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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Military Arms Iraqi Militias; Is Bush a Lame Duck?

Aired June 11, 2007 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much. Kitty.
Happening now, gambling with weapons and lives in Iraq. The U.S. military arms fighters who were once gunning for Americans. Will the dramatic turnaround cripple al Qaeda or will it backfire?

Also this hour, Colin Powell in 2008. The former secretary of state is in touch with several candidates. Will he help put a Republican in the White House or a Democrat?

And President Bush returns to major headaches at home. From Iraq to immigration. Is the president proving he's a lame duck, or does he still have some clout?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, a stunning about-face in Iraq. Having long insisted that Iraqi militias disarm, the U.S. military has now done a 180 and now it's providing guns, ammunition and money to some of the same militia groups that have fueled the insurgency and in the process killed many Americans. Here with the story, CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us. Brian, this is quite a turn-about.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A dramatic turn, Wolf, one that many believe is risky. One that has angered the Iraqi government, especially given the rhetoric from the American political leaders in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on camera): For years, U.S. Leaders made a clear demarcation. In Iraq, they said, only U.S. Forces and their allies in the Iraqi Army and police should have weapons. As for everyone else...

BUSH: There's no place in a free and democratic Iraq for armed groups operating outside the law.

TODD: But as CNN reported, U.S. commanders are now reaching out to Sunni groups -- some who fought against Americans in the past -- because those factions have turned against Al Qaeda. The commanders say in some cases they'll give those groups weapons. One reporter warns of multilayered dangers.

JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": One problem -- will they be used against the Americans? Number two, will they use those weapons against the Shiite led and dominated Iraqi forces?

Number three, will they use them in the border Sunni fights to topple the new Shiite government of Iraq?

TODD: U.S. Commanders admit identifying those Sunnis whose might turn against them, even finding out who has fought against them in the past, will be difficult. But they're determined to try.

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, U.S. ARMY: If I got specific information that that individual has American blood on his hands, direct ties to attacks on our forces, the negotiation is going to go like this -- you're under arrest, come with me.

TODD: Other commanders talk of how they'll use those Sunni fighters they deem trustworthy.

GENERAL BENJAMIN MIXON, U.S. ARMY: Arming them, forming them into scouts, if you will. And that's the primary role that we want to use them in. They know the territory and they know the enemy.

TODD: A strategy that U.S. officials say has drastically reduced attacks on Americans in Anbar Province, previously one of Iraq's most deadly regions.

Experts say for this to work in Baghdad and the notorious Diyala Province nearby, U.S. Forces will have to closely watch those they arm and track the weapons.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN ANALYST: Once those weapons systems get out into the streets, if they're not controlled in some way, they will just simply dissipate and kind of work their way into other hands.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Another former combat commander set it's unlikely that U.S. forces will give these Sunni groups their best weapons. He says they've learned the lesson from arming Afghan rebels against the Soviets back in the 1980s. Wolf?

BLITZER: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, Brian, hates this. The United States arming these Sunni militias in the al Anbar Province for now and maybe the Diyala Province later. What's the political fallout?

TODD: Very considerable fallout, Wolf. I spoke with a senior member of the Iraqi Parliament, a Shia who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, that member of Parliament says this is a very dangerous move by the Americans what he calls a recipe for the next sectarian civil war. This parliament member claims the government was not consulted on this move. American military officials had said they would do that. There may have been some disconnect there.

BLITZER: So I guess disarming the militias which had been a U.S. goal, now not even on hold, but the U.S. going in the other direction, actually arming some of these militia groups itself. A major turnaround. Thanks Brian Todd for that.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army has fallen short of its monthly recruiting goal for the first time in more than six months. Seeking 5,500 recruits for the month of May, the Army only got 5,100 but remains ahead of projections for the year. In response to a drop-off in 2005 blamed in Iraq, the Army did lower some standards, offered new incentives and has since seen recruiting rebound, but not enough at least in May.

The ever-shifting tactics of insurgents in attacks have hit upon something new. Bridge bombings. For the second day in a row, suspected al Qaeda bombers have blown up a key transportation artery. This attack yesterday on an overpass south of Baghdad killed three American soldiers and shut down what's Iraq's version of a super highway. Today's blast damaged a river bridge just north of the capital.

