfortunately, she says, we don't have any psychologists in the center to help these children and we really need one.

The boys seem to be coping as best they can. One minute they giggle, then feel guilty. We didn't tell our parents that we were leaving, says the boy. We made mistakes.

And then there's the anger directed at the teacher they say put them in this position. He cheated us, he says.

(on camera): Administrators here say, these are minors. That, ideally, they should be set free. But they're also worried these kids are vulnerable and that if released now, they could fall into the sway of extremist teachings once more.

(voice-over): Boys whose faith in god was so strong they would have given their lives, now putting their faith in this country's justice system to give them their lives back.

Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Kabul.


BLITZER: Deadly earthquake rocks part of Spain. Ahead, the latest on the extent of the damage, standby for that.

Plus, new concerns China could learn key secrets from the U.S. helicopter wreckage in the raid on bin Laden's compound. Standby for those details as well.


BLITZER: We just learned that Reverend Billy Graham is in the hospital. Lisa Sylvester is here with the details of this story and some other top stories.

What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, we should tell you that the Reverend Billy Graham is clinically stable right now. The hospital in Asheville, North Carolina says the 92-year-old was admitted this morning for a pulmonary condition. Early tests suggest the well-known evangelist has pneumonia, and we are told his heart is normal but he remains at the hospital at this hour.

Officials say at least seven people were killed in the 5.3- magnitude earthquake. It hit the southeastern part of the country about 200 miles from Madrid in Spain. At least one of the deaths is believed to have occurred in a building collapse.

And doctors say a Canadian woman rescued after being stranded almost 50 days in the wilderness is well enough to be transferred back to her country. Nevada police just released last week's 911 call when she was found in her car.


CALLER: We found a lady that's been in her van since March 19th. She's about dead and her husband took off a month ago for help and never came back, so I'm sure he's dead.

911 DISPATCHER: OK. Where are you again?

CALLER: In Rowland, Nevada. It's on the --

911 DISPATCHER: I know where Rowland. Yes.


911 DISPATCHER: Do you have a plate for the van?

CALLER: No, it said Canada. But I didn't look at the numbers.

911 DISPATCHER: And she's been in it for a month?

CALLER: She says March 19. And her husband left on March 22 and never came back.


SYLVESTER: The couple, last seen together leaving a convenience store, ended up in the woods after taking some wrong turns. Police still hope to find her husband alive.

Tokyo Electric is detecting a new radiation leakage at Japan's crippled Daiichi plant. This as the Japanese government conducts a two-month review of efforts to end the crisis. Plant workers say overall some progress is being made. Almost 80,000 people have been evacuated from their homes since the historic quake and tsunami hit.

And a rare theft at China's Forbidden City. Police say a 27- year-old man is suspected of taking more than $1 million worth of early 20th century pieces, including jewelry boxes and makeup cases. The Forbidden City was first built in the 15th century -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lot of money. OK, thanks very much, Lisa, thank you for that.

Newt Gingrich is entering the Republican presidential race today with a lot of political and personal baggage. Is it more than voters can handle?

And will President Obama's upcoming speech on the Middle East calm the region or fan the flames? Roland Martin and Rich Galen are both standing by for our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: We're standing by to speak live with a rising star in the Republican Party, the Florida senator, Marco Rubio. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM, got some strong views on what's happening in the Middle East right now. Standby for the interview.

In the meantime, though, the former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich has made it official, he is now running for president of the United States. The announcement came just a little while ago.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm Newt Gingrich and I'm announcing my candidacy for the president of the United States because I believe we can return America to hope and opportunity.

We Americans are going to have to talk together, work together, find solutions together, and insist when imposing those solutions on those forces that don't want to change.

There are some people who don't mind if America becomes a wreck as long as they dominate the wreckage, but you and I know better.

We owe it to our children, our grandchildren, our country and frankly, to ourselves. So let's get together, look reality in the face, tell the truth, make the tough choices, get the job done. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss this in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor Roland Martin and Republican strategist Rich Galen, he's the publisher of

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Is it realistic, Rich, that Newt Gingrich, with all of his personal baggage and all of the other political baggage, could win the Republican presidential nomination?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Sure, it's possible. I mean, at this moment it looks like it's a race between four guys, actually, probably only really between two, Newt and Romney.

