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Major Blow for the Taliban; Airport Security; Record High Anti- Incumbent Fever; U.S. Presence in Iraq

Aired February 16, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, U.S. officials say it could be a turning point in the war in Afghanistan. A top Taliban leader is now in custody. Some think he might have information about America's most wanted terrorist.

Also this hour, brand new evidence of the public's anger and dissatisfaction with Congress and with the president -- could this be a losing year for Democrats like it was back in 1994?

And the president promotes America's first nuclear plant in nearly three decades. But something important is missing from his plan.

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

Busted, the capture of a terror leader is being called a major success for the CIA and a major blow for the Taliban. His name is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar seized in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi, according to a senior Pakistani intelligence official. He's seen as the number two in the Afghan Taliban and according to one expert, co-founded the Taliban.

He reportedly developed the Taliban tactic of planting roadside bombs. He's been a close ally of bin Laden, and one expert says if anyone might know where bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives are, this man likely would. Let's go straight to our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's been reporting on this story.

Chris, what are you hearing from your sources over at the Pentagon and elsewhere? How big of a setback for the Taliban is this?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a U.S. counter-terrorism official says that Baradar has been at the core of Taliban planning in Afghanistan for years, and having him off the battlefield in Afghanistan will disrupt their plotting against some of the coalition troops in the short term. He also thinks that this will deal a severe psychological below to some of the Taliban senior leadership and make some of the mid-level fighters reconsider their commitment.

On the other hand, a U.S. military commander there on the ground in Afghanistan says he does not think this capture is going to directly affect the current Marine offensive down there in Marjah that we've been reporting on. And almost everybody I talk to says the Taliban has shown an incredible ability to regenerate. I spoke with a former CIA officer who spent years in that region. He says a potential replacement is a man named Mullah Zakir. Now that name probably doesn't mean a lot to folks at home, but what's known about him is he's a very charismatic man who has been planning a lot of the attacks in southern Afghanistan for some time and the thing that stands out about Zakir is the U.S. had him locked up in Guantanamo prison, but he was released two years ago under the Bush administration and he came back to the fight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What does this say about cooperation between the U.S. government and the government of Pakistan?

LAWRENCE: I talked to, you know, the former homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, who said she thinks this capture goes way beyond just one man because of what it potentially says about cooperation between Pakistan's intelligence agencies and the folks like the CIA. She says if the CIA is allowed to be in the room to actually hear firsthand some of the information that Baradar is able to provide that would be a big change from what they were able to get under the Bush administration. She says that could yield some very potentially good information.

BLITZER: Potentially very, very significant if, in fact, this cooperation between the U.S. and the government of President Zardari is really that real, very important stuff.

Iran, meanwhile, is defying new international criticism of its nuclear program. Russia is teaming up with the U.S. and France to urge Iran to stop enriching uranium at higher levels. At a joint statement made public today, the three countries warn that Iran's action reinforce suspicions that it's trying to make nuclear weapons.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced today Iran is moving forward to expand its uranium enrichment program, anyway. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Iran's neighbors have to share the burden of stopping Tehran from getting nuclear weapons. Speaking in Saudi Arabia today Secretary Clinton warned a nuclear arms race in the Middle East could make terrorist more powerful and dangerous.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Al Qaeda is very clear about this. It has sought and is seeking the means to make a nuclear device. So when a country like Iran, which agreed not to develop nuclear weapons begins to take actions which raise concerns in the minds of everyone who signed on to this understanding about how we would handle nuclear weapons, it is I think totally understandable that everyone who I speak with in the Gulf, including the leaders here and the leaders elsewhere in the region, are expressing deep concern about Iran's intentions.


BLITZER: Secretary Clinton is on a visit in the region, trying to reassure allies about U.S. strategy in that part of the world.

New recognition today for a symbol of anti-government anger in Iran, all of you will remember the images of the protestor named Neda, whose shooting death was caught on videotape. The unnamed people who shot that video won a George Polk Award for journalism. This is the first time the prestigious prize was -- has honored work produced anonymously.

