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Checkpoint Shooting; Lurid Testimony in Jackson Trial; Pro- Syrian Demonstration

Aired March 8, 2005 - 09:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It's happening now in Beirut, Lebanon. Tens of thousands demonstrating for Syria and against the United States. And President Bush expected to have a strong message for Damascus today. A key speech happens in about an hour.
Also, in the Michael Jackson trial, graphic testimony, spelling out exactly what the singer is accused of doing to children. Now comes the cross-examination on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in Atlanta, this is AMERICAN MORNING, with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Some of the other stories that we're following this morning, more comments from Italy on the shooting of an Italian security agent at a checkpoint in Iraq. Barbara Starr has got some new information from the U.S. side this morning, taking a look at why that checkpoint was set up in the first place and also the rules of engagement.

HEMMER: Also, we are back to our five "New You" participants. We are here to take emails a bit later this hour. The fab five is back a bit later.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Cafferty and the "Question of the Day."


The CEO of Boeing summarily shown the door, lost his job when it was discovered he was having a consensual affair with a female colleague. Office romance, some would suggest, is a fact of life these days. But is it OK?

HEMMER: All right, Jack. Back to that.

First, the headlines. Here's Carol again with us.

Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News," reforming the Middle East. The theme is expected to dominate President Bush's address of the next hour. Senior officials telling CNN the president will call the situation in Lebanon a test of democratic reform. He's also expected to discuss Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. CNN will have live coverage for you at 10:15 a.m. Eastern.

It could be a rocky road for President Bush's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The president has tapped Undersecretary of State John Bolton. Some Democrats are expected to give Bolton a tough time during his confirmation hearing because he's been highly critical of the world body in the past.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bolton will be a strong voice for reform. The confirmation hearing could take place next month.

California, former "Baretta" star Robert Blake may soon learn his fate. Jury deliberations under way in the murder trial against him. Blake faces several charges, including murder and solicitation of murder. He's not expected to be in the courthouse today.

And first lady Laura Bush is celebrating International Women's Day. Any moment now she'll begin a roundtable discussion at the State Department. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also taking part. They're being joined by women leaders from 15 Muslim nations to discuss democracy, empowerment and building civil society.

Back to you.

HEMMER: All right, Carol. Thanks for that.

Want to get straight away to Beirut, Lebanon. There's an enormous pro-Syrian demonstration now filling the streets of Beirut at this hour. The protest was called by Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the United States. There is powerful anti- American sentiment, we are told, there, as President Bush about an hour from now will make another call for Syria to get out of Lebanon.

To Brent Sadler right now.

And Brent, the crowd looks massive. Is there any way to say how large they are today?

And we apologize to our viewers. They're having a little bit of a difficulty there hearing Brent Sadler. They're going to try to bring his microphone up. And if we do get that microphone back, we'll go right back to him.

Brent, let's try this one more time, as we look at the speaker at the podium who is been there, based on my account, for just about an hour. Brent, again, the question, how large is the demonstration there?

OK. Two strikes and we're out on this one. Brent Sadler, we'll get back to him in Beirut -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. We'll get that fixed as soon as we can and bring it back to you. But first, let's get to this dispute over the shooting of a former hostage and Italian security agent by U.S. forces in Iraq. Earlier today, Italy's foreign minister said the incident was an accident but maintained that those responsible should be identified and should be punished. Well, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad says it's in the process of creating a group to investigate the shooting.

CNN's Barbara Starr's got more for us from the Pentagon this morning.

Hey, Barbara. Good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad. Yes, indeed, an investigation is under way. And a couple of new developments.

Officials in Baghdad tell CNN that that checkpoint Friday night in which the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was wounded and the Italian security agent was shot and killed, that checkpoint was set up because U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte was expected to be passing by. And this was a security measure for his motorcade. But all of the questions still very much up in the air. These checkpoints in Iraq are extremely controversial because many of the questions center around whether or not they are visible, clearly marked and clearly understood to be U.S. military checkpoints, especially by Iraqis traveling on those roads.

Now, we checked the U.S. Central Command Web site and found an extremely interesting reference to these checkpoints. In an article written by a U.S. soldier, he spoke about -- he wrote about a night of checkpoint operations. And look at one of the things he said.