In Baghdad, at least one measure of the new security strategy now is trending in the wrong direction. Let's get a report from CNN's Paula Hancocks. That includes some images viewers may find damaging. Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a worrying trend here in Iraq shows that the Baghdad security plan may not be having the desired effect on sectarian violence. More than 260 bodies have been found in Baghdad alone, just this month. Many of them showing signs of torture.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HANCOCKS (voice-over): For well over a year, there has been little or no room in Baghdad's morgues. Bodies found around the capital are simply laid out in the morgue courtyard, awaiting identification from devastated relatives.

The Baghdad security plan was in part based on the theory that the more U.S. troops on the streets, the less bodies on the streets.

It appeared to be working for a couple of months. As many militia's kept a low profile during March and April. But the number of murders are now almost back to pre-security plan levels at the start of the year. Almost 750 bodies were found last month. Many of them with hands bound and showing signs of torture. The number for June is already worryingly high. One Iraqi police colonel who did not want to be identified says the killings will continue as long as the security forces remain on the outskirts of neighborhoods. Few Iraqi police dare to enter inside the most dangerous areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If we're not inside, how can we stop these murders and kidnappings? We can't control this situation until security forces are inside these areas and based there.

HANCOCKS: But U.S. officials deny this increase in murders represents a long-term trend. Pointing out that overall violence in Baghdad has still lowered since the U.S. began to increase numbers.

BRIG. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER, U.S. ARMY: It's uneven and it will periodically spike up, like we saw with violence in May. It's not going to be a straight-line or a steady linear kind of result. It will be uneven and we'll have to adjust as we go.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HANCOCKS: At the same time the U.S. military all the way up to the commander in chief, President Bush, has warned that things will get worse before they get better here in Iraq. And also after that one U.S. commander said that only a quarter of the capital is under control. It's hard to see how more troops on the ground will consistently reduce sectarian violence. Wolf?

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks reporting for us from Baghdad. Thanks. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York.

You understand getting back to our lead, Jack, that the U.S. is now actually arming some Sunni militia groups. Groups hat had killed Americans, a lot of Iraqis because now we hope they're going to start killing some al Qaeda operatives.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Weren't the Sunnis Saddam Hussein's guys?

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: Weren't the Sunnis that under orders of Saddam Hussein ran all the rape prisons and torture chambers and used the chemical weapons against the Kurds and did all those other Eagle Scout-like activities before we went in there and took Saddam Hussein's government down, same guys, right?

BLITZER: That was the main base of his support, yes.

CAFFERTY: And now we're giving them weapons?

BLITZER: Yes. And we're supposed to disarm all the militias, too. Not only the Sunni militias, the Shiite militias, the Kurdish militias. Not only are we not disarming them, we're arming them.

CAFFERTY: Maybe it was plan B of the surge. We'll do the surge and then if it doesn't work, we'll give the enemy the guns.

Senator Joe Lieberman said the United States should consider a military strike against Iran. In a television interview senator Lieberman said, "I think we got to be prepared to take aggressive military actions the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. To me that would mean a strike over the border into Iran where we have good evidence that they have a base at which they're training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers." Unquote.

Lieberman said that there are some estimates that the Iranians may have killed as many as 200 American soldiers and he added that much of the attack he's talking about could probably be done from the air although he would leave those decisions to the generals in charge.

But he insisted he was not talking about what he described as a massive ground invasion of Iran. Not everybody thinks force is the way. It's not working so well in Iraq, is it.

Democratic presidential contender Bill Richardson said he would push for negotiations. He also said that he would build an international coalition to build additional economic sanctions against Iran. Despite the fact, Governor Richardson, that the current U.N. sanctions are being ignored.

So here's the question -- Senator Joe Lieberman said that we should consider attacking Iran. Is he right? E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Coming up -- Colin Powell and the race to '08. The former secretary of state meets with some presidential candidates. Could he be an independent X factor?

Also, a bounce off the debates. Find out which Democrat is pulling ahead of the pack. The results of our brand new poll shows one clear leader in New Hampshire.

Plus, fighting the Cuba travel ban. We're going to find out why one American war veteran is battling with Congress for the rights of families to reunite. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight there is some new evidence that our Democratic debate in New Hampshire had an impact. We have a brand new CNN-WMUR poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire. It's our first test of the candidates since last week's debate. Take a look at this.

