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Iraq Counts Votes; Liz Cheney's Conservative Backlash

Aired March 8, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I spoke with an official from the state of Florida just this afternoon. And he says there is no question in his mind that these babies are the parents'. He thinks the DNA tests will confirm it.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You will stay on top of this for us. Elizabeth, thank you so much.

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

Happening now: Vote-counting is under way in Iraq. U.S. officials say the elections went very, very well, despite violence that killed dozens. For now, U.S. troops are sticking to their withdrawal plan. I will speak with the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, this hour.

Some say she's even more politically combative than her father, but now Liz Cheney is taking heat from fellow conservatives over an ad criticizing Obama Justice Department lawyers.

And Interpol putting out its highest worldwide alert for suspects in the hit team accused of killing a Hamas commander. They left behind plenty of clues, but has their trail gone cold?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They are counting the ballots in Iraq a day after millions turned out for parliamentary elections. The outcome will determine Iraq's next government, as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw, but the vote was marred by violence and many Iraqis are still paying a bitter price for democracy.

CNN's Arwa Damon the story from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Little 5-year-old Yusef (ph) may not be eligible to vote but, he's certainly practicing for that day.

"After we heard the explosion this morning," we decided not to come, mother, Deanna (ph), says, "but he insisted and said, no, we have to vote."

Despite the violence, despite the insurgent threat, Iraqis came to the polls. Families with children dressed in their best outfits, more excited than their parents for a special day out. But no one is expecting immediate change, as Diham Sale (ph), one of the volunteers here tells us.

"We've had such a hard time. We just want something better for our children."

(On camera): Among the many Iraqis we've been talking to there is a sense of defiance, and there is also hope or, as Iraqis say, (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE), God willing, the risk that they just took in coming here is going to be worth it. That the next government that comes into power will provide them the things they so desperately need.

(Voice-over): At this polling center, some like these two women were unable to vote, told their names were not on the voters' list.

What most Iraqis want out of this election is the same thing they wanted when they voted five years ago. What the current government failed to deliver -- basic services, jobs and most of all, still, security.

This time, though, political blocs are all trying to appear to cross sectarian lines and people are quickly realizing the power of their vote. The next lesson of democracy however will be for the politicians themselves.

AD MELKERT, U.N. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE: I think the most important thing after these elections is that the results will be accepted, that winners and losers understand and acknowledge mutual responsibilities as government party, as opposition party. They're all essential for a true Democratic process.

DAMON: All indications point to a close race. Preliminary results won't be available for days.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Iran's president is again lashing out at the United States, call the terror attacks of 9/11, in his words, a -- quote -- "big lie."

Iran state-run TV quotes President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying the attack on New York was a scenario and a sophisticated intelligence measure, his words, meant to serve as a pretext for sending troops to Afghanistan. The Iranian leader's latest outburst comes as the U.S. presses for tougher sanctions against Iran.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has been looking into this for us.

Jill, a new war of words going on right now.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Well, you remember how important Twitter was during those Iranian street demonstrations? Well, now the Obama administration is upping the ante. In what could be a provocative move, they are giving Iranians more ways of getting around government control.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): During Iran's street protests, social networking helped demonstrators get their message to each other and to the world. Now, calling it a vital tool for change, the Obama administration is easing restrictions, allowing U.S. Internet providers like Microsoft and Yahoo! to export software and services like instant messaging and blogging to Iran's people.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says, if Iran calls itself a democracy, it should act like one.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In the 21st century, expression and assembly are carried out on the Internet as well as in person. So, we are going to continue to support those Iranians who wish to circumvent and be able to communicate without being blocked by their own government.

DOUGHERTY: The U.S. is now lobbying countries around the world to support what Secretary Clinton calls crippling new sanctions, with a new target, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls many of Iran's critical industries.

A top U.S. general isn't mincing words.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I think you have heard it said by pundits that Iran has gone from being a theocracy to a thugocracy.

DOUGHERTY: Administration and U.S. military officials warn Iran's influence extends beyond its borders. Defense Secretary Gates says Iran is playing a double game in Afghanistan, trying to work with Afghans and help the Taliban, too.

The top general in the region agrees, saying, while they have provided the Afghans financial support:

GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: Then they also have done things like provide weaponry to the Taliban. And even though I am convinced that the Iranians do not want the Taliban to win, I think they are happy to see Afghans killing other Afghans. And I think that's the tragedy of it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: So, there's a push for new sanctions, but what about the existing ones? Well, a "New York Times" report shows that actually there is weak enforcement in some cases for those existing sanctions.

