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U.S. Orders New Training after Hospital Attack; U.S. and Russia Square Off Over Syria; New Evacuations Possible Amid Historic Floods. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 6, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, illegal strike. The U.S. is accused of a car crime for the deadly airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan. The Pentagon admits a mistake, pledges a thorough investigation, and orders new training for troops. But after 14 years of war in Afghanistan, aren't there already rules of engagement there?

Hostile skies, Russian airstrikes in Syria not aimed at ISIS bring new calls for a no-fly zone. Will that lead to a showdown between Washington and Moscow?

Rising rivers. More dams are at risk in South Carolina, where there are now fears the flooding will even get worse. As the death toll climbs, residents are warned the situation remain very dangerous.

And eye of the storm. A ship with 33 crew members aboard, including 28 Americans, disappears in the middle of a hurricane. Searchers find a massive debris field. Can they still find any survivors?

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

Already, facing a bloody upsurge by the Taliban, the United States is now accused of a war crime after a deadly airstrike on a hospital. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan was up on Capitol Hill today to address concerns about the way the war's going. General John Campbell says the airstrike was a mistake, and he's ordered new training to prevent future incidents. But he also hints the U.S. may need to keep more troops in Afghanistan for a longer period of time.

Russia, meanwhile, is stepping up its air war in Syria. And there are new signs it may be preparing for action on the ground, not against ISIS, but to prop up the Syrian regime. As tensions mount between Moscow and the west, President Obama's now under greater pressure to come up with some new options.

I'll speak with Senator Cory Gardner of the Foreign Relations Committee, and our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the fallout from that deadly U.S. airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has the latest -- Barbara.


A short time ago, Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a statement expressing deep regret for the attack against the hospital but not yet a full blown apology.

General Campbell, the top U.S. commander, on Capitol Hill today, saying it was a mistake. But there have been conflicting reports about what happened at the hospital. Listen to a bit more of what General Campbell had to say.


GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: On Saturday morning our forces provided close air support to Afghan forces at their request. To be clear, the decision to provide aerial fires was a U.S. decision made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.


STARR: But, Doctors Without Borders -- and you talked to them earlier today, Wolf, you know this. Doctors Without Borders, who runs that hospital, says they do not buy it, that they had warned the U.S. of their exact location for months. When the attack started, it lasted 30 minutes. They called up. They tried to get the strike called off. But it went on for some time.

All of this coming, as Campbell is also facing questions about the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. Most of the 10,000 troops scheduled to come home at the end of next year.

General Campbell now raising the very real possibility, because of the overall security situation -- the Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS are on the rise in Afghanistan -- that some U.S. troops will be staying longer.

BLITZER: Do they really believe over there at the Pentagon if the U.S., let's say, were to keep 5,000 troops in Afghanistan in the long run that would make a difference, given the less than perfect performance of the Afghan military and police?

STARR: Well, the hope is that at least that would give them the capability to continue with some of the training, advising and assisting. But there is also some very quiet discussion, could they get more NATO countries to offer up some troops? That politically may be very difficult for those allies to do that. Not ideal. But well aware that, certainly, President Obama, Congress, not really likely to authorize a substantial increase in the U.S. presence.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

Russia is stepping up its air campaign in Syria right now. But ISIS doesn't seem to be the main target. That comes amid concern that Russian troops had heavy weapons, will also be used to protect the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Let's go to our White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, are Russia

and the U.S. now headed for some sort of showdown over Syria?

[17:05:03] JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It sure seems that way, Wolf. The White House is left with few options as Russia is escalating its military campaign inside Syria. The administration is warning Moscow that it's making a big mistake in its intervention in Syria. But the president appears to be unable to stop it.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Both the U.S. and NATO are pointing to mounting evidence that Russia is all in in Syria. Top officials say Moscow has deployed ground forces into Syria and has once again violated the airspace of a NATO partner, Turkey, to carry out airstrikes.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: I'm also concerned that Russia is not targeting ISIL but instead attacking the Syrian opposition and civilians.

ACOSTA: The war of words is ramping up, as well. U.S. officials are furious that Russian bombers appear to be hitting Syrian opposition groups backed by the CIA. Moscow, emphatically claims it's targeting ISIS. The White House is accusing Russia of trying to shift the balance of power in Syria, repeatedly striking outside ISIS and Syrian government-controlled areas and into rebel territory.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think President Putin is playing chess. He's playing checkers.

