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AMERICAN MORNING

Discussion with Senator McCain; Latest Offensive by Iraqi forces Against Insurgents

Aired May 27, 2005 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome back, everybody.
We're coming to you live from the USS John F. Kennedy.

As you can hear, the national anthem being played as they raise the colors. It is a tradition that happens every day while the ship is dock.

This morning, we're going to bring you more of what happens here on the USS John F. Kennedy, show you some of the behind-the-scenes, remarkable videotape of how you get what is essentially a city at sea to operate. Also, we're going to show you what happens to some of the soldiers, as well, as they tell us their stories.

Keep in mind the raising of the colors doesn't always happen. In fact, when the ship is out, they do not do that. It gets in the way of the aircraft. So they raise the colors on another part of the ship.

That's all ahead this morning, as we continue our live coverage as part of Fleet Week -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Soledad, thanks.

Back to the Kennedy in a moment here.

Also in a moment, Senator John McCain is back with me today talking about a new book, rather, his book. It's called "Faith Of My Fathers," now being made into a movie. It will air this weekend, and we'll get Senator McCain's thoughts on that.

Also, Jack Cafferty on a Friday.

What's in "The File" -- hi.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Bill.

Coming up in "The Cafferty File," support is growing for a woman president of the United States, but not just any woman. Mariah Carey joins Elvis Presley and the Beatles in some very rarified air. Who'd have thunk it?

And a suicide hotline is cutting back on its hours.

HEMMER: Oh, that's interesting. It's not 24 hours a day, huh? CAFFERTY: Not anymore. If you're going to off yourself, there's a schedule now.

O'BRIEN: Stop.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

Back to the headlines and Carol Costello again with us -- hey, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, that was so wrong.

HEMMER: Yes.

COSTELLO: So wrong, but it is Jack.

Good morning.

CAFFERTY: What was so wrong?

COSTELLO: What you just said about restricted hours of the suicide hotline.

CAFFERTY: You don't think they should do that?

COSTELLO: No.

CAFFERTY: Thank you.

COSTELLO: All right.

Good morning, everyone.

Now in the news, hundreds of people in Islamabad, Pakistan gathering at a Muslim shrine this hour to look for friends and relatives. A powerful blast ripped through the shrine just hours ago. Hospital sources say at least 14 people were killed, some 40 others wounded. Police have cordoned off the area around that shrine.

President Bush planning to inspire future leaders of the U.S. Navy this morning. The president is set to deliver the commencement address at the naval academy in Annapolis, Maryland in just about two hours from now. CNN will have live coverage of the president's address. That will start at 10:00 Eastern.

In Santa Maria, California, Michael Jackson's accuser could be back on the stand. The judge is allowing prosecutors to play a taped interview of the accuser talking to police, possibly as early as today. Jackson's defense says if the tape is used, they want to bring the boy back for cross-examination. Court resumes in about three hours.

Expect traffic if you are hitting the nation's highways this holiday weekend. The AAA says a record 37.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more. That's up more than 2 percent over last year. Most will travel by car despite the highest gas prices ever recorded for a holiday.

And 40 hours and counting. Carl Roland, the Florida man suspected in his ex-girlfriend's beating death, is still on top of that 18-story crane in Atlanta. His younger sister has called for him to come down. It is not clear if he can even hear her up that high, because she was yelling up there. Police say they will try to coax this man down for as long as it takes. As you can see, he's somewhat on the move again.

Let's head to Atlanta and the Forecast Center now.

Rob Marciano has the forecast for us -- good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Carol.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HEMMER: From Iraq now, a U.S. helicopter has been shot down. Its two pilots dead. A second chopper damaged. That helicopter returned safely to base. All this happening late yesterday. They were struck last night by small arms fire.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraqi forces now gearing up for what is billed as a major crackdown on insurgents.

Here's Ryan Chilcote live in Baghdad.

How much of a gamble is this operation for Iraqi forces -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill.

Well, not to state the obvious, but, of course, that all depends on the insurgents. As the U.S. military likes to say, the enemy always gets a vote and they have two options. They could either fight Iraqi security forces here in the Iraqi capital, try to discredit them and discredit their ability to take them on. Or they could get out of the Iraqi capital. After all, they already know that this operation is going to take place. It's already been announced.

I think in either case, clearly the Iraqi security forces think it's their gamble to take. After all, there's been about a month of constant violence here. Hundreds of Iraqis have been killed in the Iraqi capital over that last month. And there's a credibility issue that the Iraqi security forces are facing. They need to show the Iraqi people that they can defend them, that they are the hunters, if you will, of the insurgents and not the hunted. And this may give them an opportunity to win some P.R. points with the Iraqi people.

