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Palestinians Seeking Status Upgrade at UN; Drones Over America; Obama Draws Red Line on Fiscal Cliff; Closing Guantanamo Bay Prison; Two Trolleys Collide in Boston

Aired November 29, 2012 - 12:30   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, remember, Suzanne, at the end of Mitt Romney's campaign for the White House, he was talking about bipartisanship. That was a big theme and it was really more than just talk if you look at the track record for the former GOP nominee.

After all, when he was governor of Massachusetts, he was able to work with the Democratic legislature in terms of getting healthcare reform passed and that healthcare reform, as we all know, became the prototype for the president's healthcare law.

I think there are things that these two men can talk about, but at the same time, Suzanne, keep in mind both of these men hardly know each other. We were reporting during the campaign before those debates got started that they had met personally only four or five times and that might explain a little bit as to why the campaign got so nasty.

We do expect a readout from the White House in terms of what went on during this private lunch. It's going to be behind closed doors, no cameras. And, you just mentioned a few moments ago that Mitt Romney did arrive here at the White House. I can tell you that an hour ago at 11:00 this morning, he wrapped up a meeting with his former running mate, Paul Ryan.

I had a chance to talk to a Republican source close to Mitt Romney who said the meeting went, quote, "great", and that we should get a statement from Paul Ryan's office shortly.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, who has Romney been up to these days? We haven't really seen him in public. What is he doing now? And does he have any plans coming up?

ACOSTA: He has been laying low. You might remember he did tweet out that picture on Thanksgiving of he and his wife, Ann Romney, who was, as we all recall, one of his big weapons during the campaign, inside their house on Thanksgiving morning.

But pretty much not much else besides that. He did have that very controversial conference call with his donors where he made some comments that got him into hot water and brought him under criticism within the Republican Party.

But we did talk to a couple of sources close to Mitt Romney yesterday who said that he is subletting space at the offices of his son Tag's investment firm, Solamere Capital in Boston, and, Suzanne, he is not joining the firm, so, you know, the translation here is that he does not have a permanent day job, which brings us back to what's happening here.

Is this just a show of bipartisanship, something that occasionally happens between the victor and the defeated in a presidential campaign or is there something else more in store? We just don't know.

But Mitt Romney is arriving here at the White House at a very interesting time. Not only are the fiscal cliff talks going on, which Mitt Romney might have some input on that, but, Suzanne, as you well know, what is also happening right now, they are starting to get prepared for the inauguration just outside the grounds of the White House. They're putting up the bleachers for what's happening on January 21st.

So, probably a bittersweet moment for Mitt Romney, as well, on that front.

MALVEAUX: Yeah. That's probably true. We'll you get us some details. Let us know what they're serving and if there's anything that comes out of their discussions today. Thanks, Jim. Good to see you, as always.

Palestinians, they want their own state, of course, and a vote by the U.N. today could actually put them one step closer to getting it.


MALVEAUX: Good news for the Palestinians. What you are watching now, celebrations in the West Bank, as they are preparing for a symbolic victory over Israel at the United Nations.

Now, the General Assembly is almost certain to grant the Palestinians a status upgrade. This is a step that Palestinians hope will eventually lead to recognition as an independent state.

Take a look at the crowd that's gathered there. This is Yasser Arafat Square in Ramallah. They're going to watch their president, Mahmud Abbas, live, as he's delivering a speech to the U.N.

Now, the vote is scheduled to be happening in about two-and-a-half hours from now. This is something that Israel and the U.S. have spent months lobbying against.

I want to bring in Jim Clancy to put this into perspective here from CNN International. Jim, first of all, what does this mean in very plain terms for the Palestinians if they get this upgraded status at the U.N., the significance?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Somebody calls them a state and they are allowed to join international organizations. They're even allowed to join the International Criminal Court.

Now, this is what worries Israel and the United States because, in doing so, they could file complaints with the court about the occupation, how Palestinians are being treated. Right now, they have no such recourse and this is what could trigger a backlash by the U.S. and Israel, who are downplaying it now, saying that it's really meaningless, it doesn't have much meaning and, in a sense, they're right.