ACOSTA (on camera): At what point does the president say to Vladimir Putin, "Cut it out"?

EARNEST: Well, I think the president has made quite clear that Russia should not be interfering with the 65-member international coalition that is seeking to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Moscow says it's agreed for another round of military-to-military talks with the U.S., like the one shown here on Russian television, to avoid any accidents. But it will be tough for both sides to come off hardening positions.

ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: This approach is tantamount to pouring gasoline on the fire of the Syrian civil war.

ACOSTA: President Obama, who's told his team he will continue to support the Syrian opposition, is coming under criticism from all sides, including his 2008 rivals, Hillary Clinton...

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should be putting together a coalition to support a no-fly zone because I -- and look, I think it's complicated, and the Russians would have to be part of it.

ACOSTA: ... and John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I should definitely think we should have more boots on the ground. Not a lot, but we better do something.

ACOSTA: But as the president told veteran groups seen here in this little-known White House video, he's adamant he's not launching new wars.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, if I was taking sadder advice of members of Congress, we'd be in seven wars at a time. I'm not exaggerating.


ACOSTA: Just last week, President Putin said he was ruling out the use of ground troops in Syria. Now the Kremlin is saying a, quote, volunteer force may soon be fighting there. The White House once again denounced those moves and where Moscow is heading into a quagmire, Wolf. As for Hillary Clinton's call for a no-fly zone, the White House has repeatedly said the president does not favor that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

Let's talk about Afghanistan, bombing of that Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz city killing a lot of people, medical personnel, patients, even children. The executive director of the Doctors Without Borders organization, Jason Cone, told me earlier today they consider this to be a war crime. Do you?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Again, this is under investigation. We have three concurrent, separate investigations taking place. We have an investigation by the Department of Defense, and this is a tragedy. It is a tragic accident, as the secretary of defense has stated today. It needs to be investigated by the United States. It's going to be investigated by Afghanistan government and investigated by NATO. And so all three concurrent investigations are taking place. And we should wait and see before we do anything else to make sure we have the results of the investigations.

BLITZER: Doctors Without Borders, Jason Cone told me, that's not enough. You need an outside independent investigation and international investigation, as well. Should the U.S. cooperate with an outside panel?

GARDNER: Well, the U.S. is cooperating.

Outside of NATO. NATO's directly involved.

We need to complete the Department of Defense investigation, and we'll cooperate with the NATO and the Afghanistan investigations.

BLITZER: What if there's a United Nations investigation? Would that be appropriate for the U.S. to cooperate with an international investigation outside those who are already inside?

GARDNER: Well, I'd be interested to see the results on the United Nations' investigation of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

So let's complete the investigations by the Department of Defense. Let's complete -- by NATO and Afghanistan, which we support, which we will be fully transparent and which we will hold people accountable as appropriate, like the secretary of defense said today. This is truly tragic. And there's -- again, we have to find the result of this investigation.

BLITZER: Doctors Without Borders said they repeatedly provided to NATO, to the U.S., to the Afghan military, the coordinates where this hospital, the only hospital in Kunduz city, was located, including within a day or two just before this attack. Whoever was responsible for this attack, should they be held accountable and punished?

[17:10:02] GARDNER: Well, the secretary of defense has said there will be people held accountable for this. But that can only happen after we have a thorough investigation, a complete investigation to find out what happened.

General Campbell testified today before the Armed Services Committee. He talked about the retraining that will take place on rules of engagement, and I think that's something that's very critical. You know, a number of things have happened over various theaters, whether it's somebody who has created an incident accidentally -- whether it was a car accident, whether it's a property accident, involving property, retraining occurs regularly.

BLITZER: You know, this is what's shocking to me, and correct me if I'm wrong. When you say retraining occurs routinely, for 14 years, this is the longest war in U.S. history, 14 years since October 7, tomorrow, 2001, exactly 14 years, the U.S. has been engaged in combat and Afghanistan. And all of a sudden the U.S. needs to retrain troops about appropriate engagement rules, rules of engagement, as they're called? It sounds pretty shocking that the U.S. has to do this at this late stage.

GARDNER: Well, again, retraining on a variety of missions has occurred over the past several years. But the fact is this: this is the first year that our train, advise, assist program has been in place, completely giving it to the Afghan security forces. And so this is a new year in terms of what the role of the Afghan forces is going to be and how the United States is going to work with them, the Special Forces at work.