He said, "The soldiers moved to a different location, this one was much darker, on a desolate road, and the troops turned all the lights off except for a soldier holding a flashlight to signal approaching vehicles." So this is an interesting indication, Soledad, a flashlight. He says that was the indicator, raising a lot of questions about whether you would stop for a flashlight on a road in Iraq at night -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. No question about that. You know, you get the sense that all of this sort of underscores just how -- how difficult and delicate these situations are. I'm curious to know if there are specific rules about what you're supposed to do when you get to a checkpoint?

STARR: Well, there are rules of engagement, and they start with this: that U.S. soldiers have the right to defend themselves anywhere, any time in Iraq if they feel they are being threatened. But in these checkpoints, when a cars are traveling fast, it becomes a very significant issue because there's very little time and the soldiers would have to make a split-second decision about whether or not they do feel they're threatened.

The typical rule of engagement are hand signals, lights, warning shots and then disabling shots. But the question again remains. These are split-second decisions, usually in Iraq at night on dark roads. And do Iraqis and do other people traveling on those roads really understand that these are military checkpoints?

There have been an awful lot of situations where Iraqi citizens themselves have come under gunfire at these checkpoints. But in the case of the situation with the Italians, we must emphasize it all remains under investigation -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it does. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this morning. Barbara, thank you.

HEMMER: Some of the most lurid testimony so far has surfaced in the Michael Jackson trial. The younger brother of the accuser is back on the stand today. And a warning to viewers, some of the testimony in this report may be too explicit for some.

To Miguel Marquez now, live outside the Santa Maria Courthouse in California.

Good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Bill, it was certainly R-rated for much of the time in the courtroom yesterday. It's the first time we had direct testimony from the accuser's family of what happened at Neverland Ranch. And it made for uncomfortable moments in the courtroom.


QUESTION: Michael, how did you feel hearing the allegations?

MICHAEL JACKSON, ENTERTAINER: I'm sorry, I'm under gag order.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Michael Jackson answered no questions, after the brother of his accuser testified that he saw Jackson molest his then 13-year-old brother twice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My first impression of the witness is one who's earnest, straightforward.

MARQUEZ: The high school freshman told prosecutors that he walked in on the pop star and his brother in Jackson's bedroom. The boy alleged Jackson's left hand was in his brother's pants while he was pleasuring himself with his right hand.

JIM HAMMER, LEGAL ANALYST: The part that he was haziest on, that caused me some problem, was on what he said he saw at the time of the two alleged molestations. He seemed pretty hazy on the clothing description.

MARQUEZ: The 14-year-old testified that Jackson showed them sexual explicit magazines, and that on one occasion, while both brothers were in the pop star's bedroom, Jackson walked in naked and aroused and told them, "It's only natural."

The boy also testified that Jackson encouraged drinking at Neverland by turning into it a game. The allegation, the pop star and the boys would make crank calls. If the number dialed didn't work, then the caller had to drink. The prosecution contends Jackson got his victim drunk and then molested him.

HAMMER: On the molestation, the heart of that case comes down to the testimony of the alleged victim in this case. I think at this pace, the jury's going to see him in a couple of days.


MARQUEZ: There is a palpable sense here about -- from all the court watchers that the accuser himself will be testifying in the next couple of days. It's not entirely clear when that will happen, though, at this point. But the cross-examination of the accuser's brother is set to begin today some time.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Miguel, you were inside that courtroom. How did Michael Jackson react during all this? As you phrase it, the R-rated testimony you sat through?

MARQUEZ: He was very -- he was very attentive the entire day, sort of sitting up straight in his seat, one hand on his face. He seems to put that one finger on his face.

He really seems to focus in on that -- when there is that sort of testimony. When the judge allowed in some magazines, the covers of magazines to be shown, he actually spoke up in court saying, "I can't hear. I can't hear." He is paying a lot of attention to what's happening in this trial -- Bill.

HEMMER: Miguel Marquez outside the courthouse there in California.

Here's Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Another look at the weather now. Chad Myers at the CNN Center with the very latest for us.


HEMMER: Back to Beirut now. We have contact with Brent Sadler.

Brent, tell us, how large is this demonstration we've been watching now for about three hours?

BRENT SADLER, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Bill. These numbers are indeed very impressive.