It found out that the U.S. government over the past 10 years has given more than $107 billion in contracts and grants to U.S. and international multinational corporations that are doing business with Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty is at the State Department.

Thank you.

The worldwide police organization Interpol has out its highest alert for suspects in the hit team accused of killing a top Hamas commander. The suspects left behind plenty of clues in Dubai, including surveillance images, but has the trail actually gone cold?

CNN's Paula Hancocks has the latest from Jerusalem -- Paula.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Interpol has expanded its search for the killers of a Hamas leader in his Dubai hotel room. It has issued red notices for 16 suspects. Fifteen of these have already have been identified by Dubai police.

Now, the purpose of these red notices to alert the police forces around the world that these men and women are wanted. So, Interpol is now helping Dubai police track 27 suspects in all which Dubai police believe are directly or indirectly involved in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh back in January.

Now, the secretary-general of Interpol has said that this Dubai investigation is very thorough and he said that they have established clear links, through passport records, video surveillance, DNA analysis, witness interviews, hotel credit card, phone and transport records.

So, it is a very exhaustive investigation, but the fact remains there are 27 alleged suspects still at large. We know for a fact that the vast majority of them used fake names, they used stolen identities and fraudulent passports. So, even with this new move today, it is very hard to see how much closer Dubai police actually are to apprehending the alleged killers -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, Paula, you will stay on top of this story.

Paula is back in Jerusalem now from Dubai.

Liz Cheney's backlash from the right. Why she's taking so much heat right now from fellow conservatives over an ad criticizing the Obama Justice Department.

And Pakistani officials say they have nabbed a key al Qaeda operative, but if it's not the group's American-born spokesman, then who is it?

And the U.S. commander calls Iraq's election called a success. What does that mean for American troops? I will ask General Ray Odierno.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She may like a good fight as much as the former vice president, but this time has Liz Cheney simply gone way too far? Criticism of the Justice Department lawyers who once defended terror suspects is now leading to a conservative backlash against Dick Cheney's daughter.

Brian Todd is here looking into this.

Passions, Brian, running pretty high on this story.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very, very high, Wolf, and it could cause more division within the Republican Party. Then again, the Cheney faction may be getting what it wants, more political stir over the Obama administration's record in the war on terror.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): She's her father's close confidant, sometimes thought to be even more politically combative than him. Now the heat from her own side of the spectrum is growing more intense for Liz Cheney.

Several prominent conservative lawyers, including former independent counsel Ken Starr, are taking sides against Liz Cheney and defending the Obama Justice Department. It started with an ad posted by Liz Cheney's group Keep America Safe. The spot blasted Attorney General Eric Holder for hiring for his department several lawyers who had represented suspected terrorists and accused Holder of stonewalling senators who wanted to know who they were.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Whose values do they share? Tell Eric Holder Americans have a right to know the identity of the al Qaeda 7.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: In response, that group of conservative lawyers issued a statement calling the Republicans' criticism of Holder's team shameful and unjust.

In addition to Ken Starr, one of the signatories is Bradford Berenson, an attorney in the Bush/Cheney White House.

(on camera): Where does this ad go out of bounds, in your view?

BRAD BERENSON, FORMER BUSH ADMINISTRATION ATTORNEY: I think it's quite unfair to suggest that these lawyers in some way or another sympathize with al Qaeda or with its aims or with its ideology. These lawyers, by and large, took the positions they did because they had views on some very significant and important legal issues, views that in some cases ultimately were endorsed by the Supreme Court. TODD: We contacted Liz Cheney for response to Berenson and the others. She declined to go on camera with us, but referred us to a Web posting from conservative columnist Bill Kristol, who is on the board of Cheney's group Keep America Safe.

Kristol writes, "They aren't criticizing Holder for hiring attorneys who have represented detainees, but for taking months to disclose who those lawyers were and for having them work on U.S. policy towards suspected terrorists."