That's something that clearly the U.S. military also thinks that Iraq's security forces need to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. DONALD ALSTON, MULTINATIONAL FORCES, IRAQ: The Iraqi government, since they took power, have been challenged by the insurgents. And this upsurge in violence has had the government tackle it by doing some planning over the last few weeks. And I think it was important for them to communicate to the Iraqi people that they are changing from a defensive posture to an offensive posture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHILCOTE: Bill, and, you know that the Iraqi security forces are saying that this operation is going to go on for two weeks in the Iraqi capital. And then they're going to take it on to other Iraqi cities. So if this is a success, it certainly would show them in a good light for their upcoming operations.

There's another side of this, of course, for ordinary Iraqis. It's already almost impossible to get around Baghdad. I've never been in a place where it's so difficult to get from one place to another. This is going to make it much more difficult. Effectively, they're talking about closing off the city limits and setting up some 600 checkpoints. That sounds like it has the potential to bring this capital, all movement in it to a halt -- Bill.

HEMMER: Ryan Chilcote, thanks, from Baghdad.

The story of his life is a profile in courage, both political and personal. Before John McCain was a maverick senator, he was a Vietnam prisoner of war for six years in Hanoi.

His book about that experience, "Faith Of My Fathers," is now being made into a TV movie. You'll see it this weekend, in fact.

Senator McCain is back with us from Washington.

Nice to see you, Senator.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thanks, Bill.

HEMMER: Do you...

MCCAIN: I prefer outstanding senator to maverick.

HEMMER: Well, you can take whatever you like, all right?

I want to talk about you being a movie star here in a moment.

But first, John Bolton has been held up again.

MCCAIN: Yes.

HEMMER: What are you to make of this delay by Democrats again?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it was an ongoing dispute that's been going on for weeks now between the Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, where they want certain documents from the administration. I think it's an interesting constitutional struggle. But I think it was a logical result of that dispute, the Democrats siding with two of their most senior members, Senator Dodd and Senator Biden. It does not affect the -- except psychologically -- this agreement that we made earlier on preserving -- preventing the nuclear option on the judges.

HEMMER: Does Bolton get finished next week, do you think?

MCCAIN: We're in recess next week. You know, we've been working way too hard. So we're in recess next week and I think that -- I think it'll come to a reasonable conclusion when we get back and be resolved.

HEMMER: All right, let's continue now with the outstanding senator out of Arizona.

You know, do you remember seven years ago? I was in your office there on Capitol Hill.

MCCAIN: I remember.

HEMMER: And I was telling you about a backpacking trip I had taken for about a month long throughout Vietnam. And I had to bike every day in Hanoi and I went by the Hanoi Hilton, which is what they affectionately called the prison where you were held for six years. And I thought about you every day on that bicycle and what you endured. And you took my story and you turned around and you pulled out a stack of photos and you said, "Check this out, Bill. Look what somebody just sent me."

They have now converted the Hanoi Hilton, this prison that took half a dozen years out of your life and so many other Americans, too, into a flea market.

MCCAIN: Yes.

HEMMER: And you said, "Bill, this is what it tells me about what's happening in Vietnam today."

MCCAIN: And that's exactly right. They're adopting, sort of along the way the Chinese have, a free enterprise system. Their economy is better. Their government is still repressive and there's still human rights problems, but they've made great progress. They went from not growing a coffee bean five years ago to being the world's second largest coffee producer. It's amazing. And...

HEMMER: Yes, this film...

MCCAIN: And could I just finally mention...

HEMMER: Sure.

MCCAIN: The Vietnamese have come to America. What an infusion of vitality and strength and success they've brought to America. It's wonderful.

HEMMER: This film shows graphic scenes, especially during a time when you were tortured. Is this hard for you to reflect?

MCCAIN: There's parts of it that are hard. But the overall feeling I have is the love and affection that I have for my colleagues and friends that were there, my comrades who picked me up when I was down and sustained me and literally saved my life. Those are the people I know best and love most.

HEMMER: Now, you had a chance to go home. You were given a chance to have amnesty and you refused it. I don't know at the time if you knew that you would be held for three more years.

MCCAIN: Thank god I didn't.

HEMMER: Well, you said the other day, you said that was the smartest thing I ever did, refusing to go home.

Why?