Look the perfect candidate comes along once every 2000 years, and this ain't one of the years I don't think. So everybody will have some baggage.

Can he win? Sure. Will he win? No.

BLITZER: Will he win the nomination?


BLITZER: So you think Mitt Romney has a better chance?

GALEN: I think so, yes.

BLITZER: And what about the other ones, it's like Mike Huckabee and -- ?

GALEN: Well, they're not in. I'm not sure he's going to get in. Pawlenty, he is; I don't think it matters. Huntsman is -- John Huntsman is like the most popular guy in every NFL stadium, the back- up quarterback. He hasn't been in a game, hasn't thrown any --

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Ask Fred Thompson how that went for him in 2008.

GALEN: I worked for Fred Thompson, I can tell you excruciating detail.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich does come with a lot of ideas. He's obviously a very intelligent guy. Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, he will liven up this Republican field.

MARTIN: Of course he will. But with all of that baggage, he has to answer to certain things because how can you stand on the stage and talk about integrity and credibility with your history, when you're running against President Barack Obama? And so he has to deal with that.

BLITZER: Are you talking about the marital infidelity? MARTIN: Yes, absolutely. And also the hypocrisy of demonizing and criticizing President Bill Clinton at the time that you were doing the same exact thing. You have to deal with that. He's tried to deal with it already but frankly, I don't think he has been all that successful.

Also, what happens when he goes to social conservatives? Are they also going to be critical and say, OK, we've criticized other folks, but we'll give you a pass? Now, we saw what Giuliani did in 2008, how can he have that issue?


GALEN: Well, you're right about that, but we don't know the answer. We'll know the answer probably when we get to South Carolina, assuming he's --

BLITZER: Not in Iowa?

GALEN: No, because I'm not sure Iowa is not going to be as big of a deal this year. I think a lot of folks -- look, I spent a year in Iowa. Iowa farmers are different. They kind of operate on different level.

But I think if it gets to South Carolina and he wins or loses by a little or loses by a little, then I think you're going to be right. That 2 percent or 3 percent or 4 percent of people that will never vote for Newt because of his personal history will have made a difference. If he wins or loses by a lot, who cares.

BLITZER: But he's explained that and, you know, he's given interviews to Christian Broadcasting Networks, and he says because he was so passionately committed to these ideas he was lax, you know, he failed in some of the personal issues.

MARTIN: OK, as somebody who is a strong evangelical, that's probably not the best answer, I was so passionate about my ideas, I cheated on my wife. That really is not going to fly.

But also, economic issues are going to drive this thing as well. So what is going to be his economic plan, his economic agenda? What is it going to be? The Contract with America, how much of that was actually passed?

GALEN: But wait a minute. That was not the deal. The deal was they would come to the floor for a vote, and all of them, every one of them came to the floor for a vote.

MARTIN: No, no, no, no. I'm making the point.


MARTIN: I'm making a point, when you present something that was supposed to be a significant piece of change, and you presented it, but what actually got passed, what people then begin to say is, OK, what did you actually do? Was it an idea or was it something really tangible? You still have to answer the question, and he is going to have to deal with that issue, as to, what did you in your leadership position?

GALEN: Well, no, but -- well, he does have an answer to it, and the two minute and eight second video, his introduction video, he actually talks about that, the drop in unemployment, the balancing the budget, the paying down on the debt. I mean, I think he does have an answer for that.

BLITZER: On that issue, I covered the Clinton administration. There's no doubt he had a significant influence on Bill Clinton on the economic issues, in terms of cutting spending and dealing with a budget surplus that they had in those years.

GALEN: Welfare reform came through in that time as well.

BLITZER: I think the Republicans deserve some of the credit. Obviously, Bill Clinton deserves a lot of the credit as well, and Bob Rubin and all those other guys in the Clinton administration.

Very quickly, if the president gives this major speech on the Middle East in the coming days, what's the single most important thing he has to tell the Arab and Muslim world?

GALEN: That America is going to stand with those who want democracy and freedom, and will stand opposed to those who try to stop it.

MARTIN: The question here is, OK, the president is giving another speech. About what?

See, is the question, we're standing together, or here is how we're moving down the road, what we have actually accomplished? He spoke in Turkey. He spoke in Egypt. OK. What now?

