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Today's 9/11 Commission Hearing in New York Will Focus on Emergency Management Response to Attacks on WTC; Discussing Possibility Sarin Gas May Have Been in Weapon Fired at U.S. Troops

Aired May 18, 2004 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Searching for answers -- what happened in the hours after the 9/11 attacks? The investigating committee comes to New York City.
In Iraq, the discovery of what may be sarin gas in a bombshell and the bombshell implications.

And how bad will hurricane season be this year? The Weather Service makes a dire prediction.

Those stories all ahead on this "American Morning."

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to eight o'clock, everything.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

The Bush and Kerry campaigns nearly bumped into each other yesterday in Kansas. Suzanne Malveaux is standing by and joins us in a moment with a look at what the candidates there were talking about. We'll get to that in a moment.

O'BRIEN: Also ahead this morning, low carb doesn't necessarily mean low cost. Sanjay Gupta has been adding up all those expenses that go along with diets like Atkins and South Beach and he's got some pretty surprising conclusions this morning.

HEMMER: All right, also, back to Jack Cafferty -- good morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Notice that said chocolaty chip? It didn't say chocolate chip. So that means there's a weasel deal going on there. There's not real chocolate in there.

O'BRIEN: Clearly, yes.

HEMMER: A weasel deal.

Coming up in the Cafferty File, speaking of weasel deals, we'll tell you what one in four Europeans is doing on the job, and it's not work. And how would you like to be able to go to the doctor, be treated and then send him a bill? It's happening. We'll tell you where.

O'BRIEN: Ooh, really?

CAFFERTY: Yes. How cool is that?

O'BRIEN: I'd like that. That would be great.

CAFFERTY: Thank you for setting my broken leg. You owe me $500.

O'BRIEN: I'd like that.

CAFFERTY: It's perfect.



O'BRIEN: I look forward to that.

Let's get to our top stories first, though.

We begin in Iraq this morning, where forces loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have engaged in more clashes with U.S. forces. American troops have reportedly killed nine militiaman during ongoing battles in Karbala. Explosions and heavy gunfire have also been heard in Najaf.

There could be some tense moments this morning on Capitol Hill. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz goes before a Senate panel this morning to answer questions about the transfer of power in Iraq. Wolfowitz has taken heat from some law makers, who contend the Pentagon did not have a good plan for a post-Saddam Iraq.

A mountain climber who was rescued by helicopter after being stranded on Mount Rainier has died. Peter Cooley was 39 years old. He'd been climbing with his friend Scott Richards, seen on the right there in that picture. Richards called for help after Cooley fell 30 feet down a cliff and injured his head. They'd been stranded since Saturday in deep terrain and snow.

In U.S. politics, former Democratic rival Howard Dean joins John Kerry on the campaign trail in Oregon. Dean has voiced opposition to the war in Iraq. He told supporters at a rally that he is confident Senator Kerry would only send U.S. troops into battle after telling the truth to the American people. Oregon is considered a swing state in the upcoming November election.

And forecasters are predicting a very busy hurricane season. Officials say a whopping 12 to 15 tropical storms could hit this year. Some of them are expected to be major, category three hurricanes. That means winds up to 130 miles an hour, which, of course, means a big old mess on the ground.

HEMMER: Yes, I wonder in the past how often their predictions have played out and how often they've been right. So we shall see soon enough, huh?

(WEATHER REPORT) HEMMER: In about an hour, the Commission investigating the 9/11 attacks is scheduled to open two days of hearings here in New York City. Part of its mission is to take testimony about the city's emergency response that day and to pursue recommendations for improving readiness.

Deborah Feyerick is in downtown Manhattan and has more now -- good morning, Deb.


Well, 25,000 people got out of the buildings that day because of the efforts of firefighters, the NYPD and Port Authority police. Still, some 3,000 people did perish.

The question, was the rescue effort, while unprecedented, sufficient? There are lots of questions that will be answered.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The images remain clear. What remains unclear and what many still wonder is whether more people could have been saved if there was better communication, better coordination between police and firefighters. It's one thing the 9/11 Commission hopes to find out.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: My impression was that they're going to conduct a very fact oriented and very objective study, the goal of which is to make recommendations about how things can be handled in the future.

FEYERICK: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and others in charge that day will be questioned publicly under oath for the first time by an independent commission.

GIULIANI: Whatever the adequacies or inadequacies in New York, they're much -- the adequacies are much greater.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch your step!

FEYERICK: Since the attacks, response drills are commonplace. There's more counter-terrorism training.

RAY KELLY, NYPD COMMISSIONER: There is no exact blueprint to a terrorist attack, so our aim is to train for the greatest variety of circumstances possible.

FEYERICK: Fire Department radios, blamed for possibly failing to alert firefighters to evacuate, have been upgraded. But critics say the radios still don't work properly.

