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Countdown to Afghan War Exit Plan; Afghan War Across Party Lines; Sixty-Three Al Qaeda Militants Escape Jail; The "Civilian Surge" in Afghanistan; Interview With Senator Joe Manchin; Guest Workers in U.S. Became Slaves; Pilot's Shocking Rant Caught on Tape

Aired June 22, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, the commander-in-chief only three hours away from revealing his plan in Afghanistan. This hour, the newest information on President Obama's speech tonight and what it will mean for the U.S. troops in the war zone right now.

Plus, he wanted to come to the United States to make a decent living. But a Thai rice farmer says he was held in a container for days and then forced to become a modern day slave. Stand by for our exclusive report on what's been called the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history.

And air traffic controllers get an earful of a pilot's rant against gays and women. An open microphone providing a window into a rather ugly banter in the cockpit.

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

Three hours from now, President Obama faces a nation that's grown tired of war. And he tries to explain how quickly he'll bring home U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Sources say the president will announce that all these so-called surge forces will be withdrawn by the end of summer 2012. Ten thousand troops will leave this year, another 23,000 or so next year. It's a rather delicate balancing act of national security and public opinion, as this commander-in-chief campaigns for reelection.

Now, we want to get some better information, a better sense right now on how the American men and women serving in Afghanistan will be affected by the president's speech tonight.

Let's go over to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

He's over at the data wall looking at all of this for us -- Chris, so let's say 30,000 or 33,000 troops will be out by the end of next year. But that still leaves almost 70,000 U.S. troops in 2013, 2014 who will remain.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that's -- and that's twice the number that were in country when President George W. Bush left office. But, Wolf, it's no secret that General Petraeus and the military would have liked a slower drawdown.

Here's why.

We will take a look at the Taliban presence in Afghanistan, all Taliban attacks are not created equal. Up here toward the west and the north, the Taliban's goal is basically to distract the ISAF forces, basically draw resources out there. But this is supporting attacks like that. Nothing major.

Down here in the south is where the surge forces have been operating, in Helmand, in Kandahar. They've pushed the Taliban out of those population centers. Now the Taliban are going to try to regain that safe haven down here.

Will the U.S. forces have enough troops to say there and do there and say so?

Because over here in the east is where the last remnants of Al Qaeda are. It's also where the Haqqani network operates, launching attacks on Kabul. U.S. forces wanted to try to divert a lot of forces to the east to be able to shore up that area that's been undermanned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because we're -- we're told that this -- this withdrawal that the president will announce tonight of the surge forces will allow at least most of them to fight in two more, shall we say, fighting seasons --


BLITZER: -- in Afghanistan.

What does that mean?

LAWRENCE: That's right. Afghanistan is a very mountainous area. So the wintertime is when you look at it, very, very hard to fight. Roads are hard to traverse. The snow and the ice can make things very, very difficult there, hard for helicopters to fly.

And in the spring, a lot of the Taliban fighters will go out and cultivate the poppy harvest, you know, the opium. That's the source of their money.

Once that harvest comes in, they're flush with cash. That's how they fund a lot of their fighting. And, so, really, the big fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal. It takes place in late spring and in the summer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get some perspective, because the U.S. troops have been there now for almost 10 years -- 100,000 U.S. troops still there, 40,000 NATO forces still there right now. And they've built up an Afghan police and military force of close to 300,000 troops. They're fighting against a few hundred of Al Qaeda fighters, al Qaeda terrorists who are out there and maybe 20,000 to 25,000 Taliban. That seems so disproportionate a number needed to go after a relatively small number of bad guys, shall we say.

What's the explanation?

Why does the U.S. military think they need so many boots on the ground?

LAWRENCE: Well, in one way, it's not just to go after the Taliban. It's also a lot of that is building the infrastructure, which had been the mission up until now, to build the infrastructure of -- of the Afghan government and security forces. But when you look at -- at what's happened over the past 10 years, look at the casualties. Look at the cost of blood in this war. All of these years, from 2001 to 2007, never more than 100 casualties. Only barely that for the next few years. It was only in the last couple of years, when we put more troops in there as part of the surge and really started to take on the Taliban, that you see the casualties start to spike.

