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Mass Protests Sweeping Syria; Toyota Recalls 680,000 Vehicles; GOP Battle for the South; Syrian Crisis; Warlord on the Run, Video Goes Viral; U.S. Marine in Hot Water after Facebook Posts; Homeless in New Jersey

Aired March 9, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, disturbing new signs the Syrian regime may be tighter than it looks as the death toll climbs, the violence rages on. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is standing by with new information.

From altar boy to a notorious warlord on the run. Shocking new details about this dangerous leader going viral online and what the United States is trying to do to stop him.

And the U.S. marine refusing to follow what he calls unlawful orders from the commander in chief of the United States. Why is anti- Obama Facebook postings have him in serious hot water with the Pentagon right now?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Mass protests sweeping Syria. Thousands taking to the streets in a weekly show of force against the escalating brutality. Another 77 people were reportedly killed in the raging violence just today, and the United Nations emergency relief chief is demanding immediate unhindered access for aid workers after viewing the destruction first hand.

Meantime, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is just getting some new information about the U.S. intelligence assessment of the Syrian regime and its hold on the country. Barbara, you were showing some newly declassified satellite imagery from Homs in Syria. What did it show you? What did the intelligence officials say it shows about the Syrian military capability?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, we've all seen the videos on television, but now, newly declassified imagery by the U.S. intelligence community. Let's take you right to first image. This is the kind of critical intelligence that the U.S. is looking at, frame by frame right now, to assess the Syrian military. Why is this picture so important? This was actually an image taken on Monday. Very recent, showing military vehicles near the city of Aleppo, a city that normally does not see military activity. It shows it goes to the point of the recent imagery coming into the U.S. intelligence community of the Syrian forces on the move. Two more images I want to show you. This is just a snippet, of course, of what the U.S. knows about what's going on in Syria.

There is another image showing a mosque, before and after. How many times have we seen this? Another artillery barrage against a mosque. And then, finally, we'll show you one of a mosque and a school also suffering an artillery barrage.

What the U.S. intelligence community says is these are the kinds of targets where the Syrian forces say there are insurgents hiding out, but many times, these last two in the neighborhood of Baba Amr, these are women and children and civilians being killed by their own government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, there also have been reports of Syrian military officers defecting. We've heard from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, about the Syrian (ph) elite are moving money, family out of Syria right now. What have you been told about the state of Bashar al-Assad's inner circle in Damascus?

STARR: These senior U.S. intelligence officials tell us Assad right now has a grip on power. He is directing these assaults. They see no evidence that any of these defections or the movements by the elite to get their money and relatives out of Syria, none of this is in Assad's inner circle of power.

You know, the defections are fine, but none of this goes to any cracks in his hold on power. They believe right now he is firmly in control and shows no signs of giving up, Wolf.

BLITZER: There's also a lot of talk about Iran's support of the Syrian regime. You're getting new information. What are you learning?

STARR: We are told by these senior intelligence officials Iran is now supplying small arms to the regime forces and also computer gear, the very type of equipment the Iranians use to put down their own people in the streets, track social media, track where cell phone and satellite phone calls are being made from. This is helping the regime target the people on the streets of Syria.

The Syrian regime also, we are told, now using drones unmanned aerial vehicles to collect intelligence and target its people. So, Wolf, here's the bottom line right now. What if President Obama or the western nations were to make a decision to go in with military air strikes as John McCain suggests? These U.S. intelligence officials are laying out a very dire picture.

They say that the Syrians have an extremely capable air defense system, thousands, thousands of surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery batteries, radars, very dense, very well put together with advance digital communications. It's that kind of threat that U.S. aircraft would have to eliminate, would have to go after, and these intelligence officials say it would be very tough, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very tough indeed. All right. Thanks very much. Barbara Starr with new information.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our national security contributor, the former Bush homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. Fran is a member of both the DHS, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA External Advisory Boards. What do you make of this new intelligence information that Barbara Starr is reporting on involving Syria, Fran?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, intelligence officials have been concerned because, of course, both Iran and Russia have arms deals that they do with Syria and have been supporting them not only in the U.N. but militarily.