To me, that's a real issue. It has to be something tangible that he actually has to say than just simply another speech. Great. A speech that's wonderful. What about policy?

BLITZER: We'll see what he says, but he can't just say bin Laden is dead and democracy is good. He's got to come up with a little bit more than that, and I'm sure he will.

MARTIN: Yes, something tangible.

BLITZER: We'll see what he says.

GALEN: We'll see.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

People in Pakistan are apparently laughing at the country's army right now for failing to find bin Laden hiding in plain sight in the town where Pakistani soldiers are trained.

And we'll push back at members of Congress who are talking a lot about high gas prices but not really doing much, if anything, to ease the pain at the pump.


BLITZER: Almost everyone in America seems to agree that high gas prices are a huge problem, with two-thirds calling it a major problem in our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Most of those surveyed blame the oil companies. Seventy-seven percent say their profits are simply too big.

Here in Washington, politicians talk a good deal about those high gas prices, and they try to show voters that they certainly feel their pain.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's been following the debate for us.

There were hearings today. What are you hearing specifically from the Democrats right now, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats are targeting oil companies to take advantage of people's anger about gas prices. They do that, as we reported first on Monday, pretty much every time there's a gas crisis, Wolf. But the question is whether or not their plan will really help people's pain at the pump. That is a different question.


BASH (voice-over): For Democrats blasting oil companies, this photo-op was a no-brainer, a gas station with a sign showing high prices.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We're here to say enough already to big oil. You're doing just fine on your own, and you don't need the taxpayer giving you an extra handout to help.

BASH: Democrats are pushing legislation to eliminate tax subsidies for the top five big oil companies. But we wanted to know what Americans want to know -- what would their plan do to help lower the high gas prices Democrats came here to illustrate? The answer: not much.

SCHUMER: This was never intended to talk about lowering prices. That means a larger, more comprehensive, long-term bill. This is talking about tax breaks for oil companies that should go to reduce the deficit.

BASH: But Democrats are convinced that, taking away tax breaks for hugely profitable oil companies, is a potent political argument, especially with new figures showing just how much big oil is making. Exxon Mobile was the most profitable Fortune 500 company last year with $30.5 billion in profits. Chevron, the third most profitable, making $19 billion in 2010.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: The American drivers' pain is big oil's profit. But what really drives Americans crazy is that their own government is helping to subsidize what are very largely profitable companies.

BASH: Democrats say their bill to eliminate subsidies for big oil would save taxpayers $21 billion over 10 years, and that would go towards reducing the deficit. Again, a political maneuver designed to hit Republicans against the legislation for voting to protect big oil and oppose deficit reduction.

But the top Senate Republican appeared unmoved, calling it nothing more than a tax hike that will cause oil companies to raise prices.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: So let me get this straight. Higher gas prices, fewer American jobs, and more dependence on foreign competitors at the expense of American energy? That's their plan? No thank you.


BASH: Now, some Democrats from oil-producing states agree with that. They went after their own party leadership on the Senate floor today for playing politics with this. But, Wolf, Democratic leaders actually got some help today from a new nonpartisan report which says that their plan to cut oil subsidies would not raise prices at the pump.

Now, as for the strategy that's going to continue tomorrow morning, Democrats have called all five executives of big oil companies. They are going to push them, they say, on why these very, very profitable companies need taxpayer help when those taxpayers are paying such high prices at the pump -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Dana, on that point, ahead of the hearing tomorrow, ConocoPhillips put out a press release today that really angered, roiled lot of those Democrats.

BASH: It did. And the press release that they put out, I will read you the headline. It said that ConocoPhillips "raises concerns over un-American tax proposals." Well, that term "un-American" really angered Democrats. The senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez, came out of this press conference and he said that the company is questioning the patriotism of public servants like himself, and he said it was outrage and says he's going to ask for an apology at tomorrow's hearing.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, up on the Hill.

We'll watch that hearing with you tomorrow. Thank you.

Flood waters are racing farther south down the Mississippi River today, swamping more evacuated towns, homes and businesses along the way. The cresting river socked Memphis, Tennessee. Now it's threatening, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal warns three million acres could be affected by flooding in his state.

CNN's Martin Savidge is traveling down Route 61, also known as the Blues Highway that runs along the river. He's joining us from Arkansas with more.

