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Pair of Bomb Attacks in Iraq; Ephedra Ruling; Michael Jackson Trial

Aired April 15, 2005 - 08:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A grim search in a downtown Paris for more victims of a massive hotel fire. At least 18 people are dead, dozens hurt this morning.
The search for 13-year-old Sarah Lunde in Florida, why investigators now want volunteers to look for beer bottles.

And the Yankees and the Red Sox at it again.


GARY SHEFFIELD, YANKEE OUTFIELDER: To get punched in the mouth, you know, you don't -- you don't expect that at a baseball game.


O'BRIEN: Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield mixing it up with the fans. More bad blood 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: Good morning, everybody. Nine o'clock here in New York. Good to have you along with us today.

Final hour on this Friday. And the Michael Jackson trial gets under way in a couple of hours. The mother of the accuser still the talk of this case. We'll find out about some potentially important changes in her behavior on the stand. Two days on the stand so far this week; another one today.

O'BRIEN: Riveting if you ask some of the folks who have been in the courtroom.


O'BRIEN: Also this morning, the diet supplement Ephedra back in the news. A federal judge saying the FDA was wrong to ban it. We're going to talk to a sports medicine doctor about whether this drug is really as harmful as first thought.

HEMMER: What's on your mind, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: They serve 50 million people every day in 30,000 restaurants around the world. Today is the 50th anniversary of McDonald's. The question is, was it really that good an idea?

HEMMER: Good deal. Thank you, Jack.

To the headlines, top of the hour. Here's Carol again.

Good morning.

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

"Now in the News," at least one person is dead and eight others wounded in Baghdad this morning. Insurgents launching attacks. The apparent targets, American and Iraqi military convoys.

In the meantime, a prayer vigil is planned tonight for the American businessman being held hostage in Iraq, Jeffrey Ake. U.S. officials are working to try and secure his release.

Also, a deadly fire at a Paris hotel. Authorities say at least 18 people were killed in the blaze, including several children. Dozens of others are wounded. The flames gutted the six-floor Paris- Opera hotel. Officials fear more casualties may be found inside that building.

A 13-year-old boy charged with murder is set to appear in juvenile court. The boy, whose name is being withheld, is accused of beating his 15-year-old friend with a baseball bat after a pony league game. The attack happened on Tuesday night. If convicted, that 13- year-old could be held in a juvenile facility until he turns 25.

In Florida, the search for 13-year-old Sarah Lunde is taking a new turn. Detectives asking people to look for empty bottles of Budweiser or Bud Light. That's the type of beer a convicted sex offender apparently snatched from the girl's kitchen around the time she disappeared.

We should point out officials have not made any definite links between this man and the missing teenager. A $10,000 reward is being offered to anyone with information in the case.

Do I need to tell you this? The clock is ticking for all of you procrastinators out there. It is April 15, the deadline to file your income taxes. Only 15 hours and counting left for taxpayers on the East Coast. And that's with some post offices staying open until midnight.

If you're absolutely sure you will not make it, today is also the deadline for filing a tax extension. And you must get that in, especially if you owe the government money.


COSTELLO: Yes. If you're getting money back, they don't mind so much.

HEMMER: Right. O'BRIEN: Yes, take your time. If you're getting money back, hey, you know, don't even feel like you have to file right now. But if you owe money, they want the check right this moment.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Carol.

HEMMER: Thank you, Carol.

We want to get to Iraq as we start again this hour here. Insurgents there killing at least one today in a pair of bomb attacks. We're also awaiting for more word on the American hostage, Jeffrey Ake.

Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad now, updating us on what's happening there today.

Aneesh, hello.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, good morning to you.

Military convoys twice targeted today in Iraq. First, this morning, a suicide car bomb detonating as a U.S. military convoy passed by in Al Mansour. That's in western Baghdad. That incident injuring five Iraqi civilians.

A short time later, an Iraqi military convoy passing by as a roadside bomb detonated. One Iraqi civilian was killed there, three others were wounded.

All of this as efforts go on to try to secure the release of American Jeffrey Ake, last seen with guns pointing at his head, with mass militants at his side. In that video, calling on the American government to engage in dialogue with the insurgents and for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq.