And so, I don't think it's surprising, but the level of detail and the types of technical equipment that they're providing, as Barbara rightly points out, makes this a much more difficult military operation if the president was willing to consider that. That said, Wolf, we have to understand that the Syrian -- the Assad regime is hiding behind that in order to murder its own people.

And so, it really is important that the administration as it is works with the Arab league, the U.N., and the international community to try and defeat this effort.

BLITZER: Let's turn to Iran and its nuclear program. A very interesting interview that will air this Sunday on "60 Minutes" with Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad. And listen to this clip that "60 Minutes" released.


MEIR DAGAN, FORMER ISRAELI MOSSAD CHIEF: An attack on Iran, before you exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think they're rational enough that they are capable of backing down from this?

DAGAN: No doubt that the Reagan (ph) regime -- maybe not exactly rationale based on what I call western thinking, but, no doubt, they are considering indicating all the implication of direction.


BLITZER: I don't know if when you worked in the government, you ever met with Meir Dagan, the head of -- then head of the Mossad, but he's obviously a very serious guy. What do you make of his assessment?

TOWNSEND: He's a very serious guy. I met with him numerous times, and I've also met with him since he's been out of government. Meir Dagan is very thoughtful, very well respected by the other intelligence chiefs throughout the region, including throughout the Arab world. And I think that this is his firmly held view that what you want to try and do is use all instruments, you know, of influence to try and dissuade them before you take military action.

I don't think anybody disagrees with that. If the question becomes how far do you let that go before the program is at a point where you can't afford to give it more time, I think that's where the disagreement is. I mean, look, Prime Minister Netanyahu was here last week.

Clearly, he's willing to try to let sanctions work, and they're having an impact, but the question is, can sanctions alone dissuade the Iranians, and I don't think that's at all clear and I think that's where the debate is between Israeli and American officials.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very, very much.

Arwa Damon, by the way, recently spent three days in the front line in Homs inside Syria. Coming up later this hour, Arwa will join us live with a behind-the-scenes look with the emotional toll those three days took to prepare for the trip and beyond. Stand by. We'll go speak with Arwa.

Here in the United States, Wall Street is rallying on the heels of a jobs report. Some economists say it's a sign the recovery has turned the corner. CNN Business correspondent, Christine Romans, is breaking down the latest numbers.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, by now, you've seen the headlines. 227,000 jobs created in February in the American economy. 8.3 percent is the unemployment rate. Let's go inside the numbers and talk about where the job creation is coming from. Wolf, it's coming from the private sector. 233,000 jobs created in the private sector in that short month of February. 6,000 government jobs lost.

And that's better than last year. Wolf, last year, on average, we were losing 22,000 jobs per month. Let's go inside the numbers more. Where were the jobs created? Healthcare. We have seen that consistently. Leisure and hospitality, we've seen that as well. Transportation and warehousing and manufacturing having a bit of a comeback.

We also saw new jobs in mining. That has been any kind of job in mining has been a boom over the past year. Construction lost 13,000 more jobs. Wholesale trade employment some gains there, but the biggest gains, overall, 82,000 jobs in professional and business services.

Let's talk about the politics quickly, because this is really important on the campaign trail. This is what it looks like. This is the trend, Wolf. This is the last six months of the Bush administration. Huge, huge job losses heading deep into the Obama administration. Slow and steady and painful job gains and some setbacks along the way, and now, you've got a trend here of more than 200,000 jobs created three months in a row, Wolf.

This is what the picture looks like right now. We're still negative jobs from the financial crisis, but slowly digging out of them led by the private sector, Wolf.

BLITZER: Christine Romans, excellent breakdown. Thanks very much.

You can -- at home, by the way, you can explore the graphic breakdown of the jobs report. Go to Check it out.

The state of California drastically changed this man's life, and he's demanding answers. State lawmakers refusing to talk. We're going to tell you why and how Nazi Germany, of all things, is involved.

Also, a marine in hot water after calling President Obama the enemy and saying he'll refuse to follow orders from the commander in chief.

And a new movie out this weekend about the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. It makes Sarah Palin looked like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sarah Palin calls it all Hollywood lies. We're going to show you a preview. Discuss (ph) the film. I saw it last night right here in Washington.


