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THE SITUATION ROOM

Brazilian Court Favors U.S. Dad; Blacks Undercounted in the Census; Schwarzenegger Vs. Palin

Aired December 16, 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: They're seeing red about going green. Sarah Palin hits back at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California after he took a swipe at her stance on climate change.

And one of her hits is called "Don't Lie." But she's also passionate about education. Just gave a lecture at Oxford. My interview with the "She Wolf," pop star Shakira. That's coming up this hour.

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

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: We begin with a stunning new turn in an international custody case we've been following now for several years. A Brazilian appeals court has ruled that a young boy who was taken away years ago by his late mother must be returned to his American father. But there may be a hitch -- a serious hitch.

So, let's turn to CNN's Ines Ferre. She's joining us from New York with more on this story.

All right. What's the latest, Ines?

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, David Goldman has been fighting for custody of his son Sean in Brazil for the past five years. His wife Bruna Bianchi went to Rio in 2004 with their then 4- year-old. She never returned and remarried there. The mother died last year and her family has been fighting for the boy to stay in Rio.

After a slew of court battles, in a three to zero decision, a Brazilian court said the 9-year-old must be returned to his father in New Jersey. This morning, before the ruling, Goldman spoke about how difficult this situation has been and the fear of being too optimistic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GOLDMAN, FATHER: I'm hopeful. I can't be optimistic, because I've gone down there so many times, always under the guise that the rule of law will be followed and Sean will come home to me and his family, and that doesn't happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FERRE: Now, the case has drawn high-profile figures, including discussions involving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama, with his counterpart Lula da Silva. Today, the State Department said it appreciated Brazil's cooperation and was, quote, "glad" that Sean finally appears to be headed home after more than five years of wrongful detention.

Now, this court decision demands that Sean be handed over at the U.S. embassy on Friday. But the mother's family in Rio was expected to file an appeal immediately and a stay is possible. Based on the people close to the situation that we spoke with, the general feeling is that the boy will be returning to the U.S. But, Wolf, one legal expert described it to me this way: until that boy is on that plane, it's not over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not over until they're united. All right. Thanks, Ines, very much.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey has been very active on behalf of his constituent David Goldman in this custody battle. Congressman Smith is joining us from Capitol Hill.

What do you think about this latest development, Congressman?

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: This is a very significant development, Wolf. As a matter of fact, I really believe, although we have to have some cautious optimism here, it's beyond that, frankly, that Sean Goldman will be reunited. When the transfer occurs in Rio at our consulate, I do believe David will be able to get on that plane and, after more than five years, be reunited with his son.

You know, we know for a fact and the court deeply appreciates this in Brazil, three psychologists impaneled by the court found that harm was being down to Sean Goldman by his continued abduction, because, you know, the abduction isn't just the day of it, it continues with the retention. He was being hurt psychologically. And every day of delay hurts this young 9-year-old boy. And I think the court has finally got that.

Plus, they are signatories to the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. So, they need to bring, you know, to live up those obligations.

BLITZER: Now, you went with David Goldman to Brazil.

SMITH: I did.

BLITZER: When did you go with him?

SMITH: It was in February. David asked me to go with him. He had been denied repeatedly to even meet with his son, so we met with several high officials in the Lula government, including members of the Brazilian Supreme Court. Our embassy has worked very hard on this case. They redoubled their efforts.

And one of the -- one of the greatest events I've witnessed as a member of Congress over 30 years, David Goldman got to see his son after 4 1/2 years. And, frankly, it was like they never missed a day. The bond was there, the love was there, and, you know, it became very clear to anyone who had eyes that this dad needed to be with his son.

BLITZER: I interviewed David Goldman here in Washington a couple of weeks ago. He said it was possible he would win this case by this court, but he was really nervous about the appeal that almost certainly would follow.

SMITH: Yes.

BLITZER: So it's not over by any means. The family of the late wife -- they could go forward and appeal this case right now.

SMITH: They can, Wolf, but the court -- the high court will take it up tomorrow. They could have allowed this to just lie until the end of the holiday season, but we're told they will take it up tomorrow, which is a great sign, and frankly, every possible nuance has been appealed by the other side.