SALLY REGENHARD, SKYSCRAPER SAFETY CAMPAIGN: It's about time that we received the proper funding from the Department of Homeland Security that will support firefighters' radios that work not 95 percent of the time, 100 percent of the time. FEYERICK: Firefighters and police remain on different frequencies. Sharing information is still a challenge. The city working to fix that.

STEVE KUHR, CRITERION STRATEGIES: We're talking about a system that allows all these agencies to fit into a single, comprehensive, unified organization to effectively manage the incident under a single command operation.

FEYERICK (on camera): The Commission hopes to provide what it calls the definitive account of 9/11 and ways to save even more lives if a terror attack should happen again.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


FEYERICK: A source close to the 9/11 Commission was asked by CNN whether the city and the country is ready if there is another attack. The answer, I'm relatively sure we are not -- Bill.

HEMMER: Deb Feyerick here in New York City -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: In Iraq, U.S. officials say more tests are needed to determine if a roadside bomb contained the nerve gas sarin. The device partially exploded on Saturday as members of a U.S. convoy tried to defuse it. Initial field tests showed traces of the deadly nerve agent in an artillery shell.

And joining us this morning from Washington, D.C. to talk about the potential chemical discovery and what it could mean is former U.N. weapons inspector Jonathan Tucker.

Nice to see you, Mr. Tucker.

As always, thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: It's been interesting to me to hear people's reaction. For example, we heard from General Kimmitt. He seemed to sort of brush off how important this find might be. Secretary Rumsfeld seemed to reiterate that more testing needed to be done outside of the field testing that's already been done.

Isn't this likely, though, evidence that Saddam Hussein did not destroy his stockpiles of sarin, as he claimed?

TUCKER: Well, this could be a stray round that was simply mixed in with other conventional munitions. It doesn't necessarily indicate a large cache of chemical weapons, because the round itself had no distinguishing markings.

O'BRIEN: But isn't that sort of, to some degree, the point? With no distinguishing markings to delineate it from any other shell, couldn't that actually suggest that there could be much more that aren't labeled and so when the weapons inspectors did their searches, they didn't really see what they'd been looking for?

TUCKER: Yes, that's a possibility, and I'm sure the Iraq Survey Group, the intelligence group in Iraq, will examine that possibility. There are ways of determining if a shell contains a chemical agent without actually drilling into it. It's called non-destructive testing and it can be done with x-rays and other types of radiation.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I see.

So how concerned do you think the coalition, the U.S.-led coalition, should be at this point by this discovery?

TUCKER: Well, I think an IED with this type of munition, a so- called binary munition in which the two components that make sarin would be mixed together, is relatively -- a relatively low threat. As we saw, this was basically a fizzle, a dud, that did not seriously injure the troops. In fact, they would have been more seriously injured had it been a conventional artillery shell.

But there is, I think, a possibility that if there are enough of these shells, the insurgents could extract the two components, the two chemicals that, when mixed together, make sarin, and perhaps improvise a larger chemical weapon.

O'BRIEN: A while back David Kay, the weapons inspector, said that he was confident that some weapons of mass destruction sites would turn out in their searches. Now he says that this, this shell that's been found is actually a probably overlooked, part of an old relic, not part of a stockpile.

So how would he know, I mean going from one level of confidence completely on the other side?

TUCKER: Well, these are weapons that were produced in the late 1980s, before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. If they were unitary shells, that if they contained actual sarin, it would have degraded by this time to be ineffective. These binary shells are really only effective if they're fired from a Howitzer, which would cause the two chemicals to mix. So as improvised explosive devices, they are ineffective.

So the -- I think the question that remains is are these a few stray rounds or is there a cache of these munitions that is still present in Iraq? And we just don't know at this point.

O'BRIEN: If it is an old relic, is there any indication in your mind from this latest find that, in fact, insurgents have their hands on more than just one of these duds, but a decent amount of this stuff?

TUCKER: Well, according to General Kimmitt, he believes that the insurgents did not know they had a chemical munition. They thought it was a conventional artillery shell. And because the rounds are not marked, I think it would just be a matter of chance if insurgents whop raided a depot would come across this type of munition. They would not necessarily know that they had these weapons just from their appearance.

O'BRIEN: Jonathan Tucker is a former U.N. weapons inspectors, joining us this morning.

Mr. Tucker, thanks.

Appreciate it.

TUCKER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Bill.

HEMMER: Eleven minutes past the hour.

The cost of gas nationally averaging more than $2 a gallon for the first time ever. Now, many Democrats, including Senator John Kerry and even some oil companies, are pressing the Bush administration to stop filling the strategic oil reserve. White House policy since 9/11 has been to fill the reserve to capacity and not to use it to effect the price of oil. A smaller group of Democrats today is set to call for the administration to sell oil from that reserve.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, an historic anniversary puts education at center stage yesterday and both presidential candidates put their spin on it. That story is up next.

