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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Speaks on Trayvon Martin Case; Attempt to Ease U.S.- Pakistani Tensions; Sanctions Target al-Assad's Wife; Syria's Youngest Victims; Corzine Ordered Transfer of Client Funds
Aired March 23, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We wish him a speedy recovery. Athena, thank you.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks.
And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, President Obama speaks out about the killing of a Florida teenager in very personal terms. Those remarks add more fuel to the racially charged case?
Also, a new way for Americans to avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. We're going to tell you about an experiment that could eventually help homeowners across the nation.
And a judge orders a ban on antibiotics in animal feed decades after warnings that people might be in danger. Some fear, though, that the damage to public health has been done.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
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BLITZER: President Obama usually treads very carefully when it comes to racial controversy. His remarks today about the death of an unarmed Black teenager by a neighborhood watch volunteer were unexpected. They were, though, very powerful. The Republicans who want his job also chimed in, but clearly, the Trayvon Martin case is hitting this president very close to home. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, earlier in the week when White House spokesman, Jay Carney, was asked for reaction on this matter, he said that the White House did not want to weigh into what he considered a local law enforcement matter, but I can tell you an aide told me that the president had been thinking about this in personal terms now for some time and when he was asked a question about it today, he jumped.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): More often than not, President Obama dodges questions that reporters shout his way, but after naming his choice to head the World Bank, Mr. Obama did respond when asked about the Trayvon Martin case. It got personal.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.
LOTHIAN: With the justice department now involved --
LOTHIAN: And a wave of national emotion that has sparked protests in civil communities, the president chose his words carefully to avoid, he said, impairing the investigation.
OBAMA: I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen, and that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened as well as the specifics of the incident.
LOTHIAN: Martin's parents called the president's comments humbling and in a statement said, "it touched us deeply and made us wonder if his son looked like Trayvon and wore a hoodie, would he be suspicious, too? President Obama rarely folds race into his public remarks when addressing controversial cases.
In 2009, when he defended friend, Henry Lewis Gates (ph), after an alleged racial profiling incident.
OBAMA: The Cambridge police acted stupidly.
LOTHIAN: A beer summit at the White House was called to smooth things out. But this case involves the death of an unarmed teen, and it's resonating out on the campaign trail as well.
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a horrible case. I mean, it's chilling to hear what happened.
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's pretty clear that this is a guy who'd found a hobby that's very dangerous.
LOTHIAN: In a statement, Mitt Romney said there needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity.
LOTHIAN (on-camera): Now the president echoed those words saying that it was important for all aspects of the case to be investigated and for federal, state, and local officials to work together to figure out what caused this tragedy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House, thank you.
Students at several Miami area high schools walked out of classes today to protest the police handling in the Trayvon Martin death. Martin's mother has said that she'd prefer they'd honor her son in some other ways.
CNN's John Zarrella is joining us now from Sanford in Florida. That's where the shooting took place. There are new developments, I take it, John, in the possible prosecution of this case. What are you learning?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we know, late yesterday afternoon and early evening, Governor Rick Scott announced that he was appointing basically what amounts to a special prosecutor, Angela Corey, the state attorney out of Jacksonville to handle this case and that the local state attorney here was going step aside so that there's complete transparency here.
We talked to her office today, and he said, we are just getting our feet on the ground. We're just beginning fact finding. We have people in place already in Sanford, Florida, that she is going to be using, Corey, two prosecutors and a homicide investigator.
And her office is telling us that, you know, it might not even be necessary to bring this case to a grand jury, because her office has the power to arrest Mr. Zimmerman if necessary or to clear him or, if necessary, to go to a grand jury. This morning, Angela talked on local station in Jacksonville about what her expectations are going forward.
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ANGELA COREY, STATE ATTORNEY: It requires a thorough investigation, extensive interviews of every witness, an extensive review of all physical evidence, and then a determination as to how we apply Florida's law to the facts of any case.
We don't worry about backlash from cases. What we worry about is seeking the truth. That's our mission. That's the United States Supreme Court find mission for prosecutors is to see the truth.
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ZARRELLA: Angela Corey's office also told us that if they do go to a grand jury, that it would be her prosecutor's handling the case, but the grand jury would be empanelled here in Seminole County -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John, what else do we know about this task force that the governor is putting in place?