A lot of people will look at that and see the cost of this war. And then other people look at the fact that the money being spent, over $2 billion a week, that's what is prompting a lot of the calls to say the nation can simply no longer afford the war on this scale -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, because between the casualties and the costs, hundreds of billions of dollars projected between now and the end of 2014. That's a huge price tag.

Chris Lawrence is going to be staying with us.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, the House speaker, John Boehner, is warning today that the troop withdrawal should not be too steep and that politically it shouldn't jeopardize U.S. successes in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow Republicans -- and many Democrats, as well -- just want out of this very, very long and costly war.

Let's go to Capitol Hill.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, already getting reaction to what's going on -- Dana, update our viewers.


I talked to a lot of lawmakers in both parties today. And there actually seems to be a split in both parties about to proceed in Afghanistan.

But in talking to Democrats and Republicans, there do -- there does seem to be a growing feeling among these people who don't agree, really, on anything, usually, that it is time for this war in Afghanistan to come to an end. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): From the most conservative lawmakers --

REP. JOE WALSH (R), ILLINOIS: I think we need to come home. And we need to do it in a responsible way.

BASH: -- to the most liberal.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: It is time for our people to begin to come home. And it is time to change our strategy.

BASH: Weariness with the 10 year mission in Afghanistan is growing and creating strange partisan bedfellows. Republicans like freshman, Joe Walsh, who campaigned on staying in Afghanistan, saying constituents are now fed up.

WALSH: Nine months ago, if you and I were having this interview, I still would have been saying stay to win, because my -- my district was sort of on the fence. But right now, they're saying stop, let's -- let's bring them home.

BASH: More and more Democrats are saying, mission accomplished.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Look, we have -- we have killed Osama bin Laden. We have largely eviscerated al Qaeda. I think by any objective measure of -- of progress, we have made that progress. And we are going to take advantage of that progress and move forward now.

BASH: Lawmakers in both parties say the U.S. is now mostly propping up Afghanistan and shouldn't be. Democrats --

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: We're going in there now trying to do some nation building. And do I think it will work in Afghanistan?

The answer is no.

BASH: And Republicans.

REP. JOHN CAMPBELL (R), CALIFORNIA: Nation building -- and the history of that -- of that country doesn't lend itself well to that. And secondly, I just don't think that that is in the best interests of -- of the United States to do that in that region.

BASH: A part of the shift -- cost in lives and money -- more than $2 billion a week, roughly $10 billion a month.

WALSH: Money is a big deal. It's hundreds and billions of dollars a year. It's a lot of money. And as you know, we have a huge debt crisis. I believe the debt crisis is the biggest threat to our national security.

BASH: It is a growing bipartisan sentiment. At a time of budget cutting, better to spend those billions here at home. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The country and world that needs nation building the most is the United States of America. If you look at our dwindling infrastructure and -- and problems in education, literacy with our own kids growing up.


BASH: And to be sure, despite the bipartisanship shift here in Congress toward getting out of Afghanistan, most lawmakers still believe that the mission should be more clearly defined. But it is -- they're cautioning, don't come out of Afghanistan too soon. In fact, you mentioned the House speaker, John Boehner. He said very clearly today that he's worried that precipitous withdrawal of our troops would jeopardize the success that we've made -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And on another subject, but not too far away, Libya, Dana, I understand. You're getting some new information on a new effort underway in Congress to deal with the U.S. military mission in Libya.

BASH: Very interesting. It all ties into the idea of frustration with -- with both missions. Republicans in the House, Wolf, we knew as of last night, that they were planning on putting up a resolution -- a nonbinding resolution that said that the U.S. should not be engaged in any combat that deals with hostilities. That was a resolution.

Well, there was a meeting that just went on among House Republicans. And that wasn't good enough for a lot of the Republican rank and file. They wanted to toughen it up.

So we're now told, our Deirdre Walsh, our Congressional producer, is told that this will actually be a bill with the force of law that will say that the U.S. will actually de-fund -- Congress will de-fund the mission, at least any part of it that has to do with combat.

So this is something that the House Republicans are just taking up a notch. We expect possible, this vote, as -- as early as this week.

BLITZER: Yes, underscoring the frustration, as you say, with the military mission in Libya and growing frustration with the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.

Dana, thanks very much.

Al Qaeda terrorists break out of a prison in Yemen. Now there are concerns the struggling government there, a U.S. ally, may be in cahoots with the terror network.