HEMMER: Also, the woman who survived a mountain lion attack talks about life today, after reconstructive surgery.

O'BRIEN: And if you are looking to buy some Martha Stewart lore, well, now you can. And guess what? It's her brother who's selling.

That's ahead as AMERICAN MORNING continues right after this.


HEMMER: To politics now, President Bush and Senator Kerry both in Topeka, Kansas yesterday on the 50th anniversary of school desegregation. But while the speeches were about education back in 1954, the political subtext was on November 2004 and the no child left behind initiative.

Suzanne Malveaux has our story this morning.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush marked the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision that legally desegregated public schools, praising the progress of civil rights, but promising to do more.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The habits of racism in America have not all been broken. The habits of respect must be taught to every generation.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush stood with a member of the Brown family, in front of the once all-black elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, where 50 years ago the Brown family's fight to attend the all-white neighborhood school led to the historic Brown vs. Board decision.

At the grand opening of the national historic site, a picture- perfect moment for the president.

But just a few blocks away, several hours earlier, Senator John Kerry marked the occasion from the steps of the statehouse capital.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You cannot promise no child left behind and then pursue policies that leave millions of children behind every single day.

MALVEAUX: A not-so-subtle swipe at the White House, illustrating what has become one of the hottest domestic issues, education.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I am concerned about the terrorists, but ladies and gentlemen, the greatest threat to our national security is our failure to educate our children.

MALVEAUX: Controversial issues like affirmative action and Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act are taking center stage in the education debate. While Mr. Bush kept his remarks to the Brown decision, he has argued his policies hold public schools accountable for improving education, but his critics argue without the necessary resources.

MALVEAUX (on camera): As both sides battle for voter support, the latest Pew Research Center poll shows that 50 percent believe that Kerry would do a better job of improving education, as opposed to 35 percent for Mr. Bush.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Topeka, Kansas.


MALVEAUX: President Bush is also trying to win greater support among critical voting blocs of African-Americans, as well as those in the Jewish community. Later this hour, the president is going to speak at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee to talk about U.S. policy in the Middle East -- Bill.

HEMMER: Suzanne, thanks,

Suzanne Malveaux live from the front lawn this morning -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, you may not remember Anne Hjelle by name, but you may remember the circumstances when we first told you about her. Authorities in California were forced to use firearms to finally kill a mountain lion that nearly killed Hjelle, as her friend and she, Debi Nichols, were mountain biking in the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park.

Well, last night Hjelle spoke to CNN's Larry King about what was a traumatic episode.


ANNE HJELLE, MAULED BY MOUNTAIN LION: The lion came out of the bushes...

LARRY KING, HOST: Did it growl when it hit you?

HJELLE: No, made no noise whatsoever. I just -- like I said,

saw that flash of movement, and it took me totally by surprise. I

didn't even really remember hitting the ground. I had come off of my

bike and obviously hit the ground, but it just stunned me. And

immediately I felt him -- his jaws on the back of my neck, and he had

a very strong grip.

KING: What happened to Debi?

HJELLE: Well, Debi was coming right behind me down the trail at

the time. And by the time she came up to me, she saw, I guess, my bike

laying there. She saw me basically in the jaws of this lion and him

attempting to drag me down the trail.

KING: Were you able to have a thought process during all of

this, other than stark raving fear?

HJELLE: I was fearful. You know, initially, when the lion first

came out of the bushes and I realized what it was, my first words were

"Jesus, help me." I knew that I was in very serious trouble and that

he could easily kill me.


O'BRIEN: Hjelle was saved when some other bikers pelted the mountain lion we rocks until he let her go. Another mountain biker was killed by the cat in a separate attack.

Hjelle has obviously undergone one reconstructive surgery. She says she plans to have more procedures in the next few years.

HEMMER: The scars on the left side of her face tell the story of survival.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but she looks good, I mean, considering how close she came to not surviving.

HEMMER: Yes, indeed.

O'BRIEN: She looks good.

HEMMER: In a moment here, the 9/11 Commission expects to hear emotional stories and to see powerful images today and tomorrow on the day that changed America.

Also, more changes for the country. The Massachusetts decision on same-sex marriage -- could it have wide ranging consequences?

Back with that in a moment, after this.


HEMMER: A Methodist pastor in Florida had to fight for his life when he went for a swim. A six foot, nine inch alligator attacked Pastor Rick Cabot as he trained for a triathlon. Cabot says he was pulled under the water and was face to face with that gator.


REV. RICK CABOT, SURVIVED GATOR ATTACK: I don't know that it was trying to kill me. I think it could have done a better job. I was underwater this whole time, but I don't remember ever feeling panicked or short of breath or anything. Just, I do remember thinking I cannot believe a gator has my leg. And I think that's when I punched it in the nose.