MCCAIN: Well, because then I would have gone ahead of Albert Alvarez, who was there for two-and-a-half years before I ever showed up. And it would have been difficult for me to live with myself after I had left my comrades behind. The code of conduct says you go home by order of capture, except for sick and injured. That's what made it a little bit fuzzy, because I did have some injuries. But I'm overjoyed. Every day I thank god that I said no.

HEMMER: We'll look for it this weekend.

Before we let you go...

MCCAIN: Sure.

HEMMER: ... I want to play a quick clip here. This is a French journalist interviewing you about the other guys in your unit.

Listen here and we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FAITH OF MY FATHERS," COURTESY A&E)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have revealed information about your military unit, the names of the men in your squadron. Can you repeat them for us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be OK, I guess. Starr; Greg; McGee; Davis; Adderly; Brown; Ringo; Wood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: For those who don't know the story, were those NFL football players?

MCCAIN: That was the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, the first Super Bowl champions, yes. But it's -- it was the best I could think of at the time.

HEMMER: I bet.

Thank you, Senator.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Bill. HEMMER: We'll be looking for your film this weekend.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

HEMMER: All right.

John McCain in D.C.

"Faith Of My Fathers" premiers at 8:00 on -- 8:00 Eastern time Monday on A&E.

And Senator McCain, thanks, as always.

Back to the Kennedy and back to Soledad now -- hello.

O'BRIEN: Hey, Bill, thanks very much.

And welcome back to our special coverage of Fleet Week.

I want to show you something pretty remarkable. Up here, you're looking at the signal flags. And each flag represents a letter. And it's used at sea to signal other ships for special maneuvers. When you consider how many signal flags there are, it's a pretty remarkable shot here.

This morning we continue our special coverage, our live reports from the USS John F. Kennedy.

We want to introduce you to a guy who got into the Navy, he says, just for four years. Well, 15 years later he's still here and says now he's going to be in for 20.

Here's his story.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Operations Specialist Arthur Smith joined the Navy because he wanted to see the world.

SPEC. ARTHUR SMITH, USS JOHN F. KENNEDY: Initially when I joined, you know, I didn't say well, I'm joining, you know, I'm going to stay in for 20 years. I said I was going to come in for four years and get out and move on. But, you know...

O'BRIEN (on camera): And?

SMITH: ... I'm still here. I kept having fun and I'm still having fun.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Smith's job on the USS John F. Kennedy is to make sure the ship is safe from threats from the air and the sea, from the bridge...

SMITH: This is where they ensure that we avoid all ship collisions.

O'BRIEN: ... in the flight deck control room...

SMITH: This is with Ouija board. And everything, all the aircraft, the way that they move them on the flight deck, they depict them hereon the Ouija board.

O'BRIEN: ... and in the combat direction center.

SMITH: This is the module where we monitor all of the air traffic. If there is an unknown aircraft that was inbound to the ship, I would begin the engagement process.

O'BRIEN: Fortunately, Smith's only had to handle emergencies in training.

SMITH: I'd hate to be in that situation because the training evolutions, you know, they're so intense, you know, it can get a little stressful.

O'BRIEN: But life on an aircraft carrier is not all about work.

SMITH: This is our cool lounge here in the bergen (ph). This is where we play our spades.

O'BRIEN: The thousands of men and women on board also find time to play.

SMITH: This is how we enjoy some of our extracurricular activities.

O'BRIEN: And eat.

SMITH: I'll have the grilled chicken, please.

O'BRIEN: And sleep. All right, it's not the Four Seasons.

SMITH: It's challenging at times, but the more experience you gain in, you know, living in a ship environment and dealing with those types of things in close quarters, you get used to it. You adapt to it and you obtain your sea legs, is what we call it.

O'BRIEN: Smith has more than just adapted to his life on the John F. Kennedy.

SMITH: I've enjoyed every bit of it and I'm going to continue on and, you know, retire at 20. So, but possibly more. Who knows?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

O'BRIEN: A guy who says he loves his job.

Ahead this morning, we're going to meet a man who may have the toughest job on board this ship. How do you minister to over 5,000 sailors, especially at a time of war?

And then we'll take you back to the flight deck and meet the guy who coordinates the complicated ballet that is the launches and the recoveries on the USS John F. Kennedy.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We want to introduce you this morning to a man who may have the toughest job on board the USS John F. Kennedy. He is Commander Walter Brown, Jr., and he is the chaplain here.

Good morning.

It's nice to see you, sir.

CMDR. WALTER BROWN, JR., CHAPLAIN, USS JOHN F. KENNEDY: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for your time. And, again, thanks to everyone on board for their hospitality. We've really appreciated it.