The secretary of state has said the government will not negotiate with terrorists. We've spoken with officials here at the embassy. They say, as is procedure, a working group has been set up of about 25 people, interagency, looking at how to best rescue Jeffrey Ake. And as of this morning, no claim of responsibility, Bill. No word on any demands.

HEMMER: Aneesh, it appears that this past week or 10 days we have seen much more violence there in Iraq. Is the sense from the U.S. military that the insurgency is gaining more strength at this point?

RAMAN: Well, we had seen a relative calm, if you will, a few weeks ago. The thought was that the insurgents were perhaps shifting tactics to less frequent but more sophisticated attacks. But these past few days, a return to the systematic bombings that obviously eject fear into the Iraqi mindset.

These are the incidents that have the highest civilian casualties. So the insurgents, if they were shifting targets, have returned to their familiar tactics now, and frustration will grow among Iraqis that their transitional government is not yet officially taken over in order to deal with this security situation.

HEMMER: On a personal note, Aneesh, you've been covering our reports in Baghdad for the past two months. You will leave very soon for another assignment. Can you give us a sense of what your experience has been like for you?

RAMAN: It's been every extreme, Bill. I've got to tell you, the hardest thing about covering Iraq is that every statement comes with incessant caveats.

Life here is so complex. Violence and progress are so constantly at odds. And so while you see scenes of incredible inspiration, the transitional government electing a president and inaugurating him, so inspirational to see where Iraq has come, there are sites like we saw this morning of Iraqi civilians killed in sustained violence now two years since the war began.

And so for the duality that exists for these average Iraqis, it's difficulty to comprehend and even more difficult to convey in reports -- Bill.

HEMMER: Aneesh, good luck to you. Travel well. Anessh Raman in Baghdad -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Medical news now. A once popular weight loss supplement could soon be back on store shelves. A federal judge on Thursday struck down the FDA's ban on Ephedra, ruling in favor of a Utah company that claimed that Ephedra was wrongly regulated as a drug instead of a food.

Ephedra was pulled from the market a year ago. The FDA says it is now evaluating the judge's decision.


O'BRIEN: Dr. Gary Walter is a professor at New York University School of Medicine.

Good morning. Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: What do you think of the judge's ruling?

WADLER: Very disappointed in it. We've worked long and hard to have Ephedra removed from the shelves, and suddenly we find the possibility it may reappear on the shelves. I think it's a major setback.

O'BRIEN: It seemed like the judge was saying that there was not enough information, that the FDA failed to prove that in this one specific case, that the Ephedra, at this dose, was not safe, was dangerous.

WADLER: There is a phenomenal amount of literature about the dangers associated with Ephedra and related substances. Because it's a dietary supplement, it's dealt with differently than a drug.

A drug, you cannot put on the shelves unless the manufacturer proves it's safe before the fact. With dietary supplements, it's more akin to food. And the only way you can look at adverse effects is after the fact, so-called adverse events reports, which means that a consumer has to notify the FDA they think something's wrong.

There have been countless adverse effect reports. But the industry has attacked the validity of those. But that's the only thing that we can really go by, is those kinds of reports, and we clearly know that deaths have been associated with it, well over 150 deaths. Certainly the case of Steven Bechler is a good example.

These substances -- Ephedra contain a substance called ephedrine, which can produce all kinds of adverse effects in the body, rhythm disturbances, hypertension, stroke, sudden death, heat illness, you can go on. It's sort of interesting. This decision was rendered in the state of Utah, which is the home of the supplement industry. And I think a lot of this goes back to the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act in '94, which regulates statutory definition as to what a dietary supplement actually is, and that's what I think set the stage for what's going on here.

O'BRIEN: So you're kind of raising, then, two issues. The first being the authority of the FDA. Do you think that the authority of the FDA on this particular issue needs to change?

WADLER: I think the FDA has done the right thing. I think the judgment, rendering the decision to remove it from the shelves, was the right one.

O'BRIEN: But should Congress go back and say FDA needs more power?

WADLER: But I think -- yes, I think the whole Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, which is now 11 years old, needs to be revisited. We had the problems with andro. That finally was dealt with by changing the federal law so that andro is now a controlled substance.

