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AMERICAN MORNING

Stunning Confession From 35-Year-Old Iraqi Wife

Aired November 14, 2005 - 08:00   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A stunning confession from a 35-year-old Iraqi wife, part of the Jordan terror attacks. Says she wore a bomb that didn't go off. Why did al Qaeda use her? Could she lead investigators to other terrorists? A live report is ahead.
A manhunt underway after a double murder in Pennsylvania. Two teens on the run, one believed to be the killer, the other his 14- year-old girlfriend, possibly a hostage. Details straight ahead.

And as close as you can or want to get to a powerful tornado and live to tell the tale, that is. Amazing pictures of a late season twister on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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

M. O'BRIEN: Well, they say twisters don't happen in November in Iowa.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: But actually...

M. O'BRIEN: Ten to 20 percent of the time.

S. O'BRIEN: Just 12.

M. O'BRIEN: Ten to 12, I'm sorry.

S. O'BRIEN: Ten to 12 percent. I think Bonnie was telling us earlier today.

But, I mean, it's very unusual. And you can see just by the reaction of the guy who was shooting it. He was so close, really, obviously shocked.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. We're going to check in on that. We'll check in on tropical depression number 27. It'll probably become Gamma today. You know, we're into the Greek alphabet.

And then we're talking also about this incredible videotaped confession.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, it's such a shock. You know, so rarely are you really shocked by what you see. But to see this woman strapped with the bomb on and showing it off and talking very plainly about her role in the attempt, pretty surprising. A 35-year-old Iraqi woman made, in fact, that startling admission on Jordanian television. She explained her role in the terror attacks in Amman last week. CNN's Jonathan Mann is in Amman this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was in Amman Sunday night to pay his condolences and have a look at the scene of the wreckage in the Radisson Hotel, where so many people were killed. And the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. U.S. Secretary of State Rice will be welcomed here today.

But the person who really has grabbed the most attention is a woman whose name was unknown here until yesterday, Sajida al-Rishawi. She is the alleged suicide bomber whose confession was shown on Jordanian TV. It was an extraordinary broadcast, just a few minutes long. But it told a very, very intriguing and tragic message about a woman aged 35, haggard looking, who calmly explained to viewers and to a questioner, an interrogator off camera how her husband instructed her in the use of a suicide bomb belt, showed her the detonator and then brought her from Iraq by truck, using a fake passport, to meet up with two other men, the four of them taking refuge in an apartment that her husband rented and then fanning out to attack three hotels in Amman, Jordan on Wednesday.

Her belt ultimately did not work. She was only one of the suicide bombers whose attack was unsuccessful. She said her husband's belt did work and in the crowded reception hall where a wedding was being celebrated, the chaos of that first explosion gave her an opportunity to escape.

She did escape and eluded capture until the early hours of Sunday morning, when she was arrested with her belt still intact. The authorities said that they really didn't think long before putting her on television. In fact, they put the belt back on her to give Jordanians a chance to see the face of one of their would-be killers and also to hear her voice and to learn from her accent, to reinforce the impression that she was not a Jordanian who betrayed her king or country, but an Iraqi who had been brought in by al Qaeda.

She, in fact, had ties to al Qaeda beyond her husband. Her brother is said to have been Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's right-hand man in Anbar Province until he was killed by U.S. forces in Falluja.

And so Jordanians got to see a woman who basically got into terrorism as part of the family business, a woman who now, authorities believe, may have valuable information to share about al Qaeda and any other plots that may still be in the offing. Jonathan Mann, CNN, Amman.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: Elsewhere in the Middle East, these pictures coming into us now. You're about to see, coming into us live, this is a memorial service for Yitzhak Rabin. Hard to believe it's now been 10 years since the Israeli prime minister was assassinated. World leaders gathering to remember him as we speak. Among them, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is touring the region. Guy Raz in Jerusalem with more -- Guy.

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, among those notables, indeed, not just Secretary Rice, but former President Bill Clinton, his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.

Now, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Baker, of course, both very intimately involved in peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians during their times in office. All of these leaders from around the world, the largest gathering of international leaders here in Israel, coming to celebrate, to commemorate, rather, the 10 years since Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down by an extremist Israeli Jew.

Now, meanwhile, a possible breakthrough here in -- on reopening a key border crossing between Palestinian Gaza and Egypt. An agreement that is in the works. That announcement made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here visiting the region. Her fourth visit to the region this year.

Now, essentially we're talking about the Rafah border crossing. That's on the southern end of Gaza. It's the main border crossing between Palestinian Gaza and Egypt. And essentially the only transit point for Palestinians living in Gaza to the outside world.

Now, that border crossing was manned on the Palestinian side by Israeli troops for 38 years.

