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Iraq's Shady Relationships; Crack Cocaine Sentences Eased; The G.I. Janes?; World's Most Dangerous Drive; When Prisoners of War Return Home; Cain Embroiled In Sexual Harassment Accusations, Yet Raised $1.6 In Single Week Since Allegations Arose; Condoleezza Rice Interview: Iran's Nuclear Program

Aired November 5, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We keep learning more about the sexual harassment allegations against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. This hour, the cost, contradictions, and the impact on Cain's presidential campaign.

Plus, after years of war in Iraq, is that country an ally of the United States, or not? I'll ask the Bush administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

And, buckle up, we'll take you on one of the world's most dangerous and deadly drives.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We didn't hear from Herman Cain's accuser herself, but her lawyer says she still believes she was the victim of sexual harassment by the Republican presidential candidate back in the 1990s, when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association.

The lawyer, Joel Bennett, responding skeptically to Herman Cain's denials.


JOEL BENNETT, LAWYER FOR CAIN ACCUSER: There's an expression, where there's smoke, there's fire. The fact that there are multiple complaints tells me that it's more likely than not that there was some sexual harassment activity by this man at that time.

All of that is subject to proof. He would be allowed to rebut all of them, and but I-and the fact that there's more than one complainant is meaningful.


BLITZER: Let's assess what's going on right now with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, if no other woman were to publicly announce what happens right now, is it possible that this whole issue could sort of go away for Herman Cain ? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, it is. So far, in fact, Wolf, this hasn't affected him much in the polls. He's sitting right up there, among Republicans.

Until you get specific charges leveled by specific people, it's very difficult for Herman Cain to respond. Having said that, I kind of believe that in the end, you're going to -- to -- you know, you can't stick your finger in the dam, you know. At some point, somebody will come out and put a face on it, because enough people know who these women are.

BLITZER: It's been pretty embarrassing, though. And the lawyer on Friday, when we heard Joel Bennett, he didn't want to go into the specifics.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: His client certainly doesn't want her name announced, she wants to just continue her private work. She works for the federal government. She's been married for 26 years. I guess he can't blame her for wanting to maintain some privacy in all of this.

BORGER: Right. Sure, you can't. There is an option, which is don't do anything. She was clearly angered by what Herman Cain was saying publicly, because she believes her complaint was valid. So, you either go out, and do it publicly, or you do nothing. Instead, she took sort of a middle tact and I think that puts Herman Cain in a very difficult and unfair position, because he's responding to anonymous charges, publicly.

BLITZER: And he's going forward, trying to do the best he can to try to move beyond it.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: We'll look ahead this week to see how it unfolds, Gloria. I assume he will want to focus in on the economy 9-9-9, his tax reform plan, and all of that.

BORGER: That's right. That is what his campaign says. I can tell you, Wolf, that since this story broke a week ago, Herman Cain has raised $1.6 million, for the entire last quarter he raised $2.8 million. So, this has helped him as far as fundraising is concerned.

BLITZER: Certainly has. And we are going to continue to follow it every step of the way. We'll see what's going on. Gloria, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Let's dig in a little bit deeper right now with our Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION" and our Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein.

One day, Herman Cain blasts the liberal news media for this, then he blasts the Rick Perry campaign, and elements in that campaign. He seems to be going in multiple directions.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Except for what happened. And that's really the point.

The point is, this is not good policy, by the way, in terms of a campaign. You really ought to get it out there, and say here are the facts of the matter. But if you're not going to do that, what do you try to get out there, into the atmosphere ,to start taking over the headlines? People are out to get me.

By the way, it works very well for the people who like Herman Cain, because then they know -- they believe him. They believe they're out to get him.

BLITZER: He has raised more than $1 million since the story exploded almost a week ago. Look at this new poll that came out Friday, the ABC News/Washington Post poll. Romney is at 24 percent, these are among Republicans. Cain at 23 percent, well within the 3.5 margin of error, Perry at 13 percent , Gingrich at 12 percent .


BLITZER: So far, in terms of the polls, in terms of the money, it doesn't seem to be hurting him.

