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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Early Winter Storm Strikes South, Threatens Mid Atlantic

Aired December 4, 2002 - 22:00   ET

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

AARON BROWN, HOST: Good evening again, everyone. One of the things we look at tonight is how a moment, a second or two, can change your life forever. It's the kind of thing we tell our kids all the time. In one dumb moment you can ruin your whole life.
They roll their eyes. It's not their fault. It's genetic programming.

These are not the happenstance moments, the guy who goes to buy gas and ends up in the sniper's crosshairs. These are the moments when a decision is made. Not a contemplative decision, to be sure, but a decision.

Mostly, it seems we think of these as bad decisions and bad outcomes so they don't have to be. The motorist who sees an accident and in a moment who decides to stop and help, lives changed. The firefighter who rushes back into a building to rescue someone, a split second decision that may mean life or death for not just one, but two.

The moment we look at later tonight was not one of the good outcomes. It is the story of one punch thrown and the terrible consequences that are still felt a quarter of a century later. It's the story of Kermit Washington, once an outstanding basketball player, who will forever be known for a decision made in one split second. A decision to throw a punch that might have killed a man, but only cracked his skull.

Prisons are full of people who, in one stupid moment, made a wrong decision. Had Kermit Washington been on the street instead of in an arena, he may well have been one of them. One second, that's all. His story is one of many on the program tonight. The rest begin with "The Whip."

And tonight we begin in the southeast and the latest on a fierce, early winter storm. Jeff Flock in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Jeff, a headline, please.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF: Aaron, I am standing on a frozen freeway overpass in Charlotte. And the headline is that there are overpasses like this all across the southeast tonight. We'll be back in just a bit to show you what havoc the weather is wreaking tonight.

BROWN: Jeff, thank you.

To Baghdad now. Tough talk from the Iraqis this time. Nic Robertson is there for us this evening. So Nic, a headline from you.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, a significant sharpening of the rhetoric here. Iraq's vice president accusing the U.N. inspectors here of spying for the United States and for Israel. That coming just after they were accused of unnecessarily visiting a presidential palace -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, thank you.

To the White House next. The latest message directed at Iraq. Frank Buckley on duty tonight. Frank, a headline from you.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Aaron, today the president made it clear that he is unimpressed with Iraqi cooperation with inspectors. And the White House tonight is already preparing for December 8. That's when Iraq must provide a full accounting of its weapons programs. CNN has learned that tomorrow there will be a high- level meeting to discuss U.S. options.

BROWN: Frank, thank you. Going back to you shortly as well.

And we go south of Iraq now to Qatar. It's going to be an interesting few weeks there. Anderson Cooper there tonight. Anderson, a headline from you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron, Operation Internal Look is about to begin. It's a major U.S. military command and control exercise takinging place in this tiny Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. And sources say it will be a major test of U.S. readiness for war with Iraq.

BROWN: Anderson, thank you. Back to you and the rest shortly.

Also coming up on the program tonight, the question of whether we can protect commercial airliners from the missiles that might have brought down an Israeli jet last week. And maybe the key question: will we have the stomach to pay for it?

One crime and a stark reminder of one city's past. The central park jogger case, new evidence, a new confession, and the real possibilities that the original convictions will be overturned. Jeffrey Toobin has been reporting on this and Jeffrey joins us tonight.

And Castro, that most temperate of Cubans, tries to get his rum- loving country to kick the habit. Segment seven this evening. Full hour ahead.

We begin with the weather. We don't do that often. It's December and it's cold. News that is not. But what is news is how cold and where cold and what a mess it is already creating in a storm that is rolling through the south tonight, closing down airports from Atlanta to Cincinnati, is just getting rolling. We begin back in Charlotte, North Carolina and CNN's Jeff Flock. Jeff, good evening.

FLOCK: Aaron, good evening to you. I don't know if you can tell we're in something of a winter wonderland. It sort of looks like the fairies have been out and sprayed the glound with spun glass. In fact, what it is, is ice, and it has been falling from the sky for about 11 or 12 hours straight now in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I am kneeling now in the midst of this.

We've got pictures from all around the region. Places that certainly in the early part of December are not used to this sort of scene. Places like Raleigh, North Carolina, not too far from here, downtown to Atlanta and other locales, as we said, that typically in the first week or so of December are not seeing ice and snow. But that in fact is what is happening now.