But for the Palestinians, as can you see there in Ramallah, it has incredible meaning and it's got meaning for Mahmud Abbas and Fatah. This is a group completely sidelined by what Hamas was doing in Gaza. These are the Palestinians that recognize Israel's right to exist and they haven't gotten anything out of this peace process in a very, very long time.

MALVEAUX: Is it true -- because what's been in the news is Hamas, the negotiations that took place with Israel over the back-and-forth, the firing of rockets, that type of thing, there is a cease-fire that's in place, but it was largely due that it was the leadership of Hamas that had gained ground from that.

Does this now put Mahmud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank, does it give him a push here? Does it make him relevant in any way?

CLANCY: It gives him a little bit of a boost, but, you know, the reality is that the whole strategy of confronting Israel with weapons is what gained credibility and we should all be concerned about it.

MALVEAUX: And that's Hamas?

CLANCY: That's Hamas and I think a lot of people that will vote in favor of this, and it looks like they've got more than 130 nations that are going to support them, including some U.S. allies that, I must say, were pressured and pressured heavily to do this.

All of those states are basically saying they -- somebody ought to reward the people that are standing up for peace in the Middle East and they're also saying, you know what? We are sick and tired of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict just being like a geopolitical "Rock of Gibraltar" on the landscape of the Middle East. It is forever with us.

You know, this isn't everything that they're doing at the U.N. today, but by casting a vote, they're saying, for god sakes, somebody do something.

MALVEAUX: Is it possible -- I mean, I don't know if this is farfetched. Is it possible that Hamas gains recognition over the cease-fire, then you've got the Palestinians and Abbas gaining recognition from this status, this upgrade in status, that you could get those two sides together, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian people will be united and stronger.

CLANCY: Well, they tried. You know, Khaled Mashal, at the last minute, has said, OK, we'll support Abbas going to the U.N., but there's a huge gap there between those two sides. Unifying the Palestinian people may only come, you know, in one of the later stages.

There's a lot of people that support Abbas, but, even in the Gaza strip, there's a lot of people that are unhappy with the way that Hamas has been running things. But, you know, at this point in time, those two sides are as far apart as ever.

MALVEAUX: You told me last week -- you said that Secretary Clinton, Hillary Clinton, when she was in the region, she told Abbas, don't do this. Don't push this at the U.N. Well, he has done this, so what does this mean in terms of U.S. leverage here?

CLANCY: Well, not completely clear. As I said, if he were to -- if the Palestinians were to join the International Criminal Court and then file complaints against the Israelis, you know, I think you would definitely see motions by this administration to cut their funding.

You may see that anyway, even if they join the International Criminal Court in reaction, the Israelis have threatened that they were going to, you know, pull out support, cut the tax revenues, but in the end, the Palestinian Authority is important to Israel because they provide the policing there.

Israel doesn't want to have to go back in and take over and that's exactly what Abbas threatened them with. He said, you want to topple me? Fine. I'll give you the keys to the Palestinian Authority headquarters. Come and take them, because the Israelis really don't want them.

MALVEAUX: This is a very important story. I mean, obviously, because you are talking about the Palestinians who would suffer greatly if the U.S. pulled out that kind of money and that kind of leverage there, but they are moving towards a Palestinian state.

CLANCY: The U.S. has to be careful not to be on the wrong side. I mean, there's a change here that's taking place in the Middle East. Look at Syria today, what's happening all across the Middle East.

MALVEAUX: All right, OK. We've got to leave it there, Jim.

CLANCY: All right.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you very much. We appreciate it, as always.

They're buzzing overhead. They are actually looking down on us from above. We're going to tell you why it is not just terror suspects who are being watched by drones and why some think the new technology could be violating our privacy.


MALVEAUX: We're watching a developing story in Boston. This is two trolleys that have collided. As many as 20 people might have been injured there. This accident has now shut down the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, known as The T. We're looking at pictures there from WCVB, those aerials of the crash site. As soon as we get more information, we're going to dip back into that and see if we can get more details. But, again, a passenger train crashing in the Boston area. As many as 20 people who might be injured on The T.

