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THE SITUATION ROOM
West Virginia's Water; Iraq Horrors
Aired January 15, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: testing the water. Thousands of West Virginians are being told it's safe to turn on the tap again. Stand by for the results of CNN's own test for any traces of toxic chemicals.
Plus, Iraq horrors. On a day of exploding violence and bloodshed, the U.S. military investigates some gruesome photos of Marines apparently burning bodies.
And making up is hard to do. Do these warring spouses on screen remind you of anyone? How about members of Congress? A divorce lawyer is sharing her secrets to end all the bickering in Washington.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with West Virginia's water disaster. More residents are now being told their tap water is safe to drink again after chemicals spilled into a major water supply. But how safe is it really?
CNN put it to the test, and we're revealing the results for the first time right now.
Our own Jean Casarez is in Charleston, West Virginia.
Jean, what are you finding out?
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here's one thing we have just learned.
About 50 percent of the people in this area now can use their tap water. But that leaves 50 percent that are still in the red zone. They can't use their tap water. Everybody is testing their water. They're even testing the water in the fire hydrants around here.
Well, we put it to the test. How safe is really safe?
CASAREZ (voice-over): While officials continue to test the public water supply here in Charleston, West Virginia, CNN decided to do our own testing with Test America, a private company out of Ohio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to collect five of these bottles for this particular sample.
CASAREZ: We wanted to sample water from our hotel, where the do not use order has been lifted, as well as from the home of T.W. Cox, where the ban is still in effect.
T.W. COX, RESIDENT OF WEST VIRGINIA: Day six and with no end, looks like, in sight for us out here.
CASAREZ: Both samples were drawn within about an hour of each other. They ran the water for 20 minutes before filling the bottles. Lab testing was done overnight with control samples. The result? Both samples contained MCHM, the chemical which leaked into the water supply out of Freedom Industries' storage tanks last week.
But both levels were below the one part per million considered safe to drink, according to what government officials have said this week. The hotel in the safe zone contained 0.11 parts per million. And the homeowner's tap water was 0.27 parts per million.
SCOTT SIMONTON, WEST VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY BOARD: It's below the standard that has been set. But I don't think we know enough about the toxicity to say that any level is, oh, that's fine.
CASAREZ: But should there be any of the synthetic substance in the water people drink? Federal officials say there are no current drinking water regulations for MCHM, not because they know it is safe, but because it is one of thousands of chemicals that the EPA has no authority to fully require testing for safety.
SIMONTON: Under normal conditions, we'd see no -- none of this contaminant in our drinking water.
CASAREZ: So even when the state gives him the all-clear, T.W. Cox says he may not fully trust what the government is telling him.
COX: I plan to continue to use bottled water until I feel confident that everything has been resolved.
CASAREZ: And that homeowner right there doesn't have the trust because of the leak that affected so many people. And we have just learned and confirmed that last week there was a conversation between Mike Dorsey, who is one of the heads of West Virginia's DEP, and the current president of Freedom Industries.
And that president told Mike Dorsey that there was actually an escrow account that was put together before this happened for $1 million so that that million dollars would be put toward the issues that they had with their containment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jean Casarez, thanks very much for that report.
When the water ban went into effect last week, about 300,000 people were affected. More than half of them have now been given the green light to turn on the tap. Let's talk to one of them right now.
Crystal Good is the mother of three. She's joining us from Charleston, West Virginia.
So what do you think? What are your biggest concerns right now, Crystal?
CRYSTAL GOOD, RESIDENT OF WEST VIRGINIA: Hi, Wolf.
Well, I mean, the biggest concern is that we don't know. We don't know if -- I mean, certainly the water is turned back on, but there's no guarantee, is it safe, is it safe right now? Is it safe in the long term? What is this chemical and what is it going to do?
BLITZER: Well, what about your children? If the government says it's OK to drink the water, are you going to start drinking the water? Are you going to let your kids drink the water?
GOOD: No, I don't think we're drinking the water. Right now we're skeptical about taking showers and really putting it back to use.
The West Virginia Water has said that the water is safe to use, but today I know that there's tons of reports that the hospital had people complaining about, you know, diarrhea, burning eyes, lots of issues that are coming into the hospital just today because of use -- of water use.
BLITZER: We saw a photo and you have seen it as well of a bathtub earlier, a couple days ago or so of the water. Look at this. Look at how dirty that water is that came out of that tap. You're not seeing anything along those lines now, though, are you?
GOOD: No, that was from the initial flush.
And that's a new word that we're learning here in West Virginia, flush. We all had to flush our lines when we got the green light in various zones, which does remind you a bit of "The Hunger Games." I'm zone one. And so we flushed in zone one two days ago. And that's what -- those bathtub pictures that you saw, the ones that I shared and other people shared, that's what came out.
