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Did Mercy Killings Happen During Hurricane Katrina?; New Orleans Airport Workers Hired Without Background Checks; Terrorism at University of Oklahoma?

Aired October 14, 2005 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone.
It's supposed to happen, but did it? And did helpless people die?


ANNOUNCER: Did desperate times during Hurricane Katrina call for desperate measures? Stunning accusations of mercy killings at a New Orleans hospital. Tonight, did doctors euthanize patients? A CNN exclusive interview with the doctor who says he was urged to kill.

Workers are hired at the New Orleans Airport without background checks or proper I.D. Tonight, is New Orleans' rush to reopen putting us all at risk?

And a quiet student at the University of Oklahoma blows himself up. But what drove this young man to take his own life? Is it a sad story of a depressed young man or was he part of a terror network?


ANNOUNCER: Live from the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN AND ANDERSON COOPER.

BROWN: So, there's lots of ground to cover tonight.

First, a quick look at what's happening at this moment. Saturday morning now in Iraq -- after two days of early voting in some locations, all Iraqis can go to the polls in just about two hours to cast ballots in the country's draft constitution vote. Insurgents began their expected campaign to disrupt the elections Friday night. They blew up a tower on the main power line that brings electricity to Baghdad. About 70 percent of the city was in darkness.

Pakistan's government today officially called off rescue operations six days after a powerful earthquake killed at least 23,000 people. That's the new death toll from Pakistan's president, much lower than the 41,000 earlier in the week. The numbers still could change, of course. Relief workers continue to race against time, trying to reach remote villages and settlements, to provide aid for many of those who remain hungry -- hungry -- and homeless.

Turkish doctors are testing nine people for possible bird flu, just one day after health officials confirmed the deadly strain of the disease in the country. At the same time, the European Union has strengthened biosecurity measures to try and prevent the deadly disease from spreading.

And White House aide Karl Rove still does not know tonight if he'll be indicted in the name -- in the leak of a CIA's agent, or operatives', name. Rove testified for the fourth time in Washington before a grand jury today. The grand jury's term expires on the 28th of October. It should be clear by then if any indictments are going to be handed up.

That's a quick look at what's happening now.

We begin tonight in New Orleans. The promise goes back to the beginning of medicine: Do not kill. Do not even suggest it. The question came up no sooner than the waters began to recede. Did doctors at Memorial Medical Center do either, or both?

Tonight, we will ask the doctor who was there.

First, the allegations of that doctor, what he heard and what he saw.

Here's CNN's Jonathan Freed.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was no power. Patients and staff thought they were stranded in 110-degree sweltering heat. It was desperate.

DR. BRYANT KING, PRACTICED AT MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: I was really upset that it had come to this. And we were -- we were a hospital, but we -- we weren't really functioning as a hospital. We were functioning as a shelter at this point.

FRAN BUTLER, NURSE MANAGER, MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: It was battle conditions. I mean, it was as bad as being out on the field.

FREED: They were running out of food and water. Workers carried patients into the parking garage to wait for evacuations. But there were too few rescuers and often too late.

KING: There's no electricity. There's no water. It is hot. I mean, people are dying. We thought it was as bad as it could get. All we wanted to know is, why aren't we being investigated yet? I mean, that was our biggest thing: We should be gone by now.

FREED: Nine days after the hospital was finally emptied, there were dozens of bodies -- in the morgue, in the hallways, and in the chapel. In all, hospital officials now say 45 bodies were found at Memorial.

Some patients, already near death when Katrina hit, may have succumbed to their ailments. Others may have given in to the terrible conditions. (on camera): But a CNN investigation reveals that doctors and nurses grew so desperate that some of them openly and repeatedly discussed euthanizing patients, whom they believed would not survive their ordeal, so desperate, there was talk of mercy killings, talk of mercy killings by health professionals as a serious option as an American hospital.

BUTLER: My nurses wanted to know, what was the plan? Did they say to put people out of their misery? Yes. Did they say to actually -- they wanted to know how to get them out of their misery.

FREED (voice-over): To be clear, Butler says she didn't see anyone perform a mercy killing. And she says, because of her personal beliefs, she never would have participated.

But at least one doctor there, Bryant King, is convinced it went beyond just talk.

KING: Most people know that something -- something happened that shouldn't have happened.

FREED: What Dr. King says he witnessed is a key element of an investigation by the Louisiana attorney general. The state constitution expressly forbids euthanasia. And prosecutors say charges could include manslaughter.

In exclusive interviews with CNN, Dr. King says he was approached at about 9:00 a.m. on Thursday in the despair three days after the hurricane by another doctor. According to King, that doctor recounted a conversation with a hospital administrator and another doctor, who suggested that patients be put out of their misery.

KING: I mean, you got to be (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kidding me, that you actually think that that's a good idea. I mean, how could you possibly think that that's a good idea?