Unmanned drones targeting al Qaeda terrorists, well, they've been a weapon of choice since President Obama first took office. According to the New America Foundation, which is a foreign-policy think tank, the CIA has launched more than 300 drone strikes in Pakistan alone since 2004. As many as 3,200 people have been killed, 2,700 of them, reportedly, militants.

The drones carry sophisticated technology that can accurately pinpoint a target and take it out. Critics say the U.S. is now overstepping its bounds by targeting terrorists outside its borders. And, now, if Congress has its way, drones may be coming to the skies over the U.S. for aerial surveillance or even crop-dusting.

In a documentary called "Drone On," Vice Media examines the fears, hopes, and uncertainty surrounding the use of drones. Here's a part of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): New York City captured by a Swiss drone hobbyist. As you're probably thinking, yes, this is illegal as all hell. And I'll be the first to say that doing this sort of thing over the site of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil, probably not the best idea.

The drone view that you've seen probably looks a bit more like this. Or more accurately, this. The grainy pixelated bird's eye views of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, offer have become wildly popular on the Internet. Maybe you've heard of the grim footage under its nom de YouTube, "drone porn."

How did we arrive at the robo-wars? And where are they taking us?

To get an idea, we left our Brooklyn offices for Washington, D.C., to meet up with P.W. Singer, one of the world's foremost experts on military robotics.

P.W. SINGER, AUTHOR, "WIRED FOR WAR": We are wrestling with what it means to live, work, and even fight through a robotics revolution. The technology that we're using, with things like the Predator or the Pac- bot. You know, those are Model T Ford. Those are Wright brothers equivalents. But even with that first generation, we're seeing impact on questions like, how do we catch up on our laws in war, but also, how do we start to catch up our laws domestically as we start to see that technology move over the domestic side.


MALVEAUX: Brian Anderson, he produced that documentary for online news and culture source -- Vice Media, it's called. He's joining us from New York. And, Brian, first of all, the gentleman who we just saw there, very even-handed when he talked about the need for us to have a healthy debate in this country about the use of drones. We saw an article that caught our attention, "The New York Times" reporting, that President Obama had been working on getting the rules on the books to protect the drone policy in case he didn't win re-election. He has since won, so it doesn't really make that much of a difference.

But he did say in a book -- a book on -- "The Killing of Osama bin Laden, quote, "there's a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems." He really is talking about those questions in place about the appropriateness of using these unmanned drones. What do you think Americans need to know?

BRIAN ANDERSON, PRODUCER, "DRONE ON": Well, I think moving forward now that the pressure is off, obviously, Romney lost, I think right now we're going to kind of return to the moral and ethical and legal slog that has marked a lot of the White House deliberations to this point surrounding who can be struck by a drone and when. So I wouldn't say we're going to rush into a rule book right away, but I think when we get to that point, people should know that I think we're going to see sort of a thorough rethinking of the so-called signature strikes whereby a militant can be taken out without his identity being known.

So I think there's been enough criticism there that that's going to have to be rethought. Right now, basically, if you're a male of adult age, that's fair game in the Middle East and the horn of Africa. And with that, I think we're also going to see an admission to the drone program. To this point, Obama really hasn't spoken too much about this. He's had a few public remarks, but, you know, even today White House and CIA lawyers don't admit to this at all and --

MALVEAUX: Yes, Brian, it's interesting because it's a classified program --


MALVEAUX: So there is no public acknowledgment from the administration when it comes to some of these drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia and, of course, Pakistan. Talk a little bit about something else that's taking place here, because you've got two different things. You've got the drone -- the unmanned drones --


MALVEAUX: That have arms and they are overseas and they're going after targeted militants. And then you have these drones that are in the United States that are being used for surveillance. Do you think there ought to be two sets of rules, one for those that are used inside the country for surveillance and collecting information, and those that are targeting the militants outside?

ANDERSON: Sure. I mean, any critic will tell you that we already have rules for drones abroad, and that's international law. But, you know, here in the states, for sure, now that we're ramping up, I think by 2015 the FAA wants to totally include drones into domestic airspace, be it for surveillance or just for the so-called triple d -- dull, dirty or dangerous -- rational. Obviously, yes, we're going to need some guidelines there.

