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Clock Ticking for Terri Schiavo and Her Parents; In Texas, a Desperate Search for Survivors

Aired March 24, 2005 - 08:00   ET


The clock is ticking for Terri Schiavo and her parents. A Supreme Court justice now considers what could be their final hope.

In Texas, a desperate search for survivors at that massive refinery explosion. The sprawling plant a scene of utter devastation.

From Iraq, are U.S. commanders now considering bringing thousands of U.S. troops home? Inside what could be a huge decision, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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


Welcome back, everybody.

Lots to cover this morning in the Terry Schiavo case. We've got reports coming to you from Washington and Florida this morning.

Also, we'll check in with Jeff Greenfield about just where the line is drawn between principle and politics in the Schiavo case. That's a line that seems to be moving a lot these days.

HEMMER: Also, this story we're following throughout the week here. Did Osama bin Laden barely escape from U.S. forces in Tora Bora? This was late 2001, early 2002. Some new information that's casting doubt on what Americans may have been told about that key battle.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Cafferty -- good morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did you actually use the words principle and politics in the same sentence?

O'BRIEN: I know.

CAFFERTY: There ought to be a law against that.

Coming up in "The Cafferty File," the minds at MIT have come up with a way to make your snooze bar on your alarm clock a thing of the past. A lesson in humility for a major leaguer with some major attitude. And a 10-year-old boy savors the sweet smell of success.


Thank you, Jack.

O'BRIEN: That's good.

HEMMER: Let's get to Carol Costello again, the headlines this hour -- good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you.

Good morning to all of you.

Now in the news, authorities say one person is still unaccounted for after a huge explosion in Texas. The blast taking place at a B.P. oil refinery plant 40 miles southeast of Houston. At least 14 people were killed in that blast. More than 70 others hurt. The head of the oil company is ruling out foul play.


ROSS PILLARI, PRESIDENT, BP AMERICAS: There's no indication of any sabotage or terrorism. It's not unusual for the FBI or other authorities to contact us whenever we have something like this happen. It's pretty routine.


O'BRIEN: Federal investigators are expected to survey the scene to try and determine the cause of this explosion.

In the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, there's apparently a fire burning this hour in the presidential palace. Video just in to CNN shows thick black smoke coming from the main government building, known as the White House. Just hours earlier, thousands of protesters stormed the facility demanding the president resign. Much more on this story throughout the morning.

Social Security is expected to run out faster than previously thought; a little fast, at least. Treasury Secretary John Snow talked about the results of the annual Social Security trustees report. It predicts Social Security will be in the red by 2017 and its trust fund will be exhausted by 2041. Keep in mind that is only a year sooner than recent estimates.

And, get a load of this. It's alligator season in Florida. Take a look at that thing. Animal control experts pulled two of them from a lake in southern Florida. One was six and a half feet long. The other measuring about 11 feet. It's just one of more than a dozen alligator complaints in the area. And apparently one of the alligators ate a cat. A poodle was in danger, but now that poodle is breathing a little easier this morning.

HEMMER: We watched that thing live yesterday.

COSTELLO: It's frightening.

HEMMER: That's a big gator.


HEMMER: Thank you, Carol.


HEMMER: We want to update you now on where we stand at this hour in the Terri Schiavo case.

Two courts have decisions to make, possibly today. There's coverage from the U.S. Supreme Court in a moment; also, from the State of Florida, where a circuit court announcement could come at any moment.

Joe Johns is at the Supreme Court.

Bob Franken is at the hospice again in Pinellas Park.

First to Joe in D.C.

What's the status, Joe, of the appeal there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, still no word from the Supreme Court. This appeal came here to the court around 11:00 last night, Eastern time, into the office of Justice Anthony Kennedy. He is the circuit justice for the 11th Circuit. Of course, it's a 40- page document his staff gets to read. And then the question is what do you do next?

We have some graphics to give us a sense of the pleadings that came here to the court yesterday

Obviously, they say she is starving to death, Terri Schiavo is, and she also has starvation and dehydration. If the tube is not reinserted by order of this court, Terri will die before this court is able to consider the merits of the petition.