We can report to you that in Charlotte alone here, between the hours of 12:00 and 2:30 today, we are told that there were 119 reports of traffic accidents. And all of this precipitation that has been falling all day they tell us will continue to fall all night as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How thick you got it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About a half inch thick right here on the guardrail itself.

FLOCK (voice-over): Tow truck driver Edgar Dellinger (ph) shows us the ice in Charlotte, just one snapshot from the storm.

(on camera): That's a lot of ice.

EDGAR DELLINGER: Oh, yes. And we're probably looking at three- quarters to an inch before the night's over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My life is more important than that job I'm working.

FLOCK (voice-over): A woman in Clarksville, Tennessee decides not to travel the ice-caked roads there. In Warren County, Kentucky, the driver of this propane truck should have made the same decision. He died when his rig flipped in the storm.

It all started further west. They're now working to restore power in Arkansas, lines down, weighted by the ice. As many as 37,000 without power at the worst in Oklahoma, where the panhandle got almost a foot of snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All student car drivers will be released. Again, be careful.

FLOCK: In Banks (ph) County, Georgia and parts of most other states, schools shut. In Charlotte, maybe a quarter of the flights cancelled at the airport. Travelers frustrated like just about everyone else in the path of this early winter storm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLOCK: And Aaron, the big fear is the electric power lines. This is just sort of a bush here, and this is ice on it and this is what happens on the power lines. And when you get enough ice on them, they tend to snap and fall down. That is the big concern in Charlotte, North Carolina tonight and across the region -- Aaron.

BROWN: And a big concern in much of the rest of the east is that the storm is moving north up the coast, right?

FLOCK: That's what they say. It is headed on that way. And, of course, they're more equipped perhaps to deal with it up your way, but it's not going to be pleasant either way.

BROWN: Jeff, it doesn't look pleasant there. Thank you very much. Jeff Flock in Charlotte, North Carolina tonight. Snow expected coming up the eastern seaboard by tomorrow.

Another travel story and a few others to mention as well as we get started. We start out with a huge setback for the nation's second largest airline. A federal panel rejected United Airline's request for nearly $2 billion in loan guarantees. The decision came as United was scrambling to cut costs in order to avoid a bankruptcy filing that may well be unavoidable now.

A different kind of financial decision from a very different group. The finance panel for the Boston Archdiocese voted to allow Chapter 11 reorganization. It had floated the idea of bankruptcy earlier this week as it continues settlement talks with victims in the priest sex abuse scandal. But church leaders said they have yet to make a final decision.

And an and update on the accused dirty bomber, Jose Padilla. Remember him? An American being held in a Navy brig. A federal judge ruled today that Padilla should be allowed to speak to a lawyer, but the judge also said the government does have the authority to hold people it says are enemy combatants, even if they are U.S. citizens.

On to Iraq and the inspectors and what's almost starting to feel like a diplomatic version of a courtroom fight. The White House acting as prosecutor trying to lay out the case that, despite what you hear from the U.N., Iraq is not really cooperating. Of course, this is a delicate dance.

The Bush administration has to be careful not to make the U.N. or the inspectors look like the enemy. That must be left for Iraq and Iraq alone. The president added some new arguments to his case today. And we'll have more on that in a moment, but first, how the inspections went. Once again, here's CNN's Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Numbered and tagged, rows of rusting chemical warfare equipment lie in a rotting warehouse. The site, al Muthana (ph), birthplace of Iraq's biowarfare program and heart of its chemical research and production in the 1980s, apparently left in ruin.

(on camera): What Gulf War bombing didn't destroy in 1991, U.N. weapons inspectors did in the mid 1990s, filling containers like this with cement and putting U.N. tags on them.

(voice-over): This day, chemical, biological and missile inspectors returned to review the site, spending five hours searching the sprawling desert complex 120 kilometers northwest of Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you happy with the cooperation you've received so far today?

ROBERTSON: Apparently getting good cooperation. An indication of that, getting a mobile crane into the site to move some containers. According to site officials, however, the chemical and biological warfare programs stopped a long time ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it stopped working at 1991 before the war.