BROWNSTEIN: Actually, I think it probably does, in the end. What we said earlier this week, as we pointed out, if you look at a poll like this, if you look at the CNN national polls, look at the polls in the state, Herman Cain's core constituency is the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. They're the most likely to rally around him in something like this and to basically believe that the media is out to smear him, because he is a strong African-America, conservative. I think that will solidify him.

That kind of the kneeling (ph) force of this will be real for a portion of the electorate. The unanswered question, though, Wolf, is whether this really does lowers his ceiling, and whether there are other Republicans who are perhaps more moderate, more secular, more looking for an economic manager, who will think twice now before moving to him. And in that way, if he kind of stays in this range, like many other things have happened, things ends up being good for Mitt Romney.

BORGER: I agree with you, that it ends up being good for Mitt Romney and better for the Obama re-elect campaign. But, I would also say, essentially, these Cain supporters have now, in the new terminology, doubled down on Cain.


CROWLEY: If it turns out next week he goes, OK, well, there was this, there was that. Those people were betrayed and you will see the numbers going down.

BLITZER: You saw-speaking of Mitt Romney-the op-ed he wrote Friday, in "USA TODAY", how I'll tackle spending and debt. One of the things he says, and he goes through some specifics of what he would cut. He says Washington is full of sacred cows that supposedly can't be slaughtered, and electrified third rails that allegedly can't be touched. But if we do not act now, the irresistible mathematics of debt will soon lead to unimaginable peril. Have you taken a closer look at his recommendations.

BROWNSTEIN: That is correct. I mean, I think, most Americans agree with that. That we are on an unsustainable course, but what we are going to have in 20123, regardless of who the Republican nominee is, is in all likelihood, the super committee does not reach a big deal, we are going to have a big debate in 2012 about how to do this.

And the core difference is going to be that President Obama is going to say that part of the solution has to be higher taxes on the most affluent, as part of a long-term deficit solution.

And Republicans will resist that, in fact, in most cases, not so much Romney. Romney extends the Bush tax, Perry would go further toward cutting taxes on the affluent. And one key thing about Mitt Romney is he has moved further in these documents, towards embracing the idea of converting Medicare from a defined benefit program into a premium support program, where you would get a check from the government to go buy private insurance. That will be a big point of debate if he is the Republican nominee.

BLITZER: The Democrats pounced on Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, when he made some major recommendations to reform Medicare.

CROWLEY: But it wasn't a full-on embrace.



CROWLEY: There's some plausible deniability in there when it gets to a general -- should he get to a general campaign. But you're perfectly right. These are defining -- everyone talks about this is a defining election. It really will be. There's not a lot of middle ground here.

BLITZER: You saw the new numbers, unemployment numbers going down from 9.1 to 9 percent ; 80,000 jobs created in October. And the revised numbers for August and September are a lot better, remember back in August it was only zero jobs created. Now they're getting closer to 100,000, then 100,000 or so, a little bit more in September. That's why that 9.1 percent went down to 9 percent.

The president was asked about it Friday at his news conference in Cannes. Listen to what he's saying about the economic situation here at home.


OBAMA: Jim, I have to tell you, the least of my concerns at the moment is the politics of a year from now. I'm worried about putting people back to work.


BLITZER: You always hear that from a president. He's not even thinking about the politics here at home.


BLITZER: Right, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: First of all, Cannes would not be my first choice as a place to consecrate economic austerity for Greece. You are going to pick a different backdrop for that.

But, yes, look, obviously the president is worried about politics, but in this case, the politics and the economics are pretty indistinguishable, or inextricable. The biggest obstacle he faces, in terms of re-election, is disappointment, in his performance particularly on the economy. He's getting job growth but not job growth at a level that will really change anyone's sense of how the economy is progressing. And that sense of -- the biggest, I think, variable here is not so much people's assessment of where we are now but whether they think the trajectory is getting better. And that is what has really eroded this year.

BLITZER: The trend? Is the country moving in the right direction? Candy, or the wrong direction? That's the question political pollsters think is the most important question in re-electing or not re-electing an incumbent.

