Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Negotiating with the Taliban; Pakistan Bomb Kills 26; Hoh: Go Where Al Qaeda Is

Aired November 10, 2009 - 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: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a very emotional memorial service for the victims of the massacre at Fort Hood. Some 15,000 people on hand as President Obama pays tribute to each of the 13 Americans killed.

Also, talking to the Taliban -- could negotiations with the West succeed where the war in Afghanistan hasn't so far?

We have an exclusive interview with a former Taliban official who could play the role of deal maker.

And with Washington sniper John Allen Muhammad now just hours away from execution, we get an unprecedented look at the car he used in his murderous spree -- a car experts call "a customized killing machine."

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's an idea that was once unthinkable -- negotiating with the Taliban. But with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan now in its eighth and deadliest year and American support for the war falling, some believe the prospect is worth exploring.

But are Taliban leaders open with a deal with the West?

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is in Afghanistan.

He had an exclusive interview with a former Taliban official who could -- could play a pivotal role -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:

Wolf, this is a mullah who told me he still believes in the Taliban philosophy, but also thinks there is a faction of the Taliban open to a deal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): A man who served years in a CIA prison is emerging as a potential deal maker -- someone who can speak to the Taliban and American and European officials.

(on camera): Could the Taliban ever work with President Karzai's government?

MULLAH WAKIL MUTAWAKIL, FORMER TALIBAN OFFICIAL (through translator): They think Karzai's government is incompetent. They don't call it an independent government and I don't think they'll work with Karzai -- as far as I know -- the Taliban.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): And he does. Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakil was the Taliban's foreign minister and once called the United States' retaliation for 9/11 "state terrorism." To reach him, we drove south through Kabul to a nondescript dirt road. A dozen armed guards who did not want to be photographed showed us into his home.

(on camera): Why would the Taliban negotiate now when they have momentum?

MUTAWAKIL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The common Taliban do not believe in the peace process. They don't trust it.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): But Mutawakil says its leadership is open to negotiation.

MUTAWAKIL: We are not a danger to the world. We can be flexible.

LAWRENCE: It's hard to tell whether he's offering opinion or floating an idea directly from Taliban leader Mullah Omar, his former confidant. Mutawakil says it's possible the Taliban would not allow Afghanistan to be used for planning attacks on America and from the beginning, the Taliban had a local agenda. Al Qaeda had an international agenda and this is the difference between Taliban and Al Qaeda.

LAWRENCE: The Afghan insurgency comprises multiple groups with different areas of influence -- Mullah Omar in the south, the Hakani network in the southeast and east of Kabul, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He's a brutal warlord once backed by the U.S. and is independent of both the Taliban and al Qaeda.

(on camera): Which group would you recommend talking with first?

MUTAWAKIL (through translator): Only reconciling with Hekmatyar will not solve the problem. If they do not negotiate with the representative of Mullah Omar, it will be useless.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): Mutawakil says the Taliban realize they can't turn back the clock to early 2001.

(on camera): Could they accept a government where women are granted rights, women can -- are allowed to go to school?

MUTAWAKIL (through translator): They will won't believe in co- education, but there can be separate education while wearing veils. This will be different.

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): He says the current Taliban leadership is more focused on driving out foreigners than Islamic crusade, but admits a lot of young Afghan fighters have been influenced by years of contact with the foreign jihadists.

MUTAWAKIL (through translator): The new generation of Taliban, the young boys who joined with them, they are different.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: The mullah told me that some American diplomats have already visited him to talk about Afghanistan's future. But he says the price of any deal could be taking the bounty off the heads of some Taliban leaders or even giving them control of some provinces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence in Kabul for us.

What a story.

Thanks very much, Chris, for that. In just a few moments, I'll be speaking with Matthew Hoh, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, a civilian employee of the State Department who worked in Afghanistan. He resigned last month to protest U.S. policy in Afghanistan. I'll ask him about a decision the president of the United States could make soon about dispatching thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan. Stand by for that interview.

In Pakistan, a car packed with explosives killed at least 26 civilians in a city north of Peshawar. It appears, however, that the bomber missed his intended target -- the local chief of police.