The FDA took a regulatory action with respect to ephedra. This has now been overturned.

But it brings us back to really what is the root cause of all of this. And I think it has to go back to a revisiting of the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act. It may turn out at the end of the day it was fine. I suspect it needs some revision, some tightening, so that things like ephedra don't slip through the cracks.

O'BRIEN: There could be an appeal. How do you think that would go? WADLER: This is a very powerful industry. It's one of the most powerful industries in the United States. Multi, multi, multibillion- dollar industry, and they have a lot of influence. But despite that, I think we have to look beyond that, and I think we have to go back to the root cause.

I think we have to revisit the laws, the laws that empower the FDA to take action. You know, the FDA has to prove a substantial and -- excuse me -- a substantial and reasonable risk of injury or illness to remove something from the shelves. And the claim here is they haven't made that proof.

O'BRIEN: We'll see...

WADLER: But, we have limited their hands in how you go about that.

PHILLIPS: And we'll see what happens on appeal. Dr. Gary Wadler, nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us this morning.

WADLER: My pleasure.

HEMMER: About 10 minutes past the hour. Here in New York today, the talk around the water cooler is all abuzz about the Yankees and Red Sox. A couple things to mention on this game from last night.

Fenway Park in Boston, Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield went after a fan who appeared to take a swing at Sheffield as he was fielding this triple along the right field wall. The fan was kicked out, not arrested though.

The Red Sox won the game, 8-5.

Same game, take a look at this. In the stands also, a quick glove belongs to NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, the former star quarterback at Boston College, the Fenway faithful. Liked to see that last night.

They would like to see this, too. Off the field, A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez, stopped an 8-year-old boy in Boston from walking into a speeding truck on Tuesday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This man stopped and put his arm in front of him and said, "Whoa" -- you know, "Whoa, buddy, don't go."

PATRICK MCCARTHY, SAVED BY ALEX RODRIGUEZ: So I stopped, and there's this moving car coming.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, NEW YORK YANKEES: Right place, right time, I guess, for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see the car coming the entire time?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I was getting away from the car. And I was getting away from it, he was coming into the car. So it was just one of those incidents that I put my arm in front of him and the car almost ran us both over.

MCCARTHY: I would like to say thank you, again, for saving my life.


HEMMER: A-Rod said it was just reflex there. Young Patrick McCarthy already a Yankee fan before Tuesday. Most of his friends back in Martha's Vineyard, though, root for the Red Sox.

O'BRIEN: He's so cute.

HEMMER: Yes, he is.

O'BRIEN: "I would like to say thank you, again," and may I have season tickets, please, A-Rod? Good for him. Big sports rap today.

Did you see the woman in the shot, though?

HEMMER: Which one?

O'BRIEN: Didn't drop her beer. The one where he was accused of like hitting the fan.

HEMMER: Hardly spilled a drop.

O'BRIEN: And -- exactly. She gets the most valuable player of the night, I think.

Time to check on the weather. Chad Myers is at the CNN Center for us

Hey, Chad. Good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad. Good thing A-Rod had those quick reflexes, too, to stop him from just like stopping a ball going to third base.


HEMMER: All right, Chad. Thanks for that.

MYERS: You're welcome.

HEMMER: In a moment, how damaging is the testimony this week in the Michael Jackson case? What the accuser's mother says about Jackson and alcohol and her son's cancer treatment. That's ahead.

O'BRIEN: And for months, authorities said that they were a threat to the nation's airline pilots. So why is the government using lasers as a way to communicate with them? A look at that up next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HEMMER: Now to the Michael Jackson molestation trial in California. Today the defense begins its cross-examination of the accuser's mother, and we are told by legal observers this will be another explosive day in court.

Ted Rowlands live in Santa Maria, California.

Good morning there, Ted.


The mother's testimony is clearly crucial to the prosecution's case. Thus far, on the stand she has provided potentially damaging testimony against Michael Jackson. But at times, her demeanor has been nothing short of bizarre.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): With a jacket over her head, the accuser's mother in the Michael Jackson trial showed up for another day on the stand. While appearing to be more grounded than she was her first day, there were times when her emotions took over.

