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Deadly Avalanche in Utah; Florida Man Charged With Ricin Possession

Aired January 14, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for being with us tonight on a night when there's breaking news from one of America's winter playgrounds. We're following the search for victims of a terrifying avalanche at a Utah ski resort.
Also tonight, meet Sergeant Kevin Benderman, 10 years in the Army, a battle-hardened vet, but now one of the latest to challenge an order to return to Iraq.

Also, the royal family's latest headache. What the heck was Prince Harry thinking? Or was he?

We begin tonight with the sloppy freezing and just plain dangerous weather that is gripping so much of the country. Our first stop, Park City, Utah, home of the famed Sundance Film Festival, scheduled to open next week. Today, there was a massive avalanche on US-4 service property next to the Canyons resort. At this hour, authorities say that one and possibly two people are missing.

Specially trained dogs are helping with the search. The avalanche was in an area that is supposed to be off limits to skiers and snowboarders. Park City has seen about nine feet of snow in just the past two weeks alone.

Further west in Corona, California, near Los Angeles, the problem isn't snow. It's way too much water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is draining more than 10,000 cubic feet of water per second to take some of the pressure off a leaky urban dam. Inspectors at the Prado Dam say the seepage is minor and that there is no imminent danger of it giving way. But as a safety precaution, more than 1,000 people were ordered to leave their homes.

Now, some of the most harrowing pictures we've seen all week are connected with one of the most inspiring rescues. It was Monday afternoon in California's San Dimas Canyon. You might remember these graphic pictures, a raft carrying a search-and-rescue firefighter. A woman and her 8-year-old baby flips over, dumping everyone into the raging water. Miraculously, the woman and baby washed up on a sandbar. Rescuers were able to wade out to them and bring them ashore. And that's when the baby was handed to Alberto Ortega, a fire prevention officer from the Angeles National Forest.

And he's here to tell us the part of the story we did not see on camera.

So good of you to join us, sir. And congratulations on your heroism.


ZAHN: So take us back to the moment when baby William (ph) was literally handed to you. You didn't like what you saw. You didn't like how he felt. You were an experienced rescue worker. What were you worried about?

ORTEGA: The baby was very quiet at the moment when I received the infant. An eight-week-old infant was handed to me. And at that point, I just put him towards my chest and I didn't hear a peep on the baby.

He was pretty silent. At that time, me and a couple of firefighters, L.A. County, which did an excellent job with the rescue as well, we walked to the San Dimas fire station, ranger station, where we made a quick assessment and wrapped the baby with warm towels. At that time, I had to hike the baby out because we couldn't get to the location by vehicles. So we had to hike the infant out. It was a quarter mile to half a mile.

And it was pretty interesting, because at this time, you're dealing with an infant, so your heart's out. And when the baby started crying, it was just immaculate, because it was literally music to my ears, in that I knew the baby would be fine, especially when, along that hike, he started crying louder and louder. And, at one point, you can feel his crying. I felt it off my chest and it was just incredible.

ZAHN: And I heard at one point someone was kind of coaching him, go, baby go. The louder the cry, the better chances he was going to really make it as well.


ORTEGA: Yes, I was actually saying that to myself. I was like, come on, you just have to cry. Come on. Just cry louder and louder. And he did. A great pair of lungs, that child has.

ZAHN: We're going to look at a picture of you and baby William. And what we didn't give you a chance to describe is what happened from the point you left the fire station and you had to hike that quarter of mile worried about debris falling on you and perhaps maybe even another mudslide.

It's an amazing picture. He's looking straight up at you.

ORTEGA: That point is when the baby was handed to me and I got on to the embankment. On the actual hike out, it was pretty intense, in that here I am hiking with an infant. And on the hillside you are hearing debris falling, so you have to protect the infant at the same time.

ZAHN: And I know you've been involved in a lot of tricky rescues along the way. This is the one that has kept you awake at night. Why? ORTEGA: It's definitely true. Maybe it was just the adrenaline of that evening. But, again, you're dealing with an infant, an innocent infant. And you can't imagine as like how did it get in such a predicament.

It was pretty intense. And that whole evening, I was just wondering if the baby was going to be truly fine. In my heart, I knew that he was going to be fine.

ZAHN: And I know you have a flood of emotions involving this particular rescue, because this particular family had been warned to vacate this area perhaps as much as four days in advance. What is the message that people should take home about this story?