And she said, well, you know, we talked about it, and this other doctor said she'd be -- she'd be willing to -- she would be willing to do it. I was like, you're crazy.

FREED: King says, at the time, he dismissed the talk, because the doctor who had told him of the mercy-killing conversation indicated that, like him, she opposed it.

(on camera): Then, about three hours later, King says he noticed an uneasy quiet. The triage area, where he was working, on the second floor had been cleared of everyone, except for patients, a second hospital administrator and two doctors, including the one who had first raised the question of mercy killing.

(voice-over): King says the administrator asked if they wanted to join in prayer, something they had not done since the ordeal began.

KING: I looked around. And one of the other physicians, not the one who had the conversation with me, but another, had a handful of syringes. I don't know what's in the syringes. I don't know what is -- and the only thing I heard her say is, I'm going to give you something to make you feel better.

I don't know what she was going -- what she was going to give them. But we hadn't been given -- we hadn't been giving medications like that, to make people feel better or any sort of palliative care or anything like that. We hadn't been doing that up to this point.

FREED: King says he decided he would have no part of what he was saying. He grabbed his bag to leave. And he says, one of the other doctors hugged him.

King says he doesn't know what happened next. He boarded a boat and left the hospital. As for nurse manager Fran Butler, she says she never saw any patients euthanized. However, she said the physician who had expressed opposition to euthanasia to Dr. King also spoke to her about it.

BUTLER: She was the first person to approach me about putting patients to sleep.

FREED (on camera): Were you stunned?

BUTLER: Just kind of -- I kind of blew it off because of the person who said it. But when this doctor approached me about that, she made the comment to me on how she was totally against it and wouldn't do it.

FREED (voice-over): Tenet Healthcare, the company that owns Memorial, told CNN that many of the 45 patients who died were critically ill.

Tenet said, as many as 11 patients who were found in the morgue had died the weekend before the hurricane. Twenty-four of the dead had been patients of a long-term acute care facility known as LifeCare, that rented space inside Memorial.

KING: And there was only one person that died overnight. The previous day, there were only two. So, for there to be -- from Thursday to Friday, for there to be 10 times that many just doesn't make sense to me.

FREED: Earlier this month, King repeated his account to investigators from the attorney general's office. At the request of the attorney general, coroner Frank Minyard is performing autopsies and drug screens on all the Memorial dead.

He confirmed to CNN that state officials have told him they think euthanasia may have been committed.

DR. FRANK MINYARD, ORLEANS PARISH CORONER: Well, they thought that someone had -- had -- was going around, injecting people with some sort of lethal medication, yes.

FREED: Minyard says that, because of the condition of the bodies, it may be difficult to determine why so many patients died at Memorial. In early October, Tenet Healthcare said that the state had executed search warrants of Memorial Center records and that the independent LifeCare facility operated inside the hospital.

Over the course of several weeks, CNN has reached the three people King says were in the second-floor area with him at the time he saw the syringes. The hospital administrator told CNN, "I don't recall being in a room with patients or saying a prayer," later adding that King must be lying.

The doctor King identifies as having first broached the subject of euthanasia with him said she would not talk to the media. The doctor King alleges held the syringes spoke by phone with CNN on several occasions, emphasizing how everyone inside the hospital felt abandoned.

"We did everything humanly possible to save these patients," the doctor told CNN. "The government totally abandoned us to die, in the houses, in the streets, in the hospitals. Maybe a lot of us made mistakes, but we made the best decisions we could at the time."

When told about King's allegation, this doctor responded that she would not comment either way.

Nurse manager Fran Butler says that, while some nurses did discuss euthanasia, they never stopped caring for the patients.

BUTLER: The people who were still there, they really and truly took and put their heart and souls into every patient, whether that patient lived or died.

FREED: For his part, King regrets leaving the hospital and wonders whether there was anything he could have done.

KING: I'd rather be considered a person who abandoned patients than someone who aided in eliminating patients.

FREED (on camera): The two health care companies we mentioned in this piece both chose to give CNN prepared statements.

Tenet Healthcare corporation said: "In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the physicians and staff at Memorial Medical Center performed heroically to save the lives of their patients under incredibly difficult circumstances." The statement goes on to say: "We understand that the Louisiana attorney general is investigating all deaths that occurred at New Orleans hospitals and nursing homes after the hurricane. And we fully support and are cooperating with him."

Jonathan Freed, CNN, Atlanta.


BROWN: And then there's this from LifeCare, which rented space and ran a clinic inside the hospital. It will sound familiar: "LifeCare employees at Memorial Medical Center during that week exhibited heroism under the most difficult of circumstances. LifeCare has been fully cooperative with the Louisiana attorney general's office since the inception of their investigation and is unable to make any on matters related to the investigation."

We're joined now by Dr. Bryant King.

Dr. King, good evening to you.

KING: Good evening.

BROWN: It's just, there are so many questions.

Was there, just to set the scene, a sense of desperation in the hospital among the staff and among those patients who were well enough to sense anything?