JIM MORET, POOL REPORTER: Her demeanor is what's so difficult to comprehend sometimes. Not even the words she's saying, it's how she's saying it.

ROWLANDS: The mother did seem to provide some potentially damaging testimony against Jackson. She said her son, the accuser, told her he'd been drinking wine at Neverland, and that Michael Jackson was worried that the alcohol would show up in the boy's urine sample, taken as part of his cancer recovery treatment.

The mother then said the sample mysteriously disappeared. She also described being held against her will at Neverland, saying, "Every time I tried to leave, there were consequences."

She claimed a Jackson employee had threatened the lives of her parents and her husband, Jay. When asked why she didn't called police, she said, "Because my calls were monitored. My parents were in danger. Jay was in danger."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you looking forward to the cross- examination of this witness, Michael?

ROWLANDS: Although covered by his umbrella, Michael Jackson nodded his head when asked if he was looking forward to watching his attorney Thomas Mesereau cross-examine the mother.

MICHAEL CARDOZA, LEGAL ANALYST: He is going to challenge her. He will be vigorous. He will be strong. He will be bold.

He will be everything a good cross-examiner will be. And once -- he is going to latch on like a pit bull, and he's not going to let go until he's threw with her.


ROWLANDS: And that much-anticipated cross-examination is supposed to start shortly after court resumes in a few hours out here in Santa, Maria, California -- Bill.

HEMMER: Ted, give me a little bit more about that. We just heard about it in your story. What is the strategy from Mesereau for how he conducts this cross-examination of this woman?

ROWLANDS: Well, it's really a fine line. He can't attack her too much because he needs her in front of this jury to be this mastermind of a plot against Michael Jackson.

According to the defense, this woman is behind all of these allegations. So he has to almost rehabilitate her and bring her back to the real world in that he has to provide the jury with an image of her being a cunning mother that is telling her kids essentially to lie in front of the world about sexual molestation. It will be a difficult task.

HEMMER: Begins in two hours. Ted Rowlands, thanks, in Santa Maria, California -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Pilots are being briefed on a new government warning system. It's a unique program meant for planes that are flying in the tightly-controlled airspace over Washington.

Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has our report.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Piercing through the night sky over the nation's capital, a distinctive pattern of lights, lasers, a signal to pilots that they have penetrated the restricted airspace over the nation's capital.

COL. ED DANIEL, NORAD: I mean, there are so many high-value targets in this area. It's the center of our government. We need to do everything we can to protect it.

MESERVE: About twice a day pilots stray into the large restricted area over the region. If they can't be raised by radio, fighter jets are scrambled to drop warning flares at a cost of about $30,000 per incident. The laser visual warning system, due to become operational in mid May, provides a cheaper and safer way, officials say, to signal a pilot.

DANIEL: If he starts talking, turns away from downtown D.C., we know he's compliant, he doesn't have hostile intent. We might be able to hold those fighters on the ground.

MESERVE: Pilots are being briefed because there is nothing like the laser warning system anywhere else in the world. Among the pilots' concerns, will they see the lasers day and night? Yes, official say, except in low visibility conditions.

And will the lasers hurt their eyes? Melissa Rudinger has seen the system from the air.

MELISSA RUDINGER, AIRCRAFT OWNERS & PILOTS ASSOCIATION: It's not going to hurt your eyes. My experience was that it was just a bright light on the ground.

MESERVE: The lasers are scattered throughout the capital region. And officials say they can illuminate a plane anywhere in the restricted zone without the light being visible to any other aircraft. It is an additional strand in the web of protection around the capital.

For CNN's America Bureau, Jeanne Meserve, Washington.


O'BRIEN: Of late, though, pilots have complained of more than 100 laser beams that have been aimed at them in the past six months. And the government also has warned about al Qaeda using lasers to try to blind pilots -- Bill.

O'BRIEN: In a moment here, a convicted murderer just days away from his own execution, his life was saved after a plea from Pope John Paul II. That story in a moment.

Also, a reminder. Starting on Monday, I'll be live in Oklahoma City, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the bombing there from April 1995. That starts Monday, 7:00 a.m. Eastern here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Back in a moment after this.


HEMMER: Back to Jack and the "Question of the Day."