ZARRELLA: Yes. The governor also announced that once Angela Corey's investigation is completed, at that point, he is going to set up a task force to look into citizen safety, and one of the things that that task force is going to be looking at is that so-called stand your ground law. That will be one of the things they're going to re- examine as they go forward -- Wolf
BLITZER: Good idea, I'm sure. All right. Thanks, John, very much.
This programming note, Candy Crowley will speak with Florida governor, Rick Scott, this Sunday regarding the Trayvon Martin investigation. "State of The Union" airs 9:00 a.m. eastern right here on CNN.
The White House says President Obama will meet with the Pakistani prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, next week in South Korea after a nuclear security summit there. Relations between the two nations have been tense since the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the U.S. drone strikes that killed two dozen or so Pakistani soldiers.
The two leaders are expected to talk about the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan among other subjects as well.
The U.S. soldier involved in the killings in Afghanistan has now been formally charged. We'll go there. We'll get you all of the latest information. Stand by for that.
We're also getting new information on that Florida teenager. Is he worried that there could be a backlash? We're talking about the president. I'll ask his former domestic policy advisor, Melody Barnes.
And European leaders are putting more pressure on the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad to end his brutal crackdown by going after his rather glamorous wife.
And a husband is charged with murdering his wife. You're going to hear the heartbreaking 911 calls that explains what happened.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're out of money, out of gas. She needed her pills refilled. She was suffering. We've been through hell, and I couldn't see her suffer anymore. We were being evicted today.
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BLITZER: The U.S. soldier accused of slaughtering civilians in Afghanistan now stands formally charged with 17 counts of murder. His lawyer says Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is kind of in shock. Let's get more from our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. Chris, what happened?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think what we're mainly learning from these charge sheets that were just released in the last hour or so is that the prosecutors believe that they can prove premeditated murder. In other words, they believe that Staff Sgt. Bales consciously came up with the thought of the intent to commit these crimes. And I'm told by some of the JAG sources who we've been speaking with he needed (ph) to have had that intent for any long amount of time. So, it's not like you have to conceive of this for days or weeks. It can be a very short amount of time as long as it is premeditated. I think, now, as we start to move into more of a pretrial hearing phase and this starts to move along, evidence becomes in a very, very important point. On one side, it's going to be very difficult for the government to find exact eyewitnesses, because this happened in the middle of the night, in a very dark area, in a rural part of Afghanistan.
Presumably, Staff Sgt. Bales would have been dressed in full combat gear with a helmet, with night vision goggles. It may be very hard to get witnesses who can positively identify him, but I also spoke with a JAG officer who has tried hundreds of court martials in the United States military, and he says there are things that the government has working for it as well.
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GARY SOLIS, FORMER U.S. MARINE CORPS JAG ATTORNEY: If any rounds were recovered from a wall or the floor or wherever that were not badly deformed, they could be identified that and could be matched with a weapon. Now, if Bales' weapon was immediately seized and a chain of custody was initiated for that weapon, that would be powerful evidence for the government.
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LAWRENCE: And in fact, Wolf, again, from these charge sheets, some of that evidence may be with the victims, the wounded victims, who survived this attack, a little Afghan boy who was shot in the thigh, a little afghan girl who was shot in the head, their wounds may contain forensic evidence that the government and the military may now use.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.
Let's get back to our top story right now. After days of protests, a growing anger across the nation, President Obama apparently felt he had to talk publicly about the killing of 17-year- old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Listen to the president.
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OBAMA: I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And, I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.
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BLITZER: Let's talk about it with Melody Barnes. She's a former domestic policy adviser to the president, work with him very closely. Melody, thanks very much for coming in.
MELODY BARNES, FORMER OBAMA DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: And the president also said if he had a son -- he doesn't have a son, he has two daughters. If he had a son that son could have looked like Trayvon Martin. You know, when I heard the president -- he wanted to talk about this today. You worked with him closely for years. It's unusual for him to sort of volunteer to discuss what is clearly a racially charged case like this.
BARNES: Well, I think the president feels what so many of us feel. You look at this situation and your heart just goes out to these parents. I mean, their son was out buying Skittles and an iced tea, and he never returned home. And I think it goes on what the president said he's a father. He thinks about his own daughters.
It's what Trayvon's mother said. My son is your son. This isn't a Black or White thing, this is a right or wrong thing. And that's why this investigation has to go forward. We have to look at every element of this, so we can understand it, understand what went wrong so justice can be done, and so, we can prevent this from happening again.