ORTEGA: I think just, in any situation, even with floods or even fires, when local departments, sheriffs, L.A. County Fire or any give you a forward warning of a situation that might occur, you need to consider the safety of your family and yourself.

I mean, if you're an adult, if you want to stay at the home, that's one thing. But when you have a family, you need to take care of your children.

ZAHN: Well, I'm going to have this image of you with that baby William looking straight up at you, almost as though you're an angel. That is going to be in my head for quite some time, Alberto Ortega. Again, congratulations on your heroics. I know it's just a part of the job. But we salute you.

ORTEGA: Yes, it is. Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Good luck to you and I hope you guys get a break out there.

Meanwhile, residents of La Conchita, California, are finally being allowed back into their homes today. La Conchita is where 10 people were killed in a gigantic mudslide Monday. But first, they had received written warnings that the area may not be safe and that the mountainside above their homes is still shifting.

From La Conchita, here's Sean Callebs.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the sound of a sickening fracture, Mark McCollum's (ph) life changed instantly.

CALLEBS (on camera): Where were you when it happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was talking to my sister on the phone.

CALLEBS: In the house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the house, yes, yes.

CALLEBS: Did you hear a loud noise, snap, crash? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It sounded like a jetliner crashing into the side of a mountain. And the noise only lasted four or five seconds.

CALLEBS: (voice-over): This is McCollum's first chance to return without an official escort. He's here to get important items and then get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't even know what to take.

CALLEBS: One thing is certain. The 45-year-old contractor says he and his wife will never live here again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, We're going to leave, yes. I'm not going to do this again. I went through the first one. I don't want to -- the second one's a charm. That's it. I'm out of here.

CALLEBS: After the first slide in 1995, McCollum says he convinced himself that it could never happen again. But this time, the mountain killed people and he knew every one of them. He counted two of the victims as dear friends.

(on camera): McCollum has lived on Ojai for 11 years. A native of this state, he's really California to the bone. During the time he lived here, he spent as much time as he could down the road surfing. He also dabbled in Hollywood stunt work and played in a band.

(voice-over): Houses all around McCollum's have been red-tagged, meaning the authorities believe that it's too unsafe for residents to go home. No one is making McCollum move. He says he doesn't want to become another victim of the mountain. McCollum says he was lured by the price, $179,000 a decade ago? Now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They'll drop down to zero if they don't eventually condemn the whole area.

CALLEBS: There's no electricity, no gas. And restoring water service could take weeks. The county is telling residents what they already know. This hillside is unstable. The whole ordeal has been especially hard on McCollum's wife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She just gets in periods where she just starts crying and says that she misses the house.

CALLEBS: So McCollum takes his photos, his memories and says he has no choice but to move on.


ZAHN: Tough. Sean Callebs reporting from La Conchita, California.

There's much more ahead tonight, including our CNN "Security Watch."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN (voice-over): A Florida home turned into a secret weapons lab, producing a deadly toxin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It clearly can be used as a weapons of mass destruction.

ZAHN: Ricin, one troubled young man's recipe for disaster.

And it happens even in the best of families. You have a lapse in judgment. You go too far, and the next thing you know, you have got an international scandal on your hands.

All that and more tonight as PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.


ZAHN: Ricin is one of the deadliest poisons around and also one of the easiest to make. And in tonight's "Security Watch," what we're learning about the 22-year-old man charged with having that lethal compound.

Here's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Ocala, Florida, population 46,453, there is one man who stands out, 22-year-old Steven Michael Ekberg, a Forest High School grad who served in the ROTC. Ekberg attended college briefly and was known as a quiet guy, one who didn't draw much attention to himself until now. He's in jail charged with possession of the biological agent ricin, considered by the FBI one of the deadliest weapons in the world.

ED DEAN, MARION COUNTY SHERIFF: This is not normal behavior. I fear the worst with a guy like this.

KAYE: Two nights ago, Ekberg's bedroom in his mother's home was searched by federal agents working off an anonymous tip. Agents found two books about ricin and seized a cardboard box with numerous glass vials, tubes and jars, also Ziploc bags holding castor beans, the ingredient used to ricin, and brown granules that tested positive for ricin.

(on camera): How is it that, in this day and age, a 22-year-old man living in his mother's basement can have such an arsenal of weapons and be making ricin?