There's also a reference to what they call a miraculous event that occurred during the weekend after Terri's feeding tube was removed and -- "Which fundamentally alters the manner in which Terri's claims are to be viewed by the federal courts when Congress, in bipartisan and dramatic fashion, thundered the message that the United States of America must stand for life, accuracy and fairness and in the process afforded an incapacitated woman," that apparently a reference, that miracle reference apparently to Barbara Weller, a lawyer who happens to be a friend of the parents, who said over the weekend that Terri Schiavo apparently tried to mouth the words "I want to live."

No word yet from the court on this pleading and we'll let you know as soon as we get it -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Joe, thanks for that, from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Down to Florida again and Bob Franken, who's been in front of that hospice for days now.

And, Bob, I know the protesters normally do not show until later in the morning. Is anyone there now? And what's your sense of the mood so far today?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mood has been subdued throughout. The protesters, you're right, do show up. They're here to demonstrate in support, for the most part, of reinserting the tube. They had a vigil last night. It's part of what has amounted to a routine, just to make sure that their presence is felt and that they make their very strong feelings known.

Meanwhile, court action is expected today in this area by the judge, George Greer, who last Friday ordered the tube removed. He is considering a new request by Governor Bush to have the state take authority for Terri Schiavo and presumably reconnect the nutrition tube.

Among the pieces of evidence, the neurosurgeon, or, rather, a neurologist who is cited by Governor Bush as saying that he challenges the diagnosis that Terri Schiavo is in this so-called persistent vegetative state. He says that she is much more aware and much more conscious.

But critics say he is only basing that on a cursory look.

Nevertheless, the judge is going to have to decide the merits of it today.

And Terri's father spoke about this on CNN.


BOB SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO'S FATHER: What we have been told by many, many doctors, that if she was given proper therapy, she could recover to a point where she could rejoin society. She'd never be 100 percent, but she could improve. She talks. She's not in PVS. She responds. She's aware. But she's not been treated in 10, 12 years. She's been left, literally, on a shelf in a room.

And the prognosis for Terri, the prognosis for her is that if she was given any kind of treatment, therapy, she could improve. And that's what we've been told by dozens of doctors.


FRANKEN: And the message from the family, of course, when all is said and done, is that time is running out -- Bill.

HEMMER: Bob Franken in Pinellas Park.

Joe Johns at the U.S. Supreme Court before that -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The Schiavo case has dragged on in state courts, but it wasn't until this past weekend and an extraordinary session in Congress that the case vaulted onto the national political agenda. CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield joins us this morning -- good morning to you.


O'BRIEN: The case is obviously political at this point.

Do you see it, though, as Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other side of this clear line?

GREENFIELD: No. I mean it's that way up to a point in the broadest sense. The Republicans are and have been an essentially pro- life party. We're talking mostly about abortion. And the Democrats are essentially a pro-choice party and much more reluctant to assert this culture of life argument.

But this case is way out of the -- a lot of other dimensions. And the first one is that the use of federal power by Congress and the president to override state courts has some institutional conservatives uneasy, even opposed. Virginia Republican John Warner spoke in opposition to the bill that was passed last weekend. And there are a lot of so-called federalists, people who are just generally opposed to the extension of federal power and who object, who say look, this is the same thing that we objected to when liberals did it.

Also, when it comes to issues like the so-called right to die, you've got, for instance, other categories that blur. The disability rights movement, who generally are thought of on the liberal side of things and that they want government action to protect the handicapped, the disabled, their right to jobs, to housing, barrier- free streets and buildings. They're lined up solidly with the parents on this issue because they oppose the notion that -- they're worried that this notion about a diminished quality of life might persuade doctors to end lives too easily.

You have Tom Harkin from Iowa, a Democrat, one of the Senate's most liberal members, who stands with the parents.

So it's not quite as cut and dried, I think, as that.

O'BRIEN: But it's political on both sides, right?

GREENFIELD: Oh, absolutely. I mean you had House Majority Leader Tom DeLay assert the other day that the right to die argument in this case was a broad attack by liberals. And he's saying, and I'm quoting here, "This is exactly the issue that's going on in America, that of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and many others."

Tom DeLay, of course, has been under heavy fire for a variety of alleged ethical improprieties.

From the other side, there have been charges -- read Maureen Dowd's column in the "New York Times" today -- that this is really about the religious conservatives exercising payback for their efforts to reelect the president and that this was something the Republicans had to do to prove they weren't just courting the social conservatives without meaning it.

So, yes, both sides are accusing the other people of using this for political advantage.