BLITZER: Imagine that the government considered you defective and took away your right to procreate because of it. The unimaginable practice once occurred right here in the United States and even inspired Nazi Germany, supposedly, to follow suit. Years later, victims around the country are demanding restitution. But in California right now, that's not happening. Senior CNN medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has the details.


ELIZABETH COHEN, SENIOR CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 1945, California Sonoma State home. Charlie Follett, a 14-year-old ward is singing in a field when he's ordered inside.

CHARLIE FOLLETT, PATIENT STERILIZED BY FORCE: First, he shot me with some kind of medicine. It's supposed to deaden the nerves. And then, the next thing I heard was snip, snip, and that was it.

COHEN: Did they tell you what they were doing to you?


COHEN: They didn't have to tell him. He knew. A sterilization by force.

How did you know what it was?

FOLLETT: Well, because, see, there's been others in there that had it before me.

COHEN: The other boys at the home had warned him how much it would hurt.

FOLLETT: When they done this side here, it seemed like they were pulling my whole insides out.

COHEN: The 1930s through the 1950s were the heyday of the eugenics movement in the United States. The goal, to rid the country of the feeble-minded, the defectives. And it wasn't some fringe or secretive program, it was well known and paid for by the states where it was practiced. Entire families labeled shiftless, degenerates.

60,000 men and women, boys and girls sterilized. Some living at home. Others like Folett, in state institutions. His parents were alcoholics and couldn't care for him and his sister. Thirty-two states had eugenics programs, but California was in a league of its own. The Golden State sterilized 20,000 people, more than twice as many as the next state, Virginia, and a full third of the nation's total.

It was led by California's elite including at the time, the president of Stanford University and the publisher of the "Los Angeles Times." The efficiency of California's program didn't go unnoticed. In the 1930s, the Nazi party in Germany was so impressed it asked for advice, and Californians leading the program were only too happy to help.

(on-camera) So Eugenesis in California sent this book to the Nazis?


COHEN: So, the Nazis used this book as a model for their sterilization program.

COGDELL: Absolutely. Germany used California's program as its chief example that this was a working successful policy.

COHEN (voice-over): California, the leader in four sterilizations, but decades later, not a leader in making amends to victim. A few hundred survivors are still alive by one scholar's estimate, but the state has offered no reparations.

Follett has tried for years, but says he can't even get a politician to talk to him, not even his own state representative who also refused an interview request from CNN. His friend, Rudy Banlasan, a nursing student, shows me letters he's written to no avail on Follett's behalf.

(on-camera) Do you think the state of California just wants to forget about this, forget it ever happened.

RUDY BANLASAN, FOLLETT'S FRIEND: Honestly, I think they're just waiting -- I mean, to sound so cynical, I think they're just waiting for the victims to die and forget this whole thing ever happened.

COHEN (voice-over): Compare that chilly response to the state of North Carolina.

GOV. BEV PERDUE, NORTH CAROLINA: The state of North Carolina is a partner with you in trying to bring awareness.

COHEN: Governor Bev Perdue has invited sterilization victims to the Capitol, heard their stories, apologized personally, set up a task force to help them, and recommended that each victim receive $50,000 in reparations.

In California, just a statement of apology by Governor Gray Davis in 2003 saying, "It was a sad and regrettable chapter in the state's history, and it is one that must never be repeated again."

COHEN (on-camera): An apology from the governor, is that enough?

AREVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: No, no. It's a start, but it's only a start. These people deserve to be compensated just like any other victim that has had their rights violated.

COHEN (voice-over): Where does all this leave Follett, he's 82, recovering from lung cancer and hoping justice will come before he dies.


BLITZER: Elizabeth is joining us now. Elizabeth, was he specifically picked to be sterilized?

COHEN (on-camera): You know, Wolf, he actually wasn't. In order to get released from places like the Sonoma State home, they required that wards like he be sterilized, so he had to be sterilized in order to get out.

BLITZER: What a story. Elizabeth, thanks, very, very much. You can catch a lot more of Elizabeth's reporting on "Force Sterilization" later tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360." That's at 8:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN. We'll stay on top of this story together with her.

Why a botch and fatal hostage raid in Nigeria has Italy fuming at Britain? We'll have details.