CHRIS BONNER, FBI: Recipes are easily downloaded. And anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of the way chemistry works and some education, can manufacture this toxin.

KAYE (voice-over): Investigators also discovered an arsenal of weapons, including an AK-47. They also picked up these two powerful Glock handguns taken when Ekberg was arrested five days earlier for carrying a firearm into a nightclub. That arrest was the result of the same anonymous tip. (on camera): Ekberg was interviewed the night he was arrested at the Crock Club (ph) in downtown Ocala. Investigators tell me that Ekberg admitted to being under a physician's care, taking two different antidepressants and mixing them with heavy-duty painkillers.

(voice-over): Ekberg's life seems to have taken a bad turn back in 2000. He told investigators a bad car accident on this Ocala road put him on painkillers. Ekberg continued working around town at various restaurants, including this one as a bartender. One employee told me he used to offer her pills. Another described him as moody.

NYL DAVIS, FORMER CO-WORKER: He's kind of odd, kind of weird.

KAYE: Nyl Davis worked with Ekberg at two restaurants.

DAVIS: He can come in one minute and be like happy and chipper and then the next minute just snap and be pissed and you have no clue of what happened, why.

KAYE: FBI and local law enforcement believe Ekberg may have used a recipe for ricin he found online. They will review his computer's hard drive. Marion County Sheriff Ed Dean tells us this is the first time he's seen ricin in his county. The FBI says it's been found in the United States only a handful of times.

The Centers for Disease Control says just a drop, about the size of a pinhead could kill an adult. According to the anonymous tipster, Ekberg knew the power of what he had. He is quoted in this sworn affidavit as having referred to these chemicals this way: "If I put this in your food, this would kill you immediately." Another container. "This would make you really sick." And another. "This would kill you, but not right away."

BILL GILLEY, NEIGHBOR: That doesn't make me happy.

KAYE: In Ekberg's neighborhood, there is disbelief. Libby and Bill Gilley's grandkids used to play with him.

LIBBY GILLEY, NEIGHBOR: He was just a very nice, normal kid. Like when my grandson, the kids were up here, and he would say, well, they were going to play with the kid across the street, I never thought about it, because he was -- we never had any reason not to think they were not nice kids.

B. GILLEY: But not seeing anything going on and not really looking for anything suspicious, you would never know. People everywhere could be doing whatever. You don't know until you see it on the news.

KAYE: Investigators have found no link between Ekberg and any terrorist groups, but they aren't done looking. For now, though, they will focus on this troubled boy they believe has a passion for poison.


ZAHN: Randi Kaye reporting from Ocala, Florida. Our CNN "Security Watch" continues. in a pretty average American community, where some Muslims are worried after the FBI came knocking at their door.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were asking questions, like, what kind of American are you and so on. And I had to sit there thinking to myself, I can't believe this is happening.


ZAHN: Our security vs. our civil rights, when we come back.


ZAHN: The Pledge of Allegiance ends by describing the United States as one nation under God with liberty and justice for all. But a recent poll tells quite a different story.

As we continue our CNN "Security Watch," Jason Carroll explains by many Muslim-Americans fear the promise of America is charging to a nation with liberty and justice for just some.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Drive down Main Street in Paterson, New Jersey, with Ali Ari Conolu (ph), a construction foreman, and he'll show you what makes him proud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have another Muslim restaurant here.

CARROLL: American flags fly along sides written in Arabic. Ali, a New Jersey native of Turkish descent, sees those two images as reflecting much of what this small working class town is all about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every business on your right-hand side here is Muslim owned and operated, the dry-cleaners, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) place. We have a Sam's Pizzeria here.

CARROLL: A quarter of Paterson's population is Muslim. Every week, thousands of people like Ali gather at the local mosque to pray and, more recently, to meet with law enforcement officers about their fear of profiling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a pleasure to deal with this community.

CARROLL: This is a community especially sensitive to what happened on September 11. Ground zero is just 20 miles away. Before the attacks, several of the planes' hijackers lived or spent time here in Paterson. Ali says many of the city's law-abiding Muslims have been victims of discrimination. Just ask the local pharmacist, Jabeen Ahmed, who was confronted by a stranger at a supermarket for wearing a traditional scarf. JABEEN AHMED, PHARMACIST: I don't think it's me. I think she's just cursing because she's insane. But I realize she's cursing at me and she wants me to go back to Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden.