CNN's Reza Sayah spoke to him shortly after the blast -- Reza.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a police chief in Northwest Pakistan says he was the target of this suicide attack and if it weren't for a donkey trolley, he could have been killed. Officials say this was a powerful suicide car bomb that blew up in a crowded market in the District of Charsadda. Police Chief Riaz Khan tells CNN he was driving home through this market in a two car convoy when he was approached by a red car. That's when he said a donkey trolley came in front of the red car and blocked it. Moments later, the suicide car bomb blew up.

The police chief survived the attack. More than two dozen civilians did not.

This attack on Tuesday comes as the Pakistani Army continues its offensive against the Taliban and its leadership in South Waziristan. It's still not clear who carried out Tuesday's attack, but certainly the Taliban have repeatedly threatened reprisal attacks and Tuesday's attack certainly bears the hallmark of the Taliban.

This is the third suicide attack in Northwest Pakistan in as many days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah in Islamabad for us watching this story.

Thank you. Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- it's shocking what's going on, Jack, in Pakistan. Almost every day, there's a suicide bombing there. My heart goes out to our friends in Pakistan who have to deal with this. This is terror unlimited.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, it's horrible. And -- and the resolution is a long way from being anywhere in sight. Let's hope that the Pakistani military can somehow prevail in their fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Democrats are sending in the big guns to try to make health care reform a reality. Former President Bill Clinton told Senate Democrats today there is no perfect bill and the worst thing to do is nothing, adding, "It's important to act, to move, to start the ball rolling."

After the closed door meeting, Clinton said he told the senators the U.S. economy will not be able to survive much longer without health care reform.

If one person knows what's at stake for President Obama and the Democrats, it's probably President Clinton. His administration's failure to pass health care reform in the early '90s is generally seen as one of the big reasons the Republicans scored sweeping victories in the Congressional elections in 1994.

Now that the House has passed its health care bill, there's no question the Senate Democrats need to find some consensus when it comes to thorny issues like public options and abortion funding.

Meanwhile, a new poll suggests it's not just members of Congress who need some persuading here. A Gallup Poll shows 41 percent of Americans say a new health care bill would make the U.S. health care system better in the long run. But 40 percent in the same poll say it would make things worse.

The poll suggests people are even more negative about reform when it comes to their personal situation.

What we don't know yet in all of this is how much the public's opinion matters. The insurance companies, large pharmaceutical companies and other powerful forces have a vested interest in defeating this legislation. And if the vote was taken today, well, they would probably win.

Here's the question: Can Bill Clinton save health care reform?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

As persuasive as he is -- and he is persuasive -- I think the more persuasive force in this debate is the voters in the districts of these conservative Democrats and Republicans who say, if you shove this thing through, you'd better start looking for another job. And that election is just a year away.

BLITZER: Yes. It takes a profile in courage to stand up to that kind of pressure. I don't know how many profiles in courage there are out there, Jack.

You probably know some of them, right?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know a lot of them either, as a matter of fact.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: A lot of wienies, not many profiles in courage.

BLITZER: Right. You're probably right.

Jack, thanks very much.

We have a new way for you to follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- relatively new at least, a couple months. I'm now on Twitter. You can get my Tweets at Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn -- wolfblitzercnn, that's all one word. We'll take you behind-the-scenes and share some thoughts with you.

He wants President Obama to pull U.S. forces out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible and he quit his State Department job in protest of the current policy. Matthew Hoh is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about what's going on and about a potentially imminent decision by the president to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Also, the heart-wrenching memorial for the victims of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood -- the people standing by to comfort the loved ones left behind.

And it's the car the Washington sniper used to unleash his terror. Now, just hours before his execution, the closest look yet at the vehicle he turned into a perfect platform for murder.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The White House is strongly denying reports that President Obama has decided to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan. The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, says the president will meet again tomorrow with his top national security team to discuss options. He says those reporting a decision has already been made, in his words, "don't have the slightest idea what they're talking about."

Matthew Hoh wants the president to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. He was a civilian officer working for the State Department in Afghanistan before resigning last month in protest of U.S. policy there. Before that, he served in Iraq as a U.S. Marine.

Matthew, thanks very much for coming in.

MATTHEW HOH, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEE: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: If the president does decide to send another 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan beyond the 68,000 who are already there, why would that be a mistake?

HOH: Sure.

First, can I say happy birthday to the U.S. Marines Corps?

BLITZER: You can.

HOH: Particularly those Marines who are in harm's way today.