O'BRIEN: There can be big implications to the people who emerge as the leaders in cases like this. And you look at Bill Frist, who maybe one day hopes to be running for president, in 2008, what do you think the -- however it ends, the implications are for him?

GREENFIELD: You know, maybe it's a measure of this case's complexity that overnight I changed my mind about what I wanted to say to you. My original answer was yes, Bill Frist, who is also a doctor -- he doesn't like you to call him senator, Dr. Frist -- Senate majority leader, was clearly in the crosshairs by the conservatives, saying if you want our support in 2008, you're going to have to rally to this one. And then I was going to say well, you know, this is three years away, it's not like the Elian Gonzalez case back in 2000...

O'BRIEN: Bad timing for Al Gore on that one.

GREENFIELD: Right. It happened in the spring of the election year. It cost him tens of thousands of Cuban-American votes and the presidency. And my original notion was well, it's three years away.

I'm now, I don't know quite what, but I now think that for a lot of social conservatives, the intensity of this case, the passion on this case is so great that, for instance, the idea that a pro-choice Republican like a Giuliani or a Pataki could somehow compete for the nomination, it makes it tougher, because the base of the party, which is heavily in the social conservative, evangelical, whatever you want to call it, movement, I think this case is not going to go away, because it's been -- it's too much in our consciousness. I think this conversation has gone on all across America in living rooms and kitchen and around the water cooler.

And so I think for people who feel passionately that Terri Schiavo should be kept alive, I'm not sure time is going to diminish their feeling on this.

O'BRIEN: Adding more politics to what, essentially, at the end of the day, is a struggle between, you know, between members of a family about what to do...

GREENFIELD: Very quickly, I know people who I consider ardent liberals who are saying, you know, I don't know about this. And I know some ardent conservatives who are saying I don't like what the president and the Republican leadership have done in stepping into so private a matter. This case crosses these lines.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is. It is a fascinating case on that alone.


O'BRIEN: Jeff Greenfield, thanks, as always.


O'BRIEN: Bill.

HEMMER: Soledad, from Florida today, seven children may have life threatening infections after touching animals at a petting zoo. Five are in critical condition with kidney failure. Health officials suspect E. coli bacteria.

Jack Hanna is director emeritus at the Columbus Zoo back in Ohio.

Today he's in Orlando, Florida.

Jack, welcome back here.


HEMMER: Good morning to you.

Listen, these petting zoos seem pretty harmless on the surface. You take the bottle, you feed the little calf, you walk in there and you milk cows.

How much, in general, concern do you have about these petting zoos, knowing the story we're looking at in Florida?

HANNA: Well, I think it's very important to understand that petting zoos are very, very important. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association, we have accredited zoos in the country that have -- most of them have petting zoos, whether it's Columbus, Ohio; Busch Gardens, Tampa; all these places are very, very important for kids' confidence in animals, the first exposure they have to animals other than their dog and cat. Plus veterinarians check them on a weekly and monthly basis. And I think that what we have here are maybe some areas, some animals that might not have been checked that much.

As far as what you look for when you go to a petting zoo, you must look for animals that might have diarrhea. Is the hay really musty or uriny, that kind of thing? Make sure you don't eat before you go in there. So there are a lot of things that you can do, you know -- or eat before you go to a petting zoo, not, obviously, after.

HEMMER: Let me back you up just a second here.

Are you saying that there's a difference between a regular zoo and the county fairs, apparently, where this organization traveled to a number of locations?

HANNA: Yes. What I'm saying is I know the zoo world. I know in the zoo world we have incredible veterinary care. These animals have better veterinary care than most people have health care. And I don't know much about the fairs. I haven't been to their petting zoos. I'm not trying to knock a fair's petting zoo. I'm just saying that the animals travel a great deal. They might pick up animals at other farms on the way, which is what they could do. As long as these animals are checked in the fairs and that type of thing, on a weekly or monthly -- especially a weekly basis -- you know, when you move from place to place and that type of thing.

Our animals are in stationary places and they're there their entire lifetime. A lot of animals -- remember this -- when you go in there, we have wash, at most new petting zoos, you go outside and you wash your hands or the mother should take Wipees (ph), that type of thing.

You know, it's common sense. I think you're just as safe at a petting zoo as you are in a mall or a movie theater.

HEMMER: I hear you.