Remember, this is an abducting family. They're kidnappers. And yet -- but they come from a high-powered legal family in Rio de Janeiro. So, they've had a great deal of sway with the court.

But once David was able to get the court case out of the local courts and into the federal system, he had a much better shot, and we believe that they -- he has persuaded, frankly, and his expert crack legal team has persuaded the justices to send Sean home. So, we're very optimistic.

BLITZER: Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey -- thanks very much. We'll stay...

SMITH: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: We'll stay in close touch with you and with David Goldman to see how this is...

SMITH: And I will be traveling with him. I'll be with him tomorrow.

BLITZER: You're going to go to Brazil with him.

SMITH: Yes.

BLITZER: OK. Well, good luck. We'll stay in touch with you.

SMITH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File."

Jack, I don't know if you've been following that case but it's a heart-wrenching case, that little boy and his dad.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Yes, and very difficult sometimes to prevail in a foreign country when you come under the jurisdiction of their justice system. A lot of them don't operate quite like ours do. The Obama administration, Wolf, is coming under fire for its decision to move some Guantanamo detainees to a maximum-security prison in Illinois. The plan is for the federal government to buy the Thomson Correctional Center, about 150 miles west of Chicago. The Defense Department would then run the part of the prison that will house what is expected to be fewer than 100 Gitmo detainees. There are currently about 215 prisoners at the controversial facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Administration officials say that detainees going to Illinois would be those who will face trial in U.S. court or by military commission.

The Illinois governor says the move could bring 2,000 jobs and $1 billion to the local community there, which is a big help in a state that has 11 percent unemployment.

Critics say, though, it could wind up being another place where detainees are held indefinitely without trial. Republicans suggest that shows the White House has forgotten about the 9/11 terror attacks and that bringing terrorists into the country under the guise of a jobs program.

The ACLU is blasting the move as well, calling the Illinois prison "Gitmo North." They say closing Guantanamo is only a symbolic gesture if, quote, "we continue its lawless policies onshore," unquote.

So, here's the question: Is it a good idea to move Guantanamo detainees to a prison in Illinois? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile; post a comment on my blog. We'll read some of them in about 40 minutes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

There's another way, by the way, for you to follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can go to Twitter, get my tweets at Twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN. All one word, WolfBlitzerCNN.

Sarah Palin and Arnold Schwarzenegger feuding over global warming. We have details of their heated exchange. Stand by for that.

Plus, African-Americans historically undercounted in the U.S. census. Why and what's at stake? Now, a push to make sure it doesn't happen in 2010.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It only happens once a decade. And the start of the next U.S. census is now less than two months away. But there's growing concern some segments of the American population won't by counted accurately. That would be African-Americans.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is working the story for us.

Kate, what's going on there?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really interesting, Wolf.

According to the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, the African-American community is historically one of most undercounted segments of the population with regard to the census. And leaders of the black community today say despite improvement, they're concerned the very same will happen with this upcoming census.

Why does this matter? They say any undercounting, any inaccurate count, has very real consequences. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, PRES., NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: That manifests itself in goods and service, and representation that cost us. And we cannot have some over-counted, our community undercounted, and we're already minorities. It's a double-whammy that we must correct in 2010.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Now, since this data directly affects about $400 billion -- how $400 billion a year is allocated to state and local governments, from public health to transportation and education. Now, the Commerce Department's own estimates show that, in general, there has been improvement in this area, the percentage of undercount, the amount of people not counted in the African-American community has generally decrease over time, as you see.

But the undercounting of African-Americans continues to significantly out-phase that of the general population. For a point of comparison, Wolf, in 2000, 2.8 percent, that's the estimated amount of undercounting in the African-American population. The -- for the estimation for the undercount of the general population -- 0.1 percent. Big.

BLITZER: So, what's the explanation? Why are they undercounted? And Al Sharpton and others, what are they proposing to do about this?

BOLDUAN: There are several factors that commerce officials say contribute to populations being less likely to be counted, less likely to participate. Now, if they're renters or not homeowners, if they're of low income households, if they receive some sort of public assistance, and also, if there are low levels of education and if there are language barriers.