CARROLL: Ali's friend, Sohail Mohammed, also became his lawyer, after discrimination came knocking at Ali's front door. Ali says a co-worker overhead him criticizing U.S. Middle East policies and called the FBI. Agents questioned Ali at his home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were asking questions, like, what kind of American are you and so on. And I had to sit there thinking to myself, I can't believe this is happening.

SOHAIL MOHAMMED, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: Our forefathers said liberty is for all, but here we are 200 years later carving out some exceptions.

CARROLL: But there are a number of Americans who think otherwise. In a recent survey by Cornell University, 44 percent of Americans said the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans should be restricted if national security is at stake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very frustrating. It's definitely -- as an American, it makes me very, very angry, almost betrayed.

MOHAMMED: For Muslim-Americans, equality is not even an issue. Separate, unequal, that is what I think the survey says.

CARROLL: We didn't have to go far to find Americans who feel this way. We went with Ali on his lunch break to the Nautilus Diner in Madison, New Jersey, just a few miles from Paterson. Pete Pappas (ph) is the owner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you are looking at it as a black-and- white issue, it is racism. But it's a necessary evil, because that is the only group that's doing this.

CARROLL (on camera): How would you describe where you are, where you stand?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I definitely believe in preserving civil liberties and equality for all, but it's something that needs to be done.

CARROLL (voice-over): George Middleton is a retired grandfather of 12. He believes in putting restrictions on Muslim-Americans in exchange for better security.

GEORGE MIDDLETON, GRANDFATHER: I think we should be profiling. The fact that we're not profiling to me is absolutely ridiculous.

CARROLL (on camera): In talking to Pete, who is the owner here, he says, look, what I'm telling you is what a lot of people say, but they say it behind closed doors. They don't say it in public. Why do you think that is? Do you find that to be the case?


CARROLL: And why do you think that is?

MIDDLETON: They're just afraid of being criticized. They're afraid of being called racist. That's a word that's well overused all the time.

CARROLL: If you were to say to someone, look, this isn't racism, this is, what, protecting the country?

MIDDLETON: Yes, absolutely.

CARROLL: But not being racist?

MIDDLETON: Protecting the country, protecting them.

CARROLL: They make a point of saying that they are not racist. Do you...

MOHAMMED: Well, I don't think we as Americans should be given the option of our civil liberties and national security.

CARROLL: They say, well, we don't think any of our rights should be curtailed at all? We wouldn't be profiled at all. What would you say to them?

MIDDLETON: Well, I would say, it's their people that are doing the damage. If it was Scots-Irish -- I'm Scots-Irish. If it were Scots-Irish that were blowing up planes, go get them.

CARROLL (voice-over): Ali said he used to be an optimist, but not anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to see something that even resembles the truth coming out of the government or the media or to engage the public in a more intelligent discussion about what Muslims in America are about.

CARROLL: The America where Ali still believes Muslims and non- Muslims should be treated equally.


ZAHN: And that was Jason Carroll reporting for us. We are always on the lookout for stories about your safety and security.

We'd also like to know what you think about this issue. Go to and tell us, are Muslims discriminated against in the United States today? We're going to show you the results at the end of the hour.

And coming up all next week on CNN, a special series that looks at our airports, seaports and rail stations. How well are they protected? Are our borders secure? And what about our food and our water? Well, we sent 30 correspondents and crews all over the country to answer a single question. Is the nation safer than it was on 9/11? Join us, again, all next week for our CNN "Security Watch: Defending America" and, again, here at 8:00.

Coming up, two very different soldiers, two very different stories. The man the military blames for leading the abuse at Abu Ghraib is found guilty.

And from a combat veteran to a conscientious objector, why this sergeant decided to risk it all and defy the U.S. Army. That;s next.


ZAHN: This story is getting a lot of attention here and abroad. Britain's Prince Harry may not have to visit Auschwitz, as reported in some British papers. But his father is working on some kind of penance for Harry, after his ridiculous decision to wear a Nazi uniform with a swastika armband to a costume party.

Prince Charles' press office today said Harry may have to do some kind of service with Jewish charities. Now, remember, Harry is 20 years old, but he also happens to be third in line for the throne. And that role, or lack of one, may just be part of the problem.