CROWLEY: That's why the Obama re-elect is looking at this two-pronged approach to it. The first is we started out losing, you know hemorrhaging jobs. Now we're not making enough. It's the trajectory but it's also -- oh, by the way, this guy, he's crazy and will take us back to the policies that got us here in the first place. There are two ways to go about it, and they intend to go at it both ways.


BLITZER: Very quickly, you have a new article in "The National Journal" entitled, "Back to Basics: Can Barack Obama's Amplified Populism Galvanize the Modern Democratic Coalition." Can it?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it is an open question. Like Candy says, the choice element of this has to be a big part of the re-elect, when there is so much discontent over the direction of the country. The question is, the Democratic coalition is different than it used to be. It relies a lot more on upper middle income, white collar suburban voters. And the issue, debate in the Democratic Party, is this populism, that he is amplifying now, going to drive those voters away, or will they agree that people even above them on the economic ladder, have gotten off scot-free?

BLITZER: And Candy, you will have a good show, "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, Noon, Eastern. We'll see you Sunday morning. CROWLEY: You watch both times, right?

BLITZER: Yes, because I sometimes miss something in the first time I see it. So, I need to watch it a second time to get the nuance.


BLITZER: Understand what I'm saying?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Worth the repeat.

BLITZER: Absolutely. Thank you.

Thank you, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A former governor caught in the middle of the financial scandal, calling it quits. We are on the trail of millions of dollars of missing money.

Plus, is Israel on the verge of the strike against Iran? Reports say the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is rallying support, but could it backfire?

Condoleezza Rice talks about a moment when she was secretary of State that made her very uncomfortable.


BLITZER: Here in the United States a failing brokerage firm is in the crosshairs over millions of dollars of missing money. And now its chief executive officer, the former governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, has resigned.

Corzine says his exit without a severance package will be best for the firm. We are following this unfolding story, questions about possible wrongdoing. Lisa Sylvester has been reporting on the story for us, for a while.

What's the very latest, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Jon Corzine issued a statement on Friday saying, quote, "I feel great sadness for what has transpired at MF Global and the impact it has had on the firm's clients, employees and many others."

But right now there's $633 million of customers' money missing. A trustee has been named in the case and has been granted the authority to issue is subpoenas.


SYLVESTER (voice over): CNN has learned federal regulators investigating M F Global have voted to issue is subpoenas to company executives. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is trying to unravel what happened to more than $600 million in customer accounts, that the company earlier this week reported missing.

Among those worried is Jim Mindling, a customer, who has about $100,000 in a brokerage account with MF Global, that is now frozen.

JIM MINDLING, M F GLOBAL CUSTOMER: If they invaded my funds, it means they played with my funds, they took my segregated funds, used it for their own benefit and lost it. So, as far as I'm concerned that's really a serious criminal act.

SYLVESTER: MF Global was run by former Senator and Governor Jon Corzine before its rapid collapse earlier this week. The brokerage firm invested more than $6 billion in European sovereign debt, and was heavily exposed. The large commodities exchange where M F Global operated said the company failed to keep separate its customer accounts from its corporate funds.

Segregation of customer fund sincere the bedrock upon which the industry is built and there are regulators and others who supervise that segregation.

MF Global operated has said the company failed to keep separate its customer accounts from its corporate funds.

SCOTT PELTZ, RMS MCGLADREY: The segregation of customer funds is the bedrock upon which the industry is built. And there are regulators and others who supervise that segregation.

SYLVESTER: MF Global's employees are still showing up for work and a bankruptcy judge granted the company an $8 million lifeline to keep them afloat until mid November. JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank both hold more than $1 million each in MF Global debt. But Jim Mindling says the biggest thing is a lost of trust from its Main Street customers.

MINDLING: What MF Global has done is they have undermined the entire integrity of the system, of protections and balances from the clearing house down to the segregated account.


SYLVESTER: Now, there is a Web site that has been set up for customers. It's If there is missing money, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation covers up to $500,000 in potential customer losses, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch this story closely with you. How the mighty, in this particular case, Jon Corzine, have fallen, at least for now. See what happens.

Lisa, thank you.

Is Israel moving toward a strike against Iran's nuclear program? We are going to tell you why speculation, right now, at a critical high.