A Justice official tells us the lawyers' identities were always public information and the rules don't prohibit them from making detainee policy. Political analyst Craig Crawford says the Liz Cheney spat not only divides Republicans. It may give more backbone to the Obama team over detainees.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, COLUMNIST, CQPOLITICS.COM: We had seen signs of wavering on changing how they try these detainees. This may give them an opportunity not to waver and stick to their original plan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Still, you can bet Republicans like many on the Senate Judiciary Committee who have been pressuring the Obama team on this issue will keep it up. They will likely make political hay out of the fact that Holder's team actually has nine attorneys who have represented suspected terrorists. One, Neal Katyal, was a lawyer for Osama bin Laden's driver. Another, Tony West, represented so-called American Taliban John Walker Lindh -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But the Obama team has a major counter to that argument.

TODD: That's right. A Justice Department official told me that Katyal has made a formal argument that some detainees, those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, have no constitutional rights. And he says that Tony West has written dozens of briefs for the department opposing the release of detainees.

That's how they make the point that their work now has no effect on what they did in the past.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

So, why did Liz Cheney stir up such a hornets nest among fellow conservatives?

Let's discuss it with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

What do you make of this whole debate, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I'm not usually in the habit historically of agreeing with Ken Starr. But he is exactly right here.

Since 1770, when John Adams defended the British soldiers who were accused in the Boston Massacre, it's been one of the highest traditions of American lawyers to defend unpopular causes. And that's what these lawyers were doing.

I mean, Brian mentioned Neal Katyal. It's important to emphasize Neal Katyal represented Salim Hamdan and won in his case in the Supreme Court 5-3. So, the fact that he won the case suggests that he must have been doing a pretty good job and had a good legal claim, regardless of who his client was.

BLITZER: And he was a very well-known, highly respected professor of law at Georgetown University Law School. I have moderated seminars there with him on the panel. He obviously knows his stuff.

Does it surprise you, though, that the Obama Justice Department has nine lawyers who had previously represented some of these terror suspects?

TOOBIN: Not at all, because this was one of the most high- profile political controversies of the Bush years, the whole treatment of the detainees, Guantanamo.

It is not surprising that lawyers who were opposed to that policy went into the administration that ran for office objecting to those policies. So, that's -- it's not surprising. There is nothing unethical about it. There's nothing particularly controversial about it. And it's only when lawyers -- anyway, it's just -- that's not surprising.

BLITZER: But should the Justice Department disclose when somebody goes to work there as a new political appointee, if you will, the case history, or is that simply going way too far?

TOOBIN: You know, I don't think political appointees are obliged to talk about every case they ever had. If they are subject to Senate confirmation, that's all certainly fair game. That comes out in the questionnaires that the senators require the administration officials to fill out.

But if they are lower-level appointees who are not subject to Senate confirmation, I think it is really not fair game. I mean, how much do they have to disclose? Do they have to disclose if they are gay? Do they have to disclose if they are Democrats or Republicans? These are positions that are within the administration's purview to appoint and who all their clients are in the past doesn't seem relevant to me.

BLITZER: And if you take a look at the names of those who joined Ken Starr in writing this letter criticizing Liz Cheney and the others who have made an issue out of this, this is literally a who's-who of the legal brain trust of the Bush administration.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And, you know, they are people who understand the difference between advocacy for a legal position and embrace of the political cause of the client who has that legal position. I mean, there has historically been a very big difference between legal issues and the people who represent them. There are often terrible people who have legal issues that are very important, things like the right to counsel, things like the death penalty.

These issues have always been -- have always been advocated by lawyers who don't agree, who don't admire their clients, but are trying to preserve the rule of law.

And I think they are only to be admired. And the Republican lawyers who are embracing them here are only to be admired as well.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, thank you -- Jeff Toobin joining us.

A big splash at the Oscars for an explosive film about the war in Iraq. We will hear from some troops on the ground about the film "The Hurt Locker."

And another deadly earthquake, this one in Turkey. Are all these tremors connected?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: The Turkey quake is one of the dozens of big ones this year. The strongest, an 8.8-magnitude quake, rocked Chile on February 27, killing more than 700 people.

The day before that -- there was a 7.0 quake that struck Japan's Ryukyu Islands. And on February 18, a 6.9 quake shook the China- Russia-North Korea border region -- no casualties there either.

But the deadliest, the 7.0 quake in Haiti on January 18, killed more than 200,000 people. And just in the past seven days, there have been 72 earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.0 or higher indicated in red on this Google map. More than half of them are aftershocks from the earthquake in Chile.

Are they, all these earthquakes, related? Most seismologists say the answer is no.