BLITZER: Because you know the president, obviously, very well. You worked closely with him. Take us a little bit inside. He didn't have to answer that reporter's question in the Rose Garden today, but he wanted to.
BARNES: Well, that's the kind of person this is. It's the kind of president we have. Again, this goes to the very personal set of feelings that he feels when he looks at his own daughters when he thinks about how safe our children are when they go out in communities to run to the convenience store and what it would feel like not to have your child come home.
And also, all of the unanswered questions. We have to answer these questions. We have to understand how this law is working in Florida as well as in the 22 other states that have laws just like this to make sure that the right thing is being done and that so we can have justice for these parents and for this community.
BLITZER: And if you look at those pictures of Trayvon Martin, you can totally understand what the president says. If you look at the president and you look at Trayvon, that could have been, if he had a son that could have looked like him, your heart has to goes out to that.
BARNES: Absolutely. Absolutely. I look at the picture of Trayvon Martin, and you know, I just cringe. I mean, I look into that very sweet face, that innocent face and think that this child is now gone, taken from his parents, taken away from his dream, and right now, there are so many unanswered questions. And that's what this investigation is all about.
BLITZER: Until recently, you were the domestic policy adviser at the White House and one of the domestic issues is healthcare reform. Today, two years to the day the president signed that into law. But you know what? I don't hear the president speaking a lot about it. I don't hear him bragging about it. It's as if he's concerned that this could be a political loser for him going into the general election. Why is he not talking about it?
BARNES: No, no, no, no, no. And first of all, we're very excited. I'm excited because of the work that we're able to do that it's been two years. And in fact, we can celebrate all the good things --
BLITZER: But why isn't he celebrating it?
BARNES: Well, in fact, the White House put out a very robust report today with the voices that matter --
BLITZER: But the president, himself, is not talking about it.
BARNES: With the quote from the president and the voices that matter most, the voices of the people who have benefited from this law. The people who are getting preventative care for free who didn't get that before now, the people, the seniors who now are saving about $500 on prescription drugs, the fact that insurers have to play by rules of the road so that women are no longer going to be discriminated against.
The list goes on and on. So, what the president is doing is he signed the law, he passed the law, he considers it one of the signature accomplishments of his administration, thus far, and now, he's about the business of making sure this law gets implemented and not repealed in the way that Mr. Romney wants to repeal it.
BLITZER: Listen to the man who probably necessarily completely or probably will be his challenger in the general election. We're talking about Mitt Romney.
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MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You note that the White House is not celebrating Obamacare today. They don't have any big, big ceremony going on. The president is not giving speeches on Obamacare and that's for a reason. Most Americans want to get rid of it, and we're among those Americans.
BLITZER: All right. Go ahead and respond to Mitt Romney.
BARNES: Well, first of all, he's just wrong on the data, he's wrong on the facts. Most Americans don't want to get rid of the affordable care act, because they're starting to feel and see the benefits of it, because their kids can stay on their healthcare if they're under 26 years of age and the list goes on and on.
And you know, the irony would almost make you laugh that here's someone who signed into law in Massachusetts --
BLITZER: Mitt Romney. BARNES: Mitt Romney signed a bill in Massachusetts that has many of the elements of the affordable care act, and it feels almost like he wishes that were written with an Etch-A-Sketch.
BLITZER: Did you study his law in Massachusetts before coming out with the legislation that eventually became the law of the land on mandates?
BARNES: Well, I've been looking and working on these issues for a long time. Obviously, I worked for a senator from Massachusetts, so --
BLITZER: Ted Kennedy.
BARNES: Right. Exactly. So, I've looked at this over the years.
BLITZER: So, is the president's healthcare law modeled on what Romney pushed through Massachusetts?
BARNES: Well, we looked at a lot of different things to determine what would work and what would, in fact, be the best law for the country that would lower costs for people in the country that already have health care, that would ensure that the worst abuses are going away, that we bring people into the health care system so that we've got coverage and people are staying healthier and that we're bringing costs down for everyone.
BLITZER: Yes. I think you make good points, and there's a legitimate debate on whether or not it's good or bad, but I'm just surprised that on this second anniversary, we didn't hear from the president in the Rose Garden saying this has been great for America, and it's only just beginning. That's just me, though.