ROBERTSON: The sheer scale of this site, 25 square kilometers, is an indication of Iraq's previous commitment to weapons of mass destruction. Now containers like these are put across the door to stop it continuing. In Baghdad, Iraqi officials upset about the presidential palace inspection the previous day, blaming the visit on pressure by the United States.

HASSAM AMIN, IRAQI NATIONAL MONITORING DIRECTORATE: We consider the entry of the presidential sites as unjustified and really unnecessary.

ROBERTSON: Inspectors, for their part, saying they feel caught in the middle.

DEMETRI PERRICOS, WEAPONS INSPECTOR: The Iraqi side would have liked us be very light. The U.S. side, as from what I hear from you, would like to us be extremely, you know, severe.

ROBERTSON: Hard to gauge what the inspectors were thinking when they left al Muthana (ph). It is, however, one less site to visit. And to the untrained eye, at least possibly one they won't be coming back to soon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Now, another 700 sites at least for the inspectors to visit, and that number will likely only climb when Iraq makes its weapons declarations this coming weekend -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, we ask this often, but we haven't asked it in a while. How is this phase being reported to the Iraqi people?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly perhaps a big clue to that came late last night, when the vice president here, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), when he was speaking to a group of a delegation coming from Egypt, he also spoke at the same time to Arab journalists, who were there in the meeting. He accused the inspectors of spying for Israel and spying for the United States. This is really a sharpening of the rhetoric here. It is getting some coverage on the television. It had sort of looked favorable for a while; however, the presidential palace issue, Iraq saying the weapons inspectors didn't need to visit, things are really now turning a corner here in Baghdad. There's of course a major Muslim holiday here today, so perhaps not a lot for the people to see on the TV about it. But it is, Aaron, looking as if it really toughening up, the verbal battle here.

BROWN: And do you get the feeling that the inspectors are telling us anything really, or are they just going along?

ROBERTSON: We don't get a lot of information, absolutely true. We're not on the site when the inspectors are there, we don't see the nitty-gritty of how they actually interact with the Iraqi officials. We're getting perhaps just the headlines from it.

I think the real truth, Aaron, is going to be what they put in their report to the U.N. We're just not getting concise insight into it at all.

BROWN: Nic, thank you. It is almost sun-up in Baghdad. The call of morning prayers going on behind you. We appreciate your work tonight, Nic Robertson. We'll have extensive coverage on the release of that compilation of Iraqi weapons, whatever it turns out to be, this weekend here on CNN.

We can imagine these or very busy times for those in the administration who have to orchestrate the message on Iraq. Very different notes being played for different audiences around the globe. And they all have to come together in something that at least approaches harmony.

That's going to be the task tomorrow night. A cabinet-level meeting to go over the options for how to respond when Iraq delivers its declaration of weapons this weekend. Today, meantime, the White House was trying to broaden its options by making some more strategic arguments against Iraq. Once again, CNN's Frank Buckley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUCKLEY (voice-over): So far, U.N. inspectors haven't been blocked. Iraq's cooperation, says Secretary General Kofi Annan, seems to be good. But President Bush does not exactly agree.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I agree with is that we've been doing this for five days, after 11 years of deception and deceit. The process is just beginning, and the world will determine soon whether or not Saddam Hussein is going to do what we've asked, which is in the name of peace fully disarm.

BUCKLEY: On December 8, Iraq must provide an accounting of its weapons programs. President Bush continues to say the signs are not encouraging.

BUSH: He wrote letters, stinging rebukes to what the U.N. did. He was very critical of the U.S. and Britain. That doesn't appear to be somebody who is that anxious to comply.

BUCKLEY: But as inspectors continue to gain access to sites, the head of Iraq's monitoring program says Iraq is fully cooperating, and inspection teams will show that the country is not concealing weapons of mass destruction.

AMIN (through translator): ... which will support the position of Iraq against any aggression by the American and British governments.

BUCKLEY: White House officials say the declaration will be just the beginning of a process of verification.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will wait until they make the formal declaration that is required by the United Nations Security Council. However, the last time the Iraqis said they had no weapons of mass destruction -- the last time the Iraqis said they had no weapons of mass destruction, they turned out to be liars.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCKLEY: U.S. White House officials clearly skeptical about what they're going to get on December 8. But officials tell us that, even if Iraq files what the U.S. considers to be a false declaration on December 8, that will not necessarily trigger immediate military action. In fact, the current thinking is that inspectors would still go back into Iraq over the course of three to four weeks after December 8, continue their inspections to try to prove that the declaration is false. That's when military action might be considered -- Aaron.