Senator Hillary Clinton has doubled her lead among likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire. She's now 14 points ahead of Senator Barack Obama, who has inched into second place. John Edwards has fallen into third place in New Hampshire, losing 9 points since April. Al Gore remains in fourth place even though he's not a candidate and did not take part in our debate.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico has cracked double digits in New Hampshire for the first time. He now has 10 percent support since his debate performance. We're going to bring you a new poll of the Republican presidential contenders in New Hampshire tomorrow. That's coming up.

In the race to 2008, the former secretary of state, Colin Powell, is proving himself to be a political player. He's been in touch with some White House contenders even as he keeps distancing himself to a certain degree from the current commander in chief.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us. Is General Powell, Mary, committed to supporting a Republican in 2008? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when it comes to 2008, the only thing right now that Colin Powell seems committed to is providing advice to candidates seeking it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): More than four years after helping make the case to go to war against Iraq, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is putting more distance between himself and the Bush administration.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," the man considered once considered a potential Republican presidential contender in 1996 wouldn't even commit to supporting a Republican in 2008.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm going to support the best person that I can find who will lead this country for the eight years beginning in January 2009.

KAREN DEYOUNG, AUTHOR, "SOLDIER: THE LIFE OF COLIN POWELL: And what's interesting to me is that he really has sort of dropped all pretenses of kind of being a Republican stalwart.

SNOW: Powell said he's met twice with presidential hopeful Barack Obama to talk about foreign policy, but he's staying coy about who he'll back, saying he'll talk to anyone seeking his advice.

In addition to Obama, an aide to Powell says he has met with Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, has been in touch with staff and advisers to Mitt Romney and Senator Chuck Hagel. Powell says he's not interested in political life, but seems to be leaving a door open to an appointed position.

DEYOUNG: Whether a Republican or Democrat is elected, Powell comes with a lot of baggage.

SNOW: That baggage coming from Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council in 2003.

POWELL: Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option -- not in a post-September 11th world.

SNOW: But as Powell distanced himself from the Bush administration, some say he could make a comeback into political life. Some political watchers say there's even a very remote chance that he could be drafted by an independent hypothetical candidate like Mike Bloomberg.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Colin Powell, conceivably, and Mayor Bloomberg, both have this sort of independent coloration that I think they -- they might make a very, very interesting pair.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, former presidential adviser David Gergen stresses it would be a remote possibility for Powell to consider running on an independent ticket. And would only do so if he was disappointed with the nominees out there. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Mary for that.

Still ahead here tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, the White House losing traction at home. Is the president spinning his wheels? Or will he be able to push through some of his domestic agenda before leaving office?

And harsh justice, a young man sentenced to 10 years behind bars for consensual relations with another teen. Find out why a judge now says he should be set free.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our next story is disturbing and contains some unsettling images. It involves a young woman who was murdered in what many people call an honor killing. Here's Juliet Bremner in London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JULIET BREMNER, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days after these pictures were taken, Banaz Mahmod was murdered on orders of her father and uncle. She kept telling the police that her life was in danger, yet tragically it didn't stop her from being killed. Her father Mahmod Mahmod felt the massive shame of the family. The final straw was when she was seen kissing her boyfriend in public.

With the help of his brother, Ari Mahmod, he hired five young Kurdish men to kill her. The sin Banaz had committed was to leave an abusive arranged marriage and start a relationship with Rahmat, a man from a different tribe. Her sister Bekhal knew that Banaz was in trouble. Speaking to us, she wore a veil to hide her identity.

BEKHAL MAHMOD, BANAZ MAHMOD'S SISTER: She's got to end it because otherwise there would be consequences and it's just happened now. That's why everybody was telling her to stop it and get away from that.

BREMNER: On New Year's Eve 20-year-old Banaz was forced to pack her suitcase and go with her father to her grandmother's house. There the young woman who had never touched alcohol was made to drink brandy. She saw her father putting on rubber gloves and was convinced she was about to die.

(on camera): Running out of the door, she broke a neighbor's window, screaming for help. By the time Banaz came running out of this gate, her hands were bleeding, cut by the broken glass. She was still hysterical, certain she was about to lose her life, so she ran down the pavement, still in bare feet. Finally she found help at a local cafe.