But black leaders speaking out today said another factor is a general mistrust of the government. To improve the census count, they're calling on more grassroots outreach in these communities to help people really understand why the census matters to them. And they're also calling for improvement to how prison populations are counted. Instead of being counted in the city where the prisoners incarcerated, they want prisoners to be counted in the communities where they are from.

The secretary of commerce released a statement today following this meeting with leaders of the black community, and Secretary Gary Locke said he's very grateful for their commitment to achieving an accurate count, and that is a very valuable part of the conversation going forward.

But, Wolf, but the big question is: how much can change now, as the plans for Census 2010 has been -- have been happening for a decade now?

BLITZER: Well, here's a question, a lot of people are asking, why can't folks fill out their forms online?

BOLDUAN: That's a good question. It's kind of interesting.

The Census Bureau, they say it really comes to a few things. They've looked into it and they're also looking into it for the possibility for the 2020 Census. But they point out that when they looked into it, they didn't provide -- it didn't provide enough protection, not enough confidentiality. And that what they found, Wolf, is that they didn't think it would increase the percentage of people participating or save much money. So, something they said they'll continue to look at for censuses to come.

BLITZER: We'll watch it together with you. It's going to be a big story next year.

BOLDUAN: It is. Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Kate, for that.

Other important news we're following, including this, going green and seeing red. We're talking about Sarah Palin. She's hitting back at the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger after he took a swipe at her on the issue of climate change.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is here to talk a little bit about this.

This feud that's going on, what's it all about?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's all about climate change. You know, you've seen those pictures that we're getting out of Copenhagen, Wolf, the demonstrators out there. Well, there's no pepper spray, no police batons, but plenty of Republican on Republican vitriol as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger clash over climate change, what causes it and what to do about it.

Sarah Palin wrote in an op-ed recently that the president ought to boycott the climate change talks in Copenhagen. She argued against the Obama administration's cap-and-trade proposal aimed at limiting carbon emissions. And she suggested that the price of huge cuts in carbon emissions would be to weaken an already weakened economy.

So, in an interview with "The Financial Times" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who talks about a green revolution in his state, and he fired away, asking what's she trying to accomplish? "Is she really interested in this subject or is she interested in her career and in winning the presidential nomination?"

So, Palin who, of course, tends to do her musings on Facebook, slammed Schwarzenegger just hours later, accusing him of being greener than thou and implying worse. "Why is Governor Schwarzenegger pushing for the same sorts of policies in Copenhagen that have helped drive his state into record deficits and unemployment?" Ouch.

Palin has also done a couple of long distance rounds with former Vice President Al Gore, but that testy little exchange with Governor Schwarzenegger tells the story of a very real split within the Republican Party over climate change, with, to no one's surprise, Palin as the most vocal opponent of major and costly government efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

This is all, of course, very painful for Republicans. But any time a fresh Palin reference pops up in Google, they celebrate in Democratic land. Palin has become one of the Democrats' primary fundraisers.

Look, take a look at this fundraising letter from a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. It's from Senator John Kerry. And it says, in part, "Think GOP obstruction is bad now? Just imagine what Washington would look like if a bunch of news senators -- inspired by Sarah Palin and the tea party crowd -- took over."

And then working away in Schwarzenegger's home state, a progressive group called the Courage Campaign. It's a small group by they're trying to raise money to run a radio ad against Republican Meg Whitman who is running for governor when Schwarzenegger's term is up. Meg Whitman, this fund-raising letter reads, "California's Sarah Palin."

So, what's funny about this, Wolf, is that you know that Sarah Palin is also a big fund-raiser for the Republican Party. So, in effect, she's kind of a one-woman fundraising machine.

BLITZER: For Democrats and Republicans.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

BLITZER: And her book is number one on "The New York Times" best sellers list.

CROWLEY: Life is good for her right about now.

BLITZER: She's making a lot of money. She's fundraising for herself as well.

CROWLEY: Yes.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Candy, for that.

Rifles that jam in combat, lawmakers are raising a red flag about U.S. troops facing some rather disturbing problems in the war zone. How is this possible?