BROWN: Frank, thank you. Frank Buckley, at the White House tonight.

Still ahead on the program, are passenger jets, commercial jetliners, at risk for missile attacks? And what, if anything, can be done to make them safer? And up next, a look at what may be a prime launching pad for any attack should there be a war with Iraq. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BROWN)

BROWN: Al Jazeera, the Arab television network, said today that it had received a letter from Mullah Omar, the fugitive leader of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. The letter is said to criticize the United States for using its fight against terrorism as an excuse for waging war on Iraq. More than that, Mullah says, if it is in fact Mullah Omar writing, that the United States itself actually practices terrorism and supports it as well.

Mullah Omar disappeared, along with Osama bin Laden, shortly after the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan began. He supposedly sent the letter to mark the end of Ramada. The authenticity of the document impossible to confirm tonight. If there is a war with Iraq, a principal launching pad will almost certainly be Qatar. It is a thumb-shaped bit of a country that most of us thought was called Qatar until recently. Should war come, we'll all know how to pronounce it name. A great many U.S. soldiers already do. Anderson Cooper is there for us tonight -- Anderson, good evening.

COOPER: Good evening, Aaron. That is certainly true. I don't know of anyone who knew that it was actually called Qatar until a couple of days ago. But when I landed here, that's the first question I asked, and it is, in fact, Qatar, not Qatar.

So Qatar is a tiny country. It's basically the side of Connecticut, only about 700,000 people, only about 100,000 of them are actually natives of Qatar. It is a very small country, but is about to play a very big role in any possible military action with Iraq.

There is a lot going on here we do not know about. A lot of it is hidden, is classified. What we do know is that, in the next couple of days, CENTCOM is going to undertake an exercise called "internal look." It's not a traditional war game, with boots on the ground and large-scale military maneuvers. It's basically a command and control exercise, a computer war game, where General Tommy Franks, commander of CENTCOME, will be seeing how capable they are of running any possible military action against Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): These pictures released today by the U.S. Central Command are the first peeks of preparations for internal look. The still photos show some of the nearly 1,000 U.S. military personnel who, in the coming days, will take part in this vitally important command and control drill.

For the last several weeks, Central Command has been assembling a modular headquarters. The first outside the United States. Housed on a heavily guarded base called Alsalia (ph), the new mobile headquarters gives CENTCOM what it calls a flexibility its never had before.

While many in Qatar may be wary about getting too close to the United States, the ruler of this tiny oil and gas-rich emirate has decided he'll allow the U.S. military a presence, looking for security and an ally in his efforts to modernize the country. Qatar is also home to another U.S. based called Aludade (ph), used in the last year for transport and refueling aircraft operating in Afghanistan. Aludade's (ph) 15,000 foot runway, the longest in the region, means it can handle any aircraft the U.S. might want to use in a war with Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Aaron, those thousand troops began coming about a month ago. They've been setting up for this. The exercise is expected to begin in just a couple of days, sometime over the weekend. We're not sure of the exact start time, and it's anticipated to last about a week -- Aaron. BROWN: And just quickly, I know you've only been in country a short time, when you walk down the streets, do you see American soldiers or not?

COOPER: You really don't. I mean you do see some Americans with very short hair. You can you tell they're soldiers, but they keep a very, very low profile here. I mean there are several thousand U.S. soldiers in country right now, and you really would have no idea by just walking around downtown Doha.

The bases are very self-contained. And that's the way both the U.S. military wants it and government of Qatar.

BROWN: Anderson, thank you. Anderson Cooper in Qatar tonight.

A few stories from around the world, beginning with the Middle East. In an attack in Gaza, Israeli helicopters blasted a Gaza city building with missiles today. Suspected militant killed. Palestinian sources tell Reuters, the news agency, the man killed was a master bomb maker responsible for blowing up three Israeli tanks.

The impact of a sunken oil tanker that went down in November is still being felt off the coast of Spain. Portugal and France on high alert as well. Fisherman are trying to defend their coastline as slicks from the tanker Prestige spread further along Spain's northern coast towards France. It's estimated Prestige spilled 4.5 million gallons of oil when it sunk last month.