(voice-over): She was taken to the hospital. While waiting for treatment, she told Rahmat what happened. This is the mobile phone footage and translation shown to the jury. In Kurdish and incoherent from alcohol, Banaz explains how she had to finish her drink and adds, I was really scared.

Four months later a tip-off led detectives to this garden in Birmingham. Banaz's body was buried beneath the patio. She'd been strangled and her body forced into this suitcase.

Her final appeal to the police was made just one day before she was killed here at the family home in South London. But her family said nothing. It was her boyfriend Rahmat who reported her missing. He's asked us to conceal his identity.

RAHMAT SULEIMANI, BANAZ MAHMOD BOYFRIEND: Banaz was everything to me. She meant the world to me. She was, you know, my present, my future, my hope. And, you know, he's the best thing that ever happened to me. I couldn't ask for anything better than that.

BREMNER: There is now an internal police investigation into the case. Because Banaz didn't want to follow up her complaints, she wasn't given more protection. It was a decision that cost this vulnerable young woman her life. Juliet Bremner, ITV News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Tragically this type of killing is by no means common. It's -- it's -- unfortunately happens all too often. It is not uncommon, we should put it like that. The United Nations estimates some 5,000 of these so-called honor killings happen every year worldwide. We're going to stay on top of this story for you, honor killings.

Let's turn now to another pressing problem that affects millions of people around the world. That would be poverty. An important anti-poverty campaign co-founded by the rock star Bono of U2 has enlisted some powerful support including Bill and Melinda gates. Earlier I spoke with two men who signed up. Both once served as Senate majority leaders. The former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle and the former Republican Senator Bill Frist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about One Vote '08. This is a new initiative that has brought the two of you together. Tell our viewers what you're doing, why you're doing this.

BILL FRIST, (R) FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Wolf, one vote '08 is an initiative that was kicked off just today. It will last 18 months and it's an unprecedented approach whereby using high tech and using the American people, we will engage millions of people surrounding poverty, extreme poverty and using medicine and health care.

BLITZER: And you're going to allow all of these 18, maybe 19, maybe 20 presidential candidates to get committed. Let me put up on the screen the five areas that you want action taken, including these fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, improving child and maternal health, increasing access to basic education, particularly for girls, providing access to clean water and sanitation, and reduce by half the number of people worldwide who suffer from hunger.

Enormous challenges, Senator Daschle. But tell our viewers how you hope this can get done.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE, (D) FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think it can get done in large measure because the American people are beginning to realize, wolf, that this isn't just a humanitarian issue. It isn't just a question of compassion. Our own national interest is at stake here. Our own national security to the degree we can stabilize economically some of the developing parts of the world, to the degree we can address the tremendous problems we have economically and politically as a result, is the degree to which we ourselves are going to be a lot more secure. That's in part what this is about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And both of these former senators are vowing to press all of the presidential candidates, 18 of them right now, to get this item on their agenda.

Just ahead -- President Bush's big challenges and waning clout. What, if anything, can he still accomplish before leaving office? The veteran presidential adviser, David Gergen, he'll weigh in on that.

And a key presidential ally on Iraq drops a bombshell about Iran. What's behind independent Senator Joe Lieberman's call for military action? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now -- a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration. A federal appeals court rules the government cannot hold terror suspects indefinitely in military custody. The three-judge panel said the government must file charges. The Justice Department says it will ask the full Fourth Circuit to hear the case. They're hoping for a review.

Men who are U.S. veterans are twice as likely to die of suicide than are people with no military service. That's one conclusion of a new study that says that male U.S. veterans are more likely to kill themselves with a gun than others who commit suicide. The study says doctors treating Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans should be aware.

And an effort to force a no-confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales fails in the Senate. Republicans were able to get enough votes to block the move, 53-38. Seven Republicans did join some Democrats in trying to get the no-confidence vote to the floor once again. That effort by the Democrats failed.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Bush just home from a swing through Europe. He got a warm welcome from enthusiastic crowds at his last two stops in Albania and Bulgaria. But back here in Washington, the president faces some very harsh realities. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has been traveling with the president -- Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. President Bush is standing on the world stage was tested on issues as diverse as missile defense and climate change, but now he faced a whole new set of challenges, coming home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Bush ended his European trip watching a goose step and feeling the love. Rock star treatment in Albania and Bulgaria, countries that embrace him on the street and support him in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But back at home, he faces a real struggle for political clout. When asked directly whether he had any left, he dodged the question. He did acknowledge he was engaged in a new political dance -- fighting the Democratically controlled Congress and a growing number of defiant Republicans.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's two steps forward and one step back.