We've seen anti-Syrian protests a couple of blocks away from here for the most part of the past three weeks, but this has been a truly massive show of support for Syria by Lebanese. Lebanese have been thronging to this central Beirut square for many, many hours. And they've been listening to speakers and denouncing U.S. policy in the Middle East consecutively. We've seen signs being carried by many Lebanese saying no to U.N. Security Resolution 1559, which demands a Syrian troop withdrawal, an immediate withdrawal, and also demands eventually for the disarming of militias, which means Hezbollah. Now, Hezbollah did call for this protest today. Hezbollah now making it absolutely clear to the international community that it believes there is a plot to weaken Syria, a plot to harm Lebanon, and a plot to pressure Hezbollah in these very complicated circumstances surrounding this Syrian troop withdrawal.

Now, we do have reports that Syria has already begun the first phase of a withdrawal of Syrian troops from parts of Lebanon. This is not, however, a removal of troops across the border at this stage. That's being deferred.

But certainly, when you look at the size of the crowd in downtown Beirut, truly massive, and sends out a different signal to the one we've been seeing here in terms of anti-Syrian, pro-freedom from Syria marches that have really caught the world's attention over the past three weeks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Brent Sadler, thanks.

That's the view from Beirut. In about an hour from now, we'll hear from the president set to give a major speech on the war on terror, will address the issue of Syria. We also expect him to talk about Iran.

That happens at 10:15 a.m. Eastern Time, again, 60 minutes away down in D.C. We'll have it live.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, outrage in Texas. A nightclub catches fire. Police are caught making jokes about it. Now there are charges of racism. The police chief straight ahead.

HEMMER: Also, the mystery in the Florida Keys. Dozens of dolphins beached and dying along the shore. Experts trying to solve the mystery behind it today.

O'BRIEN: Plus, Dan Rather leaves the CBS anchor chair tomorrow. Some say, though, it should have happened sooner. Surprising comments from Walter Cronkite just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: There is an ongoing investigation now in Austin, Texas, and the claims of racism within the police force there. Five officers, four dispatchers have been suspended for what the chief calls inappropriate computer messages. Another officer has been given a written reprimand.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The screen -- the screen -- let's talk -- says "Burn, baby, burn." That is ridiculous. HEMMER (voice-over): She's describing a computer message sent from one Austin, Texas, policeman to another as a nightclub with a predominantly African-American clientele went up in flames. Other messages among officers and dispatchers the night of February 18 read, "The roof of a club... that's funny. Gives a whole new meaning to the roof, the roof is on fire." Another says, "I have some extra gasoline if they need it."

The Austin police chief maintains that the comments both from white and Hispanic officers were not racist, just inappropriate. Not everyone agrees.

NELSON LINDER, PRESIDENT, AUSTIN NAACP: I think the chief is brain dead when it comes to racial issues. Like most people, he's in denial. There's no way a white cop would say this about a white establishment. And for him to say that is absolutely insulting to our community.


HEMMER: There were more message, too. Here are two, in fact, from one officer.

"You can smell from Interstate 35. It is the smell of victory." And "My night is made. I just had a lady ask me if it was burning. I said, 'Yep.' She was upset. I was enthralled."

The Austin police chief is Stan Knee. Earlier today, I asked him why officers would make such comments.


CHIEF STAN KNEE, AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT: There's a variety of reasons that have come to the surface, frustration and such. But it is clearly not the value of our department to put such messages on our mobile data terminals or in phone calls.

These individual officers, when they were recently disciplined, in meeting with the chief clearly understood that -- clearly admitted their mistake and accepted their discipline, which was, I believe, substantial.

HEMMER: This was a predominantly African-American club. And the officers, the dispatchers involved are white, they're Hispanic. Can you understand how somebody would think this was racism?

KNEE: Oh, I think so. But I think we also went to great lengths to look at that from doing a quick and thorough investigation. The investigation actually lasted less than two weeks but was very thorough.

We went so far as to look at their backgrounds that were completed before they were hired. None of these officers had any prior suspensions in their civil service record. And so I believe, although I can't look into their hearts to see what is there, I can tell you that it's my belief that they did not intend this to be racial and that they clearly understand, as does everybody at the Austin Police Department, that we do not tolerate this kind of conduct.


HEMMER: Two more points on this. Chief Knee also tells me officers will be sent to tolerance training. The police officers also say last year 129 calls of police responses in this particular club took place in Austin. That ranks fifth among the clubs now operating in Austin, Texas -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, it is the end of an era at CBS News. Seventy- three-year-old anchor Dan Rather will step down from the "CBS Evening News" tomorrow night. That is 24 years to the day after he took over for Walter Cronkite. And even with a new era at hand at CBS, Cronkite is wondering why it didn't begin earlier.