Here's Fionnuala Sweeney.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The heir and the spare, that's how Diana, the late princes of Wales, once described her sons, William and Harry.

As heir to the British throne, Prince William, like his father before him, is being groomed for the role. But what of younger brother Harry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since William quite clearly is going to be king one day and Prince Harry, barring some awful situation, isn't, and William acts accordingly, they are two very different characters, possibly because of their different situations in life.

CARROLL: Different situations, different pressures and also different expectations.

(on camera): With every public and sometimes private moment under the scrutiny of camera lens, is it any wonder that Prince Harry appears to be living up to his wild child image? Should he, having had the benefit of a privileged upbringing, have known better? Or is it merely all part of being second in line?

ARTHUR EDWARDS, ROYAL PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE SUN": Princess Margaret was a bit of a wild child. Prince Andrew, in his younger days, was a bit of a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It just seems that this goes with the territory. They know that they're never going to be the monarch so maybe they live it up a bit too much.

SWEENEY: The queen's sister, Princess Margaret was in her day second in line and was also a firm fixture on the London social scene. Her Harry her partying was legendary but marriage for a time seemed to have a calming effect on the princess and Margaret's two children were raised largely away from the spotlight growing up to lead apparently happy lives and marriages.

Among those who make careers out of following the royal family, there are two schools of thought. One believes 20-year-old Prince Harry is being set up by the relentless and voracious tabloid press. Another school believes Harry is just fulfilling the tabloid's prophesies as a man whose life appears to lack purpose.

EDWARDS: They put him up as the playboy prince and a wild child for a long time now but unfortunately he ends up rising to that. He does get himself in these scrapes. They're not being made up. Whereas they don't appear to be happening to William. And that's the difference.

SWEENEY: The only vaguely royal voice publicly coming to Harry's defense is Sara Ferguson, former wife of the former spare to the throne, Andrew.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know what it's like to have bad press. I had it for quite a long time. The thing is that sometimes we all do things that we -- the ramifications of our actions perhaps afterthoughts.

SWEENEY: But the troubles of royal offspring without a throne are not confined solely to the British royal family. Look (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Monaco for example.

We have got Princess Caroline, Princess Stephanie who are heirs to the throne but not the immediate heir who is Prince Albert of course and they have too, have both had difficulties in the press with their broken marriages and wild child reputations especially with Stephanie.

SWEENEY: Perhaps it is a question of balance whether public figures, royal or otherwise, have the right to make their mistakes in private. A moot point perhaps given the aggressiveness of the paparazzi.

Whatever the fallout, one thing is certain. The image of a young prince in a Nazi uniform will remain in the public's mind long after the story itself has faded from the front pages.


ZAHN: I guess the one thing we discovered is universal, searching for excuses for really deplorable behavior. Fionnula Sweeney reporting for us tonight. When we come back, combat stress and what it is doing to some American soldiers serving in Iraq. We'll have that story when we come back.


ZAHN: We're back with some big developments in a story we've been watching all week long. Right now, a military jury is hearing testimony before deciding on the punishment for Army Specialist Charles Graner, the man prosecutors call the ringleader in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

A few hours ago, the same jury convicted Graner on nine of the ten charges he faced, it was a quick verdict. After listening to four and a half days of testimony the military jury deliberated for less than five hours. Graner, standing at attention, showed no emotion when the verdicts were read. He faces a maximum of 14 1/2 years in prison.

Roadside bombs, snipers, suicide attacks. The daily roll call of violence in Iraq adds up to what may be unprecedented stress on American soldiers. When they come back home, many carry the stress with them. This week, authorities in California are trying to find out if that had anything to do with the death of a marine in a shootout with police.


(voice-over): Marine Lance Corporal Andres Raya was scheduled to return to his unit at Camp Pendleton earlier this week. But instead, he telephoned the police from this liquor store parking lot. When they arrived, Raya opened fire, killing Sergeant Howard Stevenston before he himself was killed in a running gun battle. Police thought the shooting was gang-related. But friends and relatives say his tour of duty may have pushed him over the edge. Raya's family believes he was very upset about what he saw in Iraq.

JULIA RAYA, ANDRES RAYA'S MOTHER: He said, I don't want go back to Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still don't believe it. He was only 19.