It would be a mistake because, first off, Afghanistan is in a civil war that's been going on since the '70s. All we're doing by our presence there is reinforcing one side of that civil war. So the other side sees our occupation as simply that -- an occupation -- and continues to fight us. Sending more troops is only going to exacerbate that or only going to fuel that insurgency.

Additionally, the way Al Qaeda exists as this ideological cloud- like organization that works worldwide and recruits worldwide, 60,000, 100,000 troops in Afghanistan has no bearing on the operations of Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: But if the U.S. were to pull out of Afghanistan, what's to say that Al Qaeda couldn't re-establish itself, as it established itself, there together with the Taliban, before 9/11?

HOH: Sure. First of all, I think -- and I think a lot of people agree with me -- that the links -- the hard links between Al Qaeda and the Taliban really didn't exist in 2001. They've been pushed together somewhat now.

BLITZER: Didn't the Taliban give Al Qaeda free reign to do what they wanted in Afghanistan before -- before 9/11?

HOH: They operated -- Al Qaeda operated out of there. However, I don't believe there was any connection between Mullah Omar's government, which is really anchored in Kandahar, as well as the Al Qaeda organization, which spent a lot of time up in Jalalabad.

BLITZER: That's a minority view you have, you know that there, because the widely held assumption in the U.S. intelligence community was that there was a direct link between the Taliban. They basically let the Al Qaeda operatives train in Afghanistan. They closed their eyes to that and they let them do whatever they wanted.

HOH: Sure. I don't believe that Taliban were involved in any of the planning of any of Al Qaeda's operations. I -- I don't believe that.

BLITZER: So there's a -- but you're making that distinction.

HOH: Yes.

BLITZER: That 9/11 was specifically the work of Al Qaeda, the Taliban didn't know about it?

HOH: Correct. BLITZER: That -- that's probably true.

HOH: Yes.

BLITZER: But the fact that Al Qaeda had the free reign in Afghanistan to plan for 9/11 without the Taliban interfering or doing anything to stop, you don't dispute that?

HOH: Well, that was nine years ago, too. And I think that Al Qaeda has evolved. After 9/11, after we chased Al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan, I think Al Qaeda evolved. And they went onto the Internet. And now they really recruit worldwide. But even then, they were recruiting worldwide. Most of their operations (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Because they are in Pakistan now, much more than they are in Afghanistan or Somalia or Yemen, for that matter.

HOH: Sure.

BLITZER: But I guess the question is this -- and Chris Lawrence mentioned this in his report.

Should the U.S. or the West be reaching out to some Taliban elements right now to try to see if there's a deal there?

HOH: Absolutely. Absolutely. If you -- if you agree that Afghanistan is a civil war, that this has just been a continuation of the war that started in the '70s, you have to have political reconciliation.

BLITZER: So you don't see the Taliban simply as terrorists and the U.S. should never negotiate with terrorists?

HOH: No. But don't get me wrong, many members of the Taliban are horrible, brutal people. However, I don't believe they have any -- any interest in worldwide jihad. I think most of the Taliban -- the rank and file Taliban, most of them are only interested in their local communities (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: They would just treat the people in -- if they came back to power, the Taliban, they would treat women and girls, for example, as they did when they were in control, which was pitiful.

HOH: Which is horrible, absolutely horrible.

BLITZER: Are you willing to allow that to come back?

HOH: I don't believe it's in the interests of the United States to try and change cultural or societal structures within another country.

BLITZER: So we should basically walk away, you think?

HOH: Not walk away in the sense of throw everything to the side and not be involved in that region. I think our priorities should be the destruction of Al Qaeda. I think the fact that we have not killed bin Laden or Zawahari over the last eight years is a real shame. And I believe that leads credence to that organization and credibility. I think that should be our priority, just to kill that senior leadership.

BLITZER: You served in Iraq. You served for the State Department as a civilian employee in Afghanistan.

If you had a chance to speak directly to the president on the eve right now of his making this very important decision, what would you say to him?

Look into that camera...

HOH: Sure. And I want to...

BLITZER: ...and tell us what you would say to the president of the United States?

HOH: Sure. I would say, Mr. President, I understand the domestic political concerns that you have. However, this is an opportunity to be a great leader, to recognize the challenges that we are facing and the fact that it's a civil war. American combat troops are not defeating Al Qaeda by their presence in Afghanistan. All they are doing is just fighting people who are fighting us because we're occupying them.