An initial vote count in Iraq may just be hours away, but a new government may be weeks or even months away. What happens in the meantime? I will ask the U.S. military commander on the ground, General Ray Odierno. And the big Oscar winner was "The Hurt Locker," about the troops who disarm bombs and booby-traps in Iraq. We will get reaction from those troops in the war zone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: President Obama back in campaign form. He's pushing health care reform and taking aim at the Washington news media.

Also, a Democratic congressman is resigning, and he's not going quietly. Eric Massa claims House leaders want to get rid of him, but not because he's facing an ethics investigation.

And the words on Sarah Palin's palm, are they a gift from God?

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

Our top story, ballot counting is under way in Iraq right now, after a parliamentary election that should lead to a new government. There was violence. Bombers killed more than three dozen people on Election Day alone, but U.S. officials say that, on the whole, things went very, very well and U.S. troops continue their preparations for a complete withdrawal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Baghdad, U.S. Army General Raymond Odierno. He's the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq.

General Odierno, thanks very much for joining us.

Are you ready to declare the elections in Iraq a success?

MAJ. GENERAL RAYMOND ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL CORPS- IRAQ: Wolf, I think I am, for a couple reasons.

One is the fact that the Iraqi people turned out in large numbers, young and old, all over the country. All ethno-sectarian groups participated. Violence was relatively low. There were two significant incidents, but, besides that, I believe violence was low. And the Iraqi security forces did a very good job of protecting the people for the election.

BLITZER: Do you believe the winners and the losers will now cooperate in the next step?

ODIERNO: I think they all realize that no one will have an outright majority. So, they know that they are going to have to form a coalition government.

And, for that reason, they know they are going to have to work together in some manner. So, I think they will work through this, and they will -- they will decide how they're going to work together. And they will move together forward to form a government.

BLITZER: Does the U.S. military care who the -- who is the leader of the next government, who the next prime minister is?

ODIERNO: We don't. We want the Iraqi people to choose. And we want the -- the individuals that the Iraqi people choose as part of the Council of Representatives to decide. We will not get involved in being involved in selecting the next prime minister.

BLITZER: How worried are you that it could take a long time, though, to form the next government?

The last elections resulted in weeks and months of delay. That could be an issue this time around.

ODIERNO: Well, of course, we're concerned about that. But we have plans in place. We've worked very carefully with the government of Iraq over the last several months. We've established committees with the government of Iraq to -- to ensure that they sustain security during the caretaker government period as they form the new government. And I feel that we have a good plan in place.

I remind everyone that Iraq is a much different country in 2010 than it was in 2006. The Iraqi security forces are much more mature and the political system is more mature.

BLITZER: Does that mean that the U.S. Forces -- military forces which you command -- will be able to withdraw on schedule?

And just to remind our viewers, by the end of this August, 50,000 combat troops are supposed to be out. And then by the end of next year, 2011, the remaining 50,000 are supposed to be out.

Is all that on schedule?

ODIERNO: I feel confident that it is. This is an evolutionary process. And we've been slowly turning over more and more responsibility to the Iraqi security forces. And I believe today that by August, we'll be able to be down to 50,000 people. And I believe by the end of 2011, we will leave Iraq.

BLITZER: All U.S. forces, basically, except for some trainers, will be out of Iraq?

ODIERNO: Well, I think there is a chance that we'll have some sort of a security assistance mission at the end of 2011. But that will be -- also be up to the government of Iraq. I think there's a high probability that that could happen.

BLITZER: Peter Beinart wrote this on the Web site, "The Daily Beast." He says: "The problem is that this timetable may be a virtual death sentence for Iraqi democracy. Although security has dramatically improved, Iraq's leaders have resolved barely any of the conflicts that nearly tore the country apart a few years back."

Do you agree with that assessment?

ODIERNO: Well, I think, it's a little harsh. I think there's -- I think the Iraqi politicians have solved some of the problems. They have definitely not solved all of their problems. Reconciliation between groups takes a long period of time. And I think this election is another step toward reconciliation. And as they form this government and they realize that all groups have to be included in the government, that will cause reconciliation among all of the different political groups.

So I -- I believe we're on the right track. I believe we have a real opportunity here and we'll watch -- continue to watch it very carefully. We'll continue to do our assessments and we'll continue to make good, sound decisions here in Iraq.

BLITZER: How much influence does Iran right now, the regime in Tehran of Ahmadinejad, have on politicians -- influential politicians in Iraq?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say, what we would like to see is Iran respect Iraq's sovereignty and allow the Iraqi people to choose their next government, like we would like to see all countries in the region allow Iraq to continue to build its political process, its economic capabilities and its military capabilities without interference.