Plus, thousands of inmates start walking out of federal prisons. Why sentences for crack cocaine are being eased here in the U.S.


BLITZER: "A Rocket Engine Tested", bold headlines in Israeli newspapers have raised the possibility that push could come to shove regarding Iran's nuclear program. Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty has been digging into this story for us. She over at the State Department.

Jill, is military action at all likely?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: People are talking about it, Wolf. And you know that this idea has been raised numerous times for a long period. But right now, it is stronger than ever.


DOUGHERTY (voice over): Speculation is reaching critical mass that Israel is inching closer to launching a military air strike against Iran's nuclear program. While Israeli media reports say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak already have gone to the cabinet with the idea, in an interview with CNN, Barak guarded his words.

EHUD BARAK, DEFENSE MINISTER, ISRAEL: I don't think we are in a state of discussing any kind of military action. I don't think, that if and when we have to discuss it, it should be discussed the way we are talking now.

DOUGHERTY: Speculation is being fueled by Israel's successful test this week of a new rocket propulsion system. The Israelis called it preplanned, but that's not putting out the fire. From France, President Barack Obama weighed in.

OBAMA: The IAEA is scheduled to release a report on Iran's nuclear program next week and President Sarkozy and I agree on the need to maintain the unprecedented international pressure on Iran to meet its obligations.

DOUGHERTY: That new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, is expected to reveal details of Iran's alleged program to develop nuclear weapons. At the State Department, the spokeswoman insisted the U.S. does not seek a military confrontation with Iran.

VICTORIA NULAND, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: That said, we are going to use every means at our disposal to continue to try to increase the international pressure on Iran to meet its IAEA obligations, and to come clean on its nuclear program.

DOUGHERTY: So, will Israel or even the U.S. take out Iran's nuclear program? One Iran expert says, not likely.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INT'L. PEACE: I think very few people think it's going to happen, but we all feel like we have to take it seriously.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY: Yes, taking it seriously. And, you know, there could be really major repercussions, if that were to happen. If Iran were to be struck by the United States or by Israel. It could have implications for Afghanistan, Iraq and certainly, potentially, it could even destabilize the world economic situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume they're doing all sorts of contingency planning at the State Department. Elsewhere here, in Washington, they are sort of focused in on this issue right now, especially given the fact that the IAEA is going to come out with their new report next week.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, Wolf. You know, so far, we are hearing that that won't have a smoking gun. But it is certainly is turning up the heat on this issue, big time.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty at the State Department. We'll watch it together, with you.

Coming up, we'll get some reaction from Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of State. I have a wide-ranging interview with her on that and more, including the billions of dollars on the war in Afghanistan. Is all that money well spent for the United States? My interview with Condoleezza Rice, that is coming up.

Plus, scores of U.S. NATO supply trucks torched, bombed and looted on the road to Afghanistan ahead. Why the grilling drive often turns deadly.


BLITZER: We're looking ahead to a report next week on the state of Iran's nuclear program. As we reported, there are signs that the Israelis are preparing for the worst.


BLITZER: Joining us now from the University of Miami, Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of State, former national security adviser. She is also the author of a brand new book entitled "No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington".

Madame Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's nice to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to some of the current issues and then we'll talk about the book.

You've probably been seeing these reports that Israel might be preparing to launch some type of military strike at Iran because of its nuclear program. Would that be wise?

RICE: Well, the fact that we're even talking about that shows the danger of the Iranian program. My view has been that there's still time for diplomacy with Iran, particularly tough diplomacy, but really the international community has got to be a lot tougher than it's been willing to do in the past.

I really don't have any insight into what may or may not be going on in Israeli calculations, but I do know that there's much more that could be done to Iran through sanctions and it's high time that it get done.

BLITZER: For eight years, you were consumed with this concern about Iran and its nuclear program. What should the U.S. do? Because sanctions don't seem to have had much of an effect.

RICE: I think the sanctions have had some effect. I think the Iranians are having some trouble with their program, probably many of the kinds of equipment and the materials that they need are harder to get, thanks to the embargoes and those should be stepped up.