And a glimpse of today's total solar eclipse. "The most amazing 30 seconds of my life," one witness put it. Best viewing was over a remote Australian town of Sedona (ph), which had more than 25,000 visitors for the even. Isn't that something?

Still to come tonight, Fidel Castro wants to take on a new demon enemy. And up next, what, if anything, can be done to protect passenger jets from a missile attack? This is NEWSNIGHT from New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: A fair amount of thought has been given to the subject of protecting planes from being hijacked. Little nail clippers were banned for a time, cork screws still are. But all the tightened security inside won't do much good if a plane is hit by a shoulder- fired missile.

Now there are plenty of these missiles out there in the world. One almost hit an Israeli jet in Kenya. But should commercial airlines protect against them and can they? And would you be willing to pay the cost, which would be considerable. We begin with CNN's Charles Feldman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While cruising at 35,000 feet or so, commercial jetliners are sleek, graceful and immune from attack by shoulder-launched infrared missiles that lock in on the heated exhaust spit out from jet engines. But on takeoff or landing, when they are slow, clumsy, and low to the ground, commercial planes are highly vulnerable to such assault.

To deal with a shoulder-launched attack, there are various missile defense systems already available that might give the aircraft a fighting chance. But equipping all commercial planes with such systems would be very expensive.

BARRY SCHIFF, AIRLINE SAFETY CONSULTANT: One would be a warning system that would alert the pilot to the fact that a missile were approaching his aircraft.

FELDMAN: Flares or special chemicals can then be launched to try and deflect the heat seeking missile, techniques long used by some military aircraft. A more sophisticated approach, the matador analq- 204 (ph) infrared countermeasure system has already been installed on seven Gulf Stream business jets and is protecting 18 VIPs and heads of states in several countries.

While the White House won't say what protective devices are on board Air Force One, a Lockheed Martin Web page uses a picture of what appears to be the presidential 747 to help advertise the matador system, which generates a false heat trail to confuse infrared missiles. The system was recently acquired by another company.

A spokesman for Boeing, the giant commercial aircraft company, told CNN it just isn't rational even talking about such measures because it would signal a total break down in the public's confidence in commercial aviation. And then there is the cost. Millions of dollars per plane at a time when some airlines are nearly bankrupt.

(on camera): Perhaps the biggest problem retrofitting commercial jet liners with anti-missile systems is no one really knows how well they would work. Unlike fighter jets, which are highly maneuverable and built to withstand the severe stress of evasive maneuvers, passenger jets are designed for passenger comfort rather than combat duty.

Charles Feldman, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Pretty good job of explaining the range of the problem here. Joining us to talk more about what we can or should do to protect commercial jets from a missile attack, Charles Pena, a senior defense policy analyst Cato Institute. Thanks for joining us.

The airlines fought hard over the years to avoid having to fit or build up cockpit doors. I can't imagine they're going to be racing to put flares in the back of their planes.

CHARLES PENA, SENIOR DEFENSE POLICY ANALYST CATO INSTITUTE: The kinds of countermeasures explained in the earlier piece are very expensive, $1 million to $2 million per aircraft. I don't think the airlines, especially given their current state can afford to outfit their aircraft, even if that was a practical matter.

BROWN: Maybe I'm starting this conversation in a way backwards. I think maybe the first question really ought to be ought we do this? There are literally tens of thousands of these missiles out there. Nevertheless, is it something we should really consider doing?

PENA: Well, you know, quite frankly I think it's sort of a band- aid measure, an expensive one at that. There are literally thousands of these missiles out there. We're not quite sure how serious this threat is. Obviously it's a real threat as was recently demonstrated. But you know, you can only take so many defensive measures against all the potential threats. And if we let every little threat force us to build in expensive countermeasures, eventually we'll go broke defending against myriad possible terrorist threats.

The whole nature of terrorism is to find loopholes and weaknesses, and so this is one apparent loophole and weakness they don't have to deal with airline security. We're not talking about hijacking airliners. We're talking about shooting them down. I don't think it's a practical thing to consider outfitting commercial airliners with what amounts to military equipment.

BROWN: There's an interesting dilemma here for the airlines. On the one hand you want to instill in people, particularly Americans these days, that airlines are safe and it's okay to gets back on planes. And so you might say look at all we've done here. On the other hand the very notion that you're considering putting these things on airplanes scare daylights out of most of us.