KING: I don't know if there was so much a sense of desperation, as there was a sense that everyone was really concerned about the fact that we weren't evacuated.

Being one of the major hospitals in the New Orleans metro area, we thought that we -- we would have been evacuated in a logical, procedural manner, and which -- which you would expect from a normal hospital -- sickest patients first. The people who aren't sick stay around until the end. And that -- when that didn't happen, people became very concerned.

BROWN: If there was wasn't a sense of desperation, what is it, then, that you think led people, the people you have described, to conclude that mercy killing was an appropriate action?

KING: I don't -- the sense -- I think that -- that, as time progressed, people became more and more concerned.

And their concern bordered on desperation. But, I don't -- I don't know if everyone reached that point. But there were certainly people who decided that they would rather be out of there. And they wanted to be evacuated as quickly as possible.

And I'm -- I'm not sure if that qualifies as a sense of desperation or not.

BROWN: Do -- do you believe that any -- any patient would be alive today and recovering today had they not had these activities that you suspect happened, happened?

KING: Well, I think that, if the -- the evacuation and the rescue effort had been conducted in a manner that we were prepared for...

BROWN: That's a different question.

KING: Meaning -- I understand that. I understand that.


KING: Then -- then -- then -- then that would have -- that would not have -- then this situation would not have never even occurred in the first place. So, I can't answer the second question, because the first question is the -- the impetus for the second question, to begin with.

BROWN: All right. Let me -- let me try it differently. I -- I -- I -- I think you can, because I -- because -- but I just -- I'm not sure I framed it correctly. So, let me try again.

The condition of the patients who you believe may have been euthanized, was it such that, if they had been given appropriate care on Thursday or Friday of that week, they might have survived and recovered?

KING: There's -- I think the patients that were -- that were particularly ill could have been given appropriate care in a different location, which brings us back to the initial -- my initial point, that we couldn't provide the care that they needed in that facility, so they needed to have been evacuated, and that evacuation needed to have occurred in the -- in -- in -- and what we were prepared for...

BROWN: Were they terminal, Dr. King?

KING: ... in order for -- there were patients that were terminal, absolutely. There were definitely patients there who were terminal. And they were -- they were labeled as DNR patients. Some of whom level-three patients, based on our triage system. There were definitely patients who, if they stayed there without any further care, would have died. That -- that -- that probably goes without saying. And any physician would have come to that same conclusion.

BROWN: All right.

KING: However...

BROWN: So, just -- I'm not -- I'm not asking this at all to justify or to make judgments on what they did. I'm trying to understand, to a certain degree, who it is we're talking about. So, you had a set of patients who had DNRs, do not resuscitate.

KING: That's correct.

BROWN: These are very sick people, people who were terminal. And these are the people that you and they, the doctors and the administrator, are sort of focused on; is that right?

KING: Well, we -- we focused on all the patients. We treated all the patients the same, with the -- the same degree of care.

But the DNR patients that were there, they were mixed in the population with the patients who weren't DNR. We didn't separate them out and say, the DNRs are here. We gave them DNR status. But we didn't give -- we didn't separate them out and say, sit them over here and we will take the other patients...


KING: ... to some area of the hospital.

BROWN: You believe patients were euthanized. Do you believe a patient who was not DNR was euthanized?

KING: I think that the patients that were on the second floor, probably, at some point, things -- there were things done that shouldn't have been done.

Right now, I'm -- I'm -- I'm attempting to not impugn in any way the investigation being undertaken by the state's attorney's office in Louisiana. So, I don't really want to say anything that -- that might under -- that might undermine their investigation.


I was interested in the -- in -- in Jon Freed's piece, you said that there was no palliative care being given to these people. So, you have these patients who were in considerable pain, and they weren't getting any pain medication at the time? Is that right?

KING: Well, well, the -- the -- the -- the assumption that they were in considerable pain, I don't know that that's necessarily true.


KING: There were people there that may have -- may or may not have been in some degree of pain. But we didn't have people there with metastatic cancer or large groups of patients of that type. We had people who were suffering because it was 110 degrees, and they weren't being monitored the way we normally monitor patients, because we didn't have electric -- electricity. So, monitors weren't available.

We had no air-conditioning. So, things were a lot -- they were uncomfortable, but I don't know if they were necessarily in pain. Therefore, I don't think that it was necessary to treat them palliatively, so to speak.

BROWN: So, this wasn't a situation -- these were people who, in -- in your estimation, were simply really uncomfortable. It wasn't a case where you might give someone routinely, a doctor appropriately might give someone a morphine injection, for example, to alleviate pain? Is that right?

KING: Not in large -- not en masse, absolutely not, absolutely not.

These were patients who -- we triaged these patients every day. Starting Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, every day, or a couple of times a day, we went around and we said, this patient is tachycardic...