A new push by President Obama for nuclear power in this country, today he unveiled plans to guarantee more than $8 billion in funding to build the first nuclear plant in the United States in nearly three decades. The White House says it will help America meet its growing energy needs and create thousands of jobs. It's also seen as an olive branch by the president to Republicans who support nuclear energy.

Let's go to the White House. Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is watching the story for us. Ed, a significant development, although one key sensitive issue sort of glossed over, right?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well that's right. The big issue of what are you going to do long term with this nuclear waste? I mean the White House is trying to sell this when you talk to top aides. It's kind of a win-win because the president is reaching out to Republicans as he promised to do in the State of the Union and saying, look, I get that you want more nuclear power energy, and he's also trying to reach out to Democrats by saying, we're going to create some jobs here with some new reactors, and that also it's cleaner energy, you're going to create less carbon emissions. But there are a lot of people in the president's party wonder what are you going to do with the waste? Yucca Mountain in Nevada had previously been on the table, but the president has said that he does not want any nuclear waste to go there, so where are you going to send it? I pressed Robert Gibbs on Yucca Mountain today, and here's what he said.


HENRY: Are you saying Yucca Mountain is off the table --

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well look, I think what has -- what has taken Yucca Mountain off the table in terms of a long-term solution for a repository for our nuclear waste is the science. The science ought to make these decisions.


HENRY: Now, that's good political news for the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The president is going to do a fundraiser for him in a couple of days from now in Nevada but -- and Harry Reid has long wanted to block nuclear waste from going to Yucca Mountain, but it leaves the White House still with a dilemma moving forward. If it's not Yucca Mountain, where is this waste going to wind up?

BLITZER: When it says it's the science that has taken Yucca Mountain off the table, what does he mean by that?

HENRY: Well he's talking about how the various scientific studies that have suggested this is really not the right location for it, and so what they're proposing instead is that there be this sort of a blue ribbon bipartisan commission taking a look at what other sites might be more scientifically worthwhile to ship it to. But obviously, as you've been following along with some of the other great debates, whether it be on health care or jobs, there is not a lot of bipartisanship going around right now.

So can this panel really come together and figure out a solution, frankly a problem that's been vexing this country for a few decades now. That's a major reason why -- one of many reasons, but a big reason why we haven't had a new nuclear plant in a few decades, in large part because nobody has figured out what to do with this waste, so it's a big challenge ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry working the story at the White House. Thank you.

Lawmakers beware angry Americans may be coming with pitchforks. They're so fed up with Congress right now their anger is posting all- time highs and President Obama should take notice. You might not believe how many people don't want him to serve two terms.

And U.S. Marines fighting in that other major anti-Taliban operation in Afghanistan, today they accomplished a huge objective.

Plus, the world watches a huge party. It's for a man who supporters call brilliant, it's for a man supporters call brilliant but whose critics call brutal. Wait until you see who is really dancing for North Korea's Kim Jong-Il.


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf. Make sure I got this right. They couldn't catch a guy with a bomb in his shorts aboard a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day. But they're absolutely hell on a disabled child with leg braces. The Transportation Security Administration refused to allow a 4-year-old disabled boy to pass through airport security without first taking off his leg braces.

A "Philadelphia Inquirer" columnist reports how screeners at the Philadelphia airport made this insane request of a child taking his first flight to Disney World last March. The 4-year-old was born prematurely. He has malformed ankles and low muscle tone in his legs and he was just beginning to walk at the time this happened. His parents told airport screeners their son couldn't walk without the braces, which are made of metal and plastic.

But that didn't matter to the screener, who insisted that the child had to walk through the checkpoint on his own. When the father, who is a New Jersey police officer, asked to see a supervisor and told him that his 4-year-old son clearly was not a terrorist, he says the supervisor told him quote, "you know why we're doing this", unquote.

Well the TSA now says the boy never should have been told to remove his braces -- no kidding. They say the parents should have been told to take their son to a private screening area and the TSA has apologized to the family. With all of the training these agents go through, maybe they should include a class in common sense -- you think.