We need to re-evaluate our strategy there and attack Al Qaeda as the organization that it is and not as we want it to be. And we have to realize that this is a civil war and more combat troops will only fuel the insurgency.

BLITZER: You -- you made that argument to Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, in Iraq -- excuse me, Afghanistan and Pakistan, before you resigned, is that right?

HOH: Correct.

BLITZER: And what did -- how did he respond to it?

HOH: Oh, he -- he had read my resignation letter. And I think there was some agreement. And he -- I believe members of the administration within the State Department, as well as within the Department of Defense, have concerns about a counter-insurgency strategy will not work there.

BLITZER: How prevalent are your views within the State Department or the U.S. government, the military, the front line, for example, civilian and military who are serving in Afghanistan right now, based on your -- your months there?

HOH: Nothing -- nothing I wrote is origin -- original or unique to me. Nothing is novel. These are things that have been said by plenty of my colleagues, both military and civilian. I have gotten an overwhelming amount of support from active duty military stationed in Afghanistan right now, as well as my civilian counterparts -- guys who are doing jobs similar to me, that this is -- this is the reality on the ground there. Our presence there is not making America safer.

And, you know, another point I want to make, Wolf, if I can, is that we have to look at this on -- on a moral perspective and a philosophical perspective.

Do we want -- really want America's young men and women fighting and dying to prop up the Karzai regime, which is an illegitimate and corrupt kleptocracy?

And 5, 10, 15 years from now, are we going to be able to -- to look at ourselves and say this is the right thing to do, to lose young Americans in combat for the sake of the Karzai regime?

BLITZER: So you -- if the president sends thousands of additional troops and there are many more American casualties, they will have died in vain, is that what you're saying?

HOH: It's a -- that's a very difficult -- a very difficult question to answer. I just had a friend who was killed and I just had to go to his memorial service on Friday. And so it's very tough for me.

But -- and this might get long-winded, so I apologize -- to try and explain and how I feel about this.

Our -- our kids who die over there, our young men and women who die over there, they're dying alongside their buddies. These are professional warriors who are doing their jobs. They are doing their jobs with honor. And the only shame or the only dishonor is upon our policy makers or ourselves as a nation if we commit them to combat for reasons that are not in our own best interests, if we do them for reasons other than vital national security concerns.

BLITZER: Matthew Hoh, thanks very much for coming in.

HOH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're going to continue to speak out?

HOH: Yes, I will. I will.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

HOH: Thank you.

BLITZER: A major turnaround in the way Washington deals with North Korea.

Plus, the memorial service for the 13 Americans killed in the shooting rampage at Fort Hood. We'll have the tributes and the grief.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Alina Cho is monitoring stories from around the world incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Alina, what's going on?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.

NATO officials say a huge cache of bomb making materials has been seized in Southern Afghanistan. They say the cache included 250 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. That's enough to make a couple hundred roadside bombs. Afghan police and international troops also found thousands of IED parts during the raid. Fifteen people have been detained.

A dire situation right now in El Salvador. U.N. officials say at least 10,000 people are in urgent need of food after floods and mudslides destroyed huge areas of farmland. At least 144 people were killed.

Dozens remain missing and nearly 13,000 are homeless. The country has begun three days of national mourning.

The State Department announced today the U.S. will hold one-on- one talks with North Korea. Officials say the focus will be restarting those stalled six party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program. Pyongyang has been pushing for direct talks, saying it needs to resolve differences with the United States before engaging in multi-lateral negotiations. The U.S. delegation will be led by senior envoy, Stephen Bosworth. A date for the talks has not been set.

And there was a violent confrontation today between North and South Korean naval forces. South Korean officials say a North Korean ship crossed a demarcation line in disputed waters and ignored both verbal warnings and a warning shot. That's when the South Korean ship fired on the North Korean vessel. South Korean officials say the North returned fire and then turned back, while Pyongyang claims it was South Korea that crossed into its territorial waters -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: A tense situation between North and South Korea.

Thanks very much for that.

Today is the day the nation remembered the troops killed in the place where they felt they were safe. The solemn ceremony at Fort Hood in Texas straight ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting -- what exactly did intelligence officials know about Nidal Hasan before he allegedly went on a deadly rampage?