KING: ... or this patient's blood sugar is elevated or whatever. But they weren't -- these weren't patients who were -- were terminally ill en masse. There were a couple people there. There were a few, absolutely, who were terminally ill. But, for the most part, these were people who, if we had been able to evacuate them to other medical facilities, who would have survived and would have been fine, for the most part.

Or they -- not that they would have been fine, but they would have survived and gotten back to their level that they were before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

BROWN: Why, then -- to the extent that you would venture a guess on such a thing, why, then, if these people could have been -- if they were not terminal, why, then, do you think this discussion, let alone this action, this discussion took place at all?

KING: That's really difficult to say, because I wasn't there at the -- at the -- the conversation that was had.

I only have the conversation that was brought to me. The conversation that was brought to me, no background for why their -- their -- their input or their discussion was ever presented to me. It was just presented to me as, this is what's being discussed. I don't know why they had the discussion in the first place.

BROWN: At the end of the day -- just a last question -- we appreciate your patience tonight -- is there -- is there any doubt in your mind, not that things went on that shouldn't have gone on -- I want something more specific -- is there any doubt in your mind that people were euthanized in that hospital during those days?

KING: I don't think it's fair for me to answer that question, because that would be accusing someone of something that I really wasn't there at the hospital at the time that that happened.

BROWN: Dr. King, it's good to...

KING: When I left the hospital, when I was at the -- when I left the hospital, as I stated before, I had seen only what I stated, that there was a person with syringes, not that I saw them give anything.

BROWN: Dr. King, it's nice to meet you. And it's good to talk to you again. Thank you for your patience. I know that some of the questions were a little complicated, in the way I asked them. And I appreciate your patience with them. Thank you.

KING: No problem.

BROWN: Thank you, sir.

KING: No problem.

BROWN: Dr...

KING: Thank you.

BROWN: Dr. Bryant King, who was in Memorial Hospital most of the week that Katrina isolated the hospital.

And you have heard what he had to say and can sort through some of it. But others will have to sort through a lot of it.

Still to come tonight, natural causes or mercy killings, we will look at the procedures that must come next inside the autopsy lab. This is not necessarily the easiest stuff to deal with, but, we shall -- a true crime scene investigation now under way.

We will take a break first.

And, later, in a rush to pick up the pieces after Katrina, procedures weren't followed as always, sometimes by choice. CNN investigates questionable immigrant hirings in New Orleans, too.

It's a very busy Friday night in New York.


BROWN: It's one thing to accuse. It is quite another thing to prove.

If there were, in fact, mercy killings at Memorial Hospital, there will be no shortage of challenges in making that case. The hospital was anything but a sterile crime scene. But difficult is not the same as impossible.

Reporting for us tonight, CNN's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 1,000 miles from New Orleans, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Dr. Cyril Wecht, the county coroner, is following the case closely.

DR. CYRIL WECHT, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: It is a real mystery and it is going to be a real legal quandary.

KAYE: Wondering if it will become a real-life crime scene investigation, a CSI that could take months to resolve.

WECHT: Bodies are brought into the back of the building or entrance.

KAYE: Dr. Wecht gave us an exclusive look inside his autopsy room to help us understand how the mystery down South may unravel.

WECHT: See this? This is the -- this is marbling, greenish- black discoloration. See, these, we call subepidermal blisters are beginning to form. You -- you can see it there. This is already early decomposition. After a while, he'll balloon up and he'll look like a sumo wrestler. And you will say, boy, where did you get this 450-pounder?

KAYE: The bodies from Memorial will be far more decomposed than this one. It's likely they had not been refrigerated for more than a month. Dr. Wecht says, to determine cause of death, Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard will collect blood, bile and urine. They'll be tested to determine if drugs like morphine or potassium chloride may have been used to euthanize patients.

WECHT: If you find any morphine in a patient for whom morphine had never been ordered, now, in my opinion, from a forensic, scientific, legal, investigative standpoint, that's enough, because what are they doing with morphine?

KAYE: Testing for the drugs is complicated. And Wecht admits, what happened at Memorial may never be known. With a temperature of 110 degrees, Wecht says the organs are useless to a coroner.

WECHT: The body first begins to swell and become discolored. And, then, inside, the organs and tissues begin to become decomposed. The bacteria go to work. And, after a while, all you will have will be shrunken, totally discolored, blackened organs and tissues.

KAYE: The best chance at knowing how these patients really died is through toxicology tests, like this one.

WECHT: She's placing in a -- a solvent solution. And -- and that is going to lead to the -- picking up the absorption, the extraction of whatever it is that is contained in the blood. Some extraction has taken place, because blood from you or me wouldn't have this non-bloody component. That has already been accomplished.

KAYE (on camera): So, it will be further...


KAYE: .... separated in there?


And now it will be further separated in this centrifuge, a rapid spinning. And this will lead to further extraction.

KAYE: So, it's one step closer to figuring out this whole mystery?

WECHT: Exactly. Right.