But it is possible to put a lot more pressure on the Iranian economy, too. Perhaps people should really start looking at an oil and gas embargo and what affect that would have. The Iranian regime is dangerous but not ten-feet tall. And a concerted effort here, building on what has been done the past several years, we really did manage to bring together an international coalition around Iran. We did manage to get the Iranians to the Security Council a number of times.

And it is extremely important that those sanctions be toughened. Now the president of the United States should never take off the table military action, but I think everybody understands that that has a lot of potentially unintended consequences.

BLITZER: The Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki seems to be aligning himself increasingly, with Iran. He refused to allow the United States to maintain a military presence beyond the end of this year- with the kind of immunity that the U.S. troops would require, and he is increasingly supporting Bashar al Assad in Syria.

Is this why the U.S. went to war, spent a trillion dollars or whatever, lost so many lives, to see Iraq emerge a strategic of Iran?

RICE: Well, let -- Wolf, I think that significantly overstates the case about what's happening. The Iraqis really don't like the Iranians very much. They are Arabs, not Persians.

Maliki himself actually left Tehran, didn't go into exile there, went instead to Syria, which may explain some of the linkage with Bashar Al-Assad. And he ought to be pressed to get in line with the Arab spring because Maliki is an elected leader not a dictator.

But we also have to look the fact that Iraq has now become the fourth largest purchaser of foreign military sales from the United States. We have to look at the fact that even though we were unable to work out an arrangement for residual force, there's still some talk of perhaps doing that.

I don't know what happened in the immunity deal. We actually did work out an immunity deal with the Iraqis that they were willing to accept. But we should try to revisit the issue of residual force. But it's highly overstating the case to say that Iraq is somehow has become a strategic ally of Iran. I think it's actually simply not the case.

BLITZER: Well, it's moving in that direction, increasingly. Why would Kuwait, for example --

RICE: No, I don't even -- I don't even --

BLITZER: Why would Kuwait allow 30,000 U.S. troops have a presence there, have the immunity that the U.S. troops require, but a country like Iraq, where the U.S. invested so much is saying to the United States?

RICE: Well, first of all, I was not inside the negotiations. I don't know who said no to whom. I do know that we were able to work out an immunity clause with the Iraqis that was acceptable to them and acceptable to the president and the Pentagon as well.

BLITZER: Beyond the end of this year, beyond the end of 2011?

RICE: My point, Wolf, is that we were able to work out an immunity clause and I don't know whether or not that same immunity clause might have applied, had it been looked at, that it might have applied to our forces going forward.

I was not inside the negotiations, so I don't know where the breakdown was. But when you have the Iraqis buying military equipment from us, you will have some training of Iraqi forces.

The Iraqi people are no particular friends of the Iranians. So let's not overstate the case that they're somehow moving into the Iranian camp. I think there's simply not the evidence for that at this point.

BLITZER: Two billion dollars a week, the United States is still spending in Afghanistan, $2 billion a week, more than $100 billion a year for at least another three years, through the end of 2014.

Is this money well spent, given where Hamid Karzai is right now and where the opposition to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is right now?

RICE: Well, Hamid Karzai is not a perfect partner, that's quite obvious, but he isn't the Taliban either. And he's not harboring al Qaeda in his country. And this is a country that no longer has a significant al Qaeda safe haven.

It is a country that actually has made some progress toward decent governance. Yes, Pakistan is continuing -- a continuing problem for Afghanistan and a continuing problem for us. It's really that frontier between the two countries that is the most dangerous threat to not just Afghanistan, but I think also to Pakistan.

So, yes, there's a lot of work yet to do in Afghanistan. I think we can, in a reasonable amount of time, train Afghan security forces that are capable of preventing an existential threat to the Afghan government. Help the Afghans to create more decent governance particularly perhaps in the provinces. And the real wild card is whether or not Pakistan is going to really go after the extremists in its midst and the extremists in that northwest frontier. That's really where the issue is.

BLITZER: In your book "No Higher Honor," this line really jumped out at me on one of your visits to Saudi Arabia. The crowned prince pulled out a gift-wrapped package. I have a gift for you, he said. It was a full-length, beautifully embroidered Abaya, the black robe and veil Saudi women traditionally wear.