New details of potentially troubling red flags. Stand by.

Mr. Clinton comes to Washington with one mission in mind -- to convince wavering Democrats to pass health care reform. We'll talk about the former president's rare closed door meeting on Capitol Hill and his extremely pointed message to lawmakers. And Senate Democrats take action to change the way banks are policed. It could have a radical impact on how your credit card and mortgage companies do business.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The governor of Virginia has refused a last minute plea for clemency. So at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. sniper, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is standing by over at prison. We'll go to her in just a moment, but first how did they do it? For weeks Muhammad and his teenaged partner Lee Boyd Malvo killed people in broad daylight and then vanished without a trace. CNN's Soledad O'Brien saw firsthand how the snipers were able to continue their brazen killing undetected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During those weeks of stark terror in and around Washington, D.C., the snipers killed and lived out of this, a 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. Once a Camden, New Jersey, police cruiser. This small beveled hole in the trunk was for the sniper's rifle, a perfect platform for murder.

RALPH DAIGNEAU, CRIME SCENE ANALYST: How could any crowded parking lot during the day in a congested restaurant area, gas station, an incident take place, and they could fly underneath the radar or evade law enforcement? This is one of the reasons why. We found four major modifications.

O'BRIEN: Crime scene analyst Ralph Daigneau has kept the car in an evidence warehouse for three years.

DAIGNEAU: The firewall has been cut out.

O'BRIEN: This is the closest look ever by a television team.

DAIGNEAU: Shooting from a vehicle is one thing but preparing it as they did, as in a sense a killing machine.

O'BRIEN: It was a customized killing machine. Darker the normal tinting on the back windows. The firewall between the trunk and the rear seat removed allowing the snipers to lie down and crawl into the trunk as in this FBI recreation. Half of the inside of the trunk lid was sprayed with blue paint to prevent light from bouncing off when raised. The car's battery was rigged to run a stolen laptop computer with map software to make killing locations easy to find. And this is the view that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo had when they pulled the trigger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Soledad O'Brien reporting for us. It's only a few hours from now when John Allen Muhammad will be executed. Let's go to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve joining us live. Jeanne, what's happening at this hour?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, John Muhammad is preparing to die. He has asked for a last meal from items usually offered at this prison, but he has asked prison authorities not to divulge his choices to the public. He also could receive visitors today. We ran into his first wife Carol Williams in a car outside the gate this afternoon. She had come here to visit him, but she says she was denied entry. Their son was allowed to come into the prison. He was visiting with his dad. His mother said he had a lot of questions to ask his father.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROL WILLIAMS, MUHAMMAD'S EX-WIFE: I don't know what he really wanted to ask, but I know he had a lot of questions he wanted to ask his dad.

MESERVE: Was this very important for him to get in to see him?

WILLIAMS: Yes, it was very important for him to get in to see him.

MESERVE: Can you tell me why?

WILLIAMS: Because this is the last time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: And we nudged him a little further about what those questions were that Lindbergh wanted to ask his father. The principal one is why, the same question, Wolf, that all of us have been asking for seven years. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right. He'll be executed in three and a half hours. So walk us through the process leading up to that.

MESERVE: Well, they are assembling witnesses here at the prison tonight. There are some official witnesses and members of the media. There also are families -- family members of victims who are coming here. We've been told to expect about 20 of them.

Shortly after 9:00 they will go to his cell which is right next to the death chamber. He will be escorted by guards into the death chamber where he will be strapped on to a gurney. At that point curtains will be drawn so the witnesses cannot observe the death team as it comes in and it puts IVs in his arms. He will have an IV in each arm, one the principal IV and one a backup. Through those the drugs will be administered, but before that happens that death team, once he's all set to go will step behind a curtain. Other curtains will be drawn and the witnesses will again be able to see him and he'll be allowed to make his last words. We do not know if he'll make any last estimates. We have been told he has not asked to have a spiritual adviser with him, and then the drugs will be administered. One will put him to sleep and one will stop his breathing and a third one will stop his heart. When that is done, prison authorities will step out here to the podium, and they will tell us that John Muhammad has died -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Jeanne, you've had a chance to speak to John Allen Muhammad over -- in recent years. Has he ever acknowledged his crimes?