Plus, trapped in a speeding car with no brakes. We're going to show you how this highway drama ended. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi doesn't go anywhere without his highly-trained, gun-toting female bodyguards. Now, an Egyptian security company has seized on that idea, training Muslim women to protect VIPs and themselves.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has the story from Cairo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How do you take down an attacker? Like this.

And you don't want to mess with these women because they're training to become lady guards -- female bodyguards getting ready to hit the busy streets of Cairo.

Twenty-year-old Dawlet Sami read about the work in a newspaper and liked it at once. Her family wasn't so sure.

"At first my father objected," she says, "but when he came with me and saw what he did, he changed his mind."

Dawlet is a trainee with Falcon, a Cairo-based security company that provides a wide range of services in the region. Falcon has trained more than 300 women in over the last three years.

And in a country where sexual harassment is a growing problem, they're learning skills that could come in handy outside of work.

"If I have any problems or somebody bothers me, now I know how to defend myself," says trainee Amani Mahmoud.

When they're not learning martial arts or pumping iron, there's classroom instruction as well -- where they're taught the importance of punctuality, proper dress, and appropriate behavior with clients who include the well-to-do, movie stars and foreign visitors.

Company managing director, Khalid Sherif, says they're looking for more brains than brawn in their lady guards. "The body isn't so important," he says, "what matters is that they can pick out suspicious people and react quickly, because with security, if you delay just a moment, things can go very wrong."

(on camera): Of course, the idea of female bodyguards is not new. In fact, in the Middle East, it was pioneered by none other than Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi, who likes to appear in public with phalanx of female bodyguards.

(voice-over): The Libyans no longer have a monopoly.

"People say women can't work as bodyguards, but I want to change that idea," says Randa Muhammad. "I want to show women can defend themselves and defend others."

And if you don't believe it, you do so at your own risk.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jessica Yellin. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Jessica, what's going on.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here's a nice story for Christmas season. Researchers claim they have found for the first time what they believe to be pieces of a burial shroud from the time of Jesus. The shroud was found in a tomb near the old city of Jerusalem, and the finding is raising new doubts about the shroud of Turin, which was believed to have been used to wrap the body of Jesus. But the weave of the newly discovered shroud is said to be very different for the weave used in the Turin shroud.

A dangerous downside to going green -- here's an unexpected story: cities that installed energy-efficient traffic lights are finding they do not burn hot enough to melt snow. In storms, the light can get obscured, and the problem is blamed for dozens of crashes, and even one death. Now, there are some possible solutions. They include installing heaters, weather shields or having crews clean off the snow by hand.

This was a terrifying ordeal for a man in this runaway car. The Australian found that his cruise control was stuck and the brakes on his Ford Explorer were not working. That forced him to speed down the motorway at about 60 miles an hour. Police, they tried to clear the traffic ahead of him until after about an hour, he finally managed to safely get off the motorway and pull the hand brake. That had to be a terrifying ordeal.

BLITZER: What a nightmare that was.

YELLIN: But it ended -- it ended without a harm.

BLITZER: Fortunately, it did. But that is a nightmare.

YELLIN: Yes.

BLITZER: I hope they'll fix that problem. Thanks, Jessica.

Airport security secrets -- how did sensitive information about passenger screening end up on the Internet? Congress is asking serious questions right now.

Plus, some troops say they are being sent into combat right now with rifles that jam. Are better weapons available? Key lawmakers are looking for answers.

And she sings about passion, but her true passion is education. I'll speak with the She Wolf, international pop star Shakira. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: Iran flexing its military muscle, test-firing an advance missile that could strike Israel, even parts of Europe, sending tension between Tehran and the west even higher.

U.S. automakers are furious they're being excluded from Japan's version of the "cash for clunkers" program. One industry expert calls it an "in your face" insult.

And he's "Time" magazine's Person of the Year, the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. But one lawmaker doesn't want to see him serve another term. I'll ask Senator Bernie Sanders why he's put a hold on Bernanke's nomination.

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

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: How did sensitive information about airport screening techniques wind up on the Internet for anyone to see? That's the question members of Congress are asking today.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is joining us now.