I had it made especially for you, he said tenderly. Our women wear them. Yes, as a sign of oppression, I thought. How do you balance the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, where they can't drive a car or fully vote with the need for oil and U.S. Saudi relationship, maintaining that balance? How frustrated were you?

RICE: Well, this is a deeply conservative society. I'll say one thing for King Abdullah. He is a reformer within his own context. He has, after all, has put into place a multibillion dollar university that is a technical university where women will study, even though they'll study separately.

He, himself, has said that women should be able to vote by 2015. Now that may not sound like much to us, but from the Saudi king that is really a revelation. So this is a society that is deeply conservative and you're not going to change it overnight.

I think the real issue how out of step will Saudi Arabia be with the democratizing trends in the rest of the region? That's why we have to keep pressing Saudi Arabia to make reforms and to make changes.

It's not just about their oil. It's a strategically located ally as well and the United States isn't a non-governmental organization that can simply press for human rights. It also has interests.

But I think we've learned over time that our interests are ultimately better served if our values are well served, too. Yes, it's a balancing act with a country like Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: Everything seems to be a balancing act in all the negotiations all over the world. Madame Secretary, eight years you served here in Washington. I know you're enjoying the private sector right now.

Good luck. Let me remind our viewers. The name of the book, it's entitled "No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington." Thanks very much for joining us.

RICE: Thanks very much, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: Changes in crack cocaine sentences, setting thousands of federal prison inmates free. We'll have the details.

Female soldiers in the U.S. military doing something they never had the chance to do before. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Inmates have started to walking out of federal prisons here in the United States. It's all because of a new law, which went into effect this week, reducing sentences for crack cocaine offenses.

CNN's Mary Snow has been looking into the story for us. Mary, what are you finding out?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, sentences for crack cocaine charges have long been criticized as being too harsh. The Bureau of Prisons says 500 inmates were released the first day these new rules went into effect earlier this week.

And it says staff members have been working round the clock to process orders, coming in from judges.


SNOW (voice-over): Among inmates who stand to be released early from prison is Hamedah Hasan. Featured in this video by the ACOU.

HAMEDAH HASAN (via telephone): I'm a 43-year-old mother and grandmother currently serving my 18th year into a 27-year federal prison sentence.

SNOW: The ACOU points out that had she been convicted of cocaine charges, she would no longer be in prison. New guidelines shorten sentences for an estimated 12,000 inmates.

MICHAEL NACHMANOFF, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER: This really has been one of the great stains on our federal criminal justice system for 20 years or more.

SNOW: Michael Nachmanoff is a federal public defender who has fought for years to change crack cocaine sentences so they are similar to punishments for crimes involving powdered cocaine.

While the U.S. Sentencing Commission changed the guidelines this summer, they only now went into effect for those in prison. Nachmanoff says 75 of his clients were freed.

NACHMANOFF: A lot of people have been sitting in jail for a long time, not because they didn't commit crimes, but because the punishment they faced was too harsh and unjustified compared to other people who committed similar crimes in similar ways.

SNOW: He says there has been a racial disparity, but the majority of people convicted of possession were dealing crack were African- Americans. Congress created harsh sentences for crack cocaine when it hit the streets in the 1980s.

Five grams of crack amounted to five years in prison, the same sentence for 500 grams of cocaine. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced disparities. It's something Julie Stewart, president of Families against Mandatory Minimums has fought for.

JULIE STEWARD, FAMM: Yes, the person has broken the law. Yes, there should be a consequence, but how much time is too much? Most mandatory sentences are so high and so rigid that judges can't get around them. So people are going to prisons for extraordinarily long times, way beyond what they need to learn their lesson.


SNOW: Wolf, there is one other aspect to this story. The Federal Sentencing Commission estimates that $200 million will be saved within the first five years of these new rules -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much. Interesting story, important one as well.

Women can't be sent to the front lines of combat, but these female soldiers in the United States are going into the danger zone and they're getting Special Forces training to do something only they can do.

And it's one of the world's most dangerous and deadly drives. The 24- hour trek, bringing supplies through Pakistan to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We'll take you along for the ride.