Plus, the vicious rant by an airline pilot against his own flight attendants.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All flight attendants, individuals. It's never the same flight attendant twice. Eleven (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) over the top (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) homosexuals and a granny.



BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.


While America is fixating on all those numbers from President Obama in his speech tonight on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, how many troops are going to come home and by when, the president and his reelection team might well be stuck on a very different set of numbers. Forty-three percent, for example -- that's the president's daily job approval rating, according to Gallup, the latest survey. It's been moving down all week. Forty-nine percent -- the percentage of Americans who disapprove of the job he's doing.

These are not very good numbers.

Here's another number that's probably keeping the Obama election team up at night -- 30 percent. That's the very small percentage of Americans who say they are definitely going to vote to reelect President Obama come next November. Thirty-six percent, on the other hand, those who say they definitely will not cast a vote for four more years of his presidency.

These statistics come from a new Bloomberg national poll.

Here's one more from that same poll. This might be the worst one of all. Sixty-six percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

It's a tough spot for President Obama to be in. So much of his sinking poll numbers has to do with the economy and the lack of real recovery that we've seen during his term. But it also has to do with the fact that we are fighting four wars and the nation's deficit is ballooning way out of control.

What it doesn't have much to do with, at least at this point, is Obama's potential Republican opponents. Nobody in that lackluster field is getting the voting population very excited. And that might be the only saving grace for President Obama, at least at this point, when it comes to his reelection race next year.

We do have a long way to go.

But here's the question. If President Obama's approval rating doesn't rise above 45 percent, can he be reelected?

Go to and share with us your thoughts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A good question, Jack.

Thank you. Let's go to Yemen right now, where the new government there is confirming 63 militants, all of them members of Al Qaeda, have suddenly broken out of prison.

Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM monitoring these developments.

What are you learning?

TODD: Wolf, according to a source in Yemen's Interior Ministry, these men escaped by digging a tunnel nearly 40 yards long. And in the course of breaking out, they killed a prison guard.

This event has ominous implications for the security of the U.S. and its allies.


TODD: (voice-over): After weeks of fighting and instability in Yemen, signs that Al Qaeda is feeling more emboldened to further destabilize this key U.S. ally in the war on terror. In what appears to be a coordinated operation, dozens of Al Qaeda militants break out of a prison in the southern city of Mukalla, while armed militants attacked the jail from the outside.

When I speak to a respected analyst on Yemen about the National Solidarity Programme, he voices a disturbing accusation.

(on camera): This National Solidarity Programme occurs in Mukalla. There's been a lot of fighting in Abyan Province. Islamist militants have taken over the city of Zinjibar. What does it say about the control of the Yemeni government has in this region?

CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Well, not only is the Yemeni government's control receding, but there are instances where you could say that the Yemeni government is instigating some of this chaos, with the goal to demonstrate to the United States and Saudi Arabia and others that this regime, the government of President Saleh, is the best to fight al Qaeda.

TODD: (voice-over): Christopher Boucek says the Yemeni government is more concerned with protecting itself from the popular revolt going on now than with going after Al Qaeda. So he says the government has repositioned its counter-terror forces, retreated from areas where its lost ground and is circling the wagons.

As a result, he says, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group linked to the Christmas Day airline attack and the cargo bomb plot against the U.S., has freer rein, especially in Southern Yemen.

Contacted by CNN, a Yemeni official briefed on security operations, brushed back on that, saying the government has deployed forces from five brigades just to that southern region and isn't backing down.

Still, this is just the latest in a series of dangerous prison breaks in Yemen. Nasir al-Wuhaysi, who escaped in one of those, went on to lead Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And analysts say he's still at large.

(on camera): Can we anticipate that some that broke out of this prison could lead attacks against the West in the future?

BOUCEK: Well, I think this shows that the security situation is deteriorating rapidly, right. As this -- as this drama goes on in Yemen, things are getting worse. Some of the individuals who broke out in this case may have been involved in previous attacks.


TODD: Stability in Yemen now seems to hinge on whether President Ali Abdallah Saleh will return. He is recuperating in Saudi Arabia after being injured in an attack about three weeks ago. A Yemeni official told me President Saleh plans to return soon. Opposition leaders say they don't think he'll be back, Wolf. It's -- that's touch and go.