Did these lawmakers get their -- the answers they wanted?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Not everything they wanted to hear. This is that manual that had things like the shortcomings of screening emergency, real specific things. And some members of congress aren't taking for granted the word of the Transportation Security Administration that the posting of the TSA screening manual has not seriously compromised security. They want to make a side-by-side comparison with the procedures currently in use, and they weren't happy when the acting director of TSA said they couldn't see the current protocols until an investigation is complete, because the TSA doesn't want to risk further leaks.

Gale Rossides told members repeatedly, flying is safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALE ROSSIDES, ACTING DIRECTOR, TSA: I want to reassure all members of this committee and to the traveling public that our aviation system is strong and the passengers will fly safely this holiday season and every day because of the layered security system we have in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Rossides got a lot of questions. One of them, should the CIA and other agencies change their identification cards, because photocopies appeared in the posted manual. Rossides said no, the cards have built-in security features and TSA has put additional procedures in place to authenticate IDs -- Wolf. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, they've released also some new documents involving those pilots that overflew that Minneapolis/St. Paul airport under some strange circumstances. What did we learn?

MESERVE: Well, we learned a little bit about the pilot Captain Timothy Chaney and what he told NTSB investigators. Amongst the quotes, "There is no good excuse for what happened." He said, "He was embarrassed" adding, "I let my guard down, I wish I could explain why. You'll never know how sorry I am."

Also when the first officer belatedly noticed messages on the display telling the crew to contact air traffic control, he inadvertently pushed the "delete all" button erasing them all.

And finally, only one minute of the time the flight was in the air was captured by the cockpit voice recorder. The rest was recorded over because law enforcement interviews with the crew delayed is being called, inadvertent of course but a side effect.

BLITZER: And hopefully that won't happen again.

MESERVE: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne.

More money to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the House of Representatives today overwhelmingly passed a $636 billion defense spending bill. About a fifth of that will go toward the conflicts overseas, but the bill does not include funding for the recently announced Afghanistan troop surge.

Meantime, key lawmakers say they're very disturbed by reports from troops on the ground to say they're being sent to war without suitable gear. How could this be taking place?

Brian Todd is looking into this story for us. It's pretty shocking that seven, eight years into warfare troops are going there without the best equipment.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've heard these stories through the years, Wolf, it's no less disturbing now. We've obtained an extraordinary letter from two top Democrats in Congress; one them the Chairman of the House armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton.

The letter, sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen. Very stark in it's assessment of the resources available to U.S. troops in war zones.

The Congressmen say on a recent trip to Europe to meet with troops training to deploy and with soldiers recovering from combat wounds, they got some very troubling information. They write in the letter, quote, "They heard several complaints -- excuse me -- about equipment, the troops' newly design rucksack has plastic strips and here's a quote from the letter "that are cutting circulation to their arms and hands, making it virtually impossible to fire their weapons." And according to the Congressman, the soldiers say they have problems when they do actually fire their weapons, specifically problems with the M-4 rifle. This is a shorter, lighter version of the M-16, but the Congressman say they have seen reports of this rifle jamming during combat.

Now, CNN once obtained an internal military document with soldiers reporting that their M-4s jammed during a (INAUDIBLE) battle in Afghanistan. Now, in the letter the Congressman say, quote, "Even though these weapons routinely rank lower than other military weapons in testing, they are still being issued as the Army's weapon of choice."

Now, we know that the Army has issued new ammunition clips that provide more reliability in this rifle, but the Congressman asked the Pentagon leaders to tell them what the Army is doing to issue a better rifle.

We contacted the offices of Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs and Public Affairs for the Army to respond to this letter. They all said they would try to get a response to us. We have not heard back from them yet.

However, an aide to Congressman Skelton said he had spoken with the Secretary of the Army who promised to address his concern and he's satisfied with that for the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Skelton, so he probably will get some answers. The letter though, doesn't just deal with the issue of equipment, does it?

TODD: No and it says that some troops are telling them that they have been taken straight from basic training straight to the war theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan without any extensive training here at home. And that's very disturbing to these two Congressmen especially since the U.S. is about to escalate its presence in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: It's very disturbing how this could happen so long into this war. Thanks very much, Brian.

It's a controversy CNN put in the spotlight, a policy that prevents the President of the United States from sending condolence letters to the families of military personnel who commits suicide.