MALVEAUX: All right. OK, Brian, thank you so much. It was an interesting -- it's a fascinating documentary.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: It should also be noted too that it was President Bush who essentially started the drone program --

ANDERSON: That's right.

MALVEAUX: And it has been expanded under President Obama.

Brian, thanks again. Appreciate it.

ANDERSON: Thank you so much.


It's a campaign promise that the president has not been able to keep, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But there's a new report that suggests this could change.


MALVEAUX: Want to go directly to the White House. We've got our senior White House correspondent Jessica Yellin with some new details about some of the negotiations taking place behind closed doors between the president and congressional members, the Republicans, on avoiding going over the fiscal cliff.

Jess, what have you learned.


Well, you know, the news here today is that in a phone call yesterday between the president and Speaker Boehner, I'm told by a person familiar with the call, that the president made clear to the speaker that, for him, there will be no deal on the fiscal cliff unless both sides agree to raise rates on the wealthiest. That means raise tax rates for top earners.

The reason that this is news is because there's been discussion publicly that perhaps they could find a revenue agreement where it would just involve capping deductions or maybe they could find a way to get to revenue just through tax reform. And with this piece of detail from that phone call yesterday, it would seem that the Democrats, the president personally, is drawing a line saying, those other ways are not enough. His campaign message that the top earners have to pay more, he's sticking to that line in these negotiations.

MALVEAUX: And, Jess, do we know how the Republicans responded to this red line? YELLIN: Well, Speaker Boehner was frustrated, obviously, and came out with a -- in his press conference today, basically accusing the president of not leading on the issue. Both sides looking for leverage. The congressional -- the Republicans clearly trying to make the focus not on taxes but calling for the White House to come forward with spending cuts first, tell us where you're going to cut spending before we, the Republicans, will say whether we'll go along with you on tax rates.

MALVEAUX: OK. There's a red line that's been drawn there in negotiations. We'll see how this goes. We are just weeks away from potentially facing that so-called fiscal cliff.

Closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Well, President Obama, he promised to do that two days after his inauguration, and he promised to do it within a year. Well, political opposition, in part, derailed those plans. And now a congressional investigation says there is no reason that Gitmo cannot be closed and all its inmates moved to prisons here to the United States.

I want to bring in our legal -- senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin from New York.

Jeff, first of all, we saw Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, ordering this investigation four years ago, and now she's saying she believes that there is proof that Gitmo can be closed. Is that -- is that accurate? How do you read this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this has been a -- basically a disaster for the Obama administration. This has been a failure. The Congress has been at the president's throat about this. But basically what the -- what could happen here, instead of closing it all at once, this report suggests that the 166 people left can be brought one at a time into the United States to be tried. You know, some of these people have been there for almost 10 years and charges haven't even been brought against them. Some of them will be tried by military tribunal in Guantanamo. Some of them can be tried in American courts in America through some combination. That's pretty much how it looks like it will be. It will be thinned out, if not closed.

MALVEAUX: And the report -- it specifically says there are six Defense Department prisons, more than 2,000 federal prisons that could handle these Gitmo detainees. But it also says that these changes would have to be made at some of these sites before they can actually be transferred. What are we -- what are we talking about here logistically?

TOOBIN: You know, it doesn't strike me as all that logistic -- a huge logistical challenge. You know, I've been to Guantanamo a couple of times. The prisons built there are actually built on the models, the actual physical plans of American maximum security prisons. So it's not like they are in dramatically different settings than they would be in the United States. I mean I think most people are familiar with our super max prisons --


TOOBIN: Where people are locked up 23 hours a day. No one escapes from those prisons. These people are not a danger to anyone there. So, yes, it is true, I think that they could be housed safely, as this report suggests, in the United States. The question is, does the Obama administration want to take on the political heat here --


TOOBIN: When they've lost so many times already on this issue?

MALVEAUX: Right. Right. It's the political hot potato. Thank you, Jeff. Appreciate it.

TOOBIN: OK, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: We've got more news after the break.