Five thousand, sometimes more, men and women on board this ship.

BROWN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Four chaplains.

BROWN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: How do you just logistically deal with all those people of different faiths, and with a lot of issues to talk about?

BROWN: It is a tough job, but the chaplains are well equipped to conduct the job. We have them from -- there's Protestant denominations and a Catholic chaplain. We're trained to provide for our own, to facilitate for others and to care for all. And our worship opportunities are golden. When we do not have chaplains to field certain roles, denominational persons will step forward and get permission from their tradition. They would be interviewed by us and sanctioned by the commanding officer to help out in those kind of worship settings.

O'BRIEN: The sailors on this ship were involved in the battle of Falluja.

BROWN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Obviously a very, very difficult battle on lots of levels.

BROWN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What kinds of questions did the men and women come to you with at a time of war?

BROWN: I think mortality is a concern when people are dying, because we are so far away from the fight -- we do send planes. And that is a concern. And so we talk about spiritual things. Spiritual matters are of the utmost concern in that kind of theater. And that's what we try to steer them toward, spiritual understandings of life.

O'BRIEN: A little earlier we were talking with the captain about what is an uncertain fate for this ship.

How do you counsel the men and women about the unknown in terms of where they will be and where their families will be, if, in fact, the JFK is decommissioned?

BROWN: There's something about military persons. They purport themselves so well. And to give you an example, though our fate is uncertain, we won the retention pennant for our ship. Now, that's almost -- that's just remarkable. So it says a lot about leadership. Sailors just want to know. And when they are informed, they are a better group of people to work with. And we are informed. Those decisions are made above our pay grade. We understand that. So we turn to and do what we are asked to do, and do it with a smile.

O'BRIEN: Commander Walter Brown, Jr., it's nice to have you.

He is the chaplain on board the USS John F. Kennedy.

Thank you, sir.

BROWN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We have certainly appreciated it.

BROWN: Bless you.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on AMERICAN MORNING, we've got a pretty incredible story of survival as we head into Memorial Day Weekend. We're going to introduce you to a Marine who was declared dead not once, but twice. And we'll show you how he meets up once again with the doctor who saved his life. That doctor was Dr. Sanjay Gupta. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: Graduates all rise.

Here is Jack and the Question of the Day.

CAFFERTY: The time of the year, graduation speeches. The president is going to be at the naval academy today talking to the midshipmen about, you know, what lies ahead for them. A lot of them will be on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan.

A lot of us have given these speeches. We've all heard these speeches. Very much an open question how worthwhile they are or how long the words stay with us after we walk off the campus. But nevertheless, your chance this morning. If you were at the podium giving the commencement address, what would you give in the way of advice to this year's graduates?

Dixie in Illinois writes: "The best life advice I'd give to anyone is to avoid harming others and to do always do what is right and just, even when no one is looking. This is called integrity."

Sharie in Maryland writes: "The one thing I would recommend to all graduates, pick a career where you can't be replaced by a computer and your job can't be outsourced, like an electrician, hairdresser, doctor or nurse. People will always need these kinds of services."

Robert writes from Florida: "Don't expect to start in the middle or anywhere near the top. You have some dues to pay. Don't sweat the money, it'll come and it'll go. Just keep your mouth shut, your eyes open and keep learning. You are the guys who can fix this mess. Now go get my coffee."

And Lawrence writes: "No matter what you're doing, it's never too late to change your mind and be or do something else. And never ever cook bacon in the nude."

Words to live by.

HEMMER: He probably speaks from experience there, too.

The best beaches are 12 minutes or less, don't you think?

CAFFERTY: Yes, much less.

HEMMER: Get on out of there. What did Steven Wright once say? He said it's a small world, but I don't want to paint it.

CAFFERTY: Did he say that?

HEMMER: Oh, he said that.

CAFFERTY: I missed -- I didn't read that particular quote from Mr. Wright. I'm a man of limited experience.

HEMMER: Hey, you've made a few speeches, haven't you?

CAFFERTY: Yes, I have.

HEMMER: Yes, I have, too.

CAFFERTY: I don't do them anymore. Don't ask.

HEMMER: But you can send him the check anyway, though, if you want.

CAFFERTY: The answer is no.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

Back to Soledad on board the Kennedy now.

O'BRIEN: All right, Bill, thanks. The question today, just how do the men and women of the JFK make sure that all the jets take off and land safely? Or, as they say in the Navy, launch and recover safely? We're going to introduce you to the man in charge just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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