Listen, in terms of safety, a couple of things we want to point out. On the screen for our viewers, make sure the zoo is clean. That's the one thing you say.

HANNA: Right. Correct.

HEMMER: Also, if animals are sickly, skinny and not alert, stay away.

HANNA: Right.

HEMMER: And soap and water available for the public. I think that third factor is so critical.

But look at the first one.

How do you know a zoo is clean?

HANNA: Well, you automatically -- obviously, you have a barnyard smell. That's what people come to a zoological park. I think the smell and the sight is part of the entire experience.

But when you go into a barn and you see just hay full of urine and it's just blows your -- you know, you'll know right away when you walk into a barn, if you've ever been to a dairy barn and it's not clean, you'll know right away when you have that smell. You'll know right away if you look at an animal's coat. You know, don't let your kids go up and kiss the animal's mouth and that type of thing. You know, you're not going to avoid it all the time.

A lot of petting zoos now have brushes where we brush the hair of the sheep and the goat. You look at the pigs, you look at the chickens. They might touch a rabbit. And I'll tell you, it's very, very important that this continues, because a lot of children, it's their first exposure, as I said, to other animals other than the ones at home, and for confidence -- I've seen kids come into our petting zoo in Columbus that start screaming the minute they see a little baby rabbit because they don't know what that is. And so it's an important thing, especially kids with high anxiety, to be able to visit a petting zoo.

HEMMER: Ultimately wash your hands, too. HANNA: Right.

HEMMER: Especially leaving there.

Thanks, Jack.

HANNA: Thank you all.

HEMMER: Jack Hanna down there in Orlando.

By the way, the owner of that interactive exhibit sent us a statement. His name is Tom Umiker. He says the following: "My family and I are deeply concerned for the health and well being of the children who are ill. We're currently cooperating with local and state health officials to help determine the origin of this outbreak. It is important to note that we are not the sole potential source and each one must be checked out."

Again, Ag-Venture Farm with that statement there.

Best to those children, too, recovering, hopefully, on the road to recovery there in Florida -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A look at the weather this morning.

Chad's got the day off, but Rob Marciano at the CNN Center -- hey, Rob, good morning again.



HEMMER: In a moment here, it's the news many military families have hoped for. Could thousands of American troops be coming home from Iraq? A report from the Pentagon on what's happening there in a moment.

O'BRIEN: And new information that may suggest that Osama bin Laden slipped past coalition forces back in 2001. We're "On Terror's Trail" right after the break.

HEMMER: Also, supporters of Terri Schiavo's parents claim new evidence that she may not be in that persistent vegetative state. Dr. Sanjay Gupta tries to explain some answers for us in a moment here after this, live in New York City on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: We're "On Terror's Trail" this morning to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. That's where one detainee says Osama bin Laden was during the battle for Tora Bora. This was December of 2001, January of 2002. It's there that some experts believe bin Laden escaped, escaped the grip of U.S. and Afghan forces just three months after the attacks of September 11.

Philip Smucker is the author of "Al Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media," "On Terror's Trail."

He's my guest now from Baghdad.

And we welcome you back here to our program on AMERICAN MORNING.

This report that came out of Cuba, does that settle the issue about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden during that battle?

PHILIP SMUCKER, AUTHOR, "AL QAEDA'S GREAT ESCAPE: I think it does, Bill, particularly because the Pentagon lawyers are using this as summary evidence in the case of keeping that detainee there in Guantanamo Bay. So presumably they're convinced of their own case.

HEMMER: Yes. Why believe him, though?

SMUCKER: Well, the Pentagon believes him and there have been interrogations of prisoners across-the-board. The head of the Green Berets on the ground at the time told me in my book that he believed that bin Laden was there. Bin Laden's chef, who I interview in my book, said that he left on the same day bin Laden left. Bin Laden went one way, he went another. And bin Laden's financier also was convinced that bin Laden had left and skipped into Pakistan.

So I think it's relatively settled with this document, because the Pentagon is using it again as evidence to keep this man in Guantanamo.

HEMMER: The other thing we know about this detainee, Philip, is that apparently his days of fighting in Afghanistan go back to the days of 1980 and the Soviet occupation. Apparently, he also had a number of bodyguards, as well.

How significant is that, if, indeed, that's the case for this particular fighter?