ZAHN: Another childhood friend says Raya is a casualty of war. The heavy fighting in Iraq has had a profound effect on U.S. soldiers. An army survey conducted a year ago found that one in eight soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. One soldier upset by what he saw is Army Sergeant Kevin Benderman. Two weeks before his deployment to Iraq he claimed conscientious objector status and on the day he was to ship out Benderman went AWOL. He's been re-assigned to a rear detachment while the army reviews his case.


(on camera): And joining me now from Savannah, Georgia, Sergeant Kevin Benderman and his wife, Monica. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Kevin, what did you see in Iraq that made you make this drastic decision?

SGT. KEVIN BENDERMAN, U.S. ARMY: Once you see the results and effects of how bad war is on people, you just have to realize you can't go back to a war zone.

ZAHN: Kevin, what is it that you expected you would see?

K. BENDERMAN: Well, you have an understanding of what war is, just by talking about it to people, but until you actually have been there, you really cannot determine how bad it is.

ZAHN: What is the image that stays with you, that haunts you the most?

K. BENDERMAN: Well, the one that sticks out in my mind, is when we were traveling north through that country, I saw this young girl, probably 8 or 9 years old, her arm was burned with third degree burns all the way up to her shoulder.

ZAHN: Your disgust with that went further than her injuries herself because you wanted to help her, right?

K. BENDERMAN: Yes. I asked if we could stop and provide medical assistance and we were told we had to keep moving.

ZAHN: You offered to give up your medical kit to help her and that wasn't allowed either?

K. BENDERMAN: Yes. I asked a battalion XO if I could give up my medical supplies for that but he said we had to use them for us.

ZAHN: So were you viewed as a turncoat at that point? Did people have a problem with your attitude towards her and some other civilian victims you had seen?

K. BENDERMAN: No. No one ever gave me that type of reaction to my wanting to help that young girl.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this. You got back from Iraq, you stayed in the army. Another year goes by and you didn't protest, but right before you're asked to be deployed to Iraq again, you ask for this conscientious objector status. A lot of people don't get that.

K. BENDERMAN: Well, this type of reaction to what you see over there is not -- you don't make a snap judgment on it. I mean, once you see how devastating war is to people, their homes are destroyed. They're living outside. They're drinking water out of mud puddles. You just realize how bad war is for people.

ZAHN: So it took that long for it to sink in and process what you had seen?

K. BENDERMAN: Well, yes. Again, you just can't make a snap judgment on this type of thing.

ZAHN: What do you say to some of your critic out there who suggest that you're asking for this status because you know how dangerous it's in -- it is in Iraq -- you've been there before -- and you don't want to risk your life?

K. BENDERMAN: Well, actually, I haven't received that type of reaction from most people. I've had a lot of support.

ZAHN: And Monica, are you 100 percent behind your husband's decision to do this? MONICA BENDERMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. But I think it's not just -- it's very difficult to hear the questions that he's asked. He just made a snap decision, how did he just come to it, because it's not what happened.

And Kevin's not one to talk a lot about what he's thinking, but you watch him over the course of the year from the time he came home until he made the absolute decision that he had to make. And he went through a process. It wasn't -- it wasn't a snap decision.

ZAHN: Kevin, do you feel what you've been through is post- traumatic stress syndrome?

K. BENDERMAN: Well, I've never talked to anyone about that. And I don't really think about it that way. I just realized that war is wrong, and there should be a better way for people to solve their differences than to go to war and kill each other.

ZAHN: Do you feel this way about any war that's been fought?

K. BENDERMAN: Yes. I mean, war is war, no matter what -- which war it would be, it's all the same. It all involves killing.

ZAHN: And you're willing to go to jail to make this stance, instead of going back to Iraq?

K. BENDERMAN: Well, I am fully aware of the consequences of my action, and I am prepared to meet those, whatever may come.

ZAHN: What do you think may come? Do you have any sense at all, from what your attorneys are telling you?

K. BENDERMAN: I don't want to comment on that right now, because it's still under an investigation phase. And I really don't know.

ZAHN: And I know your wife just expressed that she supported your decision to apply for conscientious objective status -- objector status. Does she also support your decision -- we're having a little trouble with the link-up, which is why I'm not asking her this -- but does she support the idea that you may end up in jail over this?