PENA: It is sort of a catch 22 situation. You know, should the airlines do everything they possibly can to protect passengers? Certainly as a passenger you expect that. But I think there's a threshold of reasonableness that you have to put in place. Should we equip airlines with, you know, air-to-air missiles, for example, if we feel that there's a possible threat that be demands that. We can only do certain reasonable things to protect ourselves against terrorism. The fact of the matter is that as an open society, a free and open society, we're going to remain vulnerable to certain forms of terrorism, because terrorists will always find a way to exploit weaknesses and loopholes.

BROWN: And on the other hand, if god forbid a plane gets hit by one of these things, then what?

PENA: I mean, you can't expect the airlines are really in a position to actually take what I would call active countermeasures against this kind of threat. For starters, it with probably take at least a year if not several years to outfit the entire commercial airline fleet just here in the United States.

So even if we started this process, assuming it was something you wanted to try to do, you wouldn't be completely protected for at least say another year or two years. And even once these are all on airplanes, they aren't perfect. There's still a small chance, probably about 10 percent or so that a missile still might hit an aircraft. BROWN: Just very briefly, do you know in EL AL has fit its -- the Israeli airline has fit it's planes with this sort of device or these devices?

PENA: Actually, I don't. I don't know if any commercial airline carrier is using devices like this.

BROWN: Mr. Pena, it's interesting to kick around. Thanks for joining us tonight.

PENA: Thanks, Aaron.

BROWN; Still to come, the story of the punch and how it changed two lives.

And when a confession really isn't a confession. The story of the Central Park jogging case when we come back.

This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRONW: Next on NEWSNIGHT, when a confession is not a confession. Short break then we're right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Someone on our staff spotted Curtis Sliwa walking around New York City today. The founder of the Guardian Angels in full Guardian Angel attire, but now middle age and without his old mission. The runaway crime that created Sliwa and the tensions that crime led to are pretty much memories. At this point in new your.

That would be true of the Central Park jogger cases as well. A chapter in that New York story that we thought was over and done with. Except there's been a change since those bad years, that led us to revisit the cases here and around the country. A huge improvement in DNA science, that along with a new confession is right now rewriting the history of April the 19th, 1989.

Here's Jeffrey Toobin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (voice-over): Right from the start, the case offered powerful symbols. She was simply "the jogger," a young woman out for a run alone at night in Central Park. A 28-year-old professional, a symbol of all that was right and hopeful about a city. They symbolized something else -- fear, terror, urban predators the worst of the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my first rape.

TOOBIN: They confessed after all. Five minority teenagers told cops they had raped and beaten the young white woman, and they were convicted and sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison. In some respects, the case reflected the primitive state of forensic science in the late 1980's. A DNA sample found at the scene did not match any of the defendants, but there was no data bank of other samples to use for comparisons. In the trial, prosecutors said hair found on it would have the defendants microscopically matched the hair of the victim but later more accurate DNA tests on the hairs showed they did not come from the jogger. But still the verdict stood and all the defendants finished serving their sentences.

But then earlier this year, a convicted murderer came forward and said he and he alone had attacked the jogger. DNA tests confirmed that the semen at the scene was his. What then of all those confessions?

ROGER WAREHAM, DEFENSE CO-COUNSEL: To the rape and assaults of the jogger in Central Park in 1989. The prosecution and conviction of our clients for a crime they did not commit was the next one.

ERIC SEIFF, ATTORNEY FOR KHAREY WISE: It was corrupt then, it's corrupt now. It's not what careful fact finders should be doing and none of us should allow this to continue.

TOOBIN: And so now the case may become a symbol of something else entirely. Of how confessions aren't always what they seem. Of how confused, vulnerable defendants sometimes confess to things they didn't do at all. Some police officers and prosecutors say that they may have worked as a team and that the conviction should stand. A court will begin to sort that out tomorrow.

But surely there is another symbol here now too. Of the danger of jumping to conclusions about a criminal case and of being too sure of what we think we know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Well, where do we go with this now? This goes to a court which must decide what?

TOOBIN: Well, the first decision...

BROWN: Expunge this?

TOOBIN: That's what they're being asked to do, to set aside the whole thing and treat them as if they'd never been convicted in the first place.