And a major recall by one automaker. Stand by to see if your vehicle is affected. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The latest on the fatal hostage raid. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Two European hostages are dead in Nigeria after a failed rescue operation, and Italian officials are blasting Britain for not consulting them on the attempted rescue. Britain says Nigerian forces launched the operation yesterday after receiving credible information on the captive's location. The kidnappers, apparently, killed the Italian and British men while the raid was under way.

Attention, Toyota owners. The automaker is recalling 680,000 vehicles in the United States. The first recall involves air bags in puck-up trucks. It affects Toyota Tacoma trucks made in 2005 through 2009. The second recall is for faulty brake lights. That includes 2009 Toyota Camry sedans and 2009 to 2011 Toyota Venza crossover SUVs.

And it's time to spring forward. Daylight Savings time begins Sunday at 2:00 a.m. That means move your clock ahead one hour before going tomorrow night except, of course, for people who live in Hawaii and Arizona where Daylight Saving is not observed.

And a dramatic video of a school bus chase in New Mexico. Police started chasing the stolen school bus early this morning. Look at them go there. They finally stopped the bus on an interstate highway. There were no children onboard during the chase, but the interstate was closed for hours. That is not a sight you see often at all. I don't know if I've ever seen a sight like that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dangerous material. All right. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Hollywood comes to Washington D.C. for the premiere of the new HBO film about Sarah Palin. The film entitled "Game Change." Is it a fair portrayal of the historic 2008 presidential campaign? I saw it last night. We're going to show you a preview. Gloria Borger saw it as well. We'll discuss what happened.

Plus, (INAUDIBLE) a liar and refuses to take what he calls an unlawful order from the president. Now, he could be in serious hot water with the Pentagon.

And a notorious warlord on the run going hyperviral in a new documentary online. We're going to tell you what the United States is doing to try to stop it.


BLITZER: The battle for the south is clearly on as the Republican race heads to Mississippi and Alabama in four days. Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, reports.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Standing his ground in the south, though, it's a little absurd to predict the last stand of Newt Gingrich again after he already resurrected his campaign twice from the ashes. The latest American research group poll puts Gingrich on top, though, within the sampling error in the Republican race for Mississippi. To hear gingrich talk about it, you'd think it's all about the Democrat in the White House.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe I will become the nominee with your help. As the nominee, I will be prepared to challenge Obama. I believe I am the one candidate who can debate him and defeat him on decisively on issues.

JOHNS: Gingrich's immediate problem is Mitt Romney who's running second in Mississippi and Santorum who is third. The former senator from Pennsylvania is actually getting a lot of attention from Gingrich's campaign right now in radio interviews.

GINGRICH: Santorum was a pro-union Pennsylvania senator who was one of the leadership who was defeated in 2006 that set the record in Pennsylvania for the size of his defeat. No one has ever lost a Senate seat by as big a margin.

JOHNS: And then, there's this new video featuring sound bites from Santorum in his own words that make him look, frankly, hypocritical, like that moment in a recent CNN debate when Santorum was talking about the Bush "No Child Left Behind" law, which infuriated conservatives, because it expanded federal control over education.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to admit. I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you're a part of the team, sometimes, you take one for the team for the leader, and I made a mistake.

JOHNS: I asked Santorum about Gingrich's attacks.

SANTORUM: I think people are looking for leadership, not someone who wants to just tear somebody down in a desperate attempt to get votes. I understand, you know, when you get down in desperate times, you maybe do desperate things, and that's -- you know, everybody's got to do what they've got do. We're going to try to keep it on the high road.

JOHNS: But he's still not calling for Gingrich to end his campaign.

SANTORUM: We need to get this race, eventually, down to a two- person race, and we're working very hard to do that.

JOHNS: Note that here in the Deep South, the split between conservatives over Gingrich versus Santorum is coming into sharp focus, not quite a conservative civil war but not pretty either. Reverend Donald Wildmon, influential founder of the American Family Association, is on Gingrich's side, while Richard Viguerie called the funding father of the modern conservative movement suggested Newt Gingrich drop out and support Santorum.

He wrote on his Web site that Gingrich could provide unity by getting out, a great act of statesmanship that could open a new chapter in his storied political career.