That's why we will have this investigation, find out what happened.

But the bottom line is this: this highlights even more the decision by the White House on what they are going to do with troop levels. As the Taliban become more and more emboldened to take action against Afghan security forces that may or may not be up to the pace that they have to be in order to defend, protect the country, it is going to be more and more of a challenge for us, and that's why I'm concerned about the troop levels. BLITZER: Because the president wants almost all U.S. troops out by

the end of next year. Now there are reports maybe 5,000 should remain. You want those troops to remain in Afghanistan?

GARDNER: I don't think we can decide a withdrawal based on a political time frame. That's what we saw in Iraq. This past March I was in Afghanistan. I visited with President Ghani. I was in Iraq. I talked to Abadi. But the question is this: we have to not adhere to a political time frame...

BLITZER: But do you want troops to remain in Afghanistan?

GARDNER: I think we have to have troops remain in Afghanistan to make sure that we are completing our train, advise and assist role and to make sure that we don't have the implosion that we saw in Iraq.

When we had a political withdrawal, to meet a political promise on a political time frame in Iraq, we saw what happened. We cannot allow the same thing to happen in Afghanistan.

I have spoken to General Campbell in Kabul who has expressed concern, today before the Armed Services Committee and in Afghanistan, that we do not create a critical withdrawal of troops that result in a catastrophe in Afghanistan. And remember, if we had a policy -- a foreign relations policy from this president that actually was about leading instead of following, we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.

BLITZER: I want to get on, I want to talk about Syria, the no-fly zone that's now being proposed. But that train and equip program in Afghanistan, the U.S. still has 10,000 troops there, another 4,000 NATO troops, not necessarily working so well in the fifth largest city in Afghanistan in Kunduz City, where some Taliban guys come in and all these Afghan troops run away.

GARDNER: I think you know that the Taliban are reading the news, just as we are, about the president's decision to withdraw by the end of 2016.

BLITZER: There's still 10,000 troops.

GARDNER: I think you see that they want to withdraw down to 5,000. They know what this president's plan is to do, and it's to leave Afghanistan. I don't think that's appropriate in terms of the train, advise, assist force. And we cannot create the same vacuum that we created in Iraq. This president has an opportunity to lead. Let's make sure that we avoid the mistakes of the past, that we learn from the past.

BLITZER: I hear what you're saying, Senator, but it's sort of very depressing after 14 years, tens of billions of dollars the U.S. has spent training these Afghan military personnel, police, they still are not capable of keeping peace, fighting the Taliban. They still need U.S. troops there after 14 years.

GARDNER: This is the first year the Afghan forces been in the fighting roles without the U.S. actively fighting with them. They're completely in the train, advice, assist mode.

BLITZER: We're going to have more. I want to talk about Syria, what's going on over there. It's not a pretty picture either. Much more with Senator Cory Gardner right after this.


[17:19:02] BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here with Senator Cory Gardner. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, would you support a no-fly zone, a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone in Syria?

GARDNER: To address a number of problems, I think that's the direction that we ultimately will be going to provide protection to the people of Syria.

BLITZER: What if the Russians say, "We're not complying with that no- fly zone. We have our own missions. We're going against terrorist targets, whether ISIS or those who are fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad"? What happens then?

GARDNER: I think you just brought up a very good point. That Russia now firmly owns the actions of the Assad regime. They have targeted rebels, Syrian rebels that we have trained. And the next barrel bomb that is dropped out of a helicopter, that will be on the laps -- in the laps of the Russians as they prop up the murderous Assad regime.

But I think the coalition, the allies involved need to make it very clear that this no-fly zone, this humanitarian zone is an important element going forward. We won't take a backseat to Russia in the Middle East. We won't take a backseat to Russia in Syria as they prop up a murderous regime.

BLITZER: But what happens if the Russians say, "We're not going to comply with this U.S.- or NATO-imposed or whatever it is, whatever kind of imposed no-fly zone"? Does that set the stage for a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia?

[17:20:11] GARDNER: Again, it goes back to why we're here in the first place, the fact that we've had a policy of leading from behind that allowed Russia to be there in the first place. That potential conflict is now there, because we have an administration that has failed to fill in the vacuum in Syria, allowing a vacuum that allowed...