Here's the question. Is the TSA going too far when it makes a 4- year-old disabled boy remove his leg braces? Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Especially when he's there with his parents and the father is a police officer, you would think a little common sense would prevail.

CAFFERTY: The stupidity is breathtaking.

BLITZER: Unbelievable, all right Jack, thank you.

Over a year after President Obama's inauguration, a brand new poll shows Americans' sky high expectations for his administration have plummeted. The public's hopes replaced by a record level of discontent with members of Congress here in Washington.

Take a look at our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey. Only 34 percent of Americans say most members of Congress deserve to be re- elected. That's the lowest number ever recorded in the CNN poll going back to 1991. As for President Obama, a majority of Americans, 52 percent now say he does not -- repeat -- does not deserve to be re- elected.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. She's been looking at these numbers. It's a very, very different mood now than it was more than a year ago when he was elected.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. You know when the president was elected, he was very popular with independent voters, there were high expectations of him, people wanted bipartisanship, and now they're angry, and they're angry precisely because they expected so much of Barack Obama. (INAUDIBLE) in politics, Wolf, as you know, expectations are everything.

And so what they've done is they've turned on Congress and they've turned on President Obama because they see a lack of effectiveness. They see a president who said he wanted to make health care his major priority, and they see a Congress and a president that haven't been able to get that done. What they want is competency, they want effectiveness, and they want to see results and they're not seeing it.

BLITZER: Take a look at this poll going back to 1994. That was the second year of the Clinton administration. Do most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected? Thirty-seven percent said yes, 48 percent said no, and you compare those numbers to today. What jumps out at you, Gloria?

BORGER: Today -- today it's worse. Today the no is around 63 percent. So that's a real problem for members of Congress, and, you know, it is worse. And I was talking to Democratic strategists today who are very nervous. One of them said to me that he's telling his clients, and this is a quote, Wolf, "unless you're prepared to run a tough campaign, you just ought to retire."

They're believing that these campaigns are going to be negative, full of negative advertising to make up a margin of difference that an incumbent is going to need, and it's precisely -- the irony here is it's precisely the kind of campaigns that the voters don't want, but it's the kind of campaigns they're going to get because incumbents are going to have to do everything they can to keep their jobs.

BLITZER: Look at this -- we went back and looked at a period about the same time in the Clinton administration as the Obama administration is in right now. Back in 1994, early in 1994, my old friend Charles Bierbauer was then one of our top Washington correspondents.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: He filed this report. Watch it and listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Clinton gave a red meat speech to the Democrats in Boston, and the Republicans are chewing it up.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is self-destructive to circle the wagons around the White House and avoid getting to the heart of this stuff and getting Whitewater behind us and it is self- deceptive to believe that the only pure person seeking to be bipartisan is yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some in Congress suggest the president just had a temper tantrum flushed by the latest Whitewater runoff. Some say the (INAUDIBLE) is politics as usual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans reject the president's charge that they are negative and totally political.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just want to set the record straight that there are a number of areas where we work with him on a bipartisan basis, and there are a number of areas we'd like to work with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Republicans say they are interested in health care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's why Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee will spend this weekend with our Democrat counterparts to discuss health care reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republicans just won't vote for the Clinton health care plan. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And you remember Gloria, and I certainly remember, the Democrats they had a disaster in November of '94. They lost -- they lost a lot of seats in the House and Senate.

BORGER: Well you know that piece is deja vu all over again, right? The issues were very much the same. The difference is that in 1994, Wolf, and you'll remember this, the Republicans had a contract with America. They had an affirmative agenda that they were running on that Newt Gingrich and his allies laid out, and so voters felt that they had something positive to vote for when they were voting for Republicans.

At this point, we haven't seen that, and I think what you're going to see is a White House that's going to decide it needs to do more by executive order, for example, a deficit commission that Ed Henry is now reporting the president is going to do. They're going to need to get some incremental change on health care reform and some kind of jobs bill.

If the Republicans work with them on a jobs bill, they then have more credibility to say, well, we worked with you on something just like Newt Gingrich was saying there before, but we just couldn't work with you on health care because it's unpopular. So this story has really some time here to unfold in front of us, Wolf. We'll have to see how each side behaves.