BROWN: And that decision will be made how? Is there going to be testimony?

TOOBIN: The first big question here is what happens tomorrow. What will the DA ask the court to do? Because the DA Robert Morgenthal is an elected official, and I think it's also safe to say he's a person of conscience. And, you know, he does not want to be sitting defending a conviction when he thinks, if he thinks that they didn't do it.

So what the real question tomorrow is what will the DA ask the court to do?

BROWN: There's a dilemma here, isn't there, there are lots of cops and certainly Linda Fairstein, who was head of the sexual crime unit still maintain they did this essentially, right, correct?

TOOBIN: Right.

BROWN: Sorry go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: There are two parts to this. Where it gets a little complicated, everybody remembers the crime, the horrible crime against the jogger. There were several other assaults in the park that night for which these defendants were also convicted. The evidence in those other assaults remains pretty strong against these kids -- they were kids then. And there is the possibility that the DA could say, OK, set aside the rape conviction but we're not going to give up on the convictions for the assaults on the other people in the park.

BROWN: 15 seconds. Is there any evidence to suggest that those were bad convictions?

TOOBIN: The defense think there is. The defense thinks this whole thing has got to go, and they have an incentive to say that because they can sue for a lot of money if all the convictions get thrown out.

BROWN: And we'll hear from the Manhattan district attorney tomorrow and we'll at least know the next stage of the game.

TOOBIN: Indeed.

Thank you, Jeff. Thank you very much. It's an interesting case, isn't it?

Ahead on NEWNIGHT Fidel is on a new crusade. We'll end the program with that.

But up next, one punch, one moment that changed two lives.

This is NEWNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: There are things you just don't live down. Maybe whatever it was you did wasn't exactly as bad as it seemed at the time. Maybe this, maybe that. Just the same, your name comes up and people snap their fingers and say, oh, yeah, that guy. 25 years ago this month at a Cavaliers/Lakers' basketball game in Los Angeles, there came one of those moments that forever attach themselves to the men involved.

We're joined from Washington by John Feinstein whose new book about that moment in L.A. is called "The Punch." John good to see you. Everybody knows the characters here Kermit Washington and Rudy Tomjanovich. And everyone has seen the punch. What happened in the 10 seconds before the punch?

JOHN FEINSTEIN, AUTHOR, "THE PUNCH": There was a routine fight going on. Back then there were fights in the NBA almost every night. There were 41 ejections for fighting the previous season, 1977. As compared to 8 last year. Kermit Washington and Kevin Kunnert of the Rockets were in a routine fight. The whistle blew, Rudy saw the fight going on. Came up from behind Washington to try be a peacemaker. Came up from behind Kermit Washington and, as you can see on the tame, Kermit Washington turns and delivers this devastating blow that Rudy just runs into full speed. At the last second you can see his hands come up but it's too late.

And Kermit Washington was one of the strongest men in the NBA, 6'8", 240. The doctor who examined Rudy that night, a head and neck trauma specialist name Paul Toffel (ph) said that the injuries that Rudy suffered from that one punch that you're seeing there on the screen now not only dislocated his skull, not only left him leaking spinal fluid from his brain, but were equivalent to the injuries you'd normally see of somebody who has gone through the windshield of the car at 50 miles an hour. And in fact, he was lucky to live that night, it's that serious.

BROWN: Was Kermit a bad guy? Did he had a reputation as a tough guy?

FEINSTEIN: Kermit was on the court the enforcer. That was his job. Back then every team had one, Lucas (ph) of the Portland Trailblazers, was the prototype of that kind of Enforcer, and that was Kermit's job with the Lakers. But if you go back and read clips about Kermit Washington leading up to this incident, you would think his name was gentle giant Kermit Washington because he was such an easy going guy off the court.

He was a two-time academic all American here at American University here in Washington. He was a guy who did and still does a lot of charity work. He was what reporters called a go-to-guy in the locker room because he was bright and articulate and funny. But in this one moment where he had adrenaline flowing from a fight, he turned and delivered this devastating punch and as you pointed out in your introduction, that is what everybody connects him to when they hear his name 25 years later.

BROWN: And he, no party matter what he does or what he has tried to do in the book is rich with this he can't shake it.