KAYE (voice-over): After the blood is separated, it is tested.

WECHT: This is going to show, as the specimens go through that Connie (ph) and Julie (ph) extracted, whether or not there are drugs present. And they will give you some blips.

KAYE (on camera): So, if, down in New Orleans, they find that there's morphine or potassium chloride, or whatever there might be, this is what they will see on the screen?

WECHT: Sedatives, barbiturates, tranquilizers, the different kinds, morphine and related analgesic drugs, right. Then, blips will appear. KAYE (voice-over): Those blips still won't be enough to determine if mercy killings took place.

Next, the amount of drugs found in the patients, if any, must be measured.

WECHT: And you say, hey, how could they have possibly have needed this much morphine or this secobarbital?

KAYE: Remember, most of these patients were elderly and may have been taking pain medications, like morphine. But drugs like that only stay in the body for 24 hours. If it shows up now, especially in high doses, mystery solved.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


BROWN: Up next, what will happen to the man the critics call the president's brain? And what kind of hole does Karl Rove create if he's indicted by a federal grand jury?

And, later tonight, he committed suicide. Was he also a would-be suicide bomber?

A break first. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: The president's top political adviser and deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, made his fourth appearance before a federal grand jury today. Mr. Rove spent four-and-a-half hours testifying about the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to at least two reporters.

There's no question Mr. Rove talked to the reporters. That does not mean he committed a crime. The lawyers insist he is not the target of the investigation. But he has been put on notice that his testimony could be used against him.

The White House is bracing itself for bad news out of the grand jury. And for a president long associated with Mr. Rove, an indictment would be about as bad as it gets. Here's CNN's Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day after he won reelection, George Bush thanked the team.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT: The architect, Karl Rove.

CROWLEY: He has been called a lot of things, "Boy Genius," "Bush's Brain," "Dr. Evil." Rove calls himself a complete geek who first tasted politics when a high school teacher told him his grade depended on it. KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: So I went and got involved a political campaign because the only thing in life I had that was worth having was a good grade card. Couldn't get a date. But I could get an A in history and I could get an A in government.

CROWLEY: By the early '70s, Rove landed here, at the Republican National Committee run by a Texan named George H. W. Bush who had a son.

WAYNE SLATER, AUTHOR, "BUSH'S BRAIN": He says the first time he ever met George W. Bush, he says, the man he would ultimately link his life with, he thought, this guy is cool. Standing there with a leather jacket, smacking gum, looking charismatic, he was everything that Karl was not.

CROWLEY: Bush-Rove is a formidable team. A little more than a decade after meeting, George W. Bush ran for governor of Texas and won. Six years later, he was president.

BUSH: Karl is a - has got a fantastic mind. He is one of the reasons why I was elected governor and one of the reasons I was elected the president.

CROWLEY: Political guru, policy adviser, friend to the president. Some historians are hard-pressed to find an equivalent in White House lore.

PROF. BRUCE BUCHANAN, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: You can find this or that relationship in history that has one facet that would be similar to the relationship between Bush and Rove but not all three of those facets, politics, policy and personal

CROWLEY: They hate the yin and yang analogy and bristle at the suggestion that Rove is the mastermind, but certainly he knows the president's mind. Friends prefer the term alter ego.

CHARLES BLACK, GOP CONSULTANT: I think Karl one of the smartest people, both politically and policy wise to come to Washington in many years and so I think having a smart, strong decisive president plus Karl Rove is terrific. It's two plus two equals 10.

CROWLEY: But no matter how you add it up, four times in front of a grand jury equals worrisome times in the Oval Office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, as we hop around to the Valerie Plame investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Getting back to the leak investigation just for a moment.

CROWLEY: Rove denies doing anything wrong and no one has proven otherwise but it is clear that Rove's fate and the fortunes of the president will be hard to separate. Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

BROWN: Still ahead on a Friday night, Katrina. Illegal immigrants. The threat of terror. Did the storm make your next flight more dangerous?

And later, the lights going out, bombs going off and Iraqis ready to vote on the (constitution. We'll take a break, first. Around the world this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: 9/11 changed a lot of things to be sure. Among them, the way we look at immigrants, legal and otherwise. Workers without valid documentation are no longer welcome at security sensitive places like airports. That's the law. But at the airport, in New Orleans, it is not the reality. Here's CNN's John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside the window, a flight taxing for takeoff. Inside, some gates still closed. "Sangre" is blood, these stained tiles removed from area of the New Orleans airport used as a triage clinic just after Hurricane Katrina.

Gerado Torres (ph) was issued this I.D. by the New Orleans Airport Authority. Same with this temporary cleanup worker Lopez Marcello (ph). Both men say they're from Mexico and crossed the border illegally. Both say they also plan to eventually go home.

Nothing, Torres answered if asked if he's been questioned about the residency. Marcello says it's hard to find work in Mexico and seems amused he is being paid, indirectly, anyway, by the government here.