MESERVE: Well, in my conversation with him which took place not long after his conviction, he wouldn't discuss the crime -- the crimes at all except to say he was not going to die for crimes he did not commit, but apart from that, no. As far as we know, he has never acknowledged committing these crimes. He has never expressed any remorse, and that is one of the things that is very much upset family members, people whose relatives died at his hand. They want to hear this man say that he's sorry for what he did. He hasn't done it yet -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve at the prison there. Thanks very much.

John Allen Muhammad received his death sentence May 4th, 2004, and if it's carried out as scheduled in less than three and a half hours from now, the time between sentencing and execution will be five years, since months. Slightly longer than Virginia's average of five years, two months, but it's well below the national average of 11 years and seven months between sentencing and execution.

Today is the day the nation remembered the troops killed in the place where they felt so secure. The solemn ceremony at Ft. Hood straight ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll bring you the emotional moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The military is often said to be a family, and that emotional bond was certainly very evident today. Under a bright Texas sky, the commander in chief led a solemn memorial for the 13 men and women killed not on the battlefield but in a spasm of senseless violence in a place they called home. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: The Army in Ft. Hood are no strangers to pain and tragedy and loss. As many of us know personally and all too well, that's been the case for the last eight years, but we are an Army that has drawn strength from that adversity. So as we grieve as an Army family, as we wrap our arms around the families of our fallen comrades, I would say to you all grieve with us. Don't grieve for us.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life's work is our security and the freedom that we all too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on the tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is their legacy. It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy, but this much we do know. No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving god looks upon them with favor. For what he has done we know that the killer will be met with justice in this world and the next.

Here at Ft. Hood we pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war even in the comfort of home. Later today at Ft. Lewis one community will gather to remember so many in one striker brigade who have fallen in Afghanistan. Long after they are laid to rest, when the fighting is finished and our nation has endured, when today's service men and women are veterans and their children have grown, it will be said that this generation believed under the most trying of tests, believed in perseverance, not just when it was easy but when it was hard, that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And volunteers who have also loved their loved ones in the military are standing by to help in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood shootings. We're going to take a closer look at this unique program turning their pain into comfort.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The emotional bonding we saw today at Ft. Hood helps the families of those killed get through the immediate impact of their terrible, terrible loss, but military families have to deal with grief long after the speeches are done and the bands have ceased to play. Many of them turn to a very special group of volunteers. CNN's Elaine Quijano is joining us with that story.

Elaine, tell us what's going on.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what happened at Ft. Hood is stirring up some very intense emotions for military families who have lost loved ones in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): For families of service members who have died, the Ft. Hood shooting is bringing back painful memories.

BONNIE CARROLL, TRAGEDY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FOR SURVIVORS: Every military family who has gotten that knock on the door, been presented with that folded flag, heard the sounds of "Taps" at a funeral will never be the same.

QUIJANO: Bonnie Carroll knows that grief firsthand. Her husband, Army Brigadier General Tom Carroll, was killed in a military plane crash in 1992. Now, she heads Up Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, T.A.P.S.

CLAIRE: Thank you for calling T.A.P.S. This is Claire.

QUIJANO: Within hours of the Ft. Hood shooting T.A.P.S. received a flood of calls and is bracing for more. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we need you guys to be prepared. You'll be talking to a lot of newly bereaved people.

QUIJANO: For some of the group's 25,000 members, Ft. Hood has stirred up feelings of loss again.

CARROLL: They are forever changed, even when as healed as they are going to be.

QUIJANO: Carroll says some of those same people are also reaching out despite their pain to help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's wonderful. We have a lot of people who are really in need of that, of counseling and just someone to talk so especially someone with experience with grief and loss.

CARROLL: For those of us in that position, the best thing we can do is reach out to another, to turn that pain around and to comfort and to provide support.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now T.A.P.S is a civilian organization that partners with the military and they actually had an office at Ft. Hood long before the shooting. In fact, so close is the partnership, that when military casualty meet with the families, those teams refer the families to the T.A.P.S. organization.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano, thanks very much. We're going to have highlights of the president's speech at Ft. Hood. That's coming up in our next hour. If you missed it, you'll want to stick around.

She's the star of the Republican Party, but Sarah Palin's greatest strength may prove to be her greatest weakness.