BLITZER: And a lot of people who work for President Obama now including the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, they vividly remember 1994.

BORGER: Not well.

BLITZER: Right. Yes. All right, thanks very much.

New reports are out. Wall Street likes what it sees, details of some strong new numbers. Stand by.

Plus, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to talk about an important milestone in Iraq. What is going on?


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, what else is gong on Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well grounded but not for too long. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had trouble getting back to Washington today when the jet that was supposed to take her had mechanical trouble. Clinton managed to hitch a ride with General David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command who was also in Saudi Arabia.

And did Toyota act quickly enough on its recalls? The Transportation Department is demanding documents showing how Toyota dealt with safety issues in millions of its vehicles. Automakers are required to declare a recall and notify the government within five days after discovering that a safety defect exists. Meanwhile, the company will stop production at assembly plants in Texas and Kentucky while it deals with recalls to prevent inventory from building up on dealers.

Upbeat earnings report and corporate deals sent the Dow soaring almost 170 points today finishing at 10,268 -- not too bad. It appeared anxiety-ridden investors focused on the domestic economy instead of problems abroad. While the dollar fell, oil, gold, energy and other commodities were among the day's big winners.

And could it be the end of Abbey Road? Cash strapped Music Company EMI may be looking to sell the London studio, although a buyer hasn't materialized just yet. They would certainly be getting a piece of raw history. The Beatles recorded some of their biggest hits there and it's also where Pink Floyd recorded the album "Dark Side of the Moon" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm a huge Beatles fan. I'm sure you are too, right?

SYLVESTER: Yes indeed, Wolf.

BLITZER: Even though you are so young, I remember the Beatles. All right, thanks very much.

SYLVESTER: All right.

BLITZER: An assassination at a luxury hotel. It reads like something out of a spy novel. Right now investigators are using surveillance tapes to retrace the killer's cunning and deadly operation. We have the tapes.

And a big victory in that massive anti-Taliban offensive in Afghanistan, CNN's Atia Abawi is embedded with U.S. Marines.


BLITZER: The war in Iraq has reached a milestone. Right now there are less than 100,000 American troops in Iraq. That's the first time the U.S. troop presence has been that low in Iraq since the U.S.- led invasion back in 2003. But could fewer troops spell trouble if violence flares when Iraq votes in a critical upcoming election?

Joining us now is the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Chris Hill. Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to Washington.


BLITZER: You're just here for a few days. Then you're going to back to Baghdad?

HILL: Just for a few days and back to Baghdad.

BLITZER: All right, under 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now. All of the combat troops are supposed to be out by the end of August and then all the other troops -- almost all the other troops with a few trainers and security guards for the U.S. Embassy are supposed to be out by the summer of next year, 2011. Is that schedule working out?

HILL: Well first of all, we reached an agreement with the Iraqi government in December '08, and indeed we reached a schedule that we would be down to 50,000 by the end of August and we'd be down by zero -- to zero by the end of 2012.

BLITZER: So it's working.

HILL: So we are on schedule for that --

BLITZER: And General Odierno, the U.S. military commander, he's on board; he says that the U.S. can do this?

HILL: Absolutely. I mean we work on this every day. There is a lot of transition involved and a lot of things going from military to civilians, military to Iraqis, but we are on schedule.

BLITZER: The Iraqis are supposed to have their elections in the next few weeks in early March. Does the election outcome impact the U.S. troop withdrawal?

HILL: Well certainly we are there now for the elections. We will assist the Iraqis in maintaining a safe and secure environment, and so we work very hard on that day-to-day to make sure these elections come off. It's very important for Iraq's future.

BLITZER: So no matter what happens after the election, if there's violence, the U.S. is getting out?

HILL: Well I don't want to say we're getting out. You know we're looking for a long-term relationship with Iraq. I mean we have the world's biggest embassy there. We're going to be very involved in Iraq for generations to come, so I wouldn't say we're getting out. What we're doing is trying to get combat missions out of there -- you know and combat missions -- and get on with the task of having a normal relationship with a normal country.