BLITZER: The Russians are deeply involved now, not only in airstrikes; they're sending in troops; they're sending in weapons, tanks. They're trying to prop up the regime of President Bashar al- Assad.

GARDNER: Absolutely they are. And that's why they now own the actions of the Assad regime. And people question whether or not they have -- whether they're targeting ISIS. Let's be clear about what they've done. Nineteen of the airstrikes they have done, 17 of them have targeted

areas that were held by rebels, as well, Syrian rebels, some of which we have trained. And so 17 of the 19 targeted areas that had rebels that were also fighting ISIS. Only two of them targeted ISIS-only areas.

BLITZER: Let's talk about North Korea while I have you for a moment, because a lot of us are deeply concerned about what potentially could happen there on October 10. That's only a few days from now. Give the time change, October 9 here in the United States. It's the 70th anniversary of the founding of the so-called Workers Party in North Korea. And normally, on a day like that, they do something explosive, potentially like launch some sort of missile. What are you hearing?

GARDNER: That's exactly what we're hearing. In fact, if you look at the arc of foreign policy of this administration, there's failure on every front. Crimea, Syria, and now North Korea. The administration's policy of strategic patience has been a strategic failure.

And we're just a few days away from what we assume will be some kind of a rocket launch. They'll say they're launching a satellite, but the bottom line, it's the same kind of technology that's used to launch a -- what will be a ballistic missile. And they're going to do it despite numerous sanctions against them.

Strategic patience has allowed them to develop 20 nuclear warheads. In five years we anticipate the North Korean regime to possess 100 nuclear warheads. Our policy is a failure, and we need something different. And that's why myself, along with Senator Rubio, Senator Risch, have introduced a sanctions regime that will mandate sanctions, force the president to deal with Congress, put in place cyber- protections and make sure that we are protecting human rights against the atrocious acts of the Kim Jong-un regime.

BLITZER: But the regime is already under enormous sanctions from the U.S. and the international community. What additional sanctions are you proposing that could have an impact?

GARDNER: Well, these are more passive sanctions. Unfortunately, what's happening right now, the strategic patience policy has allowed the administration to cherry-pick sanctions, including a couple last week extended sanctions against two proliferators.

What our legislation calls for is mandatory sanctions unless the administration comes to us securing national security wavers and gives an excuse to Congress about why there should be an exemption. This is sanctioning against proliferation activities, weapons of mass destruction. This puts in place a policy the United States will use to respond to North Korean cyber-activity.

North Korea views their cyber capability as an asymmetric tool against South Korea, against the United States. They've been developing their ballistic missile program. It's been indigenized, meaning they can produce it there within North Korea, not relying on outside technical capabilities. Our policy has failed. We need to recognize that. We need something new. And our legislation will do that.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens on Friday, October 9 here in the United States, October 10 already in North Korea. We're all bracing for some sort of North Korean move. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

GARDNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Coming up, we'll have the latest on South Carolina's flooding emergency. Major highways, rail lines, they're blocked. More dams are threatened. New evacuations may be ordered.

Also, startling revelations from the mother of that gunman in a mass shooting at an Oregon college.


BLITZER: South Carolina officials are preparing shelters and are ready to order new evacuations as floodwaters pour across the state, threatening to breach more dams. Fourteen people in South Carolina, two in North Carolina, have died as a result of these unprecedented rains and flooding.

We're standing by to speak with South Carolina congressman James Clyburn. His district has been hit very hard by a lot of this flooding.

But first, CNN's Boris Sanchez has the very latest from South Carolina.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the aftermath of what's described as a once in 1,000 years flood, crews are moving fast to try and repair devastated South Carolina. A massive rebuilding effort that could cost more than a billion dollars.

And residents are still not in the clear. Flood waters overwhelming dams near Charleston, as officials cautiously eye rivers still pushing the water toward the coast. Though the storm itself has passed, more evacuations are expected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see where the water is covering over that road right there, and that cars are still trying to go through it.

SANCHEZ: While some roads are starting to reopen, many are still shut down, including a major section of I-95. About 80 miles of the busiest highway in the state remain desolate, lanes usually packed with traffic now empty, with transportation officials inspecting overpasses and bridges for safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like to get it open as fast as we can, but like I said, we want to make sure it's safe before we let the motoring public get back on.