CNN's Elaine Quijano filed our initial report that generated a huge response. She's now back with an update, because there's been a dramatic change. What's going on, Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's interesting Wolf, now some sobering numbers are underscoring the grim reality of military suicides.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): So far this year, at least 354 U.S. service members have killed themselves according to military statistics. That's more than the 335 killed by enemy fire in Iraq and Afghanistan this year combined.

The soaring suicide rate has not only prompted alarm, but also questions about a long-standing White House policy that CNN first reported on last month, not to send presidential letters of condolence to military families of suicide victims.

(on camera): Does the president believe that those families deserve a letter of ...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes that the previous policy that didn't write those letters, can and should be reviewed, and that review -- and that review is ongoing.

QUIJANO (voice-over): The Secretary of Defense doesn't write these letters either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you could talk to people in this building who believe that if you were to extend your letter writing to include suicide victims, that it would somehow diminish the sacrifice of those who have died in combat.

QUIJANO: The issue has touched a raw nerve.

On CNN.com, the story prompted more than 400 comments, many of them highly emotional.

There is, quote, "No honor in suicide," wrote one person who said he fought in Fallujah, Iraq in 2003, saying suicide does not deserve a hero's exit.

But from a self-identified Army spouse, a plea to the president to change the policy, quote, "you need to show the family that you acknowledge their sacrifice."

The family members CNN profiled last month were the parents of 25- year-old Army specialist Chancellor Keesling (ph).

CHANCELLOR KEESLING, ARMY: They will be reading "The Cat in the Hat."

QUIJANO: He killed himself in Iraq in June.

GREGG KEESLING, SPEC. CHANCELLOR KEESLING'S FATHER: So we don't want to force the president to write a Letter of Condolence, we hope he would want to.

QUIJANO: Just days after that story aired, the president in his Afghanistan speech talked about seeing firsthand the terrible wages of war.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As president, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars.

QUIJANO: But the Keeslings who e-mailed CNN moments after that speech, say the president's words were hurtful.

(on camera): What would you say to the family?

GIBBS: Regardless of what happens, nothing lessens the amazing contribution and sacrifice that's made.

QUIJANO: Yet Indiana Republican Congressman Dan Burton who's taken up the Keesling's cause insists the absence of a presidential condolence letter does diminish the sacrifice and service of military suicide victims.

REP. DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: Are they any less an American who was fighting for us than the others? No. And so I think it's extremely important that they and their families are recognized for their service to the country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, this week Congressman Burton has joined with Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy in asking lawmakers to sign on to this letter to President Obama. It asks the president to overturn the policy and send a strong signal about not discriminating against U.S. service members with mental illness.

Meantime, Wolf, the White House says that it hopes to conclude its review of this policy shortly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano thanks very much for that story; an important story indeed.

The First Lady, Michelle Obama teaming up with a favorite Marine Corps charity. We're going to show you what's going on. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Jessica, what's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, despite recent deadly bombings, Iraq's Prime Minister insists that the December 2011 deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw stands. Nuri al Maliki says the timetable for American troops to leave is final and fixed. He says al Qaeda and former Ba'ath Party extremists are behind yesterday's attacks in Baghdad and Mosul that left nine dead.

Playing Santa, First Lady Michelle Obama delivers "Toys for Tots" donations to a warehouse near the Marine Corps Base Quantico. She brought more than 500 toys collected during a recent White House toy drive. The First Lady praised the corps for the program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys represent the Marine Corps in this effort. As I was saying earlier, is that in a time when you all are already serving and making such a huge sacrifice, all of you, you're -- the troops and their families, that you show America that you can dig even deeper in this time. And put your time and effort into making sure that kids all around this country have something wonderful to wake up to on Christmas morning. That's what America is all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: The president and first lady personally donated toys to the White House drive as well.

And here's a fun story. Wolf, I know you love dancing; a salsa-loving granny shows Spain she's got talent. The 75-year-old British woman, who wowed judges of a Spanish talent show with her acrobatic performance, Sara Jones and her teacher, who's 40 years her junior walked away with the $15,000 prize, that's not chump change. She says she's been dancing since she was little, but only took up salsa six years ago. So Wolf, do you salsa dance?