SMUCKER: Well, we know certainly that Tora Bora was an ancient redoubt used by bin Laden, used by all the Afghans who were fighting the Soviets at that time. It was used specifically because it was right on the border and it was an impenetrable redoubt.

Tommy Franks wrote in the "New York Times," of course, that we never had bin Laden within our grasp. And I argue otherwise, that, in fact, if we had surrounded Tora Bora, we'd put the troops on the ground, 5,000, 10,000 foot soldiers, we could have closed the mountain passes and we could have taken down bin Laden at this time.

HEMMER: Yes, that's one topic we want to bring you on today.

The other one deals with what's happening northwest of Baghdad, this report -- you can see it on the front page of the "New York Times" today -- deals with a number of insurgents who apparently have set up a camp northwest of the capital city. Eighty insurgents were wiped out a few days ago.

What happened there, Philip? SMUCKER: Well, it's very interesting, I've spoken to two majors now in Tikrit, which is the relevant area. The U.S. forces were on the ground there and they supplied air support, as well, to the ministry of interior commandos who went into this camp.

Now, this camp had people from Afghanistan. It had Filipinos. It had Sudanese. It had Algerians. It was almost an Afghan style camp, which is interesting because it was taken down, but also because it's reminiscent of what we saw in Afghanistan. It was a small scale, but it was in a swampy area. The fighters were using boats to get in and out of the area.

Now, the Americans are not as convinced as the Iraqis that the 85 are dead. In fact, they're saying a lot of them escaped by boat.

HEMMER: That's interesting, too. And when you consider what the insurgents have done, mostly in urban areas, if, indeed, this may be some sort of new tactic, if you're setting up a camp outside in a rural area along this lake.

Is there any evidence at this point that suggests that is a new style of approach and training for the insurgents?

SMUCKER: Yes. As a matter of fact, Bill, when the insurgents were flushed out of Falluja, which you remember was a stronghold, a lot of them moved out into these rural areas and set up these small scale camps. So, whereas last year at this time when I was here, a lot of the cells were in big cities and they were hiding out there and carrying out their attacks, now they've chosen to move out into the countryside, where they're gathered together. They're getting more people across the Syrian border and they're conducting their attacks from these smaller bases.

HEMMER: Philip Smucker covering two stories for us today from Baghdad.

Thanks for your time there in Iraq -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, there is new indication of when thousands of American troops might be coming home from Iraq. What would it take? How soon? That report from the Pentagon is just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.


HEMMER: Welcome back.

Here's Jack and the Question of the Day.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Bill.

Terri Schiavo's parents going back to try to get the Supreme Court to take one more look at the case of their daughter, whose feeding tube was removed last Friday. The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to look at this case in -- on several occasions in the past. But in light of the passage by Congress and signing by the president over the weekend of this bill allowing jurisdiction of the case to go to the federal courts, her parents are going to try it one more time.

Should the Supreme Court hear this case is the question this morning.

Sharon in New Jersey writes: "I couldn't agree with Jack more, there are big issues facing this country and once again the president, Congress and the press are diverting our attention from them with an issue that has little to do with real national issues. Families make the tough decision to remove feeding tubes every day of the week."

Kim in Pennsylvania writes: "Absolutely. They should have the feeding tube reinserted and have her evaluated by multiple physicians to get an accurate opinion on her condition. No one is giving her a fair chance. If this woman is capable of feeling that pain, it would be a horrible way to die."

Lisa in New York writes: "Schiavo's parents don't need a Supreme Court justice to tell them their daughter is gone. They need a counselor to help them cope with the loss and the media needs to federal courts on issues we can do something about, like Social Security."

And Paul in Pennsylvania writes: "Regarding yourself one day being in a vegetative state and the fear of not having the plug pulled, you have nothing to worry about. There are more than enough of your viewers who would jump at the chance to yank the plug right out of the socket."

Why, thank you, Paul.

HEMMER: Yes, we could use batteries there, too.

O'BRIEN: Possible.

HEMMER: To actually...

CAFFERTY: Get me a cab, will you?

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Jack.

HEMMER: Keep the receipt.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush says there is new evidence that Terri Schiavo is not in this persistent vegetative state. This is a statement that came out late yesterday afternoon. Was Terri Schiavo possibly misdiagnosed? Or is the governor playing politics with her life?

We'll talk to her former legal guardian in a moment here, as we continue on this AMERICAN MORNING.


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