Pure green, man, pure dollars he says about the eight bucks an hour work. No background checks and yet both walk freely on the airport tarmac. Active flights filled with passengers just a few steps away.

CLARK ERWIN, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: It shows that we are an open target and we are far more vulnerable than we have to be and we're not taking the threat of terrorism seriously.

KING: The men sleep here, a barracks for temporary workers at an abandoned YMCA. A makeshift ladder to get upstairs. Tents outside and visible through a giant hole in the hurricane damaged wall.

This video was shot by CNN during a visit to the site early Thursday. These pictures and the airport scenes were recorded by a bilingual photojournalist, Alfredo De Lara, who stopped at the site earlier in the week and was promptly offered a $10 an hour job as a supervisor.

Tom Trimble runs the operation and says this stack of papers proves it's all by the books.

(on camera): Every single person, that's without fail?

TOM TRIMBLE, MANAGER, BALANCE: No. If they don't have an I.D. and a Social Security Number or a work number, then we don't put them to work.

KING: Are you positive about that?

TRIMBLE: Could somebody slip through? I won't say that's not the case. Yeah. We're trying to do it -- mountains of this stuff. This is just like a couple of days.

KING (voice-over): But De Lara man says that's not how he was hired.

ALFREDO DE LARA, PHOTOJOURNALIST: I filled out no paper work. I wasn't asked to fill out any paperwork. I wasn't asked to show I.D .

KING: We asked Trimble and two other supervisors at site to match up some of the forms with workers or otherwise confirm documentation. But they declined.

TRIMBLE: We're doing the best we can to make sure we're doing it right. You know? Are some of the folks here illegally? I don't know. I suspect they are.

KING: Trimble works for a company called Balance, it's one of many temporary staffing agencies working as subcontractors for cleanup companies including Instar Services of Texas. Instar's contracts include the airport cleanup work. The Transportation Security Agency tells CNN workers must have a U.S. issued I.D. or work permit to get an airport job and any temporary workers must be escorted when in secure areas but these workers showed Mexican I.D.s to get the passes and were allowed on an active tarmac unsupervised.

DE LARA: I was basically in charge of keeping an eye on them. As a supervisor. But there was nobody -- no airport official, no TSA officials, no government officials at all supervising our work.

ERWIN: It is absolutely astounding, nearly five years after 9/11 this thing continues to happen. That's the first point. The second point is it is not an isolated incident.

KING: Instar's manager in Louisiana said the company would not answer any questions about its contracts. The airport wasn't the only secure location where these workers were sent for cleanup. A security officer at the V.A. Medical Center initially raised objections when they showed up and one could only produce a Honduran I.D. card. But after several minutes of discussions, they were allowed in.

KING: That night, an organization called Mission of Mercy visited to offer the workers vaccinations and other medical care. As he volunteered as a translator, Manny Ochoa-Galvez asked where they were from.

MANNY OCHOA-GALVEZ, MISSION OF MERCY: Most of them from Mexico. A lot of them from Honduras. I did meet a fellow countryman from El Salvador. But the vast majority are from Honduras and Mexico.

KING: Ochoa-Galvez owns a restaurant here and says the city needs the workers, legal or not but is convinced that what he saw can only happen to illegal immigrants with no rights or resources.

OCHOA-GALVEZ: The irony of the first world country that we live in. That we're seeing the situation, the company, the entity is indeed taking advantage of the need in both directions. From the employer and from the employee. You know, the need is there. It needs to be fulfilled.

KING: Ten to 12 hours a day at eight bucks an hour. John King, CNN, New Orleans.


BROWN: And a quick postscript, many of the workers told our freelance photographer they crossed the border illegally, however, we don't know what steps if any they might have taken since arriving in the United States to become legal workers.

From New Orleans and handicraft to Washington and stagecraft. The president surrounded by the image makers who only want you to see certain things, but every now and then it doesn't turn out just that way. We'll explain as NEWSNIGHT continues on a Friday night.



BUSH: Now the people of Iraq are going to get to vote once again on a constitution, in this case. I want to thank you for providing the security necessary for people to exercise their free will.


BROWN: In "Wag the Dog," a Washington insider recruits a Hollywood producer to produce a war. I'm in show business, the producer says. Why come to me? War is show business, the insider replies. And besides, we're not going to have a war. Just the appearance of a war.

Well, in Iraq, we do have a war. Also, at times it turns out, the appearance of show business. We saw a bit of it this week and we also saw the machinery backstage. That's part of a larger story, call it the opening act. Here's CNN's Jeff Greenfield.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what American viewers were supposed to see, the president talking with American officers serving in Iraq. Getting some spontaneous, upbeat assessments. This is what they weren't supposed to see. Defense Department official Allison Barber running through what sounded like a meticulous rehearsal, previewing who would get which questions and how they would be answered?

ALLISON BARBER, PENTAGON OFFICIAL: And in the last 10 months, what kind of progress have we seen?