BLITZER: The U.S. will have a diplomatic presence, an economic presence, a lot of civilians, but I'm talking about the military will be out of there for all practical purposes?

HILL: Yes, exactly. The military has worked very hard to make sure the Iraqi military can handle things, they are handling things, and yes, we -- it looks like things are on schedule.

BLITZER: Are you confident this election will be free and fair?

HILL: You know they have prepared very hard for this. We've worked very hard with them. We went through the election law, which is tough going. And you know you have to kind of fasten your seat belts in the next few weeks, but we are convinced that it will be a good election. BLITZER: Because you've seen all these reports that the government -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, they are using the Iraqi military for political purposes to try to score political gains. Is that accurate? Are they doing that?

HILL: You know I wouldn't go that far on this. I mean, obviously, the institutions in the country are not what they should be; they need to be worked on. That's going to take years, but I think overall this system is going in the right direction, and I think they're going to have a positive election.

BLITZER: The government is Shiite-led. Will the Sunnis get a fair shake in these elections?

HILL: Well the Sunnis will certainly be a part of any future government. In fact they're part of the government now, so one of the big questions is which Sunnis are going to be part of it. Is it going to be a more secular-led Sunni? Is it going to be more sectarian-led? So we'll see how that works out. That's going to be up to the Iraqi voters to decide.

BLITZER: I spoke back in October with Tom Ricks. You know Tom Ricks. He's a journalist.

HILL: Sure.

BLITZER: An author -- the author of "The Gamble", "Fiasco". He knows this subject quite well and he was very skeptical about what's happening in Iraq right now. He told me -- he says it's coming apart slowly at the seams and the only thing in Iraq that's changing is American influence is declining. So all of the basic problems that were there before the surge are still there. All of them have led to violence."

CHRISTOPHER HILL, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: There are a lot of problems in this country, these are problems that have taken 1,000 years to build. We're not going to get rid of them in a couple years, but the fact is this country that's increasingly Democratic. If you look how they did the election law a couple weeks ago, they worked through that, made pen and ink changes on the sides of the bills. You can Sunni and Shia politicians working. There's a lot to take hope from. Is it going to be easy? It is not going to be easy. We're at it every single day.

BLITZER: But you're convinced that the end result somewhere down the road in the years to come there will be a stable Democratic Iraq when all the dust settles?

HILL: As Iraqis would say -- [ speaking foreign language ] we certainly hope.

BLITZER: But do you think it will?

HILL: I think there's reason to be hopeful. They have done a lot of oil contracts in recent months. In ten years Iraq could be rivaling Saudi Arabia, so they'll have the means to deal with these things, they'll have to figure out how to use some of these resources, but they have the ability to be as you describe. BLITZER: Are you upset they didn't invite American oil companies to participate in making some money giving the blood and treasure the U.S. put into Iraq?

HILL: First of all, they did invite American companies to participate.

BLITZER: But they didn't give them any contracts.

HILL: Yes, they did. Exxon Mobil got a contract.

BLITZER: But all the big ones went to the Europeans.

HILL: Not true. Exxon Mobil is probably number two behind British petroleum. They have contracts from all over the world.

BLITZER: Should they have given the U.S. companies preferential treatment?

HILL: I would prefer a transparent process to determine who gives the best offer. They did have a transparent process, and a couple big American companies won in that process.

BLITZER: Tom Ricks' argument is also depressing when he sees who the big winner is. I said, if U.S. Influence is declining, if that's the case, is Iranian influence increasing? He said, "I don't know if it can increase any more than it is already. I think the Iranians are the biggest single winners in this war."

HILL: I hate to think of Iranians as winners. Frankly the Iranians made a lot of mistakes and have become one of the most isolated countries in the world, but the question is what countries will be interested in Iraq if there's a perception we're not interested. Certainly the United States should remain interested, because we don't want a situation where the Iranians are able to exert more influence.

BLITZER: Could you see an alliance emerging between the Iraqi Shiites and Iranian Shiites?