Now, when Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza over the summer, that crossing was essentially shut down and sealed. And since that time, both Israeli and Palestinian officials have been at loggerheads over how to reopen that border.

The Israelis are saying that without proper supervision, it could become a transit point for armed militants and for weapons smuggling.

But for Palestinians, it's simply an issue of sovereignty.

Now, what ultimately may happen with that border crossing is that Egyptian troops will man the Egyptian side of the border, as they always have done. Palestinian security officials and perhaps international observers from the European Union will man the Palestinian side. Israel will possibly be allowed to install closed- circuit cameras inside to monitor that border, but without physically being present there.

Now, the Bush administration essentially saying this is key to reviving Gaza's economy and could help prevent a new outbreak of violence here in the region -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Guy Raz in Jerusalem.

Thank you very much.

Let's check some other headlines.

Carol Costello here with that -- good morning, again, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Miles.

Good morning to all of you.

President Bush is kicking off a week long visit to Asia. The trip will include talks on free trade and the possible bird flu pandemic. The president set to arrive in Kyoto, Japan tomorrow. But first, a quick stop in Alaska, where he'll talk about the war on terror.

U.S. and Iraqi forces launching a new phase of Operation Steel Curtain. The U.S. military says it's facing significant resistance near the Syrian border. Dozens of insurgents have been killed and a number of targets were hit by air strikes.

In the meantime, a new bombing to tell you about in Baghdad. It happened earlier this morning near a checkpoint to the green zone. At least two were killed, several others hurt, including Western contractors.

An amber alert now in effect for a Pennsylvania teenager. Police say the girl may have been abducted by the same man who shot and killed her parents. It seems the two were dating, but the parents disapproved. An arrest warrant has now been issued for 18-year-old David Ludwig. Fourteen-year-old Cara Beth Borden is believed to be with him.

Michael Newdow, Michael Newdow. You remember that name? Sure you do. He's the atheist who spent years trying to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from public schools and lost. Well, he's now on a new crusade. He wants to get rid of the phrase "in god we trust" from U.S. coins and dollars. He claims it goes against the constitution. He'll file a lawsuit in federal court this week.

Standing before a tornado in Iowa, amazing pictures -- actually, frightening pictures of a massive twister outside of Des Moines. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my god! That's it! Stay over here! Shut that door!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: And get out of there. They did. Within just minutes dozens of homes were wiped out. At least one person was killed. Iowa's governor is heading to the site today. This is in Woodward, Iowa, by the way. He's making emergency funding available to victims.

And they don't call it the Windy City for nothing. We're talking about Chicago now. Thanks to winds gusting up to 47 miles per hour and one heads up play, Nathan Vasher is a huge star this morning. In case you missed it, the 49ers Joe Nedney's field goal went wide in the wind. The Chicago Bears defensive back Nathan Vasher grabs the ball on the play. And as you can see, he sprints for 108 yards, for a touch down. It was the longest play in NFL history. He ran so far, he needed oxygen at the end -- 108 yards. Look, he almost can't make it into the end zone. Look at him. It's like huh, huh. But he does.

M. O'BRIEN: What, he can't do 100 yards?

COSTELLO: Oh, man, he's full speed, man.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: He's going full speed. But what a great heads up play. The final score, 17-9. Giving the Bears their fifth win in a row. He did that with three seconds left in the game.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, and he said...

M. O'BRIEN: It was the Bears.

COSTELLO: It was what? The Bears.

M. O'BRIEN: The Bears. The Bears. The U.C. Bears. He plays for the Bears.

COSTELLO: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm sorry.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, at that piece...

M. O'BRIEN: I didn't mean to throw you there.

COSTELLO: I was so confused, it was like what?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, the whole point of the story. Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Back in the '60s, at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, I saw Gale Sayers do 106 yards, which I believe was the previous record.

S. O'BRIEN: It was the record, yes.

M. O'BRIEN: So this is a Bear thing.

COSTELLO: This is a big Bear thing.

S. O'BRIEN: He said that they could play like that all the time. He said that he really felt that the team had it in them.

COSTELLO: They do. They're in first place in their division, ahead of the Detroit Lions, by the way.

M. O'BRIEN: I know, I know.

COSTELLO: They're in second place. M. O'BRIEN: Think of the money you could save if all you had to do was special teams, no quarterbacks, no (UNINTELLIGIBLE), keep running them back, you know? Just a thought.

S. O'BRIEN: It would change the game a little.

COSTELLO: It's a tough thing to do.

S. O'BRIEN: But we're going to look at the weather this morning.

Let's go to Bonnie Schneider.

She's at the CNN Center with the latest forecast for us -- good morning.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, ATS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Miles and Soledad.