BARNES: Well, first of all, the president is focused on so many issues right now. We put out this report or the White House put out this report on celebrating what's happened and explaining to people what's happened so they can understand the benefits and actually get them so that they know what kind of abuses they're no longer going to be challenged by with regard to pre-existing conditions, with the access to preventive care that they can get.
And he goes on to make sure that he's handling the other problems, the other business that's before the country.
BLITZER: And he's off to Seoul, South Korea right now. You make a fair point. Thanks very much, Melody, for coming in.
BARNES: It's my pleasure.
BLITZER: We hope you'll be back.
BARNES: Yes, I would love to. Thanks.
BLITZER: Thank you. Horrifying shrieks of pain coming from some of the youngest victims of Syria's brutal slaughter ahead. An up close look at the battle to save the children of the siege.
Also, chilling video inside the gunman's apartment after that deadly shooting spree in France. Stay with us. Lots of news happening right now. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're learning more about the gunman behind the killings of three children, a rabbi, and two French paratroopers. Our Lisa Sylvester has been watching what's going on. She's got some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. I think those three paratroopers (INAUDIBLE). What's the latest, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is chilling new video taken from inside Mohamed Merah's (ph) apartment. Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent was shot dead by special forces yesterday after a more than 30-hour siege in Toulouse. He claimed to have attended an al Qaeda training camp and was under surveillance after trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The French prime minister today said police had no ground to arrest him before the deadly siege.
And this update to a controversial story we brought you yesterday. Facebook is now joining the public outcry over job applicants and workers being required by employers to disclose their Facebook passwords.
The social media giant said the practice not only violates the user's privacy, but also those of his or her Facebook friends. It's also warning employers could legally be liable for doing so.
And you might be familiar with the hit NBC comedy, "30 Rock," but you may not have seen this.
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ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: You listen to me, Blitzer. Either CNN gets back on the (INAUDIBLE) story or I'll tell everyone your real name, Steel Hammerhands. Hello? Steel? Mr. Hammerhands?
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SYLVESTER: OK. Our own Wolf Blitzer got a special shout out from Alec Baldwin's character, Jack Donaghy, Donaghy, Donaghy, I guess. Apparently, he was trying to draw attention to his wife's kidnapping in North Korea and for to call into Wolf for help. What he may not have known, though, is that Wolf actually traveled to North Korea. Oh, we have pictures there, just a little over a year ago. So, how cool is that, Wolf?
BLITZER: I would have been happy to help him get his wife out if I could have. (LAUGHTER)
BLITZER: It would have been my pleasure to always to get a shout out on "30 Rock." If you will, Alec Baldwin, pretty good actor.
SYLVESTER: Yes. Very good actor. So, very proud of you.
BLITZER: What did he say my real name was? What did he say, Liz?
SYLVESTER: You know, I didn't catch that. I got to say, I want to go back and watch the whole show now, and I think a lot of your Wolf fans out there are going to probably have to do the same thing so that we have the whole context of the show now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Good. We'll find out. If he knows, I'm anxious to know myself. Appreciate it very much, Lisa.
Some Americans facing foreclosure may be able to stay in their homes by becoming renters. We'll explain.
And 911 calls record a man's confession that he ended his sick wife's suffering.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911. What is your emergency?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just shot my wife.
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BLITZER: European leaders are trying a new way to try to convince the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, it's time for him to go. Their target, his attractive wife and her free spending ways.
Brian Todd is here. He's been looking into this part of the story. What are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, before this uprising, Asma al-Assad was revered in Syria and highly regarded around the world for her charity work. Now one analyst calls her an enabler of her husband and the European Union apparently agrees.
TODD (voice-over): Her name means supreme in Arabic. In the past Syrians called her their Princess Diana. The European Union calls her under sanction. It's banning Asma al-Assad, the glamorous wife of Syria's president, from traveling to EU countries and freezing her assets in the 27-member block.
CATHERINE ASHTON, EU HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I cannot say to you in strong enough terms how much we are concerned about what's going on in Syria.
TODD: It's to put more pressure on Bashar al-Assad's regime to stop its vicious crackdown on the opposition. But Andrew Tabler, the analyst who once worked with Asma al-Assad and her charities believes the sanctions stem partly from a recent release of private, hacked e- mails between the Assads and their inner circle.
CNN and other media organizations have obtained many of those e- mails.
ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INITIATIVE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Very clearly it outlines what many people who behind the scenes knew, that is, that Asma al-Assad, during one year of the uprising while Syrians are being brutalized, was completely standing by her man, and not only standing by her man, the president, Bashar al-Assad, but also spending a lot of time buying things online and other kinds of things.
TODD: Ordering $16,000 worth of candle sticks, tables and chandeliers from Paris according to "The Guardian" newspaper, doing this while her hometown Homs was being pummeled. In one e-mail she boasts she is the, quote, "real dictator in her marriage." A different side of Asma al-Assad than she displayed in earlier years.
Born in Britain, educated at the best schools there, she was a social superstar, spearheading charities that sought to improve conditions for women and the poor, deftly balancing that with her role as a first lady with three children.
(On camera): She carries an air about her, right?
TABLER: This is -- yes, exactly, I mean this was always the contradiction. On the one hand you had Asma the person who was very chilled, very low key, who was talking about serious things, and then you have the other Asma that who was always emphasizing her very fine clothing, her elegant nature.
TODD (voice-over): Three years ago Asma al-Assad condemned Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.
ASMA AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN FIRST LADY: Now as a mother and as a human being, as I said, we need to make sure that these atrocities stop.
TODD: Now Tabler says she's an enabler of her husband's atrocities corrupted by the system, the people around her. How did that happen?
TABLER: In order to carry this well-intentioned project you have to carry it out through these corrupt people and then that in itself corrupts what you're doing.
TODD: We tried repeatedly to get response from Syrian officials in the United States to the sanctions and to the reporting on Mrs. Assad, also to what Andrea Tabler said about her, we've got no response -- Wolf? BLITZER: Now that analyst you spoke to suggests that she may also have tried to corrupt him?
TODD: That's right. Andrew Tabler says that once, when he was advising her charity in Syria, a person who worked with that charity tried to get him to take a bag full of money, about $125,000, left it right on his desk and it could have been to carry out a project, but Tabler never really heard what it was for let alone why he was being paid in cash in advance, he said he turned down the money. He started to look for other ways to fund his projects. He said from then on they basically cut off contact with Asma al-Assad. He almost never heard from her again.
BLITZER: I remember that "Vogue" cover story.
TODD: Yes, that's right.
BLITZER: It made her sound like she was the greatest thing in the world.
TODD: "Vogue" later pulled that from its Web site.
BLITZER: Did they?
TODD: I think so.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: The bloodshed in Syria showing no signs of letting up despite Friday prayers. Syrian forces are purportedly seizing on rebel strongholds, firing tear gas and live ammunition in cities across the country. This is amateur video we're showing you now that one building being hit. At least 36 people are said to have been killed just today. The United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan is expected to hold talks on the crisis in Moscow and Beijing this weekend.
Meanwhile, CNN's Arwa Damon has been taking a closer look at some of the youngest victims of the siege and we must caution you that parts of Arwa's report are quite graphic and disturbing.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Doctors try in vain to revive this little boy, identified as Amran Edriz (ph). He has a head injury.
"Is this child part of the armed gangs, Bashar al-Assad," the doctor asks angrily. "Is this the response to Kofi Annan and calls for peace?"
It's an utterly hopeless effort. The life drains from Amran's body. Other children shriek in pain.
A little girl with a leg wound cries out for her father. Lying next to her, another child. She has a wound to her arm that is too gruesome to show. Most of it has been blown off.
She says, "I just want to go home, have dinner and watch TV." She says she was playing with three other children when an artillery round struck.
These are scenes from the town of Qusair, close to the Syrian/Lebanese border over the weekend. Earlier this month, video obtained by CNN showed rebel fighters in and around the town, with meager and faulty weapons. And a population on edge, knowing a full- on assault was imminent, but with nowhere to go.
Government forces now seemed to have temporarily held back, allowing for activists to film images of the aftermath, which they then post to YouTube, not just in Qusair, but in some parts of the city of Homs itself.
This boy is from the neighborhood of (INAUDIBLE), he says his name is Abdullah. He was in a mosque when the soldiers came in, not even the children were spared.
"They lined us up against a wall and then they started shooting. There were 15 of us. Some were my relatives. Some were my friends," he says. Some were even younger than he.
For day (INAUDIBLE) was under heavy shelling, army raids drove rebel fighters out. Rescue teams were unable to enter. When they finally did, they say, the streets were littered with corpses.