HILL: You have to remember during the time of Saddam Hussein he fought an eight-year war that was Shia, so I wouldn't go too far on the notion that --

BLITZER: How much influence does Iran have in Iraq right now?

HILL: Iran is there, they are there economically, but they are also there in rather malevolent terms, helping some of the Shia militia groups, so we have to be very vigilant on this. I can assure you General Odierno and I are.

BLITZER: And the Kurds where do they fit into this whole picture?

HILL: They've had a rough history, too. They will be a part of Iraq, they're very interested in remaining in Iraq, but it has to be a Democratic Iraq, so they're looking very carefully to see if it's an Iraq that will live up to this Democratic constitution.

BLITZER: Chris Hill, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq.

A man tumbles into the crater of Mt. St. Helen's volcano. The rescue did not end as they would have liked. We have details.

And disaster in Italy as a wall of earth slides down a hillside, all caught on tape.


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

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. New developments now on the climber who fell 1500 feet into the Mt. St. Helen's volcano. Authorities say his body has been recovered from the crater by a naval helicopter. The 52-year-old, who had made the climb dozens of times, slid into the crater yesterday after the rim gave way underneath his feet.

About 200 people fled their homes in southern Italy after a land slide literally split a hillside in two. The mudslide comes after heavy rains in the region. Power has been knocked out and officials are urging evacuation of everyone in the area.

BLITZER: Wow. Serious mudslide over there.

SYLVESTER: Look at those pictures. Those are amazing.

BLITZER: Very amazing. Thanks Lisa.

In nine days, President Obama will hold a televised health care summit with Republican leaders over at the white house. The administration is walking into it with its own plan to try to salvage reform efforts. The Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave some details of the plan to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president says he's going to post on-line the text of the reform plan. He's going to post it on line ahead of the summit. What's the plan?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: I think it's really a combination of the best ideas of the house and the Senate bills. Lots of good Republican ideas in both the house past bill and the Senate past bill, high-risk pools and selling insurance across state lines and keeping kids on their parents' plan to 26 or 27, having a lower cost plan for younger workers. Those ideas are already part of the comprehensive package. So I'm hoping that the Republicans really come on the 25th of February ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: You can see the complete interview with the house secretary, plus Dean Kamen and his new invention, a robotic arm for wounded veterans all on Sanjay Gupta MD. That is this Saturday and Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. eastern, only here on CNN.

A team of assassins takes out a top Hamas official inside a luxury hotel in Dubai. We retraced the killer's intricate operation. We have the videotapes.

Plus a passionate effort to bring freedom to North Korea by a balloon. We'll meet the woman behind it.


BLITZER: International arrest warrants are out for 11 people suspected in the assassination of a top Hamas official inside a luxury hotel in Dubai. CNN's Paula Hancocks has details of the hours leading up to the crime and the killers' intricate operation.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Minute by minute, this is the lead up to the Dubai assassination of one of the founding members of Hamas, all captured on security cameras and released by the police. Ten men and one woman. Some check into the hotel and await their target. This is Mabu arriving at the hotel where he would babe killed just hours later. After checking in, Iran security forces accused of being a key link between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas were attacked by people in tennis gear holding tennis rackets. The police say they were checking the number of his room and then booked the room directly across the corridor. Leaving the hotel for a couple of hours, he was again tracked by different teams. Police believe the killers entered his room at 8:00 p.m., using an electronic device to gain entry. He went to his room at 8:25 p.m. His body was not discovered until the next morning. Police say he appears to have suffered electric shocks and may have been suffocated.

These are the suspects, all caught on camera sparking an international manhunt. Six were on British passports, three carried Irish passports, one French and one German, say Dubai police. But Irish and British police have said the names and passport numbers of their alleged nationals are fake. The other countries are checking.