GREENFIELD: Including guidance on what to do if a spontaneous moment, in fact, popped up.

BARBER: If there's a question that the president comes up with that we haven't drilled through today, then I am expecting the microphone to go right back to you, Captain Kennedy and you to handle.

MIKE ALLEN, "TIME MAGAZINE": This is embarrassing for the White House. It was unintended. You and I are talking about stage craft instead of about how motivated the troops are.

GREENFIELD: For "Time Magazine's" Mike Allen, the idea the White House stages an event is about as shocking as a revelation that the sun rises in the east.

ALLEN: Any White House, not this one in particular, is about control. These people just seem to be better at it.

GREENFIELD (on camera): Which may be the real story here. That a White House that has managed to launch a thousand stories about its carefully-staged events and its carefully-crafted photo opportunities managed to pull off a carelessly staged event.

One thing for sure, any indignation about a White House that stages the news comes about a century too late.

(voice-over): It was President Roosevelt, Theodore, not Franklin, that brought the press photographers along on hunting and camping trips making his vigor and physicality a key element in his political appeal. Those endearing pictures of John Kennedy's family didn't happen by accident but politicians have gotten a lot more blatant about it.

Back in 1972, Republican officials were embarrassed when the press got hold of a script for one of their convention nights. Spontaneous applause moments and all.

By 1996, Democratic operatives briefing the press every day about their scripted convention moments. The Clinton White House took some heat in 1994 when critics charged they staged an emotional moment at a D-Day commemoration at Normandy with President Clinton forming a cross out of stones.

But this White House has taken staging to a whole new level. From the mission accomplished presidential landing aboard an aircraft carrier in 2003.

BUSH: Thank you very much.

GREENFIELD: To town hall meetings and other events where pay they had to sign pledges that they were in fact backing the president. As a tactical matter, it has worked. Until recently when a series of events seemed to have gone awry. This picture of president bush looking down at Hurricane ravaged New Orleans last month seemed to symbolize not engagement but distance.

Repeated visits to the Gulf and the highly dramatic solo walk to the podium from magically lit Jackson Square in New Orleans did not improve the president's job approval numbers.

BUSH: Good evening.

GREENFIELD: Some have even suggested that the entanglement of Karl Rove and other White House aides with the grand jury investigation may be distracting the political team.

(on camera): Or maybe it's just a case of trouble begetting trouble. The country is in a pessimistic mood. Iraq remains troubled. Gas prices are high. The president's Supreme Court pick has angered the base and now inflation may be rearing its ugly head again. As basketball legend and philosopher Bill Russell once said, when things go bad, they go bad. Even public relations.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.


BROWN: Coming up on the program tonight, could an explosion outside of an University of Oklahoma football game be a botched terror attack?

Also tonight, officials in law enforcement are scoffing at such an idea but others are not. You'll hear from both sides after a break. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: Was it a suicidal act of a depressed college student or was it an attempt at terrorism? This story is so rich with questions.

Two very different versions of events are emerging in the wake of an explosion outside of a packed football stadium at the University of Oklahoma in Norma. Authorities quickly ruled the death of Joel Henry Hinrichs a suicide. And then the bloggers started weighing in. We begin our coverage with CNN's Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Friday prayers at the Islamic Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Anxiety is running high.

A stone's throw from here, a young student at the University of Oklahoma sat down on a bench two weeks ago and blew himself up in the shadow of a football stadium where thousands of people were attending a game.

Was it terrorism? No, authorities say, but that hasn't stopped the blogosphere from running wild with conspiracy theories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One or two mere coincidences, I would be comfortable accepting but when you have three or four or more, it becomes very difficult for me to accept the lone suicide scenario

JOHNS: Here's what we know. A sophomore of Joel Hinrichs with a history of depression died when his backpack containing explosives blew up. The rest is pure speculation. But that speculation has many people here alarmed and confused.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's scary because I do think his intentions were different. Than just him going for himself. But I mean, I don't know for sure.

JOHNS: Here's how the conspiracy theory goes. Hinrichs lives three blocks from the Islamic Center. He once had a beard, he had a Pakistani roommate, leading some to speculate he was part of an Islamic terror ring. Nonsense, says the university president and former U.S. Senator David Boren.

What goes through your mind when you see what you know versus what's being reported on this story?

PRESIDENT DAVID BOREN, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: Tremendous frustration. I happened to watch one news report on television the other night and I think there were nine things said and I knew for a fact that eight of them were wrong.

JOHNS: We checked it out. First stop, Hinrichs' fraternity house.

So you can't talk to us?


JOHNS: We stopped by the apartment. Empty. Scrubbed clean by the FBI. At the Islamic Center, no one had ever heard of Hinrichs until they saw the picture in the newspaper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's jumping to conclusions. If they don't know something about a certain aspect of Islam, you just have to come and ask about it. You shouldn't like listen to the media. The media isn't a good source for anything honestly.