JOHNS: Gingrich has said several times that he's not getting out of the race that he's going all the way to the convention in Tampa. Rick Santorum is now off to Kansas, which will be caucusing on Saturday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting for us, thanks very, very much. We'll watch what happens tomorrow in Kansas, Tuesday in Mississippi and Alabama.

"Game Change", that's how insiders once described John McCain's 2008 vice presidential selection of Sarah Palin. It's also the brand- new HBO movie set to air tomorrow night on our sister network. Take a look at this little clip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. What have we done?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It wasn't my fault. I wasn't properly prepped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I miss my baby. I miss sitting (ph) with my baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're telling me what to say, what to wear, how to talk. I am not your puppet.


BLITZER: I'm joined now by our chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Gloria, you and me and a few other Washington journalists and other insiders, we got to see the film last night at the Museum (ph).


BLITZER: It's getting mixed reviews. I'm anxious to get your thoughts.

BORGER: Well I thought it was terrific. I thought Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson were all so lifelike that you could actually think you were watching John McCain or you were --

BLITZER: She was amazing as Sarah Palin.

BORGER: Sarah Palin --

BLITZER: Julianne Moore.

BORGER: As a political journalist though a couple of things, one is that it makes you understand as we report events in real time no matter how good we are, we don't really know what's going on behind the scenes in the hotel suites where the candidates are prepping. I mean we get -- we get a version of it, but very often you have to wait until the history has passed in order to go back and find out exactly what was going on. So we don't know very little --

BLITZER: This film was based on Mark Halperin's --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- very excellent book.

BORGER: A book which came out after the campaign. You know I mean we knew of the problems in the campaign, we knew that there was a lot of grousing about Sarah Palin. We knew that they felt that she had, quote, "gone rogue" on them. But I think when we see the details of the depths of her despair and their despair over her, it's something -- it's something quite astonishing, and secondly, I think there's a sort of a cynical part to politics that's kind of depressing to me, which is that if they thought she was so terrible and so unqualified, why didn't they say something?

BLITZER: You're talking about Steve Schmidt (ph), the campaign strategist --

BORGER: Yes --

BLITZER: -- Nicole Wallace (ph) --

BORGER: I think they're terrific and smart --

BLITZER: And almost all of these scenes are seen from their perspective.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Sarah Palin didn't cooperate with the creation of this film.

BORGER: Right. And I'm sure it's something they struggled with. I'm sure it's something they really struggled with and the vetting process of course was so incomplete.

BLITZER: They only had five days to vet her.

BORGER: What did you think? OK, what did you think?

BLITZER: Yes. Well let me play this other clip and I'll tell you --


BLITZER: -- right after this. Here's another clip from the film.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, delegates and fellow citizens, I will be honored to accept your nomination for vice president of the United States.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our nominee is a man who wore the uniform of his country for 22 years and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who now have brought victory within sight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good -- good. She's really good.


BLITZER: She did deliver a very excellent acceptance speech at the Republican Convention four years ago, as a lot of us remember. I thought it was a very powerful film. I read the book which was an excellent book.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Usually and I wrote about this on our SITUATION ROOM blog post today. Usually when you read a very good book and then you see a film that's adopted from the book, you're disappointed. I was not disappointed in this film.

BORGER: No and I think they really followed the book very, very closely. They understand that they were dealing with history here and that they tried to get it -- to get it right. I don't think the portrait of Sarah Palin, by the way, was as terrible as a lot of the Palin people believe it is because it portrays her as somebody who was thrown into a situation that she really wasn't prepared for. But it also makes me look ahead to the situation Mitt Romney might be in if he becomes the Republican nominee because he's somebody who could have the same problem that John McCain has which is that he has to try and appeal to the base of the party, unenthusiastic about him. He might be looking for a game changer himself.

BLITZER: And the film clearly makes it obvious that McCain wanted Joe Lieberman --

BORGER: He sure did.

BLITZER: -- to be his running mate or Tim Pawlenty or even Mitt Romney, but a lot of folks said, you know what, we need a game-change, a game changer, Sarah Palin, so they vetted her in five days and we all know what happened as a result.

BORGER: Right. You bet we do.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very, very much.

Preparing to go into a vicious blood bath knowing fell well you may not come out alive. Just ahead inside our own CNN reporters, "72 Hours Under Fire".