At least four Israelis say they have the same names as the suspects. They deny any involvement, and say they are shocked their names have been used. The question remains, who ordered the hit? His family in Gaza are convinced Israeli's intelligence agency is behind the assassination. Israeli sources say he was smuggling arms to Gaza to an arms dealer who has many enemies. Dubai's police chief says whoever is responsible will be brought to justice. He says if a state starts acting like gangsters, their leaders will be treated like gangsters, and they will be brought to justice whoever and wherever they are. But even with extensive security footage and photos of 11 of the alleged hit squad, so far no one has been arrested. And the real identities may never be known.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: A big win today for forces battling to take back a key Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan. U.S. marines seized police headquarters in the center of Marjah, the main objective of the NATO operation now in its fourth day. The Marjah offensive is the largest since the start of the Afghan war in 2001. CNN's Atia Abawi is embedded in the middle of all of this with the United States marines.


ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Roaming the empty streets of Marjah. They're keeping a watchful eye of the city. Some of them believe the Taliban are just hiding, waiting for the opportunity to launch attacks. But the marines say for the Taliban, time is running out.

SGT. JOHN TRICKLER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: The people outside, they don't have a place to hide. It will just be us with the local nationals and all the Afghans trying to join together to make a team.

ABAWI: Right now, very few locals are coming out to join that team. Some fled Marjah before the offensive. Others are staying indoors.

They're still encouraged to stay inside their home, and it's been a quiet day when it comes to fighting compared to the last few days, but it is suspended the Taliban are biding their time, a session the movement of the marines, and it is expected they will launch some sort of attack, hoping to disable the progress of the U.S. troops.

A morning lull ended with more sporadic and intense fighting. Incoming fire from several parts of the city. The commanding general says the job's not done yet.

BRIG. GEN. LARRY NICHOLSON, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We're moving in the right direction. Like I say, there is a lot left to do and there are a lot of surprises ahead that we're not even anticipating, I'm sure. There is no one dancing in the end zone, I can tell you that, but I like where we're at.

ABAWI: And so do some Afghans. The Taliban never helped us, he says. They can't and won't help us. Instead, they take from us. His property was damaged by the initial military push. He has been promised compensation, and he's glad the Americans are here. He remembers USAID building the canals in Marjah 40 years ago that turned this area into rich agricultural land. I'm glad the Americans came back, he says. They built these places in Helmand but then they left us. He's praying it will bring a better life for him and Afghanistan. This time he says he wants America to stay, but first, the U.S. marines have to drive away others who want America to stay and have not yet given up the fight in Marjah.

Atia Abawi, CNN, Marjah, Afghanistan.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with your e-mail that's coming up next.

Also, President John F. Kennedy, the morning of his assassination, we have never seen, color film that has just surfaced.


BLITZER: Fresh glimpses of an historic day, never before seen color film footage of President John F. Kennedy the morning of his assassination. It shows the president and Mrs. Kennedy arriving on air force one in Dallas on the morning the day he was assassinated, November 19, 1963. The movie was then shot by 15-year-old William Ward Warren. Warren is now 61 years old. He donated it to the 6th Floor Museum in Dallas. The museum released the film yesterday.

Jack Cafferty is with us. I was in Dallas over the weekend for the NBA all-star game. Last Saturday afternoon I went to the museum and spent at least an hour or two hours with some friends walking around there. I don't know if you've ever been there, but it brought back a lot of memories. I was a little boy when he was assassinated. Our teacher sent us home, my mother was crying. It brought back a lot of memories.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was working at a television station in Reno, Nevada, actually, when he was killed. Don't you wonder how a piece of footage like that goes unreleased for this many years?

BLITZER: It's amazing.

CAFFERTY: Somebody shot that and has picture of him that morning, and for 40 years it never sees the light of day. That's hard to believe.

BLITZER: Yep. It's true, though.

CAFFERTY: Yeah. The question this hour is the TSA going too far when it makes a four-year-old boy remove his leg braces?

Andrew writes from New York, "The TSA cannot protect us and the alleged air martial program cannot protect us. Profiling is ruled out even though it probably would have caught Mr. Christmas Day bomb in the pants. So we are left with this sort of nonsense going on. The TSA is conducting a crude pantomime of fake measures that no longer even serve the purpose of pretend safety."