I think there's got to be a good relationship with Iran. They're neighbors. What we want to see is it to be a positive relationship and not one built on threats or violence.

BLITZER: Well, what about the relationship right now?

How much influence -- how much of an impact do the Iranians have on what's going on in Iraq?

ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I -- I think they have a stake in Iraq. I think they believe it has something to do with their own national security. I think that they want to be able to try to shape the end state in Iraq.

But, Wolf, I -- I truly believe that the Iraqis will look to what's best for Iraq first. They are truly nationalistic. I've learned that over my several years over here, that they care about Iraq first and they will always look to do what's best for Iraq.

BLITZER: So -- so what you're saying is that most of the Iraqi Kurds, the Iraqi Shiites, the Iraqi Sunis -- Sunnis -- they see themselves as Iraqis first and their ethnic or -- or sort of religious background second?

ODIERNO: I do, for the most part. There's always exceptions to that. But the large majority, absolutely correct. And I think they will make decisions in that way. That does not mean they don't have a relationship with other countries. But they certainly say Iraq first.

BLITZER: Here's what Charles Levinson, a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," wrote last Thursday: "US commanders say in recent weeks and months, they have witnessed a remarkable and troubling new phenomenon. Sunni Al Qaeda-linked insurgents are cooperating with Shiite militias to coordinate more effective attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces."

Is that true, that there is this coordination now between Sunni and Shiite militants?

ODIERNO: I would say only at the very local level. And it's because it's based on their own survival. Because they've been -- their ability to conduct operations has been degraded. And the only way they can continue is cooperation at the local level. But there is no cooperation at all at more senior levels of the insurgency.

BLITZER: How significant is Al Qaeda in Iraq right now?

ODIERNO: Well, it's still able to conduct some high profile attacks, but it no longer in any way reflects the broad-based insurgency that it did in 2006. Today, I consider them to be a covert terrorist organization only capable of conducting covert terrorist operations. And, frankly, as they've continued to do this over the last months, all they do is continue to alienate the Iraqi population. And the Iraqi population has clearly rejected Al Qaeda here in Iraq.

BLITZER: The bottom line, mission accomplished?

ODIERNO: Not yet. And as -- I say -- I've been saying for a very long time here, we won't know if we were successful here until three, five or 10 years from today. It will depend on how Iraq turns out. It will depend on if Iraq is a democratic nation that's helping stability to be sustained here in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Let me just ask you one final question, General, before I let you go. I know you have a lot going on.

Have you seen the movie, "The Hurt Locker," which won the Academy Award for best picture of the year?

ODIERNO: I -- I have. They actually sent me a copy so I could look at it several months ago. It's a compelling movie about the heroism and the camaraderie about what some of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines have -- go through here in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I think it's an important depiction of some of the sacrifices that go on here in Iraq and Afghanistan.

BLITZER: So you would recommend it?

The troops liked that film?

ODIERNO: I would highly recommend it.

BLITZER: General Odierno, thanks very much for joining us.

Good luck over there.

We're counting on you.

ODIERNO: Thank you very much, Wolf.

It's always a pleasure to be with you.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: "The Hurt Locker" shows the very dangerous work done by troops who disarm bombs and booby traps.

So what do some of those troops in today's Afghanistan war think of the film?

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAFF SGT. JOE HERNANDEZ, U.S. AIR FORCE: I thought that "Hurt Locker" was pretty good. I enjoyed it. Whether or not I think it's accurate could be debated. Overall, I think that the job of EOD was decently accurate. I'm not too sure about that because I'm not an EOD tech. But I thought it was good overall.

It portrayed the main actor, if you will, kind of as a -- you know, a renegade or a rule breaker, kind of doing his own thing. I don't think that was accurate or realistic at all.

SR. MASTER AGENT. KYLE WALLER, U.S. AIR FORCE: I thought the movie was overall pretty good. It was realistic. It kind of shows the dangers and stuff like that that a lot of the EOD techs run into out here so.

TECH SGT. WILLIAM ADOMEIT, U.S. AIR FORCE: I thought it was pretty good. I mean it's -- I thought -- I thought there was a lot of action, a lot of, you know, a lot of excitement. Some of the -- some of the stuff I didn't necessarily agree with, you know, like kind of going out and going -- going rogue. That's -- that's not necessarily the things that I -- that I necessarily believed in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "The Hurt Locker" wins the Academy Award, the Oscar.