And there's some conversation about, well, that's just sediment that was in the pipes. But I'm not sure that we really know exactly what that is in those pipes. I would like to see some testing on what that is coming out also.
BLITZER: One final question. How worried are you about potentially the long-term impact? Because you and a lot of other people out there, when you first smelled that water, it smelled like licorice. It was pretty disgusting, wasn't it?
GOOD: It is. You know, today is Martin Luther King's birthday. He says that if there's an injustice anywhere, there's an injustice everywhere. I feel that there's an injustice going on in West Virginia and that we don't know the long-term consequences. This is something that in my opinion happened in West Virginia, but affects all of America. There are chemicals that are stored in every town, in every state, everywhere, that it could potentially leak, that maybe not -- they don't have these sheets that everyone is talking about, that haven't been studied, the thousands of chemicals that don't have it.
So I have a great concern.
BLITZER: Good luck, Crystal, Crystal Good. Good luck to you, your kids, everyone in West Virginia. We will continue to watch this story. Thanks for joining us.
GOOD: Thank you.
BLITZER: Still ahead, CNN is inside Iraq right now with the inside story on the worst violence there in years. Is there an al Qaeda connection?
And the Pentagon gets a new glimpse of the only U.S. prisoner of war. He looks very different than this after years in captivity. What does it tell us about his condition and is there any hope for his release?
BLITZER: Right now, it's as though we're seeing a replay of some of Iraq's darkest days during the war. At least 61 people have been killed in violence today.
At the same time, gruesome wartime photos have surfaced that appear to show U.S. Marines burning bodies.
CNN's Michael Holmes is reporting from Iraq, but first Brian Todd with the latest on those disturbing photos. We want to warn you, they're graphic.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The deadliest fighting Iraq has seen in years. In recent days, al Qaeda-backed militants have been battling Iraqi security forces for control of Fallujah and Ramadi.
This is the territory the U.S. Marines fought and died to capture during the height of the Iraq war. Now U.S. military officials tell CNN they're investigating these photos taken in 2004. The Web site TMZ published the photos and turned them over to the Pentagon last week. TMZ was told they were taken in Fallujah.
The photos appear to show U.S. Marines burning the dead bodies of Iraqi insurgents. In one photo, a Marine is pouring liquid on a body, in another, the same body in flames, and this picture of a Marine kneeling next to a skull. There are many more.
Analyst Jonathan Rue served with the Marines in Iraq. JONATHAN RUE, ANALYST: This looks really bad, but we don't know exactly what was happening and we don't know what the circumstances were.
TODD: U.S. military officials can't tell us what unit these men were in. They're trying to determine their identities. Rue says the 2004 fighting in Fallujah was some of the worst urban combat the Marines had seen since Vietnam.
RUE: They literally had to clear the entire city house to house. Some houses would be empty, some houses would have booby traps, and some houses had three, four, five, 10 insurgents inside ready, waiting to fight to the death.
TODD: Why examine this case now?
EUGENE FIDELL, FORMER PRESIDENT, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MILITARY JUSTICE: There's certainly a value in our society condemning this kind of conduct and give the world, including the Iraqi people, an explanation for what we're doing.
TODD: Analysts say it's possible the bodies could have been burned for hygienic purposes, but it's a crime in the military to burn human remains or to possess or distribute personal photos of them. Still, prosecuting these men will be difficult.
FIDELL: If they're not still on active duty, then you have really serious issues as to which court, if any, they can be prosecuted in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Eugene Fidell says that that is translated to mean that it's not clear if these men could be prosecuted in a civilian court or not. Fidell also says there may well be a statute of limitations for these crimes. If there is one, he says that likely expired a long time ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you, Brian Todd reporting.
Now to the very dangerous situation on the ground in Iraq.
And CNN's Michael Holmes is joining us now from Baghdad.
Another brutal, awful day, dozens of people killed, many more injured. Michael, what are you seeing on the ground there in the Iraqi capital?
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, since we got here, Wolf, it's been apparent that since even my last visit here a couple years ago when the American troops pulled out, there was a lot more visible Iraqi security around the place, a lot of checkpoints, a lot of just activity in general.
But, clearly, as we have seen today, an extraordinary day, nine explosions here in the capital, seven of them car bombs, two of them IEDs. We have seen a death toll over 60 today, 100 wounded. Clearly, all of that security is not stopping the bombs getting in and being placed, although security officials did say today they did stop four bombs before detonation. But, obviously, the insecurity is trumping the security.