Abu Hamzi was there. "There were bodies that were burned completely as if someone had poured gasoline on them and set them on fire," he recalls. "I saw five slaughtered children. They slashed their eyes and faces with knives."
Among the piles of dead, evidence of dozens of wounded children. Abu Fedaa was also part of the rescue mission.
"They committed a big massacre. We found 32 children, many with their four fingers cut off, gunshot wounds," he says. "I mean they were young, all under 15 years of age," he continues.
This boy was one of them with a gun shot wound to the chest. Both his tiny hands bandaged. More victims of violence, no one can comprehend and no one seems able to stop.
Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.
BLITZER: What a story.
An autopsy report confirming our worst fears about Whitney Houston. Ahead, what investigators are now saying about her longtime cocaine use and why Hollywood isn't saying more.
Also, a judge orders a ban on antibiotics and animal feed decades after warnings that people might be in danger but some fear the damage to public health already has been done.
BLITZER: A bombshell new development into the story of the failed brokerage firm that was run by the former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. Congress is looking into the millions and millions of dollars of missing funds.
Let's go right to Lisa Sylvester. She's been working the story for months.
What's the latest, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just to refresh our viewers and for everyone's memory on this, what is at the heart of all of this is $1.2 billion that has been missing in customer money from MF Global and the question now is did MF Global use these customer- segregated funds to cover its losses?
The company filed for bankruptcy and it -- really everything went down in the matter of a week where the company really started showing some significant problems at the very end of October.
Now Corzine, Jon Corzine, former New Jersey governor, former senator from New Jersey, was the CEO of the company at the time. And he was called before Congress and he testified at least three times in three different congressional hearings under oath saying he had no knowledge of transferring some of these -- these customer funds.
We have some tape that we can go back and play for you now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON CORZINE, FORMER EXECUTIVE, MF GLOBAL: I never directed anyone at MF Global to misuse customer funds. I never intended to and as far as I'm concerned I never gave instructions that anybody could misconstrue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Now hear is the issue, Wolf, there is a woman named Edith O'Brien. She was the treasurer at MF Global and she said that there was an e-mail from October 28th, and this is a direct quote, "per J.C.'s direct instructions," she's referring to Jon Corzine and that those instructions were to transfer $200 million from a segregated customer account -- this is customer money we're talking about -- to JPMorgan in London to cover MF Global's losses. And this would be huge because for one there's always been the question of exactly how did this money from MF Global, this customer money -- how did it go missing and who was it at MF Global who actually gave the OK? Because as we all know that it's been a bedrock of -- really of finance that you always keep your customer money separate from your company money. Well, we know in the case of MF Global that that did not happen. Now the question was, who was responsible? And, you know, we're going to have a situation, I think, of a he says/she says next week because Edith O'Brien has been called to testify before the House Financial Services Committee.
And I'm sure she's going to be asked the question, how do you explain then Jon Corzine's testimony, which we just heard, which he repeatedly said, he repeatedly said, he had no knowledge of it? How do you square that now with this new memo, with this e-mail that suggests maybe he did have something to do with it? Maybe he did have the OK.
Now we've reached out to Jon Corzine's attorney, but we have not heard a response yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me know if you get a response. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.
Meanwhile new questions about Whitney Houston's longtime cocaine addiction just one day after an alarming autopsy report confirmed what many people feared, but those who rushed to her defense following her death don't seem as quick to speak out right now.
Let's bring in our entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter. She's joining us from Los Angeles.
Kareen, you had a chance to speak directly to the coroner out in L.A. What did you learn? Where does this investigation go from here?
KAREEN WINTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we now know what killed singer Whitney Houston but investigator here at the Los Angeles County Coroner's Department, they still haven't wrapped up all of their work. You see, Wolf, they're still working on finalizing a detailed toxicology report that will be given to law enforcement officials about two weeks from now.
It will give a more comprehensive look at all the factors that came into play when it came to Whitney Houston's death. We're talking about scientific data like the drug levels in her system, the actual autopsy, the medical examiner's findings. And, you know, Wolf, one thing that coroners did say that Whitney Houston, she took cocaine right before her death, right before she got into that bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills back in February.