What is the latest where you are, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we took a bit of a jog off the highway, mainly because of floodwaters. We're in Onieida, Arkansas, here.

This is not Mississippi River flooding. This is tributary flooding. For the most part, it's been a successful operation by the Army Corps of Engineers, but there are some areas that are suffering, and this is one that's under the gun.

Take a look over here. This is an earthen berm, a levee, if you will, that's been erected by the homeowner here in the matter of about a day and a half. The water was rising fast. He knew his home, which is right there, was right in the line of fire, right under the gun, and in a great deal of trouble. So he quickly went into action.

And the man who did that, that's his field out there, and it is all under water. But his home is dry.

Rickey Davidson is that man.

Rickey, it must have been a very nervous and difficult time for you.

RICKEY DAVIDSON, ONEIDA RESIDENT: The most nerve-racking thing I've ever dealt with in my life. It is. It's been very stressful and I hope I never see this again.

SAVIDGE: But we should point out, due to the quick efforts here of your contractor and you, you've managed to keep the water out of the house.

DAVIDSON: Yes. We've built this levee around the house. It took about a day and a half to build this levee, and we started pumping water this morning.

Where we're standing at this morning was about three feet in water. But we've got it pumped down, and hopefully I can save my house. If the water doesn't come over the levee or break the levee, I think I've got it.

SAVIDGE: And that is the concern right now, is the water going to stay below what you built?

DAVIDSON: It's still rising. Last night it was rising about half an inch per hour. And it's still rising at that same rate now. Now, I don't know how much it's going to rise. And like I say, hopefully my levee holds. And I hope and pray it does.

SAVIDGE: You already know neighbors who have lost?

DAVIDSON: Yes. I've got neighbors here two miles from me. Some moved out of their homes. The water has gone up in their house. And if I hadn't done this, we would be out of our house now and the water would be in my home. Hopefully this saves it.

SAVIDGE: Rickey Davidson, thank you very much. Good luck to you.

So that's the story here. It's come down to people fighting individually on their property, Wolf, to try to keep their homes safe.

BLITZER: Any way, Martin, to tell how large the economic impact will be?

SAVIDGE: You know what? There are different ways. But, for instance, in the case of Rickey Davidson here, he's a farmer.

Most of his field, most of his crop, all under water right now. Many, many farmers in the state of Arkansas and Mississippi are facing that same problem.

Then we start looking at Mississippi's gaming industry. Gambling, very big. Sixteen of the casinos on the Mississippi River are now closed.

That means about $500,000 in revenue just in gaming tax alone for the state of Mississippi. It doesn't even take into account what the casinos are losing.

Then you've got about 13,000 people temporarily out of work. I mean, you begin to add the numbers up, when the loss of jobs, the loss of the casino revenue, and that is just the tip of the iceberg in just one industry. So it's going to have a huge impact economically, and it all keeps moving south -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll be watching it along the way.

Martin Savidge, thank you.

A group of U.S. senators calling on President Obama to get tough with Syria in the wake of that government's brutal crackdown on civilians. My interview with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, that's coming up next.

Plus, Pakistan's army uncomfortably in the spotlight in the wake of bin Laden's death.


BLITZER: The brutal and deadly government crackdown in Syria is prompting new calls for action here in the United States. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators now cosponsoring a resolution calling on President Obama to punish the Syrian president, Bashar al- Assad.

Joining us now, one of those senators, a rising star in the GOP, the Florida Republican Marco Rubio.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: I know you've got a lot of senators on this resolution. More are jumping aboard I think each hour.

What's the single most important thing you think President Obama should be doing vis-a-vis Bashar al-Assad that he is not doing?

RUBIO: Well, a number of things. I think, first, he needs to call to the fact that Assad is no longer the legitimate ruler of that country and that he needs to step down. And I hope he'll do that sooner rather than later.

I think, also, use the power and prestige and voice of the United States to encourage the European Union to continue to do things to punish the Syrian government and protect the Syrian people, encourage Turkey to use its growing influence in the world to help the Syrian people transition to a peaceful future. Look to the Arab League and ask the Arab League to speak out as well the same way they did in Libya.

And ultimately, go to the United Nations Security Council and say it's time for the United Nations Security Council on this issue to step up and fulfill the purpose of its existence, and that is to protect innocent life and allow the people of Syria to craft a new future for themselves. So the U.S. is an important voice in the world, and I hope the president will lead us in making the cause of the Syrian people America's cause as well.