JOHNS: What about allegation to kill others? After the son's death, Hinrichs' father spoke out on that.

JOE HINRICHS, FATHER: I really I regret everything about what he did. I think he went to the largest open space he could conveniently reach. There's nothing around. And happened to be outside of a football stadium. But he chose it for the reason that it was open.

JOHNS: In the newsroom of the "Oklahoma Daily," reporters are dumbfounded at what's been put out there on the Internet, in print and on TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're taught here to get the facts. You know? Named sources. Anonymous sources.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three sources rule. What about the one source rule? I mean, you need to have somebody. It showed me that the Internet is making it so anybody's opinion is as valid as the next persons and without sounding elitist, that's just not true.

JOHNS: Talk of terrorism strikes a raw nerve here. The Oklahoma City bombing happened just 20 miles away. But in this case, all signs suggest the fear doesn't match the facts. Joe Johns, CNN, Norman, Oklahoma.


BROWN: But that doesn't end the story. You heard a bit from Mark Tapscott, the blogger, the Heritage Foundation in Joe Johns report. We talked to him earlier tonight as well as Pat D'Amuro, a CNN security analyst and former assistant director of the FBI.


BROWN: Mark, let's start with you. Can you give us a fact that says to you, a fact, that says to you that this -- a reasonable person would conclude this was an attempted act of terrorism?

MARK TAPSCOTT, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: On the first would be simply the proximity to 84,000 people. In a football stadium on Saturday. The second thing that I would note as a fact would be the fact that a substantial amount of bomb making material and other material was found in his apartment.


TAPSCOTT: A sufficient amount to indicate a will to kill many people. Not simply one. The third fact I would cite is the fact that very early on the joint task force on terrorism became the lead agency in the investigation of the incident and if it was simply a lone suicide by a disturbed young man I don't understand the necessity for the joint task force to remain on the investigation.

BROWN: Let me ask Pat but my immediate reaction is to find out what it is. Because you have a kid blowing himself up proximate to 84,000 people with a lot of bomb making stuff in the apartment. But you would say what?

PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly, Aaron. When I was down in Washington with the bureau, there was a whole restructuring and an agreement with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that any bombing that took place would be presumed a terrorist attack until proven differently.

So it is not unusual that the joint terrorism task force would go in at a very early stage to take a look at an event like that. Once it's determined that it is a terrorist event, the joint terrorism task force would take primary jurisdiction. If it was not, and it was a lone bomber, it will be turned over to Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

BROWN: Mark, the things you outlined would you agree they're all circumstantial? None of them is -- none of them says this is a terrorist tack? All of them say, well, add it all up and sounds like it could be?

TAPSCOTT: Joel Henrichs did not leave a suicide note. My contention from the beginning is that as the facts have been uncovered, the most reasonable explanation is some kind of a terrorist connection. I would say with regard to Pat's explanation, just a minute ago that, again, if it was simply a lone terror -- excuse me, a lone suicide, that would not take two weeks to establish. And I wouldn't think that we would almost two weeks later have the joint task force involved in the investigation.

D'AMURO: That I disagree with. It takes a while to determine. What they are going to look at is a vast array of information regarding this individual. They're going to look at contacts, they're going to look at phone calls. They're going to look at Internet connectivity that he may have had. Conversations with some people. They are going to look at a lot of information before they come to a final decision whether or not it's a terrorist attack.

TAPSCOTT: But evidently before they look at that evidence in this case, Pat, the FBI and President David Boren of the University of Oklahoma both said there was no evidence of any kind of a terrorist activity or terrorist link. And in fact, that was the thing that got me interested in it as a newspaper journalist first was the literally within hours of the incident they were pronouncing it a lone suicide.

BROWN: Do you know as a matter of fact that he had any ties to Islamic groups at all?

TAPSCOTT: No. That has not been established.

BROWN: OK. Is it -- Pat, let me ask you, is it possible we tend to think of terrorism as an almost single entity sort of thing. Islamic terrorism. Columbine was a kind of terrorism in my view. Is it possible that this young man, in fact, strapped a bomb to his body intending to walk into that stadium, kill a lot of people for no political reason other -- at all, for reasons that we do not know or may never know?

D'AMURO: You are right. I'm not here to say that this is not potential terrorist attack. The points that were made, there's reasons why the bureau would go into a certain time and there's reason why an investigation would take that route but you're right. This could be a situation where this individual was distraught and going to kill himself and other individuals. We don't know that yet. We have to see what the investigation comes up with.


BROWN: Sometimes we're better at raising questions than we are providing answers and that may have been one of those cases here. There's lots of questions and we'll keep asking. Much more ahead on the program tonight. An update from Iraq where bullets and ballots and bombs all make up the headline of the day.

And who's getting the biggest chunk of the money you're forking over at the gas pump?

And she might be third string, I love this story so much, but she is also the first. A high school quarterback. She is, and this is NEWSNIGHT.



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