Plus, he's believed to have at least 60 wives and a son named, get this, George Bush. Just ahead the shocking new details we're learning about a notorious warlord going hyper viral.


BLITZER: Virtually no one has been spared in Syria's ruthless slaughter and the journalists covering that bloodbath no exception. In a new documentary entitled "72 Hours Under Fire", CNN is taking a closer look at the dangers our reporters have faced going in and how they cope with the reality that they may not get out.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I went to see my mom when it seemed like this trip was going to materialize. My dad was out of town. But I went to see my mom and I spoke some time with her and I actually wrote a letter for the first time to my family and then I went to see some very close friends as well just in case.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What was it about this trip?

DAMON: There was a lot of unknown going in and I'd spent like so many of our colleagues months and months and months watching these YouTube videos --


DAMON: -- of the aftermath of the shelling, of the killing and it was just something that I felt that in this case, on this particular trip I had to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: They're important --

NEIL HALLSWORTH, SENIOR PHOTOJOURNALIST: Yes, I didn't really go and say good-bye to her or anything like that but it's sort of -- it's probably one of the reasons why I didn't because I didn't want to -- didn't want to think of it like that. So I tried to block that part of it out of my mind really. I mean you know we discussed how -- it was dangerous. We went into it knowing the risks we were taking and we were prepared to do that for the story because it was such an important story to tell, but we obviously had lots of discussions about safety and safety was paramount every step of the way. There were people involved in making those decisions with us.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It was a pretty big decision to even go in there.

DAMON: Yes, it was. And this was I think the fourth time that I myself had these discussion with the bosses. It was in November that I first pushed forward this notion and other trips had gone canceled for various reasons. Sometimes the plug was pulled at the last minute, but you know it's very much about being able to outline for them every step of the way.

How you're going be moving, who's going to be moving you, what sort of risks you're facing at every single stage and what you actually think you're going to be able to accomplish when you do reach your destination and then the calculation is made as to whether or not the risk is going to be worth it.


DAMON: Quick. Let's go.

I think we'll all agree no one wants to die. No story is worth dying for, but at the same time when it comes to a story like Syria, you have to be there. You have to be in it, seeing it, smelling it, listening to it so that you at the end of the day can do justice to what the people are suffering. You have to be able to do justice to the horror that they're going through and the only way to do that is to actually be there.


BLITZER: And Arwa's joining us now from Beirut where she's safe, thank God for that. Arwa, was there ever a moment while you were there that you thought, you know what, it looks like it's over?

DAMON: You know, Wolf, when you actually end up in the thick of things, the mind has a very interesting way of sort of dealing with the fear and compartmentalizing it. One, of course, is afraid to the degree that it doesn't take over you, but at the same time it develops this heightened sense of awareness so that you respect the danger that you're in.

I think the important thing to point out here, though, is that you know we went in and out very safely. There are countless other people, the Syrians who we met while we were in there who do not have that option. They are stuck in this nightmare, a nightmare that at this point in time doesn't seem like it's going to end at any point in the near future.

BLITZER: I guess this is the other question I'm anxious to hear. If the opportunity comes up any time soon to go back in, will you do that?

DAMON: Absolutely, without a doubt. This is a story that is incredibly critical, not just because of the bloodshed that's happening within the country itself but because of the potential regional and global implications that it's going to have. This is the type of story where when it comes to the industry of journalism, I believe it is our responsibility to continue to keep telling it, to keep shedding light on what's happening in these countries because at the end of the day as journalists, it's our job to go in, to be able to report on what's happening in countries like Syria so that those people that are watching at the end of the day have that information and can come up with their own conclusions, their own decisions for themselves. We have to keep telling these stories.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Beirut for us. Arwa thanks. All of us remember your courageous coverage of the war in Iraq. You were there literally for years and now you're doing this amazing work. We're deeply, deeply grateful to you. All of our viewers around the world are and this important note to our viewers. You can catch the entire one-hour documentary "72 Hours Under Fire" this Sunday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

An African warlord is now at the center of a viral video campaign and an international manhunt, but could the focus on Uganda's Joseph Kony complicate the effort to catch him? Brian Todd is following up on this amazing story that's going on. You've got new details, Brian. What's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have some new details, Wolf. Now that so many more people know this man's name we're learning more about the man himself. Joseph Kony's bizarre past and the dangerous hunt for him.