BLITZER: Yes. He's obviously very, very ill right now.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: You're getting some new information -- updated information on the hunt for these Al Qaeda terrorists.

TODD: That's right. A Yemeni official briefed on these security operations tells me the area entire -- the entire area around that prison is shut down -- entry points, exit points closed off, military and police on high alert. And they're actively looking for these escapees. But in that area of Yemen, Al Qaeda has a lot of sympathizers. Whether they're going to be able to round up all these guys, they may not be able to. And that's pretty ominous. Sixty- three full-fledged members of al Qaeda on the loose right now.

BLITZER: And just to be -- to reiterate, the suspicion is that the government there allowed these people to escape?

TODD: Christopher Boucek says they could have, at the very least, turned a blind eye. They're trying to protect themselves. They're more concerned with that than going after Al Qaeda. So they're just repositioning their forces. Self-preservation first, then maybe we'll go after these guys second. And so that's a dangerous equation.

BLITZER: Yes. And just to give it some perspective, U.S. intelligence believes there are more Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen right now --

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: -- than in all of Afghanistan?

TODD: It's very dangerous.

BLITZER: Thanks, Brian.


BLITZER: The first lady on a mission in South Africa -- you're going to find out the lofty goals that Michelle Obama outlined for the future of the continent.

Plus, who's really in control in Afghanistan?

We're taking you to the front lines for some answers.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What have you got -- Lisa.


Well, with the message, "yes, we can," Mrs. Obama urged young African women at a leader's forum in Soweto to stand up for themselves and their human rights.



You can be the generation that brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from this continent forever. You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time, the generation --


Obama: -- that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease.


SYLVESTER: Yes, pretty passionate there. The first lady, who is on a week-long state visit to Africa, was introduced to the crowd by the wife of former South African president, Nelson Mandela, who called her, quote, "the queen of our world."

Incoming Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, made a visit to the Pentagon today just one day after being confirmed by the Senate in a rare, unanimous vote. Panetta, who is currently CIA director, will replace Robert Gates when he retires at the end of the month. He says he expects to be sworn in sometime next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to Leon Panetta running the Pentagon. It's going to be a tough mission for him, but he's a very talented and smart guy.

Thanks very much. When U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, civilians will most likely stay behind -- tens and thousands of them. Why some of them, their salaries will even be more expensive than the military salaries.

Plus, former Vice President Al Gore says President Obama has, quote, "failed." Al Gore says the president has failed. We're going to explain why.


BLITZER: About two-and-a-half hours from now, the president will launch what White House officials are describing as the beginning of the end of the very long war in Afghanistan.

But what happens after some of those U.S. troops come home?

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is looking into this part of the story for us.

It's rather complicated, isn't it -- Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, Wolf. It's the civilian surge. And, you know, the civilian surge was actually developed by the military general, David Petraeus. In fact, he started it in Iraq.

And his idea was that civilian experts were really a key to the stabilization of a country. But here in the United States, at a time of tight budgets, some are beginning to question that.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): As the troops start heading home, the State Department civilian surge will stay on at least for another three years. Approximately 1,300 State Department and U.S. AID experts advising Afghans on agriculture, rule of law and governance. The mission -- help Afghans to govern themselves effectively so they won't turn to the Taliban.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm asking you, the men and women of the foreign and civil services, to answer the call and serve in Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan.

DOUGHERTY: The secretary of State is telling her staff their work is crucial to national security at home. But Thursday, Clinton has to make that case to the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, some of whom insist the U.S. simply can't afford to spend U.S. taxpayer dollars on development projects in Afghanistan.

A senior State Department official tells CNN: "Of course, it's a tough sell."

Even the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan cites a litany of challenges.

RYAN CROCKER, NOMINEE FOR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: The rule of law, including corruption, which undermines the credibility of the Afghan state, narcotics, sustainable economic development, including employment.

DOUGHERTY: A report from the Democratic staff of the Foreign Relations Committee warns many U.S. aid programs are unsustainable once U.S. forces withdraw.

Clare Lockhart, institute for state effectiveness: I think a lot of the criticism has been valid and where it applies to a model that sees the money go essentially to the contractors.

DOUGHERTY: Lockhart, a development expert, says some programs do work. Like the National Solidarity Programme, that gives block grants directly to Afghan villages.