Tim from Texas writes, "What do we expect when we pay these folks about ten bucks an hour? As far as the father pointing out that his four year old clearly wasn't a terrorist, that lacks common sense as well, because obviously an adult could put an explosive inside the brace of a child."

Frankie writes, "When you're disabled sometimes you get treated strangely or impolitely. It just happens. When you are an airline passenger these days, you are treated like cattle or baggage. Back in the days when airline passengers were treated nicely, somebody might have felt like being kind to that little boy."

Duke writes, "Absolutely not. When some parents do things such as encouraging children to shoplift for them in shopping malls, there's no reasons to assume other wouldn't exploit their children's medical conditions. Airplane safety isn't negotiable."

Stephen writes, "When are the American people going to learn that airport security is nothing more than a theater show being put on for our benefit? The TSA's job is to make you feel safe, not make you safe. We didn't even bother to sell our freedom in privacy. We just gave it away."

Carl in Phoenix writes, "The behavior is unconscionable. That poor kid. However, al Qaeda is getting pretty crafty. I hear by hiding explosive devices in female operatives' breast implants. I wonder how the TSA will be dealing with that in a sensitive manner. I'm just asking."

If you want to read more about this, you'll find it at my blog, I didn't realize I was so much older than you. You were sent home from school, I was working.

BLITZER: I was in history class with Mr. Moody. Kenmore, New York outside of buffalo. Good school. I remember that day vividly. Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Synchronized swimmers and a flower bearing his name and North Korea's eccentric leader marks his birthday, but not everyone celebrates.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Campbell, see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there Wolf. We're talking about Congressman Barney Frank who is not showing a lot of sympathy for fellow democrat Evan Bayh. As you know Bayh ditched his reelection bid complaining he is sick of partisan gridlock. Frank says you cannot fix the system by quitting, so we're going to talk about what can be done, especially by our poll that shows more Americans than ever want to throw out almost everybody in Congress right now. Wolf we'll see you in a few.

BLITZER: Always happy to hear from Barney Frank. All right. Thanks very much Campbell.

Today is North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's birthday, but that's not why a Virginia woman and her small home based organization launched balloons into the isolated communist country. Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty checked out what they're up to. Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Kim Jong-Il had a stroke about a year and a half ago. At least, that's what U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies believe. But Kim Jong-Il still rules North Korea, and that's what the woman you're about to meet wants to change.


DOUGHERTY: North Koreans marked the 68th birthday of Kim Jong-Il with a flower named in his honor. But Susan Schulte isn't celebrating.

SUZANNE SCHULTE: He is the epitome of one of the most evil dictators that's in power today.

DOUGHERTY: Schulte leads her crusade against Kim Jong-Il out of a tiny office at her Virginia home. Half a world away, part of her coalition launches balloons over the border in South Korea, carrying copies of the universal declaration of human rights and small amounts of North Korean money.

SCHULTE: We had been doing U.S. dollar bills, but the regime started saying if they could touch them, they would be poisoned, so we switched that tactic.

DOUGHERTY: Schulte says her coalition, which brings together 6,000 groups ask and individuals, operates positive a shoestring with private donations.

When the U.S. government is talking to North Korea about nuclear issues, does this type of behavior, which really infuriates the North Korea government, make it difficult to carry out American policy?

SCHULTE: I think it actually strengthens, because we are getting information into North Korea.

DOUGHERTY: Schulte says she is convinced Kim Jong-Il's iron grip is weakening, and she's happy to claim some credit.

Is it your intent to bring down the government of Kim Jong-Il?

SCHULTE: Well, I would say that what I'm working for is for the freedom and human rights dignity of the American people. If that means Kim Jong-Il's regime weakens, so be it.


DOUGHERTY: The State Department says it does not fund actions like balloon launches but it adds it shouldn't be necessary to resort to such tactics to get information into Kim Jong-Il's isolated country. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jill, thank you. A little background, Kim Jong-Il has been in power since July 1994 and he's 68 years old. His regime celebrated his birthday with a flower festival, synchronized swimming and by handing out gifts to kids. He's said to enjoy an expensive type of cognac. His son is said to be his successor.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.