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, an update on the Senate probe into pre-war intelligence. Were analysts pressured to find a link between Iraq and al Qaeda? We'll talk to one of the senators who is investigating.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, a -- here's a first, post-Katrina, the first ever class action lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency. More than a dozen hurricane victims are taking the agency to court. We'll ask one of them what she wants.

S. O'BRIEN: And then later, one school system makes an ambitious promise to all of its students -- a college scholarship for almost every single one of them. That story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: The Bush administration is fighting back, answering people who say the president manipulated pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Here is the president's counselor, Dan Bartlett, a little bit earlier this morning on AMERICAN MORNING.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: We all thought that to be true. That's not to say that somebody misled. It was the fact that the intelligence was wrong. That's a critical difference and they know it, and the fact that they're trying to level these charges without the facts demonstrates the type of politics they are playing at this important juncture in the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: Senator Carl Levin is one of six senators who is trying to figure out what is taking -- trying to figure out if, in fact, the public was misled on pre-war intelligence.

And Senator Levin joins us from Capitol Hill this morning.

Nice to see you, sir.

Thanks for talking with us.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good being with you, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: You heard what Dan Bartlett had to say, which was essentially, in a nutshell, it's unfair for Democrats who supported the war to now say that the president or the administration misled the public. The information was wrong. Everybody was misled.

LEVIN: Actually, some of the information in the intelligence community was very right and what the administration is doing is trying to, they are continuing a pattern here of deception of the American people.

He just said that the Democrats don't have the facts or the critics don't have the facts and rather than attacking the critics they should be responding to the questions which have been raised. For instance, the intelligence community, the Defense Intelligence Agency, said before the war -- and I'm now reading the unclassified statement of the Defense Intelligence Agency prior to the war -- "that Saddam's regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements."

But before the war, the president was saying that you cannot distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

As a matter of fact, he said that so often they tried to connect Saddam Hussein with the attackers on us on 9/11, so often, so frequently and so successfully, even though it was wrong, that the American people overwhelmingly thought, because of the president's misstatements that, as a matter of fact, Saddam Hussein had participated in the attack on us on 9/11.

That is -- that was a deception. That was clearly misinformation.

S. O'BRIEN: But you...

LEVIN: It had a huge effect on the American people.

S. O'BRIEN: You're on the Senate committee on intelligence, the Select Committee On Intelligence, where you're investigating this very question.

Do you have any evidence to this point that, in fact, the president or the administration misled the public?

LEVIN: Yes. I just read you something. I just read you -- I'll read you another Defense Intelligence Agency statement. It said that the source of the president's statement at the time, that there was training going on by Saddam Hussein of al Qaeda in the use of biological and chemical weapons, that the source, as a matter of fact, is intentionally misleading us. That is the Defense Intelligence Agency's assessment prior to the war.

And yet the president was saying that, as a matter of fact, he said, that Saddam Hussein was training the people who had attacked us.

S. O'BRIEN: There are plenty of...

LEVIN: That was clearly wrong.

S. O'BRIEN: There are plenty of Democrats who've had the opportunity to raise all these issues before the war, to say you know what, actually there is a lot of debate over this and instead we have a long list -- and I could read my own list to you -- of Democrats who marched off to war and supported the war.

LEVIN: Well, I didn't vote for the war. Half the Democrats voted against it. I was one who voted against it. And, as a matter of fact, we tried to declassify this material before the war. We had great difficulty in doing it. But the intelligence community did not support the president and the administration's statements that there was a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam. And that is what sold the American people.

It wasn't just the existence of nuclear or biological, more accurate, and chemical weapons. That was not the issue. What the president tried to persuade the American people and did was that Saddam Hussein not just had those weapons, but that he was linked to the terrorists who had attacked us.

S. O'BRIEN: You're a member of the Select Committee that's going to come up with this report.

LEVIN: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: And obviously you've made up your mind, it sounds like, to me.

When is the official report going to be revealed?

LEVIN: Well, we've tried very hard to get the intelligence committee chairman to get back on track with this report. We're obviously hoping that it'll not just be quick, but that it'll also be thorough.

You know, the administration continues to talk about everybody believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That is true. But that isn't the issue, because the sale point for the administration was that the 9/11 attackers were connected to Saddam Hussein and that is wrong. There was no consensus in the intelligence community that there were links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

S. O'BRIEN: So when you say back on track, who's standing in the way of it being on track? LEVIN: We're now back on the track because we had a closed session of the Senate, which finally got this thing back on track after the investigation had languished for about a year.

S. O'BRIEN: So then November 14th, isn't that supposed to be the day?

LEVIN: No, that's a day when we're going to hopefully issue an agreed statement as to where this investigation is. But there's a commitment by the chairman of the Intelligence Committee that this will be completed. It should be thorough. We should call witnesses. But we've got to get into this issue where there was misrepresentation by the administration. And where the Intelligence Committee -- or, excuse me, the intelligence community, did not agree with what the administration was saying.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, well, I'm sure we're going to hear more about it.