BLITZER: No, not unless -- she does it great. I know you're a huge salsa dancer Jessica, I know.

YELLIN: Oh, yes, you should see me.

BLITZER: I've seen you dance. You're very, very good. Maybe you want to participate.

YELLIN: No, not happening.

BLITZER: Not tonight.

YELLIN: But nice try.

BLITZER: Keep your day job. Me too.

Jack Cafferty is asking, "Is it a good idea to move those Guantanamo detainees to a prison in Illinois?" Jack and your e-mail, coming up.

And one of her hits is called her "Hips Don't Lie", but she's also passionate about education. My interview with Shakira, that's coming up right here on the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 1740

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: My interview with Shakira is coming up, but let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's the name of her song, "My Hips Don't Lie"?

BLITZER: "Hips Don't Lie" yes.

CAFFERTY: What does that ...

BLITZER: Supposedly it's been aired on radio more than any other song ever.

CAFFERTY: What does that title mean?

BLITZER: It means her hips don't lie. Have you ever seen her dance?

CAFFERTY: Lie about what?

BLITZER: Nothing. Never mind. Just do "The Cafferty File". Ok.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: is it a good idea to move Guantanamo detainees to an Illinois prison?

Sherri writes from Illinois, "Excellent idea. Jobs, jobs, jobs. This has been going on in Colorado for years with no incidents. It's all about jobs and revenue Jack. I'm heading down there myself for employment."

Todd writes, "Why should we spend more money on individuals who only want us dead? Is this really a wise investment for Americans? These individuals will have better living conditions than I do.

John in Philadelphia, "Why not? If they don't want them move them to Pennsylvania and let us have the 3,000 jobs. They are less of a recruiting tool in Illinois than they are being tortured at Guantanamo. It's way past the time the Cheney prison in Cuba is closed and these prisoners get due process.

Nathan in Oregon says, "I'm not hysterical about this move but Jack, U.S. military troops performing law enforcement duties inside our borders? Isn't this in violation of Posse Comitatus Act and thus unconstitutional?"

Roger writes, "Simple answer to an important question, yes. The only way to insure that the torture and mistreatment stops is to move them here to American soil where their lawyers have easy access to them. Besides, closer to the courts means closer to justice and I thought justice is what we were after. Why the fear factor? No one has escaped from a federal maximum facility yet and there's nothing indicating that that record is going to be broken anytime soon."

And this is just, I think, a very touching letter. Dylan writes from Baker, Montana, "My grandparents are buried in Thomson, Illinois. My mother, a sister and brother live 8 miles away in Fulton, Illinois. My brother desperately needs work, as do a lot of people in Carroll County, the county in which the prison is located, as well as neighboring Whiteside County. This is good for an area of the country that is in sore need of jobs and economic growth."

If you want to read more about this, you can go to my blog at cnn.com/Caffertyfile -- Wolf.

Thanks, Jack. Thanks very much.

Drama in the senate today: details of one move that forced Senate clerks to start reading a 767-page amendment out loud.

Plus, Shakira in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She started performing in her native Colombia, and now Shakira is an international superstar. Her song "Hips Don't Lie" is the most played record in U.S. radio history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHAKIRA PERFORMING "HIPS DON'T LIE")

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Performing though is only one of her passions. Shakira is also a fierce advocate for universal access to education. Earlier this month she gave a lecture about it at Britain's Oxford University. And she's funding a school in a poor and remote region of Northwest Colombia, providing uniforms, supplies and food to some 750 students. Here she is with graduates of the primary school.

And joining us now, Shakira; she's in Miami. Shakira needs no introduction. Thanks very much for coming in. We really appreciate it.

SHAKIRA, SINGER: Well, thank you so much for having me. We have to do this in person next time.

BLITZER: I know. I can't wait to do it in person. We will have that opportunity.

I also want to talk about your new CD that is entitled "She Wolf" and we will get to the title which has some personal significance for me. We'll get to that title later.

But let's talk about some serious issues first, because I know education is your passion and you recently delivered a lecture on education at Oxford University. Talk a little bit about why education is so important to Shakira?