SANCHEZ: Highway patrol says the cost in lost commerce is immense, and getting it reopened will not be easy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people taking a part in this, and we want to make sure it's safe but it's definitely a task.

SANCHEZ: Governor Nikki Haley warning residents to not take risks.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: People are starting to go around barriers. This is not safe. We are doing this to protect you.

SANCHEZ: While the waters recede and the authorities calculate the financial toll, the loss of life is staggering. As crews get to areas previously under water, they fear the death toll could rise.

HALEY: What I saw was disturbing. And it is hard to look at the loss that we are going to have. But everything will be OK.

SANCHEZ: Boris Sanchez, CNN, Manning, South Carolina.


BLITZER: With us now, Democratic Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. His district includes many of these areas affected by the floods.

Congressman, thanks very for joining us. Have you spoken with President Obama or Vice President Biden, for that matter, in the aftermath of these historic floods?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: No, I have not. Our offices and staffs have been in touch, but I have not spoken with them personally.

I want to thank President Obama, though. Governor Haley issued a verbal request two days ago, and within one day President Obama responded, positively. And I spoke a couple of hours ago with Secretary Johnson, Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security. And he is coming here on Friday morning. We've talked about the various forms of disaster relief that can be gotten for people.

I notice that your reporter was in Manning. That's Clarendon County. That's one of the counties that's been approved for public assistance but has not been approved for individual assistance. But it was very hard hit. And it may be because county officials aren't used to this kind of stuff, and therefore, I don't think they've done the paperwork that needs to be done.

So my staff is working with them now, trying to make sure that the paperwork gets in so that the individuals in these counties can get the kind of relief that they need.

There are two other counties like that, Berkeley and my home county of Sumter. So we're working with all three of them. So by the time the secretary gets here on Friday, we want to be able to present him with these written requests.

BLITZER: We've heard, Congressman, this could be a billion dollars, maybe even a whole lot more to repair, to restore some normality. First of all, you ever seen anything like this in your state of South Carolina before?

CLYBURN: No, I was here for Hugo. I remember, as a child, Diane. I remember Hazel. Nothing like this. Hugo was nothing like this for South Carolina. We had a lot of vegetation torn up, farming, trees.

But we are talking about dams, about 10 to 12 of them. We're talking about 14 lives have been lost. Nothing like that happened with any disasters that I've experienced in my 75 years.

BLITZER: What kind of estimates in terms of damage, the cost, how much money do you think you're going to need?

CLYBURN: Oh, a billion dollars will only get us started. Because I can tell you, when you're washing away these earthen dams, we've got to start mitigation. I've instructed my staff that do good for disaster relief, both on the public side and the private side.

But let's stop talking about mitigation. What we need to do to restore the dams, repair the bridges, we're getting a good lesson in why we ought not ever vote against relief for other communities.

I remember having the argument with some of my colleagues when Sandy struck New Jersey and New York, and they're voting against disaster relief for those people. Now it's our turn in the barrel, and I would hope those representatives do not hold that against us, because we're going to be taking some pretty big requests for assistance from the federal government.

BLITZER: You voted, I take it, for that -- that relief for Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York, right?

CLYBURN: Absolutely. I always vote for this kind of relief for the communities.

BLITZER: I asked the question -- I asked the question, Congressman, because yesterday I spoke with your senator, Lindsey Graham. He opposed, he voted against relief at that time. But he's seeking support for financial assistance from the federal government for South Carolina right now. And I wonder if you think there's going to be enough votes in the Senate and the House to pass this kind of legislation.

[17:35:04] CLYBURN: Well, I sure enough hope so. And I hope this is a real good lesson for all of us.

We cannot -- as I said to someone earlier, this may be a natural disaster, but this is an unnatural condition for our constituents to be in. And so, we have to remember, we saw Katrina down in Louisiana, Mississippi. We see -- saw Sandy in New York and New Jersey. We now have, whatever name we want to put on this, everybody gets their turn in the barrel. And so we ought not ever deny assistance to communities, because we never know when our number's coming up. It just came up. And I would hope that nobody holds it against us.

BLITZER: One final question. Your family, your house, your friends, are they OK?

CLYBURN: My family's OK. My house in Orangeburg County, where I was when the rain started, suffered significant damage. We left there on Sunday evening, and I hope it's still there when we return.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you, Congressman. Good luck to all the folks in South Carolina right now.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We know you're going through a really difficult period. Appreciate you joining us.