CAFFERTY: Fifty million people a day at the 30,000 golden arches around the world. McDonald's is 50 years old today. It's had a tremendous impact on all of us, one way or another. Do you think it was a good idea or not is the question.

Barry in Virginia, "Jack, could you repeat the question? I could not hear you. Bill's shirt is too loud."

HEMMER: Get a shot of that.

O'BRIEN: Not only is that mean, it's also untrue.

HEMMER: I got this off of a picnic table.

O'BRIEN: I like it.

CAFFERTY: Mark in New York writes, "The greatest thing that came out Crock's vision was his philanthropy through his foundation, which helps many nonprofit organizations to this day."

Including Ronald McDonald House, where they help sick kids and their families. They do a lot of good work. C. writes, "Having been on welfare lines 40 years ago with my mother, I appreciate a business that makes it possible for someone who has less to get enough food to get you by for the day."

And Major in Boulder, Colorado, "McDonald's is the symbol of America's love for fast, easy and cheap. Of course it's also responsible for our love of grease, salt and obesity. In other words, this is the USA value meal deal."

HEMMER: They do these polls globally, what has the greatest brand recognition. McDonald's is always at or near the top.


O'BRIEN: And Coca-Cola.

CAFFERTY: And Coca-Cola, right.

HEMMER: That's right.

CAFFERTY: Right up there.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: He was a visionary, that fellow Mr. Crock.


O'BRIEN: And a good point about the philanthropy. They've raised a ton of money.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. Yes, and they give a lot of money away. And they've helped a lot of people.

HEMMER: Des Plaines, Iowa?

CAFFERTY: No, Illinois. A suburb of Chicago.

HEMMER: The first one?



O'BRIEN: But I forget where.

CAFFERTY: Suburb of Chicago, Des Plaines, Illinois.


CAFFERTY: Anything else you want to know?

O'BRIEN: But you know what?

CAFFERTY: What was it, two patties, extra sauce, special...

O'BRIEN: Two all beef patties...

HEMMER: Special sauce...

O'BRIEN: ... lettuce cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.

O'BRIEN: Sesame seed bun.

HEMMER: If you could say it backwards you get a free Big Mac.

O'BRIEN: Oh, remember that?

CAFFERTY: Look at all the things, though, that are stuck in our consciousness over the years. The Happy Meal. What's the thing with the sauce on it they call the hamburger with -- we were just doing?

O'BRIEN: The Big Mac?

HEMMER: Quarter Pounder.

CAFFERTY: Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, I mean, all of that stuff, right?

O'BRIEN: The McRib wasn't a big seller, I don't think.


O'BRIEN: I liked it.

CAFFERTY: ... the best French fries in the world. Bar none.


CAFFERTY: McDonald's French fries.

O'BRIEN: A little crispy.

CAFFERTY: They're terrible for you, but god, I love them.

HEMMER: This show brought to you by McDonald's.


CAFFERTY: Yes. Send us a cheeseburger. Look what we're doing here this morning. We're selling this place.

HEMMER: I'm with you.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, we've been talking about food.



O'BRIEN: Food for thought. Losing weight, we are told, can be as simple as finding out your brain type. Whatever that means. Some doctors say they can help you understand what foods your mind is craving.

CAFFERTY: All of them.

O'BRIEN: The authors of the book "Eat Right for Your Brain Type" are going to join us live this weekend. It's kind of a unique approach to dieting. It's live on "CNN SUNDAY MORNING" at 9:00 Eastern.

I'd like a Big Mac this morning.

CAFFERTY: Yes. What time on Sunday morning?

O'BRIEN: 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

CAFFERTY: 9:00 a.m. Eastern. I'll be setting my alarm for that.

O'BRIEN: Good for you. I'm curious to know what kind of brain type you have, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I just told you, all of the foods.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

More to come in a moment here on AMERICAN MORNING right after this.


HEMMER (voice-over): Ahead on "90-Second Pop," summer concert season is almost here, and why you can see the big acts for less cash this year.

Plus, is this the end for Paris and Nicole?

PARIS HILTON, "SIMPLE LIFE": We should just, like, tell them that we're sick.

HEMMER: Seems life isn't so simple. That's later on AMERICAN MORNING.




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