LOCKHART: One of the things that's measurable about this kind of program is that it doesn't need foreigners to be out there in the villages. The Afghans run it for themselves.


DOUGHERTY: All right. And Lockhart also says that the key issue is moving from an aid economy to an entrepreneurial economy, in which, you know, Afghans run the show and create the jobs.

And Wolf, she also says that Afghanistan can pay for its own security if the right type of investments are made now.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

Jill Dougherty, reporting.

Meanwhile, some serious sparring in the U.S. Senate over Afghanistan. Republican John McCain accusing Democrat Joe Manchin of dangerous isolationism after Manchin argued that the money being spent on the war is needed right here at home.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Thanks for having me, Wolf. How are you?


You've caused quite a stir. Let's talk about Afghanistan and troop withdrawal.

The president is getting ready to announce maybe between this year and next year 30,000 U.S. troops will leave. That will leave about 70,000 there, many of them through the end of 2014.

When do you want them home?

MANCHIN: Wolf, I haven't set a timetable, nor did I set a limit. I'd like to see the mission change to counterterrorism. Basically, the war on terror, which was our purpose for going there in the first place, to find the terrorists who did so much harm to so many innocent Americans.

And with that being said, if it's going to be a war on counterterrorism, or a war on terror, 70,000 seems like an awful lot of troops that would be needed for that type of a mission.

BLITZER: When I spoke to Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky yesterday, he thought maybe 10,000. Bring home 90,000 of those 100,000 troops, maybe leave in the short term 10,000.

Is that something that is realistic to you as well?

MANCHIN: Well, let's look at it this way, Wolf. Basically, the war on terror, or the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, by all known accounts, there's only 50 to 100 al Qaeda still present there. With the presence we have there, I assure you, they will go to other places in North Africa, if you will, and I think we know that.

So, have we won that war? I believe we've done a heck of a good job there. And by all accounts, the Taliban is anywhere between 5,000 to 30,000 strong, and they're kind of scattered.

So, continue to have a nation-building presence. And that's really what I believe we have, is a nation-building presence. I think it's time to rebuild America. I've got a lot of needs in West Virginia, and we can do an awful lot with a little bit of help and assistance.

BLITZER: Because there's hundreds of billions of dollars at stake right now, this year, next year, the year after.

This is a line that jumped out at me from a story in today's "Wall Street Journal." Let me read it to you. "Congressional officials said they expect roughly 25,000 troops to remain in the country, Afghanistan, after the 2014 handover, focused on assisting Afghanistan security forces and carrying out counterterrorism missions against the Taliban and al Qaeda."

You're a member of the Congress, the U.S. Senate. Have you been told that even after 2014, the U.S. wants to keep 25,000 troops in Afghanistan?

MANCHIN: Not directly. But I think that everything has alluded to that might happened. There will be a presence there. That's the problem that I do have.

Let me tell you the thing that took me over the top, Wolf. When I found out that China was one of the only countries in there extracting minerals such as copper, they have no presence, they have no military presence, they have not contributed to helping law and order preside there, and here they are able to extract and make billions of dollars. That took me kind of over the top to, here we are making the sacrifices, the human sacrifices that we have made, with the financial sacrifices.

I've just said, enough is enough. After 10 years, how long will it take and how long should we be there?

Go back to the war on terror. Let's go find the terrorists that have done us harm and wish to do us harm anywhere they may hide. We've proven with getting Bin Laden we can do that.

BLITZER: Is there a price tag that has been given to you, an estimate of how much, assuming the U.S. maintains tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan between now and the end of 2014, how much additional this is going to cost U.S. taxpayers?

MANCHIN: Well, let me tell you the numbers that I have heard and I have seen and that has been given to me.

We've spent $443 billion to date. We're on track to spend another $85 billion, Wolf. That's almost a trillion dollars.

Now, I can tell you, we can ill-afford that type of expenditure and basically have a country that doesn't have an economy, that does not have an infrastructure and, by all accounts, has a corrupt leader. You can't continue down this road and think that you're going to get success.

BLITZER: You know there's one way that you, a member of the Senate, and your colleagues could stop this. And that would be the power of the purse, voting into law a resolution that would stop the funding for the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan.

MANCHIN: Well, let me tell you, we have a vote coming up on the debt ceiling. I have been the first Democrat to say, I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless there's a long-term plan. And if you don't believe that what we're doing in Afghanistan or our Defense Department is part of that long-term plan, the two are the same as one, to be honest with you.