MALVEAUX: The step back was over his plan to overhaul immigration. Thursday night, the bill collapsed after Congress failed to get it to the Senate floor. Mr. Bush, who will meet with key Republicans over the issue Tuesday, was defiant.

BUSH: And I believe we can get it done. I'll see you at the bill signing.

MALVEAUX: Another step back for Mr. Bush is the Senate's maneuver to bring a no confidence vote before Congress targeting his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.

Mr. Bush stressed whatever the outcome, the resolution is non- binding and Gonzales is safe.

BUSH: They can try to have their votes of no confidence, but it's not going to determine -- make the determination who serves in my -- in my government.

MALVEAUX: But they did determine the fate of the president's chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, who is being replaced. His renomination requires approval by the Democratically controlled Senate. The president realized he wasn't going to win that political fight.

BUSH: People view this as an opportunity to make statements. And upon the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Gates, I agreed to send up another nominee.

(END VIDEO TAPE) MALVEAUX: President Bush's time to use what political capital he has left is quickly passing. In his 18 months left in office, he will face serious challenges to his agenda both at home and abroad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And joining us now, the former presidential adviser, David Gergen.

He's joining us from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

David, I guess the bottom line question is this is President Bush now a lame duck?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF POLICY AT HARVARD: He sure walks like one and talks like one and usually people think that means he's a lame duck.

He's got, you know, he's got an outside possibility -- I think it's fairly remote -- of reviving this immigration bill. He comes back here and he'll go right to the Senate, to the Republicans at the caucus. I think that's smart on his part. But, you know, he's a -- he's a guy who's going to gamble because he's putting more -- he's putting more chips on the line and there are very few chips he has left -- to try to get this revived. It's unlikely to work. But, hey, politics can -- can lead to strange turns.

BLITZER: You say it's unlikely that he's going to get this immigration reform compromise -- get it signed into law. But he guaranteed it earlier today.

I want you to listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We made two steps forward on immigration. We took a step back. And now I'm going to work with those who are focused on getting an immigration bill done and start taking some steps forward again. And I believe we can get it done. I'll see you at the bill signing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, he guaranteed it -- "I'll see you at the bill signing." That means he's going to sign this legislation into law. Not only will it have to pass the Senate, it will have to pass the House of Representatives. The two chambers will have to agree on some sort of common language and then he's going to be at the signing ceremony.

Does he know what he's talking about?

GERGEN: Well, maybe he knows something we don't know, but I doubt it. You know, I wouldn't bet the farm on it, Wolf. It's going to be extremely difficult.

What is it he's going to bring to the table?

Has he got something to -- has he got a compromise that will bring more Republicans to the table? I mean, he hasn't produced many Republicans to vote for this bill. You know, he's going to have to -- if he compromises too much on the bill, then -- then he's going to lose, on the Republican side and he's going to lose the Democrats.

The issue becomes does he have anything else to trade, outside this bill?

Now, if he goes up and tells the Republicans he's going to get rid of Gonzales and pardon Libby, that might help him a little bit.

Right now he's going just the other way, you know?

He wants to embrace Gonzales and throw Libby over the side. And that is -- that's also enraged a lot of his base at the moment.

BLITZER: You've worked for several presidents, correct me if I'm wrong -- Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bill Clinton.

Let's take a look at some crisis moments in earlier presidencies.

Nixon, for example, how would you compare Nixon's problems versus George W. Bush's?

GERGEN: Well, Nixon, certainly -- Nixon's problems were fatal. They were terminal. And George Bush is not in a terminal situation at this point. And Nixon, as you know, went down into the low 20s on his numbers. But more than that, he was about to be impeached and that's why he left office.

George W. Bush is badly wounded here at home, but he still, as commander-in-chief, does have some residual power overseas. Possibly can pull something out with Iraq. He's got the possibility of negotiating still with the Israelis and Palestinians. You know, he could possibly pull something out on climate change, as he demonstrated with G-8 this past week. So there are still some things he can get done on foreign policy.