SHAKIRA: Yes. I had this enormous opportunity to speak in front of 400 students on the same stage where once Churchill and Newton spoke. And I couldn't believe the great vehicle that was presented to me; the vehicle to express to all these students why I advocate so passionately for education.

I have been working on education since I was 18 back in Colombia.

BLITZER: I think that you speak from some personal experience, because you weren't always a superstar, Shakira, were you?

SHAKIRA: No, no. Not at all. I grew up witnessing so much social injustice and inequality. And growing up in the developing world, that is what you see, that people who are usually -- people who are born poor will die poor, you know, most of the time.

And education in countries like mine sometimes is perceived as a luxury and not as a birthright. I grew up really frustrated and intolerant to these issues and to the lack of opportunities that the people in Latin America don't have, you know.

These opportunities that are exactly what these kids need to stay away from the militia, to stay away from the drug trafficking business, to be able to succeed in life and make share dreams come true just like I made my own dreams come true, you know.

My father went through bankruptcy when I was really very little, and I learned so much from that experience, and I learned how hard it was to grow up without having access to many things that are considered comfort. But he never gave up on my education.

BLITZER: In addition to speaking about it, you also sing about it. You made reference at Oxford to some lines you wrote in your "She Wolf" album. There is a song entitled "Why Wait". I want to play a little clip -- a little excerpt from "Why Wait".

Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHAKIRA PERFORMING "WHY WAIT?")

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Shakira, "Why wait for later? I'm not a waiter." Those are pretty significant words, and you have brought them into your music.

SHAKIRA: Yes. I mean, I could wait, but those hundreds of millions of kids need an answer now. They can't. There is no time to waste, really.

I mean, if you ask a kid if -- what they want to become when they grow up, they will never tell you that they want to be in the drug trafficking business or that they want to be a part of the militia, no. A kid always will want to become either a nurse or a doctor or a lawyer. They really want to accomplish things that are -- that are filled with pure intentions.

And we adults have to provide them with those opportunities, like Rousseau once said, "Man is born good, but society corrupts them." I think we corrupt our future, our common destiny if we don't provide our kids with opportunity.

BLITZER: I love it when you quote Rousseau and in your music you quote John Locke. Those words, "why wait for later, I'm not a waiter."

If you had few minutes -- a minute to briefly give one message to President Obama, and our interview is being seen around the world, right now, but if you had one little message to give the president when it comes to education, what would you say to him?

SHAKIRA: I know that he has many, many issues to address, and a big part of why I decided to support him is because I know how committed he is to universal access to education, and also early childhood development strategies. I know that he is a champion on that and he will deliver. I expect that from him. And that is why if I were American I would have given him my vote.

BLITZER: Very important subject, but I want to play a clip from the new CD "She Wolf". I want to talk a little bit about what inspired the name, but listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

(SHAKIRA PERFORMING "SHE WOLF")

BLITZER: All right. Shakira, "She Wolf" -- I have a personal interest in the name. How did you come up with that name?

SHAKIRA: Well, I bet you do. Well, you were part of the reason. Well, actually, I believe that there is a she wolf in every woman whether guys like this or not. I think that we all have an animalistic aspect within ourselves that sometimes we try to repress and society often imposes so many limitations upon women, and human beings in general. (AUDIO GAP), our brief existence building cages and locking ourselves in them instead of breaking free from them; so I guess that is what the message behind "She Wolf" and me in that golden cage.

But you should know better than me, you are a Wolf, yourself, so.

BLITZER: I am a he-wolf.

SHAKIRA: I am sure you understand what I am talking about.

BLITZER: I am a he wolf and you are a she wolf and we're both IN THE SITUATION ROOM.

Shakira, thanks so much for joining us.

SHAKIRA: That is quite a situation.

BLITZER: Well, that is another situation.

Let's do this interview in person down the road if we can connect, that would be great.

SHAKIRA: Please.

BLITZER: All right.

SHAKIRA: Thank you so much, wolf. You are great, and my family and I really, really like seeing you deliver the news, so I hope that next time we are together in the same room.

BLITZER: You may like seeing me deliver the news, but I like seeing you perform Shakira, your "Hips Don't Lie."

SHAKIRA: Thank you so much. Bye Wolf.

BLITZER: Bye.