And former President Bill Clinton pushing for health care reform on Capitol Hill behind closed doors. We have details of what he told lawmakers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Doesn't take very much to get people speculating about Sarah Palin's presidential ambitions, but this will do the trick. The former Alaska governor's upcoming book tour includes a stop in the lead off presidential caucus state of Iowa. She's scheduled to visit Sioux City on December 6th. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley is here taking a closer look at her political future.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's take that trip to Iowa. Is that about the world of politics or publishing? With Sarah Palin, the answer is yes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): She was a high-voltage candidate.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I think I'm going to have to cast my vote for the maverick.

CROWLEY: Lighting a fire in the grass roots of Republican land, fresh, folksy, fierce.

PALIN: I guess a small town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.

CROWLEY: She remains a force, a headline magnet. She has a loyal following in the GOP, and a way with words.

PALIN: It's drill, baby drill.

CROWLEY: Just over the year after the defeat of the Republican ticket, the Republican number two is Amazon's number one in non- fiction presales. Writer of books, giver of speeches, miser of politics on an unusually active Facebook account and robo caller on behalf of a conservative group in Virginia's conservative race.

A recent CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll found 85 percent of Republicans say Palin agrees with them on their most important issues. But here's the rub. Only 49 percent of independents feel that way. It's a telling measure of her political reach and its limit that the Republicans who won governor seats in New Jersey and Virginia this year politely rejected Palin's offers to campaign for them. Both Republican governors-elect owe their victories to huge majorities of independent votes. Her clout is inside the party. In a New York Congressional race, she helped a Republican Party candidate out of the way for a more conservative candidate. That battle won, Palin lost the war, the split made way for a Democratic victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: These days, Palin is doing selected interviews to promote her book. Look for news and a best seller from a GOP mover and shaker, a politician fueled by celebrity, lucrative but not necessarily good.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Americans tend not to elect celebrities. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the exception but more often than not, when people want something in their political leaders that is more steady, stable and predictable.

CROWLEY: Fans and critics inevitably point to this moment as Palin's biggest political problem. The vice presidential candidate criticized for her thin resume, quit as governor of Alaska with about a year and a half left in her first term.

PLAIN: Only dead fish go with the flow.

CROWLEY: It's the kind of rogueness that made her a household name, but in the end, may make Palin a player who helps shake the party rather than lead it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: A couple of consultants I spoke with say that Sarah Palin can turn the corner from celebrity back to politician and they believe that maybe this book is a good time to do it. as one of them said to me, it has to be less soap opera and a lot more issues.

BLITZER: Going to sell a lot of books. No doubt about that. She'll make a lot of money. Nothing wrong with that.

CROWLEY: No. And we don't even know if she wants to be president.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Can Bill Clinton save health care reform this time around? He met with Senate Democrats today urging them to move forward on health care reform.

Linda writes: "I don't think health care reform needs saving. Something will pass and most likely will be inadequate with a good amount of stupid. Even with the shortcomings, the Republicans know something is going to happen. What Bill Clinton can do is help prevent the Senate from putting on a long, silly show and move it along more quickly."

Lisa writes: "I'm beginning to think the only thing that can save health care reform is campaign finance reform. Under lobbyist influence, this bill has line by line slowly been tweaked and morphed into an insurance industry profit protection bill. The wrapper may say public option, but what's inside has been swapped out for something else."

T. writes: "Before he can save health care, the morally bankrupt, impeached ex-president needs to save himself. He had his chance and now needs to stop chasing the spotlight. America has had enough of the biting and platitudes."

Paul in Maryland says: "When faced with a choice between public opinion and big corporate donors, the Democrats are really in a bind and split about 50/50. The Republicans have no such problem. They come down on the side of the corporations and then use circular arguments to persuade the sheep that their freedom at stake. We should cut out the middleman and just vote for the CEOs of the credit card, bank, oil and health care companies."

Jennifer says: "How Jack? Bill Clinton couldn't do it before. I doubt he can do it now. We all know who has the last word; corporations. They will get what they want and will just keep putting the screw to the working poor!"

And Ezekiel, is that you're real name, probably: "Clinton can impact the decisions made for sure but the senators need to get past their own ideals and do what is best for the country. That's what a public servant should do. This is a time for our leaders to step up."

If you didn't see yours here, check my blog. You'll find it at CNN.com/Caffertyfile -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

OBAMA: Here at Ft. Hood, we pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war even in the comfort of home.