But here at home, the collapse of the immigration bill last week really was a sort of a banging shot of a sense of real possibilities. There just doesn't seem to be a -- a lot of muscle right now. And, you know, I don't think that even our headlines suggest the degree to which Republicans are trying to distance themselves, both psychologically and politically, from the White House these days.

BLITZER: Bill Clinton, you worked for Bill Clinton. He was impeached, but he clearly recovered at the end of his presidency.

Can this president do the same thing?

GERGEN: Well, Bill Clinton -- you may remember during the impeachment process, his public popularity held up pretty well. You know, he was in the high 50s/low 60s and George W. Bush is about 30 points lower than that. So it's -- you know, Bill Clinton -- there were an awful lot of people in the country who concluded that the -- the impeachment was unfair and that he was, you know, there was a hanging party out there to get him. And they stuck with the president. And the economy was also doing pretty well and he was getting some credit for that.

So this president does not have a sense anymore among Republicans that he's being treated unfairly. You know, for a long, long time George W. Bush was in the position where the Democratic support for him and the Independent support for him collapsed, but the Republican support was very, very high.

What he's faced in the last few weeks, Wolf, is the -- is with the immigration bill in particular, his -- his Republican support took a nose dive. And it went from the high 70s down to below 50 percent.

And now, on the Gonzales case, the Republicans on Capitol Hill are not with him on this attorney general. He, you know, he can win the vote on Capitol Hill on a no confidence vote, but that doesn't mean he's got the hearts with him in the party.

And on "Scooter" Libby, there is a lot of sentiment among Republican conservatives that he ought to pardon "Scooter" Libby. And here's Fred Thompson, who is making a big case of it, who's gaining ground on the Republican side.

So the president is in a -- finds himself on the wrong side of a lot of Republicans on a lot of issues, starting with immigration.

BLITZER: David Gergen, thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight -- battling to go to Cuba. An American war veteran who fought in Iraq now fighting for his right to see his kids.

And Senator Joe Lieberman, he thinks the U.S. should be ready to attack Iran. What do you think? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A combat veteran from the war in Iraq is now waging a new battle of his own. His opponent, the United States government and its hard-line stance against Cuba. Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is watching this story. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, imagine if a person's not able to go to their mother's funeral or visit their children for years. One Cuban-American soldier is trying to change that.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SGT. CARLOS LAZO, CUBAN-AMERICAN: Guajira, Guantanamera.

VERJEE (voice-over): It's a long way from a Cuban prison cell to serenading a United States congresswoman in Washington. Carlos Lazo wants the U.S. Government to change its tune on laws that prevent Cubans in America from going home to visit their families.

LAZO (SINGING): Guantanamera...

(SPEAKING) Imagine if you are not able to talk to your kids, to see your family, to go to the funeral of your mother.

VERJEE: Lazo has been through this. He was thrown in a Cuban jail for a year for trying to escape but finally succeed in 1992, floating on a raft. Lazo, a U.S. Military combat medic in Iraq, won a bronze star for bravery in Fallujah in 2004. But when he came back home he found himself battling his own government.

LAZO: I tried to visit my children in Cuba. And due to the new restrictions that the administration put in place, I couldn't go.

VERJEE: The travel restrictions are a part of an economic embargo the U.S. Government enforces upon Cuba to pressure the communist regime, hoping it will lead to democratic change.

Lazo says he made a strong case and was eventually allowed to bring his two sons from Cuba to his home in Seattle. He says most haven't been so lucky. Lazo is marching down long Washington corridors, trying to get the rules changed for all Cubans, who now can only visit their families once every three years.

REP. JO ANN EMERSON (R), MISSOURI: To have a policy that's based on politics is not right.

VERJEE: He's having some success. Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican from Missouri, is on his side.

EMERSON: It's real hard to argue you shouldn't be able to go see your family.

VERJEE: Lazo met more than 150 members of Congress, but hasn't won over everyone. There's still fierce opposition from the Bush administration and parts of the Cuban-American community. Lazo won't let Congress tune out.

LAZO (SINGING): Guantanamera...

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: Sergeant Lazo says U.S. policy towards Cuba hasn't really worked for the last 50 years. He says there's been no Democratic change in Cuba, and all the policy does is hurt ordinary Cubans. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain Verjee, thanks very much. Currently, by the way, Cuba is the only country to which the U.S. government directly prohibits tourist travel. Limited licenses are issued for humanitarian, cultural and journalistic reasons.