K. BENDERMAN: Well, I believe that she will stand by me no matter what decision I make.

ZAHN: And once again, he's speaking for his wife because we had a little problem with that signal. Sergeant Benderman, Mrs. Benderman, thank you for your time. Thanks for sharing your story with us tonight.

And when we come back, an update on a story that generated a lot of heat here at home. My exclusive interview with the woman who blow the whistle on the FBI.


ZAHN: A Justice Department report out today backs up much of what a whistle blower told us last year about lax security and the FBI's translator program after 9/11.

Sibel Edmonds says her complaints got her fired. Last August, Edmonds told me that she had warned her FBI supervisors about a colleague she claims had a connection to a group on an FBI watch-list.


SIBEL EDMONDS, FBI WHISTLE BLOWER: This particular translator was hired by the bureau and was granted top-secret clearance.

A few months after she was hired, the agent in charge of her translation unit realized that translation to certain targets of FBI, hundreds of pages of translations were all marked as not pertinent to be translated.

So the agent decided to double-check and find out if actually there were some pertinent information there that was blocked, and sure enough, there were many. Well, how many others are there?


ZAHN: Well, today's report from the Justice Department's inspector general did not determine whether Edmonds' charges of espionage were true, but it did criticize how the FBI dealt with those accusations.

The report reads, in part, "With regard to some of Edmonds' allegations, the Office of Inspector General did not find evidence to support her allegations or the inferences that she drew from certain facts. However, Edmonds' assertions regarding a co-worker, when viewed as a whole, raised substantial questions and were supported by various pieces of evidence." The report also says the FBI has still not adequately investigated her claims.

Let's welcome back Sibel.

So first of all, what is your reaction to this report? What does this mean?

EDMONDS: Well, actually, this is a pretty good report. It basically verifies most of the core issues that I reported, the allegations that I took to the inspector general's office. And considering that this is an unclassified version of the report, I believe it vindicates my case and my allegation.

ZAHN: So if that's the case, do you want your job back at the FBI?

EDMONDS: Well, not only that, Paula, I want these issues to become public. First of all, the American people, they have the right to know. No. 2, I'm demanding accountability, rightfully so. And, of course, yes, I do want to get my job back.

ZAHN: Pursuing these charges have come at a great personal cost to you. What has been the most hurtful part of this process for you? EDMONDS: Well, actually, coming to this realization that the system doesn't work the way we are told it works, the way people point out or you thought that you're studying your Civic 101, that by just going around and voting and basically paying your taxes, you can't assume that your system is going to stay in place and work right.

However, there has been some good positive stuff, too, that has -- that has come through this case.

ZAHN: What impact do you think this report today will have on other potential whistle-blowers out there? They've seen what you've gone through to try to substantiate some of these allegations. It hasn't been a picnic?

EDMONDS: No, it hasn't, but I encourage people to actually do that.

On the other hand, with this report, it's discouraging to see that, well, potential whistle-blowers would look at it and say, "All right, you come forward and you notify the authorities of wrongdoings or criminal activities and now what happens? Is -- even after you're vindicated, these issues are not still being investigated and nobody's held accountable. So what am I going to do this for? Because I'm going to be retaliated against, I'm going to get fired. Yet they're not doing anything to correct these problems."

ZAHN: Which is why you filed a number of lawsuits?

EDMONDS: Correct.

ZAHN: Was is it that you want to get out of those if you're successful? You say it's more than wanting your job back. You want to see some policies change at the FBI. What else?

EDMONDS: Well, absolutely. No. 1, what I want is I want the American people to know the truth. And this has to do with the semi- legit organizations that I have referred to and also the wrongdoings and criminal activities that have not been exposed to the state.

No. 2, I want our Congress to do their jobs. I want them to exercise their oversight responsibility, to truly, you know, do it rather than just referring to it.

And also, I mean, as you know, without the transparency and accountability, basically we are not going to achieve anything, either in terms of securities or other issues. So that -- that's the place I'm heading toward.

ZAHN: I know in our last interview, you'd described what it's like to have your credibility constantly chiseled away at by a bureaucracy. You always felt that you were going to prevail. Was there any point of this where you thought you might break?

EDMONDS: Sometimes, yes. But on the other hand, I usually tell people, I have lived in other countries, where you can't even dream about what this country, what our country here offers, in terms of, as I said, of freedom of speech and your constitutional rights here, your civil liberties, your transparency, accountability.