And I've been in touch with investigators here at the coroner's office all day long. One of the questions I've been asked them is exactly how much cocaine was in Houston's system? They said, Kareen, we honestly cannot tell you right now. We're still crunching the numbers. And this information will be helpful to law enforcement. It will be given to them a couple of weeks from now.
The focus now, the spotlight shifts to the Beverly Hills Police Department. A lot of questions that are being raised right now, Wolf. It has to do with that cocaine found in Houston's system. Was there evidence of cocaine in the hotel room the day that Whitney Houston died?
If not, what happened to it? Who supplied her this cocaine? We leveled all these questions that investigators at the Beverly Hills Police Department today. Of course they're staying mum, they said they cannot say anything until we have that final detailed toxicology report in hand.
What's interesting, Wolf, at the onset of this investigation when I spoke with investigators with Beverly Hills police, the only thing that they said here in terms of drugs it had to do with prescription meds and that's what they found in Houston's hotel rooms in very small quantities. We're talking about drugs like Xanax. They also said nothing appeared criminal at that point. There was no foul play suspected so right now it seems unlikely that this will all evolve into a murder investigation, but this case is still open -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he said no evidence of any foul play or anything along those lines in the coroner's report.
Kareen, thanks very much for that update.
Some homeowners are struggling to stay afloat. They're avoiding foreclosures -- get this -- by becoming renters in their own home. We're going to tell you about an innovative and creative new program.
BLITZER: Let's go to a gut-wrenching story right now of a man, his very, very ill wife, and his decision to kill her.
Let's bring back Brian Todd.
Brian, you listen to these 911 calls out of Florida, and they are chilling.
TODD: They are chilling, Wolf, and very heartbreaking. Police in the Tampa area say that they -- that Randall Louise -- excuse me, Randall Walton Willis called a 911 dispatcher this past Tuesday to report that he shot his wife as she was sleeping. On the tape you can hear him say in a matter-of-fact way she had been sick for years, suffering strokes, seizures, and other illnesses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: 911, what is your emergency?
RANDALL WALTON WILLIS, HUSBAND: I just shot my wife.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: What exactly happened?
WILLIS: She just suffered too much, and we're out of money and out of gas. She needed her pills refilled. She was suffering. I can't see her suffer anymore. We're being evicted today. And I just -- I knew she wouldn't last another hospital stay especially with my insurance being cancelled.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Is she alive?
WILLIS: I'm pretty sure she's not.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK. She knew you were going do this? Did she ask you to?
WILLIS: No. I'm just sitting on the porch, I'll be waiting for them. The firearm is on top of the TV.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: On the recording you can also hear Willis pleading with the dispatcher, when the police come, please ask them not to use sirens. He's been charged with second-degree murder according to CNN affiliate WTSP.
Wolf, it's one of those things that just makes you think, you know, this could be me at some point. All of us can relate.
BLITZER: What goes up. All right. Thanks very much, Brian Todd. What a story.
There could be potential relief for so many worried homeowners desperately trying to avoid foreclosure.
Lisa Sylvester reports.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Eric and Deedee Crist bought their Minnesota home in January 2007 when housing prices were at their peak. Now their home is worth only a third of what they paid for it. They've tried refinancing with their lender Bank of America but so far no luck there. They've already received a foreclose notice. It's been particularly hard on the couple's children.
DEEDEE CRIST, HOMEOWNER: We try to hide it the best we can. It's -- you know, it's hard on them just because they have to change schools and change daycares and stuff like that, but, you know, there are times where they see, you know, mom crying and stuff like that. They want to know why.
SYLVESTER: For every story like the Crist family, there are millions more, but now Bank of America is trying something new. Instead of foreclosing on a home, allow the troubled home borrower to rent the home. In a statement, the bank said, quote, "This program may have the potential to further round-out the broad set of solutions we offer customers in need of assistance. Customers would sign away ownership rights to the property, they could rent for up to three years. Their rents would be less than their monthly mortgage payment. Initially the bank would be the landlord but eventually properties would be turned over to private investors."
The pilot program will be rolled out first in Arizona, Nevada, and New York, with fewer than a thousand homeowners invited to participate, but if successful, it could be expanded throughout the country.
Marceline White with the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition says for many it's a better alternative to foreclosure.
MARCELINE WHITE, MARYLAND CONSUMER RIGHTS COALITION: For families what it does is it really keeps families in the homes, and particularly people with children, it means you can stay in the school, you don't have to deal immediately with looking for a new place to live, you're still part of the community that you've been living in for many, many years for lots of families. And for the banks, it helps them as well. They don't have a vacant property that they're supposed to cut the grass, you know, paint and keep up.