TODD (voice-over): He was once an altar boy, got involved in Uganda's civil war in the '80s. He's reported to have had as least 60 wives, many of them kidnapped as young girls by his army. Former wives have described him as fun and engaging one moment, brooding (ph) and paranoid the next. According to one wife, he named one of his sons George Bush. Joseph Kony, the warlord now known to many in the West thanks to a hyper viral video "Kony 2012" is a formidable leader analysts say who claims super natural powers.

J. PETER PHAM, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: The claim that he makes is that he's possessed by this Holy Spirit that gives him an ability to predict the battles, to plan things out.

TODD: In a long campaign to overthrow the Uganda government, Kony's Lord's Resistance Army has abducted tens of thousands, forced boys to become front line soldiers, killed or disfigured villagers who have any hesitated to support him. Now some 100 U.S. Special Forces troops are working with Ugandan and other African units to capture or kill Joseph Kony.

(on camera): It's a tough deployment. Kony has not been in Uganda for six years. U.S. officials and analysts say his forces are dispersed, moving around in an area encompassing hundreds of thousands of square miles in South Sudan, the Central African Republic (ph) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Are civilians still at risk? Although Kony's forces and their attacks have dwindled this tracker from the group "invisible children" shows the number of killings and abductions in that region just this year.

(voice-over): Analysts say Kony's army has some former Ugandan military officers in its ranks. The African and U.S. forces have, according to "The Washington Post", skilled trackers, some who used to be with Kony on their side. What's the American's role?

GEN. CARTER HAM, CMDR., U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: They are facilitating the flow of intelligence. They're helping with logistics planning so that the African forces can sustain themselves for longer periods in order there's a very large and austere operating area and also assisting with long-range communications.

TODD: Analyst Peter Pham worries about the publicity generated by the deployment and now the Internet video. PHAM: What the U.S. forces are trying to do is work behind the scenes, work in the shadows, so to speak, to help build up the Africans' capabilities and to get them working with one another to circle this guy and bring him or bring him down once and for all.


TODD: But Pham says now that such a bright spotlight has been cast on this operation, it will be harder to catch Kony. He says the African countries involved might back off in their cooperation. The American team might have to take a step back and defer to the Africans and that may buy Joseph Kony more time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Here's the question, how long will these 100 U.S. troops on deployment in Africa right now be there?

TODD: Back in October when they were sent, a top Pentagon official told Congress we're talking about a period of months, but he wouldn't put a timetable on it. Well now they've been there almost five months. A State Department official said this is a long-term process, but the U.S. role in it is small. So put that together, it seems kind of open-ended. We may not hear about the end of this until we hear somehow of the demise of Joseph Kony.

BLITZER: You start with 100, it winds up a whole lot more.


TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, keep on top of this story for us.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Brian thanks very much. A U.S. Marine says he won't follow orders from the president of the United States, the commander in chief. Could his objections get him in hot water? What's going on?

And a former governor of New Jersey goes undercover spending the night looking for a place to sleep. Now he's talking about how he was treated.


BLITZER: A United States Marine is in serious hot water for an unlikely political battle with a self-proclaimed enemy. That's his word -- the enemy happening to be the commander in chief of the United States. Lisa Sylvester is working this story for us. You've got some details of the pretty amazing story.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is an interesting one, Wolf. A Marine sergeant is under investigation for posting negative things about the president. He has started a Tea Party Facebook page for members of the military and their families. Now, he says he's exercising his right to free speech. But the military has rules against members in uniform questioning their superiors, including the commander in chief.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): You don't have to guess where Marine Sergeant Gary Stein falls politically. This is front and center on a Facebook page of the group he started. Here's a sample of some of his postings. "Obama is the domestic enemy our oath speaks about." "Obama lies." And "Obama remains the target." "Obama is the ultimate political target." "The White House is the ultimate political objective."

Stein has been an active duty marine for eight years. He started the Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots Facebook page as an expression of free speech. But one posting in particular now has him in hot water. He originally said he wouldn't follow orders from President Obama. Later modifying it to say he won't follow what he considers unlawful orders from the commander in chief. For example, if asked to take guns away from a U.S. citizen in case of a national emergency. We caught up by phone with Sergeant Stein who says he's speaking as a civilian. He defends his outspoken views saying they are protected by the Constitution.