FEINSTEIN: No, he really can't because even though he's done all of these other good things in his life, when people hear his name they go oh, yeah, he was the one who almost killed Rudy Tomjanovich. In fact, when people would say what are you working on, I'd say I'm working on "The Punch," Rudy Tomjanovich Kermit Washington, 1977. They'd say, where's Kermit Washington today, in jail? Because their assumption was that he's a thug. Because if you look at these ten seconds, that's what you see. But who among us would want to be remembered for the worst ten seconds of our life, and that's the way Kermit's remembered by most people.

BROWN: There is some resentment, is there not that, he at least for a very long time never said without equivocation, I messed up I'm sorry, I apologize. There was always a but attached to it somehow.

FEINSTEIN: Yes, I think people who care about Kermit wish he would let go of this notion that Kevin Kunnert is somehow responsible for what happened to Rudy in addition to Kermit.

John Lucas, who was playing for the Rockets that night but who was a good friend of Kermit's, says, You know, sometimes in life you make a mistake and you have to say, I screwed up period. I'm sorry period. And Kermit has always said I'm sorry but -- but it was Kevin Kunnert and Kunnert, of course, disputes who started the fight but in the end it doesn't matter, Aaron, who started the fight. We know how the fight ended and what people who care about Kermit wish is that he could just say I'm sorry period because that's how he can have peace with this incident. The good thing is since the book's come out, he and Rudy have spoken on a number of occasions, which they had not prior to the book and Kermit now says that he has said to Rudy, I'm sorry period. And I sincerely hope that's true.

BROWN: And just, in the half a minute, we've hardly talked about Rudy at all. This -- he lived with this, too, in an altogether different but equally traumatic way, it seems.

FEINSTEIN: Yes, absolutely.

He was tormented for 20 years by the notion that as much as he had accomplished as a player, five-time all-star. As a coach, two NBA championships, Olympic gold medal. He would be remembered only for this. And that drove him. It drove him to drink too much. He ended up in alcohol rehab, which changed his life and allowed him to come face to face with this and with his feelings about the incident and Kermit. It led to this recurring dream he had in which he thought he was going to die which woke him up at night constantly and it really was torture for him psychologically for most of 20 years.

BROWN: John, it's another nice piece of work. Thanks for taking some time for us.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Aaron. Thanks for having me.

BROWN: The book is called "The Punch." And if you like sports or life, it works pretty well.

Next on NEWSNIGHT, has all the fun gone out of Fidel? We'll end the program there.

This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

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BROWN: Finally from us tonight, you may recall that awhile back Fidel Castro gave up his beloved Cuban cigars. So they're one of the best known exports and most prized exports of his island. The other well known and prized Cuban export is rum. And these days, apparently to Mr. Castro, export is fine. Ingest is not.

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BROWN (voice-over): Bear in mind first of all that this is a very loose translation. My Spanish is pretty spotty. In fact, I'm really just paraphrasing.

Anyway, the occasion was a Cuban holiday called the Day of the Doctor, Mr. Castro addressing Latin American students who attend medical school in Cuba and making the point that demon rum causes a lot of the problems on his island and elsewhere in the world as well.

Almost as many problems as capitalism.

U.S. doctors, Mr. Castro said, don't want to give up their high salaries and plush lifestyles to go out and treat the poor of the Earth. Even in Cuba, he warned that medical students might be corrupted by parasites and idlers. I know I got those words right.

Anyway back to rum. He didn't make rum illegal, but the government has raised the price of the spirit by five or six fold. The Russians did this with vodka once.

By way of conclusion, the Cuban leader said, we will not rest until this is the most humane, most just and most honest society that has ever been created. No word how the Cubans are supposed to listen to their leader's famously long speeches without a little something to dull the pain.

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BROWN: Quick promo before we go.

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BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron, thanks.

Tomorrow morning here on "AMERICAN MORNING," al Qaeda's money may have been running through the hands of an American on its way to terrorists around the world. We'll have an in-death penalty connection that allegedly took a U.S. citizen from the Taliban in Afghanistan to Hamas in Israel. Fascinating story here. We'll try and connect the dots.

Tomorrow morning, 7 a.m. Eastern, right here on "AMERICAN MORNING." Hope to see you then -- Aaron.

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BROWN: And we'll see you tomorrow night at 10. Good night.

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