BLITZER: Coming up, newly-revealed Internet postings from the mother of the Oregon college gunman. They reveal his knowledge of firearms and his mental disorder.

And later, the mystery disappearance of a ship carrying more than two dozen Americans. What did it -- why did it stay in the path of a major hurricane?


[17:41:26] BLITZER: We're following new revelations about the gunman who killed nine people at an Oregon college before taking his own life. Online posts attributed to his mother indicate she kept numerous firearms in her home, and her son was familiar with those firearms. Her writings also revealed both she and her son struggled with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

Let's bring in our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes; our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin -- he's a former federal prosecutor; and Dr. Lisa Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist.

Are there resources available to parents? Let's assume they believe something is really wrong with an adult child and there are weapons around. What can they do?

DR. LISA VAN SUSTEREN, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: Well, not a lot, frankly, unless they're very sophisticated and have a lot of money, typically. Sometimes social services are there for them. But oftentimes, these are not available to them.

And frankly, the real question is, that though they may be there, try getting people in to actually take those services seriously and benefit from them. That's the real crux of the issue.

BLITZER: Are there legal ways to deal with this, Tom? Because it's clearly a problem. We haven't just seen it in Oregon but elsewhere, as well. TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT: Now, we've had so many parents

complain about how difficult it is to get help with a child but that once a child becomes an adult, there's little, if anything, they can do. They can't access the medical records. They can't really have them committed. They can't make them take their medication if they're assigned to it. Now, that's one issue.

Second issue, leave 14 guns laying around, that's a different story.

But the issue of what a parent can do, getting medical or mental health services to a child is a very difficult situation.

BLITZER: Legally speaking, if you have an adult child, who's got mental issues, serious mental issues, serious problems, with 14 guns in the house, is that parent potentially legally liable for criminal action as a result of what takes place?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Almost certainly not. You know, the legal system has enough difficulty reconstructing what happened in the past. But we really don't hold people responsible for predicting in the future general harm to the world.

Obviously, you know, common sense should reign here. These people shouldn't have access to guns. They shouldn't be able to buy them. They shouldn't have been around. Parents should keep them away.

But as a legal matter, it was legal, apparently, to have these guns in the home. This person was not under any direct supervision or requirement not to have access to guns. So legally, I don't think there's anything here.

VAN SUSTEREN: There is this concept, though, of assisted outpatient treatment, and in fact, all but five states in the U.S. do have a requirement that those people who are thought to be dangerous to themselves or others and in need of treatment can be required to undergo treatment. Now it's often not put into -- put to use, but nonetheless, there are those laws in place.

BLITZER: And it's always difficult, Tom, for any parent to go to law enforcement, the FBI, or local law enforcement, state law enforcement, and say, "You know what? I think we have a problem with my son or daughter," for that matter. Usually, it's a son.

FUENTES: Well, again, as Lisa mentioned, how would they be able to say he's going to commit a murder if they don't see the postings, if they don't hear that from...

BLITZER: There are indications of potential violence.

FUENTES: Well, there's indications of problems, but to what extent? And that's where the difficulty comes. A parent in denial.

BLITZER: You wanted to weigh in?

VAN SUSTEREN: I was going to say, yes. Parents don't want to think of their children as being violent, and it sounds like this mother may have been hiding the fact that he was violent in a larger sense, maybe -- and my words may sound hollow -- but it might even be that she was trying to connect with him in his violence by participating in gun buying and maybe even taking him to target practice so he'd focus on inanimate objects. So parents, we're expecting them to have an emotional intelligence that they just may not have so they do very tragic things that contribute to the violence.

BLITZER: They say Asperger's is what they call a neurodevelopment disorder. There's no scientific evidence showing Asperger's has any greater tendency towards violence than average people.

VAN SUSTEREN: The important thing is that we don't have a diagnosis about this woman. It's tossed around and diagnoses are thrown around. The real issue, and this is what we have to look at is, more guns, more violence. The states with stricter gun laws have a lower incidence of violence. When you have kids like this who seem to have a diminished sense of empathy, who seem to have very little self- control, who have an aggressive demeanor, dressing in combat, et cetera, clearly these are people who should not be allowed to have guns in their hands.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And putting aside the legal issue, the moral issue of simply saying, you know what, I'm going to put these guns in a suitcase and put them in a different house because I'm uncomfortable with my son around these sorts of guns. That is probably not a legal obligation we can impose on people. But just as a sense of common decency. God knows it would have been the right thing to do here.