BLITZER: There's a sense, at least some analysts saying al Qaeda is responsible, although the tensions between the Shiite-led government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and the Sunnis, the Sunni minority, they have been explosive lately and clearly getting worse.
HOLMES: Yes, and they're linked, really.
I mean, this government has been accused really from back in 2006, but onward and upward since then and certainly since the Americans left, of going against the promise of power-sharing and inclusion and bringing everyone into the fold and, in fact, done the opposite in the eyes of many Sunnis, have persecuted them, as well as shutting them out of things.
What that did was provide a fertile breeding ground, if you like, for the dissent that an organization like al Qaeda feeds on. When they were coming back across -- backing cross and forth the border with Syria, they were able to find places in Anbar province, the Sunni province, places like Fallujah and Ramadi, where they actually found people who found them to be allies of convenience, if you like, and then we have seen this uptick going on from there.
The tribes say they will deal with these guys, but only if they do get the inclusiveness they have never had under Nouri al-Maliki.
BLITZER: Yes, and one of the reasons the U.S. military surge in Iraq did well is because the U.S. paid these tribal leaders a lot of money in cash, and the Iraq regime of Nouri al-Maliki not paying them off the way the U.S. did when the U.S. had troops there.
What's the role of Iran in all of this?
HOLMES: I was talking yesterday with the former prime minister who you know, Ayad Allawi. He was the first prime minister of this country after Saddam Hussein was ousted.
I had a conversation with him. And he sees very much the hand of Iran pretty much throughout the government. He says that they're influencing policy, they're involved in militias, both arming and funding of Shia militias in this country. And he says that basically they stepped into the void that the U.S. left, along with groups like the al Qaeda-linked rebels, ISIS, that we have seen active of late.
So, yes, people like Mr. Allawi are very concerned at the Iranian influence here and basically stepping into the breach, if you like. And the concern about the U.S., which has been expressed to me multiple occasions, is that the U.S. when they left, they basically dropped the ball on Iraq. They did tell al-Maliki to be inclusive, but then when he wasn't, nothing really happened.
And so a lot of people here are saying the U.S. has got to step in and really turn the screws on him and get him to make some real concessions before it's too late. BLITZER: Yes. Well, the U.S. is not about to send troops back to Iraq. So the Iraqis can forget about that.
The Iranians clearly want to consolidate that arc of influence that seems to be developing in their favor from Iraq -- from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. We will see what happens there. Be careful over there, Michael Holmes reporting for us from Baghdad.
Let's turn now to a story reported first on CNN. New video appears to show that the only American prisoner of war in captivity is still alive.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, broke the story.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time in three years, evidence abducted U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is still alive. The new video described to CNN includes a time reference to December 14th, 2013. It is the first proof of life since a series of tapes released in 2010 and 2011 by the Taliban.
SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL, AMERICAN POW: Release me, please. I'm begging you. Bring me home, please.
SCIUTTO: Unlike earlier recordings, however, these new images show Bergdahl in declining health, says a U.S. military official with knowledge of it. Bergdahl was captured in June 2009 and is believed to be held by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani Network inside Pakistan.
Today, yellow ribbons lined the streets of his hometown, Hailey, Idaho, where his family has been fighting for his return ever since.
BOB BERGDAHL, FATHER OF BOWE BERGDAHL: A father does not leave his son alone on the battlefield. I do not live here. I live in Afghanistan. My cell phone is set on Afghan time. My weather is Afghan weather.
I might be standing here, but I am living vicariously through my son. I will not leave you on the battlefield, Bowe.
SCIUTTO: In 2011, his father made this impassioned video appeal direct to his son's kidnappers.
BOB BERGDAHL: It's past time for Bowe and the others to come down. To the nation of Pakistan, our family, we wish to convey our compassionate respect.
SCIUTTO: U.S. officials say his safe return is a top priority. U.S. Central Command keeps a constant reminder of him in its headquarters in Florida.
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our hearts today are with the Bergdahl family. Using our military, intelligence, and diplomatic tools, the United States is continuing its strong efforts to secure Sergeant Bergdahl's safe release.
SCIUTTO: Bergdahl is the only American soldier currently in captivity.
DAVID ROHDE, FORMER TALIBAN PRISONER: Over time, you're going to deteriorate physically. You're going to deteriorate psychologically because it's very isolating. So, you just hold on and hope that it's going to come to an end eventually.
SCIUTTO: David Rohde captured and held for eight months by the Taliban in 2008 while working for "The New York Times", keeps in touch with the Bergdahl family.
ROHDE: You decide essentially it's your job to survive, to stay alive and just wait and hope there's some kind of resolution to the case, and it's absolutely incredible that Bowe Bergdahl has stayed alive through these 4.5 years.