BLITZER: So what are you saying, unless there's a significant cut in spending in Afghanistan, you won't vote to increase the debt ceiling?

MANCHIN: Well, it's a bigger plan than that, but we have to have more revenue into this country, we have to have people paying their fair share. We have to look at all the different programs, make sure that abuse and fraud and waste is not there, and we have to look at the Defense Department. We have got three areas that we have to bring in as one and fix them, and that's part of it, absolutely.

BLITZER: So will you vote to cut funding for U.S. troops in Afghanistan?

MANCHIN: I will never cut the funding to troops that we have there. I would like to see the mission change and support the mission to the hilt of counterterrorism. But I can tell you one thing, there's an awful lot of savings to be had to bring people back, to bring them back to America, to refocus our efforts in rebuilding America.

BLITZER: Senator Manchin, thanks very much for joining us.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: And right now, by the way, on, I'm blogging about the real costs of the war in Afghanistan after some of those U.S. troops. Go check it out, let me know what you think, You can read my daily blog there.

It's called the largest human trafficking scheme in U.S. history, hundreds of people forced to live in shipping containers, and that's not all we found.

Plus, (INAUDIBLE) just a couple of -- an airline pilot's targets and an expletive rant, and it's all caught on tape.


BLITZER: A lot of people believe slavery is a thing of the past, at least here in the United States. But federal prosecutors now say hundreds of foreigners recruited to come here as guest workers have become modern-day slaves.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez reports on what is being called the largest human trafficking scheme in U.S. history.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This man we'll call "Boon" is a rice farmer from northern Thailand, a man human rights advocates say became a modern-day slave in the United States.

"BOON," FARM WORKER (through translator): Inside my heart I cry because I sacrificed to come to the United States to work.

GUTIERREZ: We tracked Boon's story back to Lampang, Thailand, where the average family lives on about $125 a month. We're not using his real name to protect his family.

Boon says in 2003, Thai recruiters told him he could earn in two weeks in the U.S. what he made in a whole year toiling in the rice patties of Thailand. He says the recruiter told him his expenses would be paid for by Global Horizons, a multimillion-dollar corporation that supplies foreign workers to American farms under the U.S. temporary agriculture worker program.

But he'd have to pay the recruiter about $9,300 up front. So Boon borrowed money to pay the fee. Then he and 30 other farmers were flown from Bangkok to Honolulu, where the government claims company representatives confiscated their passports. At this pineapple farm, Boon says they lived in freight containers for several days with no running water, electricity or bathroom. In the seven months Boon worked for Global, he says he was not paid for all the hours he worked, and that the $4,000 he did receive didn't even cover half of his recruiting fee.

On the other side of the world, Boon's family worried about him.

"JUMNIEN," "BOON'S" WIFE (through translator): My son kept asking when father would be home. We told him he had to stay there to work and pay off his debt.

GUTIERREZ: Last year, the Department of Justice indicted Global Horizons' CEO, Mordechai Orian, on charges that Global conspired with Thai recruiters to commit forced labor of 600 Thai workers, charges Orian called absurd.

MORDECHAI ORIAN, FMR. CEO, GLOBAL HORIZONS, INC.: How can there be human trafficking when all the government is helping us to bring those people in?

GUTIERREZ: Workers' advocate Chancee Martorell says greater oversight is needed to prevent the exploitation of labor.

CHANCEE MARTORELL, WORKERS' ADVOCATE: It is the fastest growing form of human trafficking around the world, contracted labor.

GUTIERREZ: Orian says he never took a cut of the recruiting fees, that his workers lived in clean apartments. Orian also denies confiscating the workers' passports.

He says Boon and the others are testifying against him in exchange for special visa status that allows them to stay in the U.S., but Boon says he lost what can be not be replaced, the deeds to his ancestral lands and time with his son.

After eight long years, Boone was finally able to see his wife, and his son, now a young man, and elderly mother, face to face via Skype. Boon's mother is pleading with him to come home, but under his special visa, he cannot leave the U.S. yet. Maybe in three years, he tells her, if he gets his green card. But she doesn't know if she will see that day.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


BLITZER: This Sunday, CNN is going in depth into the problem of modern-day slavery, young women and girls bought and sold for sex in Nepal. The actress and activist Demi Moore joins CNN's Freedom Project to present "Nepal's Stolen Children," Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

A reality check on the ground in Afghanistan. Who is really in control? We have one town's story that could worry the White House.