A key Al Qaeda figure apparently under arrest in Pakistan -- but why are his identity and nationality shrouded in mystery?

What is going on?

Plus, it came from outer space -- a group of scientists finally agree on what killed the dinosaurs.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, a team of scientists has agreed on what killed off the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. The culprit -- a single giant asteroid. Researchers say it was likely six miles in diameter, traveling thousands of miles an hour when it slammed into the Gulf of Mexico. One member of the team says the asteroid's impact was, quote, "more powerful than all the atomic weapons on the planet going off at once."

Something else.

Well, call it a box office wonder -- the premier of Disney's big budget version of "Alice in Wonderland" raked in about $116.3 million on its opening weekend. That sets the record for the biggest debut of a 3-D feature, out-earning even "Avatar" by about $39 million. Experts say this highlights the ongoing appeal of 3-D movies.

And Little Wayne heading to prison. The rapper, whose real name is Dwayne Carter, was sentenced today to a year on felony drug charges. Back in 2007, police say carter had a pistol on his tour bus outside New York's Beacon Theater. But sentencing was delayed twice, first so the Grammy winner could go to the dentist, then because of a fire at a Manhattan courthouse.

And she lived long enough to have 114 candles on her birthday cake, but Mary Josephine Ray, certified as the oldest living person in the United States, has died. Her granddaughter says Ray passed away peacefully on Sunday at a New Hampshire -- a Hampshire nursing home. The oldest living American is now Neva Morris of Ames, Iowa. She is 78 days younger than Ray was.

Imagine that, born in 1895 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Can you imagine what Mary Josephine Ray saw in -- in the span of those years, between 1895 and 2010, and how the world has changed?

SYLVESTER: A lot of changes during that time. Pretty amazing stuff.

BLITZER: A long, long wonderful life for her.

All right, thank you very much, Lisa.

Here's a question -- is an American-born Al Qaeda spokesman actually under arrest or not?

And what should U.S. authorities do if they get their hands on him?

I'll ask CNN's Homeland Security contributor, Frances Townsend.

And reading Sarah Palin's palms -- her crib note controversy is now back and Jeanne Moos couldn't be happier.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Pakistan's capture of an alleged Al Qaeda operative remains shrouded in mystery. On Sunday, at least two Pakistani officials said American-born al Qaeda spokesman, Adam Gadahn, was under arrest.

But U.S. officials are now casting doubt on those claims, one calling the reports "bogus."

A Pakistani source tells me the report is also not true.

Let's bring in our national security contributor, Fran Townsend.

She was the Homeland Security adviser to President Bush and worked in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration, as well.

Apparently, they arrested someone. They were confused. But it wasn't Adam Gadahn, which has caused a lot of disappointment around the world, especially here in the United States.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, because he would be a huge capture, Wolf. You'll remember going back to just prior to the 2004 re-election of President Bush, Adam Gadahn was, along with bin Laden -- but Adam Gadahn issued a videotape calling for blood to run in the streets if Bush was re-elected. And there was much controversy, you'll recall, about whether or not that influenced the outcome of the election.

Gadahn was one of the first individuals identified as an American member of Al Qaeda. And he's been very active in the As-Sahab media organization. That's the media arm of Al Qaeda.

And so his capture would be very significant. He's had a relationship directly with bin Laden. He understands how the organization works. And so I think when there were initial reports, people were very excited about it.

BLITZER: Because he's formally been charged with treason, as well, by the United States.

TOWNSEND: That's right. And so -- but it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that they are keeping it -- trying to keep it a secret who this is. We don't even know, I don't think, whether or not this is an American. We know the Pakistanis are calling it a foreigner. But there's a good reason. What you want to do is while you're getting initial threat information, intelligence information, you want it to be a secret because you want enough time -- you don't even need a lot. You need some time to be able to action it. And I expect that's why American and Pakistani officials now are trying to put the kibosh on this story, too.

BLITZER: Because you don't want the bad guys to know that someone is under arrest, so that they -- they can't take preemptive steps to -- to make sure that anything he knows might be -- might be useless.

But let's say they would have captured him and one day they do capture him.

What would the Pakistanis, after they interrogated him, what, would they give him to the United States?

What would they do? TOWNSEND: Well, you know, Wolf, it's a real question. Typically what happens is the Americans ask can participate in an interrogation of someone of interest to them. And the Pakistanis may or may not permit that.