Now we need to work it at. We need to have it preserved, because currently that is not working. And I believe, I feel as if I have more reason to stand for these issues and say, "You know what? The system is not working the way it's supposed to be working."

ZAHN: All right. Sibel, we've got to leave it there this evening. Sibel Edmonds, thanks for your time.

We should make it clear to all of you out there that we contacted the FBI for response to the findings in the inspector general's report, and the bureau issued this statement.

"The FBI has placed its Language Services Program within the Directorate of Intelligence, where language specialists and contract linguists are now a part of the FBI's intelligence career service."

That statement also addressed the issue of Sibel Edmonds' charges: "After the OIG's initial classified report, the FBI conducted further investigation into Ms. Edmonds' allegations. That investigation is continuing."

And finally, regarding whistle-blowers, "Director Mueller reiterated his commitment to protecting from retaliation all employees, including contractors, detainees, task force members or other personnel who work with the FBI and who raise good faith concerns."

There are a lot of ways to defend the nation, but does the Pentagon have even stranger ideas? The latest in stink bomb technology next.


ZAHN: The United States spends close to $400 billion a year on defense. But the people in charge of developing weapons to protect this country have more on their minds than planes, tanks and aircraft carriers, as you'll see in this report from Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't ask, don't tell. Don't breathe, you'll turn gay. Imagine firing a shell filled with an aphrodisiac chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers irresistible to each other. Previously straight soldiers would theoretically be chasing each other around in the trenches, checking out one other instead of American forces.

LAWRENCE GOSTEN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: My very first thought was how bizarre and indecent.

MOOS: Bioethicists might be appalled but journalists gleefully dubbed it the gay bomb, a salute to a 10-year-old plan that only got far enough to be made fun of. The U.S. Air Force Wright Laboratory in Ohio says, "It was just a proposal. That's our job, dreaming up creative non-lethal tactics." Other ideas included chemical weapons that attract swarms of angry wasps or enraged rats.

And then there was this jay dropper, a chemical that would cause severe and lasting halitosis, breath so bad it would reveal bad guys trying to blend in with civilians. If you think getting groped by airport security is bad, wait until they start testing your breath before takeoff.

Some off the wall techniques have been successfully used by the military.

COL. JOHN GARRETT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): In Somalia there was such a thing as sticky foam where people going across an area where it had been applied wouldn't be able to walk and would stick right it to. We called it human flypaper.

MOOS: But when it comes to the gay/rats/bad breath plans, the Pentagon says, "Literally hundreds of proposals for non-lethal weapons have been received by the Department of Defense. None of the systems described in that proposal have been developed."

The gay bomb sort of reminds us of Q cologne, specially formulated to appeal to gay guys. It was a woodsy spicy scent made from a minty patchouli plant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's androgynous, like I am.

MOOS: Speaking of gay bombs, that's what the cologne did.

"The Weekly World News" was almost prophetic months ago when it published this spoof, saying al Qaeda was developing a bomb that turns anyone within a 30-mile radius of the blast gay.

"Planes carrying the weapon will drop them on all major U.S. cities except, of course, San Francisco."

Little did "The Weekly World News" know that a military lab had really suggested something similar. This time it was the military's turn to say, make love not war.



ZAHN: That was Jeanne Moos reporting for us tonight. Let's check with Aaron Brown to get an idea what's ahead on "NEWSNIGHT" tonight.

Hi, Aaron.

AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT": Hi, Paula. That's not the easiest report in the world to follow.

The ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was convicted by a military judge of abusing prisoners. We'll report on that and take a look at the broader question: has the White House tacitly, at least, approved of torture? That and more, coming up tonight on "NEWSNIGHT."

ZAHN: You're the king of segues. I'm surprised you didn't come up with one for some of those bombs that was being proposed.

BROWN: No. Sometimes it's just smarter to be quiet.

ZAHN: I think in this case you're right.

Thanks, Aaron. We'll look forward to 10 p.m.

Now for the result of tonight's "PZN Meter" poll. Are Muslims discriminated against in the United States today? Sixty-nine percent of you said yes; 31 percent say no.

As always, not a scientific poll, just a sampling of those of you who logged onto our web site.

And that wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll be back on Monday to begin our weeklong series, "Defending America." Again, good of you to join us tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Have a great weekend everybody. Good night.


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