BLITZER: I noticed -- I just came back from the Europe -- the European Union did impose new sanctions against many top officials in Syria, but not Bashar al-Assad himself. I think the U.S. has imposed sanctions, economic sanctions against officials, but not Bashar al- Assad.

Why is that?

RUBIO: Well, I don't know. That's an important question that I hope the administration would answer. I think we've imposed sanctions on three individuals, but clearly he's the one calling the shots.

Look, I mean, Assad is -- like his father before him, he's a criminal. He's a murderer with a well-documented history of not just supporting terrorism abroad, but also of human rights abuses at home -- torture, abductions, murder. That's what he's doing.

We need to call him out for what he is. We need to impose sanctions.

And let me tell you, the most useful sanctions are the ones from Europe, because Europe does so much economic activity with Syria. So it's encouraging that the European Union is taking these measures, and we should use our influence in the world to encourage them to continue to do that. But we also have to lead by example, and I hope the president will lead on this issue. BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is you want the U.S., the Obama administration, to treat Bashar al-Assad as it does the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

RUBIO: Well, in terms of saying he's illegitimate, absolutely. He's not the legitimate leader of Syria. He forfeited that the day he ordered his armed forces to fire on innocent, unarmed civilians in Syria.

And the most important message we have to send is that the United States is on the side of the Syrian people, a people who have a right to the same freedoms that we have, a people that have a right to peacefully pursue a better future for their country. That's whose side we are on. We are on the side of the Syrian people, and we should call, by the way, on patriots in the Syrian armed forces to ask for him to leave. And if he doesn't leave, to remove him.

BLITZER: I remember that when Moammar Gadhafi ordered his troops to start killing fellow Libyans, the U.S. immediately shut down the embassy there, recalled the ambassador, closed up shop.

Is it time for the U.S. to shut down the embassy in Damascus, recall the ambassador?

RUBIO: Yes, because it's not the legitimate government of Syria anymore. The Assad regime is not the legitimate ruler of Syria any longer. They have forfeited that, and we should recognize that they forfeited that by recalling our ambassador, shutting down our embassy, and setting an example, and using our role in the world to call attention to the fact that what is happening in Syria is completely unacceptable. And I think if America and this president leads, the world will follow.

BLITZER: Anthony Shadid, the "New York Times" Beirut correspondent, was allowed into Syria for a few hours this week. He interviewed Rami Makhlouf, who's one of the top advisers, an aide. He's a cousin to Bashar al-Assad. He's the richest guy, I think, in the country.

And he said this to "The New York Times," Rami Makhlouf -- he said, "If there is no stability here, there's no way there will be stability in Israel. And nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime."

"Don't let us suffer. Don't put a lot of pressure on the president. Don't push Syria to do anything it is not happy to do."

Here is the question to you. As bad as Bashar al-Assad may be for his own people and for the region, that border between the Israelis and the Syrians has been quiet since '73. Could it get worse?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, it's hard to imagine it getting worse. How can you be worse than a murderer like Assad, who's like a criminal like his father before him? Second of all, that's their talking points. That's exactly the leverage they use to justify their tyranny. That's exactly the leverage that they use to justify and stay in power.

And the things they do, they try to blackmail the world with threats like that.

Here is the reality. We either believe the founding principles of this nation or we do not. The founding principles of the United States are simple, and that is that our rights don't come from our laws or from our government. They come from our creator, and that these rights extend to all men. And any government who denies these rights is an illegitimate government.

Anywhere in the world where that is challenged, the United States has to speak out against it. Otherwise, the very essence of our founding, our purpose for existing as a nation and our founding, is gone. This is an important issue.

An entire generation of people in the Middle East, young people, are forming their opinions about the United States for a generation to come based on how we act here. And we can't just be interested in things from a geopolitical perspective.

We have to care about human rights, we have to care about the freedom and liberty of other people. And we have to use our voice, our prestige, and our power in the world to speak out on behalf of people who are being systematically oppressed and abused by criminals like Assad.

BLITZER: Well, how do you know, Senator, that if Bashar al-Assad leaves, whoever might replace him might -- could possibly be worse?