But this brings into question all of the issues that we saw in the wake of the Christmas Day attempted bombing. Remember, in the hearings, Admiral Blair, the director of National Intelligence, was asked a question what -- about the -- the high value detainee interrogation group -- that group that this -- the new administration set up and that is centered over at the FBI.

The question -- and Admiral Blair said, we intend, when we capture somebody overseas. Well, but he also went on to say that it hadn't been -- that policy had not yet been implemented.

Well, we don't know yet, Wolf, whether or not it's been implemented. And so if there was somebody caught overseas, are they in a position to actually have that team deploy overseas and participate in such an interrogation?

And then, of course, there are all the related questions of would they treat him as an intelligence and national security individual and not worry about Miranda and criminal process or would they presume him to be -- we don't know the answers to those questions. And, frankly, the administration has not been forthcoming with the details of how they'll make those decisions.

BLITZER: What is abundantly clear -- at least I've been told by high-ranking U.S. officials -- is the Pakistanis -- not only the government, but the military, the intelligence community -- they're cooperating with the U.S. much more effectively now than they did in the past. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

Thanks very much for that, Fran.

Assessing America's first black president -- words of advice from a woman who lived through apartheid in South Africa. We'll speak exclusively with Winnie Mandela.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Dramatic pictures coming in from Oklahoma right now. Some severe weather.

What do we know -- Lisa?

SYLVESTER: We're monitoring the situation and we have some pictures that we can share with you coming from Elk City, Oklahoma. Severe weather and what appears to be a funnel cloud. This video coming in from our affiliate, KWTV. Police are telling us in Elk City that it has passed through the area there with no damage. But it is heading to Rogers, Mills County in Western Oklahoma. Police are obviously advising people to take cover -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this story, as well, out in Oklahoma.

Lisa, thank you.

Reading Sarah Palin's palms -- her crib note controversy is back and Jeanne Moos is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The handwriting is on the wall or in the hand, in the case of former Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. And she says she's hand in hand with God.

Our Jeanne Moos is hands down with this most unusual story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): We swear to God, God has now gotten into the Sarah Palin writing on her hand brouhaha.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY MEDIAITE.COM)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, if it was good enough for God, scribbling on the palm of his hand, it's good enough for -- for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): Just when we thought we'd washed our hands of this controversy, it's back.

(voice-over): Remember how she was ceaselessly mocked by others writing on their hands?

"Paper isn't expensive." And even writing on their feet -- or did you forget that, too?

Even the White House press secretary evoked groans...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: -- for mocking Palin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY YOUTUBE)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I wrote eggs, milk and bread.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And he was mocked in turn, having all his ums edited together.

(VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: And now some are saying even God writes on his hands. It's in the bible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY MEDIAITE.COM)

PALIN: Then somebody sent me, the other day, Isaiah 49:16.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): Yet, will I not forget the east. Behold, I have engraved thee on the palms of my hand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY MEDIAITE.COM)

PALIN: I'm like, OK I'm in good company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Though some still joked about exactly what God had written on his palm. It said, "Memo to self -- no more Sarah Palins."

Of course, Palin herself has joined in the fun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TODAY SHOW," COURTESY NBC) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not using cue cards tonight, Jay.

JAY LENO, HOST: Well, what are we using?

PALIN: Hey, Jay, we're going old school tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Palin's palm reading even made it into a campaign commercial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM DONN JANES CAMPAIGN AD)

DONN JANES, TN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: My name is Donn Janes and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Janes is a Tea Party independent running for Congress from Tennessee who was inspired by Palin to come up with words for what's missing in Washington.

JANES: We kind of threw it together in a day. And it was kind of a done on the cheap. It cost me less than $20 to do the -- the video.

MOOS: Bill Maher went from ridiculing that ad to his own hand- me-downs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER," COURTESY HBO)

BILL MAHER, HOST: Heidi Montag as... (LAUGHTER)

MAHER: Oh, Tiger Woods as Heidi...

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: Oh, Amy White House.

What does she have written on -- all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And now the right is highlighting a Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, who had notes on her hand during a 1990 debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was violating the debate rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But at least now Sarah Palin isn't looking down.

PALIN: We've got to start reining in the spending.

MOOS: She's looking up.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And happening now, President Obama comes out swinging in the fight for health care reform.

This hour, is he going after a couple of easy targets and will it get him closer to victory?