BLITZER: Common sense.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: But the problem is, as she put in her postings, my guns are loaded, my magazines are loaded, I'm ready for the unwanted visitor, and you know, there are going to be -- you know, this kind of threatening thing. She was not about to give those guns away or put them somewhere else or lock them up.

TOOBIN: And we know what happened.

FUENTES: And we know what happened.

BLITZER: And apparently, this young man had no friends, was totally isolated, was close with his mother. They were sitting in this house, she obviously had major issues, apparently, if you believe all these postings. And there were 14 weapons there in the house.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes. Well, this is the point is that we are assuming that parents are going to be full of common sense and looking out for society and protecting their children well. And the fact is that we can't count on that and that's why we have to have what I think most of us feel is a more rigorous attempt to keep these guns out of their hands to begin with.

TOOBIN: The factual parallels, particularly to Sandy Hook and the killer there, are just so chilling and so extraordinary. Another circumstance where nobody did anything in advance, and legally, nothing was done or could have been done.

FUENTES: And a mother who's trying to bond with her son and take him to the range, she's the first person he kills. So he was his first victim before he even went to the school.

TOOBIN: In Sandy Hook. Yes.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks. Lots of lessons. We've got to learn from this. And hopefully we'll learn those lessons. Thanks very much.

Coming up, new clues in the mystery disappearance of a ship that sailed into a hurricane with more than two dozen Americans on board.


[17:52:26] BLITZER: Cargo ship with 33 people on board, 28 of them Americans, disappeared in the middle of Hurricane Joaquin. Searchers have found a massive debris field, but can they still find any survivors?

CNN's Rene Marsh is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What are you finding out? What are they saying?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, although the Coast Guard is saying that this ship most likely sank to the bottom of the ocean, we do know that this search for survivors is actively still under way. We also know that families are holding on to hope that there are actually survivors. So far we know they have found a damaged lifeboat, life jackets, cargo containers and one body, but the 32 other people still unaccounted for.

Of course, we know that the ship, it lost power, they lost propulsion, and it was simply no match for those 50-foot waves as well as 140- mile-per-hour winds.

BLITZER: Yes. This was a category 4, even a category 5 hurricane, Joaquin. Do we know why this -- the pilot, the captain attempted to go through this hurricane at that time?

MARSH: Well, we've heard from the owner of this cargo ship. And this person essentially says that the captain had this plan, a plan to go around this storm, go around the hurricane. But when that propulsion system failed, the ship was essentially out there and at the mercy of the elements. It was being tossed around. And just -- they simply did not stand a chance.

We do know that on board these ships, there is equipment to send them up-to-date weather conditions, specifically coming from NOAA. So they should have known what the weather conditions were. We know that at 5:00 p.m. last Tuesday, according to our own CNN weather unit, that the forecast showed that this was going to change to a hurricane- strength storm, and it would be in the same area as the path of this ship. And we know that three hours later, despite that forecast, the ship did leave, according to So part of the investigation is going to be into the decision-making

process. How much information did they have about the weather conditions and who was a part of the decision-making process to go ahead anyway?

BLITZER: And we know the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, is on the scene. This investigation will take a while. Let's hope they find some of these people and some survivors.

Rene, thanks very much.

Coming up, Russian airstrikes in Syria not aimed at ISIS, bringing new calls for a no-fly zone, but with Russian boots on the ground, should the U.S. put its own troops in Syria?

I'll ask Senator John McCain. He's standing by live.



BLITZER: A war crime, a deadly U.S. airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan condemned by an aid group as an inexcusable violation of international humanitarian law.

And up on Capitol Hill, the commander in charge gets grilled by lawmakers. I'll talk to the senator who led that hearing, John McCain.

Alliance of evil? Russia's rapid military build-up in Syria shines a spotlight on Vladimir Putin's alliance with that country's ruthless dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Why is Putin coming to his aid now and what does he hope to get out of their complex relationship?

Major breaches, multiple dams failing, as record flooding washes across South Carolina. The death toll from the disaster is climbing tonight amid growing fear floodwaters haven't yet peaked. I'll talk to the mayor of the state's capital.