There is limited travel to North Korea. U.S. citizens though may need a license from the Treasury Department due to economic sanctions. Travel to Libya and Iraq had been prohibited, but restrictions were lifted in recent years as diplomatic relations clearly improved. We're watching this story for you.

Ever wondered what it would be like to walk through the streets of ancient Rome? Thanks to new technology, anyone with a computer can get a never-before-seen 3-D glimpse of the ancient city.

Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. Abbi, how far back in history does the new technology go?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it takes back to 320 A.D. when Rome was a city of one million people. Now virtually reconstructed by experts from the University of Virginia and UCLA. We're watching some of it that they've put online right here.

Using ancient maps and building catalogs that detailed everything from the apartment buildings in the city to the number of brothels there, the group has mapped 7,000 buildings.

And you can even enter a few of them here. We're going into the arena of the Coliseum where this tour not only takes you through it, it takes you a through a trap door and shows you the underground chambers.

The interactive program is currently available to scholars and tourists who are navigating the ruins of the Coliseum. But project director Bernard Frisher (ph) says they are currently exploring ways of bringing it to more people online. Wolf?

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that.

We've still got more news ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Independent Senator Joe Lieberman says Iranians are killing Americans in Iraq, and he says one way to stop that may be for the U.S. to strike Iran. Jack Cafferty wants to know, what do you think?

And harsh justice. A young man sentenced to 10 years behind bars for consensual relations with another teen. Find out why a judge now says he should be set free. Going to show you what's going on. Our Rick Sanchez standing by with a live report. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now in Georgia, one man's family and supporters are very happy. Today they received word that something they'd long waited for actually came true. It involves a now 21-year-old man who was sentenced to prison for a sexual encounter while he was still a teenager.

Let's bring in CNN's Rick Sanchez. He's watching this from the CNN Center in Atlanta. You've been following this story, Rick, for a long time. And there was dramatic news today. You happened to be there when it came in. Tell our viewers what's going on.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: It's unbelievable. They've been fighting now for more than two and a half years. Essentially saying, why should a young man have to spend 10 years in prison for having what was essentially consensual sex with another teenager?

He was a teenager. She was a teenager. This is what they've been fighting for. So finally today they are awaiting the decision from the superior court judge, we're in the room and a fax bell rings. That means it's coming in.

We're all running over to the fax machine and waiting with anticipation, a lot of anxiety in the room, Wolf, and then this happens.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

B.J. BERNSTEIN, ATTORNEY: We win!

SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He's out?

A victory in the legal battle for Genarlow Wilson. Wilson was sentenced to ten years under a Georgia sodomy law that harshly punished the 17-year-old for having oral sex with another teenage, even though it appeared to be consensual.

In a jailhouse interview with CNN, Wilson insisted it was.

(on camera): At no time did you tell that young lady that she had to give you oral sex?

GENARLOW WILSON, CHARGED FOR RAPE: No, sir.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): The law seemed so outdated, Georgia lawmakers got rid of it, reducing consensual sex between teens to a misdemeanor.

But they refused to reduce Wilson's punishment. Now, though, a superior court judge weighs in. Calling the case, quote, "an injustice." CNN was there when the ruling was received.

SANCHEZ: The sentence is void. That means he's cleared. That means he's cleared.

(APPLAUSE)

SANCHEZ: Wilson's mother, Juanessa Bennett.

There must be just incredible relief for you right now. Do you feel -- explain to us in the best words that you can, why you feel what this judge has done is the right thing for your son.

JUANESSA BENNETT, GENARLOW WILSON'S MOTHER: Because it is the right thing.

SANCHEZ: Why?

J. BENNETT: Because he didn't deserve to have the sexual predator status on top of him.

SANCHEZ: But just one hour and a half after receiving the faxed document, from the superior court judge, attorney B.J. Bernstein received another notice from the attorney general of the state of Georgia, informing her that they would appeal the decision.

BERNSTEIN: I don't know -- understand why smarter heads can't prevail. Why people have consistently have said keep this kid a convicted felon.