Stand by.

And you're going to find out why the former vice president of the United States -- that would be Al Gore -- why he now says President Obama, in his word, has failed.


BLITZER: A Southwest Airline pilot's shocking and disturbing rant all caught on tape. The lewd comments slamming gay and female colleagues were unknowingly transmitted from inside the plane's cockpit.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has the details.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pilot's tirade about flight attendants is peppered with obscenities, insults and slurs against homosexuals and women.

PILOT: Eleven (EXPLETIVE DELETED) over the top (EXPLETIVE DELETED) homosexuals and a granny. Eleven. I mean, think of the odds of that.

I thought I was in Chicago, which was Party land. After that, it was just a continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes.

MESERVE: "Grande" is an apparent reference to overweight people.

PILOT: I don't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I hate 100 percent of their asses.

MESERVE: The pilot talks about exploits with some of them.

PILOT: So six months I went to the bars three times. In six months, three times. Once with a granny and the (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and I wish I hadn't gone. At the very end, with two girls, one that was probably doable.

MESERVE: An air traffic controller tries to stop the pilot.

CONTROLLER: Whoever's transmitting better watch what you're saying now.

MESERVE: But the rant goes on.

PILOT: I just wouldn't anyone to know if I had (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I mean, it's all these (EXPLETIVE DELETED) old dudes and grannies, and there's like maybe a handful of cute chicks.

CONTROLLER: OK. Someone has got a stuck mike and telling us all about their endeavors. We don't need to hear that.

MESERVE: Finally, the transmission ends. Pilots on other planes chime in to quickly to say, it wasn't me. One adds some commentary. SKY WEST PILOT: And they wonder why airline pilots have a bad reputation.

MESERVE: The Federal Aviation Administration says it expects a higher level of professionalism from flight crews. Southwest put out a video press release.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he said is offensive and inconsistent with the professional behavior and overall respect we require from all employees.


MESERVE: The pilot was reprimanded, suspended without pay, and underwent diversity education. He is now back on the job.

The pilot has apologized, Southwest says, to controllers, his bosses, pilots, and, of course, flight attendants. But the Flight Attendants Union says Southwest's response has added insult to injury and it's considering filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much, Jeanne. Fascinating story.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us are two CNN political contributors, the Republican strategist Mary Matalin and the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Donna, I'm going to start with you because, all of a sudden, the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore -- and you managed his campaign back in 2000 for the presidency -- he has decided to write an article in "Rolling Stone" magazine blasting the president of the United States as a failure when it comes to global warming. I'll read to you a line or two.

"President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks, nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community, including our own National Academy, to bring the reality of the science before the public."

To which the White House responded, "The president has been clear since day one that climate change poses a threat domestically and globally, and under his leadership we have taken the most aggressive steps in our country's history to tackle the challenge."

Now, I know the former vice president, very passionate about this subject of global warming, but here's an out-of-the-blue question. And I will throw it to you, because it immediately raised suspicions in my political mind. Is the former vice president, Al Gore, so angry at this president, that it is conceivable he could challenge him this cycle for the Democratic presidential nomination?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't believe Al Gore will in any way challenge Barack Obama. But, you know, Wolf, it's a 7,000-word essay, and I've had an opportunity to look at it. And this section on the president's leadership is a very small section.

It's really a very comprehensive look at, what is the problem of making this a very important issue for our country? He blasts the news media, he talks about the special interests.

More importantly, Al Gore talks about the failure of leadership at all levels. But he also praises the president for some of the things that the president has done in fuel efficiency cars and some of the money in the stimulus package for retrofitting federal buildings. But overall, this is an indictment on the leadership of our country and dealing with a very important challenge that we all are facing, which is climate change.

BLITZER: He's 63 years old, Al Gore, Mary. Is it totally out of the question that he could decide, you know what? He ran for president once or twice before, and he would like to do it yet one more time? You think that's in the cards?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's not out of the question that he might consider it. But it's out of the question that he would make any headway.

He has seriously become a parody of himself. Unlike his former boss, President Clinton is beloved around the world and continues to do good work.