SCIUTTO: Bergdahl's family released a statement this afternoon following our report, saying they have been made aware of the video.
They went on to say -- quote -- "As we have done so many times over the past 4.5 years, we request his captors to release him safely so that our only son can be reunited with his mother and father. Bowe, if you see this, continue to remain strong through patience," they say. "Your endurance will carry you to the finish line. Breathe."
I have been to his hometown a number of times. My wife grew up nearby there. You see those yellow ribbons on the trees and the notices on the restaurants and the hotels. That town and his family desperate for news of him. Of course, the news they want is for him to come home. This is at least news that at least as of last month he's still alive.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's hope he's home soon.
Thanks very much for that update.
Just ahead, it's been five years since the miracle on the Hudson. Now the survivors of that emergency landing are reuniting.
And lots of lawyers go to Capitol Hill, but this one specializes in divorce and she's got some advice for Congress.
BLITZER: An emotional reunion of survivors of the so-called miracle on the Hudson.
Five years ago, the airline pilot Sully Sullenberger pulled off a remarkable emergency landing on an icy river after geese damaged the plane's engines. Everyone on board lived. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a U.S. Airways airline jet in the water.
BLITZER: A U.S. Airways plane, you see it right there. It's in the Hudson River. It's an Airbus A-320.
CAPT. CHESLEY "SULLY" SULLENBERGER III, PILOT: Five years ago this afternoon, 155 people faced a sudden unexpected challenge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, the captain came on and said, and brace for impact. And that's when we knew we were going down.
SULLENBERGER: But landing in the Hudson only solved the first and biggest problem of the day. We then had to find a way to get 155 people out of the Hudson River to safety on a day when the air temperature was 21 degrees, the water was 38.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Numerous people on the wings of the airplane.
SULLENBERGER: The first New York Waterway ferry, we know from watching the surveillance tapes, arrived alongside Flight 1549 less than four minutes after we had stopped in the Hudson. By the time I left the aircraft as the evacuation was complete, as the last person off the aircraft, the aircraft was surrounded by rescue vessels and the rescue of everyone on board was well under way.
We have much to be thankful for. Much was saved that day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My daughter's name is Kaylee Elizabeth Wenzel (ph). And she's in bed right now. And when I get home, I'm going to take my nose and put it by her ear, and her little warm body, and give her a nice kiss from daddy, because I'm alive.
BLITZER: What an amazing day five years ago today.
Meanwhile, here in Washington, there's now an unusual new attempt to try to break all the partisan gridlock. It's based on the premise that bickering politicians aren't all that different from feuding spouses.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, explains.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Americans are sick of this kind of fighting in Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The old GOP shenanigans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democrats keep stalling.
BASH: Well, Carol Bailey came to help.
CAROL BAILEY, DIVORCE MEDIATOR: I'm a divorce mediator from Seattle. BASH: Yes, a divorce mediator. Bailey is convinced skills she learned working for 25 years with warring couples apply to Congress.
BAILEY: The American population is the family, and they're the parents. And they're bickering and fighting and they're neglecting the family.
BASH: The Seattle-based lawyer came up with 10 tips, wrote this pamphlet and flew across the country on her own dime to walk these halls, distributing it personally.
BAILEY: I'm giving this to every member of Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, great. Thank you.
BASH: Some of her tips, avoid negative accusations and, to compromise, the views of all sides must be legitimized.
BAILEY: If you kind of try to cram an agreement down somebody's throat, they're never really going to buy into it.
BASH: Bailey dealt with pretty ugly divorces, not "War of the Roses" ugly.
KATHLEEN TURNER, ACTRESS: I just want to smash your face in.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: Smash my face.
BASH: But ugly.
BAILEY: One of the people found out that the other one had given them a sexually transmitted disease.
BASH (on camera): And you were able to bring them together?
BAILEY: I was.
BASH (voice-over): One of her lines really stands out.
BAILEY: Rigid principles obstruct problem-solving. If this is too subtle for you, then you probably shouldn't be running our country.
Hi, Senator Cruz. Carol Bailey.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Very good. Thank you.
BASH: Bailey happened to run into Ted Cruz and gave him a pamphlet. We saw him check it out as he walked away.
Some senators seemed genuinely enthusiastic.
SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: I'm going to read this.
BAILEY: OK, good.
BASH: Still, there is a flaw here. (on camera): In divorce, at one point, the couple came from a place of love.
BASH: Here, they never loved each other.
BAILEY: That's true. They never did. But like a couple with a child, they should be motivated to take care of the American family.
BASH (voice-over): Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.