SYLVESTER: But Minnesota realtor Josh Pomerleau says many homeowners won't qualify for the program. Still other families may be so sick of everything, they just want to walk away.
JOSH POMERLEAU, MINNESOTA REALTOR: It can't hurt. It's good to hear that they're doing something about this mess, but a lot of people just are ready to be done with their house and kind of just move on with their lives.
SYLVESTER: And under this program the rental rates will be at or below market rates but this is a special program and at this point Bank of America is selecting the initial participants so it's not something, Wolf, that people can apply for -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly it sounds like it has enormous potential for a lot of people out there.
Thanks very much.
It's been a health concern for decades so why are federal health officials revisiting right now the risks of antibiotics in animal feed?
BLITZER: All right. We've got a picture that LeBron James just tweeted, a picture of the Miami Heat players. Look at this. They're all wearing these hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the young teenager who shot and killed in Sanford, Florida. This is the Miami Heat showing their respects, wearing the hoodies.
Here's a look at some of the hour's other "Hot Shots."
In Turkey, riot police arrest dozens of Libyan protesters outside the consulate. Demonstrators are demanding financial aid for their treatment during the unrest in Libya.
In Afghanistan, a boy sells bread outside a sporting event.
In Pakistan, musicians and dancers celebrate the country's National Day with a parade.
And in India, traditionally clad women celebrate the end of the harvest and the new agricultural year.
"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.
Decades after warnings that the U.S. health system might be in danger, a judge is now ordering the FDA to limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed.
Mary Snow is joining us with the story.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, advocacy groups are calling this ruling a victory for public health but they say their fight is far from over.
SNOW: For decades, there have been concerns about antibiotics put in animal feeds. They're used to prevent diseases but they're also there to help animals grow. The real concern about the overuse of these drugs is how they're contributing to antibiotic resistance which ultimately harms humans because there are very few of these drugs available.
In fact the Food and Drug Administration proposed some antibiotic usage bans as far as 1977 but nothing happened. Now 35 years later a federal judge is ordering the FDA to take action after the Natural Resources Defense Council led other advocacy groups in suing the FDA.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Antibiotics save lives, and there was no reason to use antibiotics unnecessarily in animal feed in a way that diminishes the efficacy of antibiotics to treat human infections.
SNOW: A judge ruled that the FDA will need to withdraw the use of penicillin and tetracycline if drug companies fail to show they're safe. The FDA had argued that the 1977 order was outdated and that it had taken voluntary steps to cut down on the use of antibiotics on animal feed.
Responding to the judge's order it said, "We are studying the opinion and considering appropriate next steps." But after decades of giving livestock antibiotics, the question is, will it make a difference?
(On camera): Is it too late?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's not too late. As soon as we can stop the overuse of antibiotics and animal feed, the public health will benefit.
SNOW (voice-over): Not everyone is convinced there's a direct channel linking resistant bacteria from animals to humans.
Ron DeHaven heads the American Veterinary Medical Association. DR. RON DEHAVEN, AMERICAN VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: The verdict, I think, is still out on that. What we lack is really good hard scientific data that shows that that use is contributing significantly to that development of resistant bacteria.
SNOW: But public health expert Irwin Redlener says there's a risk to withdrawing antibiotics from animal feed so suddenly. That's because, he says, the livestock industry has gotten away with unsanitary conditions and antibiotics keep infectious diseases conditions at bay.
DR. IRWIN REDLENER, CLINICAL PROFESSOR AND FAMILY HEALTH: If we stopped it all suddenly, and didn't change the underlying condition, which create an environment for developing infections in animals, we're going to have trouble. But we do have to get on this sooner rather than later.
SNOW: Wolf, advocacy groups who filed this lawsuit say they expect more litigation and a tough fight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're watching this, Mary. But let me ask you a quick question. Is there an immediate crisis atmosphere at the FDA right now or is this -- they're sort of just studying it. How serious of an issue, bottom line, do they really think it is?
SNOW: Not an immediate crisis. And what happened is, is this has been lingering for so many years that this lawsuit is really kind of forcing their hand, it's forcing them to address it. They had made voluntary changes in the past.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very, very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.