SANCHEZ: The Georgia attorney general's office argues the superior court judge did not half standing to overrule the conviction. That's why they're appealing. And while the appeal is being heard, Wilson's attorneys are asking he be released. But there's no guarantee. So for now, Wilson, who's already served more than two years, waits.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And what's interesting about this, Wolf, this is essentially a pretty good kid when he was in high school. He had a 3.2 GPA, he was on a football team.

And he told me there were two colleges talking to him about possibly offering him a scholarship. He was doing OK. He admits to doing something really stupid in the hotel room, and he admits to it. They were doing drugs. But 10 years for consensual sex he argues is not something he wants to take with him for the rest of his life and be branded a sexual offender.

BLITZER: He was 17 and she was 15. Does she acknowledge it was consensual?

SANCHEZ: Yes, there's no question at the time that she was acknowledging it was consensual. There was a lot of other people in the room. The reason it was a big news hit was because one of the boys in the room, smart guy that he was, decided he would videotape the entire event and that's when police got his hands on that and charged him. Now Jimmy Carter, Mark Cuban, the "New York Times," all asking that this young man be released. It still might happen. At least they got some good news today.

BLITZER: Rick Sanchez, doing excellent reporting for us on this story. Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question for this hour, Wolf -- Senator Joe Lieberman says the United States should now consider attacking Iran. Is he right?

Here's some of what you've written.

Cathy in West Fargo, North Dakota: "Senator Lieberman is totally wrong. Diplomacy is the only way to go. Senator Lieberman just needs to finish his present term and then quietly go away."

Sandra in Texas: "Jack, as a Democrat who voted for the Gore/Lieberman ticket in 2000, he makes me ashamed. I'm so glad the Democrats in Connecticut gave him the boot. The Democratic Party needs to do the same."

Marvin writes: "We should attack Iran. We negotiate, they ignore sanctions and continue building nuclear weapons."

James in Texas: "Lieberman is the typical right wing chickenhawk, one who advocates for war so long as others do the fighting and dying."

P. writes: "Lieberman's first loyalty is to Israel. Therefore, should we be surprised? He doesn't care about American lives. He cares about Israeli lives."

Manuel in Oregon: "Not only is he right, but what Iran is doing constitutes an act of war. Can't keep running forever, because that just encourages sneaky and sleazy cowards like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to get bolder."

Donna in Haverhill, Massachusetts: "Jack, Senator Joe Lieberman should consider retiring. I think he's completely lost his mind."

And Julian in Salisbury, North Carolina: "Attack Iran? With what, his state's highway patrol?"

If you didn't see your e-mail, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them online along with video clips of "The Cafferty File." Wolf, you'll be looking at those later tonight.

BLITZER: A very popular feature, Jack. Thank you very much.

Still ahead -- thousands of parents whose claim a link between childhood vaccines and autism gets their day in court.

Plus, Michael Moore stashes his new film to avoid the reach of the law. We're going to tell you where it's hiding.

All that, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol Costello. She's monitoring some other stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol?

COSTELLO: We start with a fascinating story, Wolf. Families are trying to make the case that routine vaccines cause autism in their children. Hearings began today in the U.S. federal claims court. Nearly 5,000 cases are pending. Large studies have found no evidence of links between vaccines and autism, which damages a child's ability to socialize and communicate. If the court finds one families could be eligible for compensation under a special fund set up by Congress.

And filmmaker and Bush critic Michael Moore says the U.S. government is harassing him over a trip to Cuba. He says he's hidden a copy of his latest film in Canada because he fears the government will try to take it. Moore is under investigation for possible violations of the U.S. trade embargo, restricting travel to Cuba. He went there to film part of his new documentary, "Sicko," about the U.S. health care system. We'll keep you posted because you know his movie's supposed to open soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be watching. Thanks Carol, we'll see you tomorrow.

Let's close with some of the pictures of the first space walk during the visit of the shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station. Check it out. The goal is to complete installation of specialized solar panels which will help power the station. The space walk is to last about six and a half hours. The space walk is being carried out by shuttle astronauts Jim Reilly and Danny Olivas. Atlantis is an 11-day mission, which could stretch actually to 13 days. After half a year at the space station, astronaut Sunny Williams will hitch a ride home on the Atlantis, while Clayton Anderson will take her place for a period of some four months.

That's all the time we have. Let's go to "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Paula is standing by in New York -- Paula?

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