BLITZER: It's a very dramatic and important development. Female soldiers in the United States Army are doing something they've never done before. They're serving in special commando units for the very first time.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is standing by. She has more on this latest development. Barbara, what happened here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we went down to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to take a look at all of this. It's not quite G.I. Jane, but it's as close as it gets.


STARR (voice-over): Elite special forces training to assault compounds. Many are headed to Afghanistan. These troops have a new weapon. For the first time, women are joining elite commando units, going on raids into compounds and even living in villages.

Their job, to do what the men cannot. Deal directly with the Afghan women and children. For the first time ever on television, CNN was given access to their rigorous training.

CAPTAIN ANNIE KLEIMAN, U.S. AIR FORCE: We have got a bunch of strong, capable, awesome women who can, you know, take any challenge that's thrown at us.

STARR: Captain Annie Kleiman who just began training, laughingly rejects comparisons to G.I. Jane. KLEIMAN: We're not going to be shaving our heads anytime soon.

STARR: Only half the women who apply are accepted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These women are a cut above the rest of the army.

STARR: But even as they train here at Fort Braggs, the women know they are skeptics.

KLEIMAN: We're definitely going to be prepared to pull our weight, to be part of the team.

STARR: It's training both brain and brawn. They move hundreds of pounds of weights, run an obstacle course, and work as a team to solve problems. It's politically delicate.

Women are not allowed to serve in frontline combat units, so these women, heavily armed, will only go into compounds after they are secured by assault teams.

MAJOR PATRICK MCCARTHY, U.S. ARMY: The women that are on raids, they're not deliberately part of the direct action raid. They are there to help mitigate following the raid.

STARR: It's an effort to ease resentment Afghans feel when troops raid their villages. For women, it means offering help for villagers, but still also searching Afghan women for weapons.

STAFF SGT. DANIELLE BAYAR, U.S. ARMY: It's being sort of acknowledged that women can operate at this level.

STARR: New recruits know the danger. There is no true hotline. Just last month, team member First Lieutenant Ashley White and two male soldiers were killed during what the army described as combat operations in Afghanistan.

The first death of a team member has made the program so sensitive, no senior army special operations commander would talk to us on camera. The women did. Sergeant Christine Baldwin is just back from Afghanistan.

SGT. CHRISTINE BALDWIN, U.S. ARMY: This is a program that is going to keep going on. It's a need that needs to be met over there right now.


STARR: Now, look, women right now have served in the war zone four years, but being with these Special Forces out in the very front of combat does pose some unique risks. Just a few weeks ago, a female team got caught in the middle of a fire fight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember that. All right, Barbara, thanks very much an important development.

Day in, day out, truck convoy set out in Pakistan carrying fuel and supplies for the war zone in Afghanistan, but they are sitting ducks. Militants have found the weak link for the U.S. and NATO war effort.

CNN's Reza Sayah takes us behind the scenes in Karachi.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Four months ago, Gholam Abbas got in his oil tanker and started what's maybe one of the most dangerous drives in the world. And this is how he ended up, severe burns on both his legs and both his arms.

I couldn't think. Just wanted to run away, he says. There was gunfire, a huge blast. The attack was among hundreds carried out by militants in recent years, all targeting fuel and supply trucks, destined for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is surrounded by land. No seaports. So the supplies first arrive here at the southern port city of Karachi, Pakistan. Every day, hundreds of trucks load up their cargo and start the grueling 24-hour drive. It may take days to complete. For this, they get a little more than $200.

(on camera): They use two routes. One goes from Karachi through northwest Pakistan and on to the Khyber Pass. The other goes through Baluchastan Province, southwest Pakistan and through Chaman District.

At one point, 80 percent of U.S. and NATO supplies went through Pakistan. The supply's critical for the military operation there.

(voice-over): Then came the attacks, the defenseless trucks torched, bombed, looted, easy prey for militants who now had a potent way to bleed the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

This Youtube video shows Pakistani Taliban fighters joy riding in an American Humvee they said they lifted in one of the attacks. Raise your hand if you've been attacked, if your truck or you have been attacked.

At this truck depot, dozens say they're victims, some showing off their scars. "Fifteen to 20 militants blocked the road, started firing, and then torched our truck," said this driver. "We can only get in the truck and drive. If we get there, great otherwise, anyone can kill us."