RUBIO: Well, here is the bottom line. First of all, it's hard to imagine anybody being worse than a criminal like Assad.

The second thing, we don't know anything about anything. That's why -- we can't guarantee anything about the future.

What we need to guarantee is that we are engaged in that process so we can influence that process. And that's why it is important that we be a leading voice in that regard.

If we are engaged on behalf and on the side of the Syrian people on this issue, if we are engaged on their behalf on this issue, then I think we have credibility with the Syrian people to influence what happens in Syria after Assad is removed or leaves.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears quickly because I know you've got to go to politics. Everybody asks you this question because you are such a rising star in the GOP.

Running for president, running for the Republican presidential nomination this time around, that's out of the question from your perspective. Is that right?

RUBIO: I have answered that so many times.

BLITZER: I know you have, but I want to hear it from you.

RUBIO: No. Well, the answer is, yes, it is out of the question.

I'm focused on this job here in the U.S. Senate. We have a lot of major issues our country is confronting. The U.S. Senate, I hope, will play a major role in that regard, and I hope to be a part of that.

BLITZER: Who do you like?

RUBIO: In terms of the --

BLITZER: The Republican presidential nomination.

RUBIO: Well, you know, I'm probably not going to endorse a candidate, as I said. In fact, I know I'm not going to endorse a candidate.

I look forward to helping whoever the nominee is. I have faith in the nomination process. These guys are going to work hard over the next year, and gals are going to work hard over the next year, and we're going to have a nominee who I hope is going to have a very good chance to be the new occupant of the White House in 2012.

BLITZER: You know, Barack Obama was only in the Senate for a very short period of time before he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. And some of your fans are saying you should do the same thing.

RUBIO: Well, I'm flattered and honored by that. But the truth is I'm really focused on this job here in the Senate.

As I said, we are taking on some major issues that are impacting the future of our country. The Senate will play a leading role in that regard. And that's why I ran for the U.S. Senate. I want to be a part of that process.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Rubio, thanks very much for coming in.

RUBIO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Some U.S. military secrets may be at risk right now because of the bin Laden raid. We're taking a closer look at the concerns about a piece of that disabled helicopter that the U.S. Navy SEALs left behind.

And a rare look inside an Islamic school in Afghanistan where young people are being taught bin Laden's message of terror.


BLITZER: More than a week since bin Laden's death, questions about what was going on in Pakistan's own back yard. Here's CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't sound your horn, the joke goes here. The army is sleeping. It's a popular text message sent around the military town that didn't know the world's most wanted man was living nearby.

BILAL SADIQUE, BUSINESSMAN: They are sleeping. I don't know their activities or the responsibility of these people.

WALSH: Anger now at the army, who are uncomfortably in the spotlight.

(on camera): The military don't like being filmed in the best of times, especially (INAUDIBLE), I think due to an embarrassment that bin Laden was found here in the middle of this garrison town. The army like to see themselves as the backbone of this often crumbling society, there where the money and the power is. But many here in Abbottabad are furious with the military, that they let the bin Laden instant happen at all.

(voice-over): Even if you're among the locals who don't believe bin Laden was ever here, there's still reason to bait the army -- the bits left behind of the American helicopters that the army's radars apparently didn't see as they flew into the heart of a town considered Pakistan's West Point.

Another text message doing the rounds has the Pakistani radar for sale. It doesn't detect American helicopters, it jokes, but can get satellite TV.

One senior community leader voiced his anger at an army that he claims normally does America's bidding, something the army denies.

BABA HAIDAR ZAMAN, SENIOR TOWN ELDER: There are three centers of army in the surrounding area and an academy from where all armed personnel are trained. Within this limit, the house has been found and, as they say, this person has been killed. It doesn't seem logical. It does not seem good.

WALSH (on camera): Should the Pakistani army be embarrassed?

ZAMAN: The incompetence and the sheer negligence is lying on the part of the army. Right? If it is proved. The Pakistan army must have protected its boundary and the operation made by the Americans itself, it is against the interest of the Pakistani nation and Pakistan.

WALSH (voice-over): The graffiti, this one, saying, "a somber (ph) town." Abbottabad is painted over, as is this, bin Laden's name.

The questions remain over the Pakistani Army over what they knew and how ready they were when the helicopters flying over Abbottabad were not like these Pakistani, but American. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Abbottabad.