GARY STEIN, ARMED FORCES TEA PARTY (via phone): It's my free speech. If I want to go against the president's policies and talk about those policies and how we can better America, I think a military that is strong in knowledge about the U.S. Constitution and what it means to them, when a member knows what they're fighting for and understands what they're fighting for we fight harder.

SYLVESTER: But his Facebook site still has come under review by his superiors. He is now under investigation by the U.S. Marine Corps which said in a statement to CNN quote, "the Marine Corps strongly supports the First Amendment rights of Marines. However, it does not condone comments made against the president of the United States." DOD rules limit the political activities of active members and restrict what can be said about the president and the secretary of defense. David Glazier is a professor at Loyola Law School and a former Navy officer. He says the chain of command including the president is sacra saint (ph).

DAVID GLAZIER, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: The military at its core, military justice is all about the maintenance of good order and discipline and to make sure that we have a professional force that will carry out the missions that the political leadership of the country assigns to it.


SAVIDGE: Now online there are some Facebook comments criticizing Sergeant Stein's activities. It's about 15 percent negative comments, but the majority are actually offering support -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect we're going to be hearing more about this story.

SYLVESTER: It really is a fascinating case because it's testing you know what can members of the military say? Where's the line --

BLITZER: And he's not in the Reserves. He's on active duty.

SYLVESTER: He's active duty and he has been. I mean he's going on his ninth year now as a Marine. So it's not like he just enlisted that he just signed up, either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: When you sign up you know what you're getting (INAUDIBLE) usually.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A former governor of New Jersey goes undercover spending the night looking for a place to sleep. Now he's talking about how he was treated and the shocking discoveries he made.


BLITZER: A former governor goes undercover to see firsthand the plight of America's homeless. CNN's Mary Snow is working the story for us. Mary, what are you finding out?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, imagine the surprise at a New Jersey homeless shelter when people found out that their former governor disguised himself to spend the night there. The state lawmaker says for months he's been looking into the problems of the shelter system and this was the best way to get information.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone is given this --

SNOW (voice-over): He was once the governor of New Jersey. But earlier this week, State Senator Richard Codey posed as a homeless man. He stayed overnight at this homeless shelter in Newark, New Jersey, after, he says, many doors were shut on him.

SNOW (on camera): How many shelters did you call?


SNOW: Rejected at all of them?

CODEY: Oh, absolutely rejected. No way, no how was I getting in.

SNOW (voice-over): Codey says he called shelters asking if they had room for a man being released from a hospital with some mental issues.

CODEY: There's a stigma for the homeless if they're men. And any person who is mentally ill they're not wanted. And if you're not on a government program, there's very few of any shelters they're going to take you. Because what they do is, they'll take your government check and they make sure that you sign it over to them.

SNOW: While Codey was allowed to stay at the Goodwill Rescue Mission, he says he wouldn't have been able to stay there another night if he didn't apply for government assistance.

RON SCHOBER, GOODWILL RESCUE MISSION: That's not true. We don't require government. We are privately funded. And that's not our focus. We're not looking for money from the government to help us with that.

SNOW: Ron Schober is the director of the Goodwill Rescue Mission and is working to improve conditions at this shelter amid squeezed budgets and reduced staff.

SNOW (on camera): How surprised were you that a former governor spent the night here?

SCHOBER: I was very surprised. I was encouraged by it.

SNOW: Because?

SCHOBER: Because I think that we need to have some awareness of what is going on and what is the plight of the homeless here in our city.

SNOW (voice-over): Critics may accuse Codey of a publicity stunt. He says his record of being a long time advocate for the mentally ill proves other-wise. Despite his many years of advocacy, he is alarmed by what he's now finding.

CODEY: The homeless are not as old as I would have thought or the percentage of those who are mentally ill is not as high as I thought.


SNOW: Now, with an estimated 643,000 homeless on the streets in the U.S. every night, Codey's goal for the state is to make sure the homeless are offered more dignified way of life -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hope his effort helps, no doubt about that. Mary thanks very much for joining us.

That's it for me. Thanks for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.