What's left of the trucks end up in graveyards like this. Police say over the past three years scores of attacks have destroyed hundreds of trucks, killing at least 50 people.

With mounting attacks and losses, U.S. officials say they've cut deliveries through Pakistan by about one half, opting to use alternate routes through Afghanistan's northern neighbors.

Yet every day, this man and hundreds of Pakistani drivers still make one of the world's most dangerous drives, knowing it could be their last. "What else can we do," he says, "poverty has made us desperate." Reza Sayah, CNN, Karachi.


BLITZER: What a story that is. Thank you, Reza.

Meanwhile, prisoners of war returning home after years in captivity. The line is blurred between real life and fiction in a pair of television dramas.

And a cargo ship battered by strong seas in New Zealand. Hot shots and more coming up.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this week's "Hot Shots." In South Korea, tanks cross a floating bridge as part of an annual troop exercise. In India, a woman prays in a relative's grave on All Souls Day.

In New Zealand, a cargo ship is battered by strong seas. The vessel has been stuck on a reef since October 5th and has spilled over 300 tons of oil.

In China, contestants compete for the chance to represent Hongkong at the Annual Santa Winter Games in Sweden. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

Prisoners of war returning home after years in captivity. The line is blurred between reality and fiction in an Israeli television drama, which has led to an American spin-off. CNN's Kevin Flower has the story.


KEVIN FLOWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Carrying banners and chanting cheers of support, hundreds gather outside an Israeli airport.

Inside, television news cameras capture the comments of an Israeli government spokesman as the country's about to conclude a historic prisoner exchange.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few moments ago, a Red Cross airplane carrying the Israeli prisoners of war has landed. The prime minister is on her way to greet them. Then they will be united with their families.

FLOWER: It may look and sound like very recent events but this is not coverage of the Gilad Shilat story, but the premiere episode of an Israeli television drama called "Prisoners of War." The series, entering its second season, tells the story of two Israeli soldiers returning home after 17 years in captivity.

GIDEON RAFF, SHOW CREATOR/PRODUCEER: I was curious about the fact that we're so adamant about bringing back the boys and we talk about that part all the time, but nobody talks about what happens to them once they're here.

FLOWER: Gideon Raff is the show creator. He says the drama is based on extensive research about real-life experience of Israelis like Gilad Shalit who have been held in prolonged captivity and frequently suffer various symptoms profit traumatic stress disorders. RAFF: One of the things I've discovered is coming back from captivity is not the happy ending but the beginning of a new struggle.

FLOWER: The first seasons of the depiction of that struggle and some of the similarities to the case of then still captive Gilad Shalit brought some criticism that the show was manipulating public sentiment on a highly emotional issue in Israel.

RAFF: The fact it's a sensitive subject is the reason we should deal with it. Once the show did air, people were a lot less controversial about it then because they saw we dealt with it the utmost respect and sensitivity.

FLOWER: Criticism aside, the show has caught on and has spawned an American adaptation about a returning POW called "Homeland," which premiered this month on the show Time Cable Network.

Raff, who also serves as an executive producer on "Homeland," says the POW issue needed to be approached differently for U.S. audiences where captive American soldiers are not household names.

RAFF: In the American version, from the very beginning, we suspect that he might be someone else. He might be a terrorist, he might be turned so that was part of the adaptation.


FLOWER: Fiction turned into reality and reality turned into fiction seems to be striking a chord. "Prisoners of War" is one of Israel's most-watched dramas. And "Homeland" has debut to critical acclaim in the United States, but the expectation that a second season will be announced soon. Kevin Flower, CNN, Jerusalem.

BLITZER: We leave you with this note. I had the chance to speak to a group of high school students in East Chicago, Indiana, this week. I was invited by my friend, Reggie Martin. He's a graduate of that high school.

He's now a successful businessman who started his own foundation to empower underprivileged youth. Together with several entertainment and sports stars, we spoke about how education affected our lives. The kids seemed really excited. They asked lots of really good questions. It was my pleasure to be in East Chicago, Indiana, this week.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.