HEMMER: After the Reverend Cabot hit the gator, it was let go; later captured. Reverend Cabot expected to make a full recovery, but not before a pretty strong scare.

Look at that thing.

O'BRIEN: No...

CAFFERTY: Why wouldn't you train for a triathlon in a...

O'BRIEN: In a pool?

CAFFERTY: ... swimming pool -- excuse me -- in a swimming pool? Yes.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. What's he thinking about?

CAFFERTY: What kind of an idiot goes swimming where there are alligators?

HEMMER: I didn't think you could punch a gator in the nose, though, and let it go. I mean that's what they tell you about sharks, but not gators.

What's happening?

O'BRIEN: Oh, please.

CAFFERTY: Massachusetts...

HEMMER: Please what?

O'BRIEN: Like you're going to punch a shark in the nose when you're -- like you're going to have the presence of mind to punch a shark.

HEMMER: That's the thing they always tell people, to hit it in the noggin and it'll let go.


CAFFERTY: See the stuff you learn watching this program?

HEMMER: What's up?

CAFFERTY: Massachusetts the first state in the union to grant same sex couples marriage licenses and then perform the ceremonies. But the very act of doing that has left a lot of unanswered questions. For example, if same sex couples marry in Massachusetts, will those marriages be recognized in other states and can people from other states go to Massachusetts and get married? Is it up to the state legislatures or to the courts to figure this out? Or should the issue be put to a vote? Or should there be a constitutional amendment?

The question we're going with is who should decide the future of same-sex marriage?

Amanda in Sharon, Massachusetts: "I asked my parents last night if their marriage of more than 40 years was diminished by the events of the day. The only response, my father said, 'I am a day older. The only people impacted by all this are gay and lesbian.'"

Mel in Carmel-On-The-Hudson, New York: "The future of any laws relating to marriage should reside in the hands of the people in the states. It's entirely inappropriate for the federal government to take an active hand in curtailing the rights and reserve powers of the states and of the people."

Jeff (ph) writes: "The courts should be allowed to decide the issues of civil rights. If the public had been allowed to vote on "Brown vote. (ph) The Board of Education," would "Brown" have won? I think not. This is an issue that should not be decided by public opinion."

And Craig in Odessa, Florida writes this: "Let gay marriage be determined by straight people. Let men determine if abortion should be banned. Let Christians determine how Islamic people should be free. Let the Saudis pick the next U.S. president. Oh, I'm sorry, that's already been done." O'BRIEN: How's the e-mail running?

CAFFERTY: It's all over -- I mean there's so many questions, there's no way you can answer that question. Should the legislatures decide? Should the courts decide? Should the marriages be legal? How do you handle divorce? What about community property? I mean there's no way you can say well, the e-mail is this or that. It's, you know...

HEMMER: It makes for a good topic then.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it does.

CAFFERTY: It's interesting, yes.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jack, thanks.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the killing of an Iraqi leader could mean more troops are needed in Iraq. But whose troops, American or international? A look at that is just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everybody.

Almost 8:30 here in New York.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

The average price of gas now more than two bucks a gallon. Democrats and Republicans at odds over what the president should do or could do about it. We'll pose those significant questions to Kamber and May In a moment here. Stay tuned, our Tuesday edition forthcoming.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, what are you really paying when you go on a low carb diet? Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at all the money it takes to pull off results with diets like the South Beach Diet or the Atkins Diet.

The top stories this morning. First, before that, though, this morning, the 9/11 Commission gets under way here in New York City in less than an hour. Members will look at the city's emergency response during the September 11 attacks. Today's focus is the apparent breakdown of communication between the police and fire departments. The former and current New York City mayors are expected to testify.

The U.S. military says three of the soldiers implicated in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse case will now be arraigned tomorrow. Staff Sergeant Ivan Fredericks, Sergeant Javal Davis and Specialist Charles Graner will face a military judge one day earlier than they were originally scheduled. That is the same day that Specialist Jeremy Sivits faces a court-martial. Sivits is expected to plead guilty in exchange for his testimony on the other prison guards.

Former hostage Thomas Hamill is said to be doing well after surgery. Hamill has been recovering at home in Macon, Mississippi after his ordeal in Iraq. Hamill's wife said he had a skin graft operation yesterday, that he's doing fine and he's resting. Hamill managed to escape from his kidnappers after being held hostage in Iraq for three weeks.

The International Olympic Committee has narrowed down the list of finalists to host the 2012 Olympic Games. New York was among the five finalists picked. Other cities named included Moscow, Madrid, Paris and London. Four other cities got cut.

And transportation officials are planning on doing some reshuffling at the nation's airports. The government is continuing to fine tune staffing levels. They're going to add screeners to some airports and cut back on the number of screeners at other airports. Airports getting more help include New York City's JFK Airport and also Miami International. Smart, because they need the help.



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