Al Gore has become really a caricature of himself, and if he wants to talk about a failure of leadership, the CBO is saying we're going to have a sudden fiscal crisis, they're worried about the debt is worsening in the 14 states that will be swing states in 2012, that unemployment has risen in all of them.

This is like crazy politics for Al Gore to be talking about, and it certainly doesn't help this president. But it doesn't -- it would be a kamikaze mission for Al Gore to ever get into the primary or to think he could run again.

BLITZER: What do you think, Donna?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, he is still a leader in technology. And the fact that he has a 7,000-word essay about the role that the media, the role of academia, politicians and others, I think it's a very good essay. And I hope everyone will get an opportunity to read all about it.

But look, Al Gore is still relevant. He is out there raising money for important causes, not just climate change. But he has been doing a great deal on education and health care and some other issues that he deeply cares about.

I'm glad that he is using his time and his wisdom to devote to this issue, because, Wolf, any one of us who have been out there recently across this country -- I travel all the time -- tornadoes, these fires burning -- I was in Jacksonville, Florida, of all places yesterday, and the smog from the smoke coming from southern Georgia, we have some real issues to deal with. And I hope we have a serious conversation about climate change and stop just kicking people simply because we disagree with them.

BLITZER: Well, I'm not kicking anyone. The only thing that I said, Al Gore could have written that article without blasting the president of the United States as a failure. I mean, that's pretty unusual. But let's leave it on that point, because I want to quickly get Mary --

BRAZILE: A failure to use the bully pulpit.

BLITZER: He failed. He says, "He failed to use the bully pulpit, he never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action."

He goes on in that paragraph and on. He doesn't simply -- let me just move on to one other thing, because it's cute, and I want Mary to respond to this very different subject.

The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, he's thinking of becoming a Republican presidential candidate. I'll play a little clip to get you going on this, Mary. Listen to how he described Twitter.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: If you've had enough, take out your phone and text "Fed up" to 95613. And you can always follow me on Tweeter (sic) at Governor Perry.


BLITZER: One tweets, but it's called Twitter. He has got to come up to the jingo, the language, if you will, Mary.

MATALIN: I love that. I mean, what everybody wants in this cycle is authenticity. And if you don't think there aren't an overwhelming majority of people in a certain demographic who don't know the difference between a twit and a tweet, and they think it's all twitty, then you're missing what's going on out there. I think it's endearing.

I'll just say, last week, at the leadership conference here in New Orleans, Rick Perry rocked the house. And I don't think that the coverage did justice to the attraction of his candidacy. Should he choose to get in, he'll be formidable, indeed.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much. A good discussion.

The U.S. government is in favor of it. Some are concerned though that foreign governments are going too far after they invest in property right here at the nation's capital.


BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: If President Obama's approval rating doesn't rise above 45 percent, can he be reelected? It's below that level in the latest Gallup poll.

Jeff in Georgia writes, "Mr. Cafferty" -- I like that -- "any person who is at 45 percent or less doesn't deserve to be reelected. The current dismal approval rating is an indication the electorate is dissatisfied with his administration's policies that are only effective in driving our country into a deeper hole."

Stephanie writes, "It depends on how many undecided are among those polled. Thus far, the president is polling better than the Republicans who have declared."

Larry in Texas, "He can get reelected if Bachmann, Palin or Paul get the nomination. Other than that, the only way he'll serve another four years is to have Mrs. Clinton as his running mate. More than likely, he is history."

Dave writes, "Only if he gets the same minority vote he got in the last election, and that's doubtful with minority unemployment running close to 30 percent."

James in North Carolina, "I'm about as right wing as you can get without tipping over. I don't see any scenario where Obama can lose. His approval rating may be low, but the Republicans are again going to run someone who cannot win."

Joe in Ohio writes, "Only if he tweaks his 'Yes, we can' sound bite to 'Yes, we have to.' I believe most Americans know nothing is going to change unless everybody pays a part of the bill. We've all got to help."

And Dave in Orlando writes, "Your question assumes that he will be running against a viable opponent, in which case the answer is no. However, if the Republicans can't find anybody other than what's in the sorry sack of losers they have running around the country saying all these idiotic things now, then he's got a chance. Personally, I intend to vote for none of the above unless Hillary runs."