Cronkite spoke only with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


WALTER CRONKITE, AUTHOR, "MEMOIRS: A REPORTER'S LIFE": It surprised quite a few people at CBS and elsewhere that -- that without being able to put up the ratings beyond third in a three-man field, that they tolerated his being there for so long.

WOLF BLITZER, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": So you would have been happier if Bob Schieffer would have replaced Dan Rather a while ago?

CRONKITE: I would have thought so, certainly. If not Bob, someone else.


O'BRIEN: Sixty-eight-year-old Bob Schieffer begins anchoring the broadcast on Thursday on an interim basis.

HEMMER: And an interesting good-bye party.

Another woman in Scott Peterson's life now writing a book. Peterson's half-sister tells us what changed her mind about her brother's guilt and what the family thinks now about her new tell-all. She joins us this hour on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's get right to the "Question of the Day" with Jack.

CAFFERTY: Good morning. Thanks, Soledad.

The board at Boeing fired the CEO, Harry Stonecipher, Monday for having a consensual affair with an unnamed female Boeing executive. A fact of life, though, is that office romance is plentiful. It's all around us. According to a survey of employees by career publisher Vault, 58 percent of Americans say they'd had a fling with a co-worker. Twenty- two percent say they met their spouse or significant other while on the job.

The question this morning is: Are office romances acceptable?

Tom in Washington writes: "As a 29-year Boeing employee, I do not believe CEO Stonecipher should have been forced to resign because of a consensual relationship with a female executive. If ethics is the standard of measure for personal behavior, then both executives should have been fired."


Dean in New Jersey, "Wasn't it an office romance that got Winston Smith in so much trouble in Orwell's '1984'? Apparently big brother has arrived in the specter of a human resources manager and an attorney in a cheap suit."

Lorraine in New Jersey writes: "I met my husband at work and we were discreet. It did not interfere with our work. I actually could have moved up the ladder faster and made more money, but he didn't want anyone to accuse him of favoritism."

And John writes from Wisconsin, "Is office romance OK? It depends on the shape of your office. If you work in a rectangular office, you'll lose your job. If your office is oval, you get to keep your job."

HEMMER: Stonecipher, did he get busted through technology? Or was it e-mails or what was it?

CAFFERTY: I don't know.

O'BRIEN: I don't know either. Yes, one would imagine...

HEMMER: "Stonecipher," what a name.

CAFFERTY: It's a great name.

Why wasn't -- I wonder why the woman -- there's something we don't know about that story.

O'BRIEN: Oh, there' so much.

CAFFERTY: There's a weasel thing going on there. Because the woman apparently is still working there. He, apparently, according to published reports, had been separated from his wife for a period of months before the relationship started. So it wasn't one of those illicit...

HEMMER: First time offense?

O'BRIEN: But there's something that's...

HEMMER: But there's -- huh?

HEMMER: First time offense?

CAFFERTY: I don't know. How would I know about...

HEMMER: There's a lot of things we don't know.

CAFFERTY: How would I know about Stonecipher's romantic history?

HEMMER: Stonecipher.

O'BRIEN: I agree with you, though, it feels like there's more that needs to come out about this story and probably will eventually.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Sure. Maybe we can do another question.

O'BRIEN: Gosh, I hope so, Jack.

HEMMER: One more batch.

CAFFERTY: It's either that or Martha.


"New You Revolution" is over. One of our friends actually had to stop running so he could lose weight. He'll tell us what he had to do and why in a moment here.

And dozens of dolphins stranded in the Florida Keys. Can they be saved?

We'll get to that in a moment as we continue after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Just about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.

In just a few minutes, we're going to take a look at how much work is going into saving these dozens of dolphins that have beached themselves in Florida. We're talking to one of the people in charge of the rescue.

Also, a college student right there. She's on her spring break. She just up and volunteered. Now she's got a little baby dolphin in her care.

HEMMER: Good for her.

Sanjay is back, too, the fab five, "New You Revolution," coming to a finale today. The fab five with us, back with us here, taking some emails. So many hundreds of thousands of emails they've gotten, too, about their quest to stay in shape.


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