Senator Carl Levin, nice to see you.

Thank you for talking with us this morning.

LEVIN: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Straight ahead, you probably might have predicted this one, the first ever class action lawsuit against FEMA. More than a dozen hurricane victims taking the agency to court. We'll talk to one of them next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: So, where is my FEMA money? There are thousands of hurricane victims asking that very question this morning and 13 of them have banded together to file a lawsuit against the federal agcy charged with helping folks out in the wake of a disaster.

Joining me now from San Antonio, Texas is Florence Jackson.

She's one of the plaintiffs in this case.

And here in New York is Howard Godnick.

He is the attorney filing the suit on behalf of Jackson and 12 other Katrina victims.

Florence, let's begin with you.

It's a long tale, so I want to try to abbreviate it, if you would. You finally made your way to San Antonio. It was quite a saga getting there. That would be another segment.

But getting to San Antonio, you finally had some encounters with FEMA personnel. What were those encounters like? What did they tell you and what has come of it?

FLORENCE JACKSON, SUING FEMA OVER HOUSING: I originally filed September 5th, 2005, with a bilingual person. He didn't understand me and I didn't understand him. So I was not given a lot of information after...

M. O'BRIEN: I'm sorry, he didn't speak English? He didn't speak English?

JACKSON: Very broken English.

M. O'BRIEN: OK.

All right.

JACKSON: And I -- so therefore I couldn't ask questions. But after filing...

M. O'BRIEN: I'm sorry, I'm not getting this.

The U.S. federal government representative you spoke to with FEMA didn't speak English?

JACKSON: Broken English?

M. O'BRIEN: OK.

JACKSON: You know, I asked him things like what's going to happen after I file? He said, well, ma'am, all I'm going to do is give you a 1-800 number. I said well, what am I supposed to do in the meantime?

But there are so many other things I want to tell you about FEMA, I don't want to hang on that one.

M. O'BRIEN: Go ahead. Press on. Press on.

You got your initial check though, right, the $2,358, right?

JACKSON: Right. Within the shelter, Kelly USA. And then I was shipped to another shelter, which is Lackland. And then I left there and physically I've been in an apartment since the 25th.

But what is worrying me, after numerous phone calls, filing all their directives, I still to not have anything in writing or by phone. And I don't know how I'm going to exist monetarily in the apartment.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

JACKSON: In other words, who's going to pay my rent?

M. O'BRIEN: So you were...

JACKSON: Am I going to be evicted? M. O'BRIEN: You could be evicted -- in other words, FEMA has promised to extend that $2,358 payment to 18 months for Katrina victims. You haven't seen a single dime beyond that initial payment?

JACKSON: Correct, sir.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

JACKSON: Nor any written or verbal communications with me. They don't even give me the respect of saying Miss. Jackson, we know you've registered, even though I've called them oh, I don't know how many times.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Howard, let's talk about this.

For one thing, this is an unprecedented tragedy. We have to give somewhat the benefit of the doubt to the angry here.

But does this transcend, does this get into an area where they are not, I guess, in essence, are they violating a contract with the American people?

HOWARD GODNICK, ATTORNEY SUING FEMA: They're violating the law with regard to the American people and what their legal obligations are.

But let me address your point about it being unprecedented.

The federal government had planned for this. There was a simulation called Hurricane Pam in 2004 and they anticipated the levees breaking and they anticipated hundreds of thousands of people being left homeless.

So while the storm may have been large, it was planned for, or at least it was supposed to be planned for. And there are now far too many people like Florence who are waiting for their benefits, who sit in this Neverland called pending. They check on the status of their application. They've been checking on it for two months. And all they ever hear is that they're pending.

M. O'BRIEN: Will suing really speed the process, though? Lawsuits tend to stretch on for, sometimes, many years. Is this really going to get money into Florence's pocket quicker?

GODNICK: Sitting but waiting and doing nothing has not gotten money into Florence's pocket, the 12 other courageous folks who agreed to be plaintiffs in this lawsuit, or all the folks they represent as a class lawsuit. We're going to try to seek expedited relief through the courts. We're trying to do what with can. It's sad that we had to file a lawsuit. These are folks who are entitled to their benefits. They're not seeking damages. They're not seeing a handout. All they're seeking is a helping hand from the government with monies that have already been authorized and approved by the government.

M. O'BRIEN: It's difficult to prevail in a case like this, suing the government. GODNICK: It shouldn't be difficult to prevail when the government has already acknowledged that these people are eligible for benefits. And we've gone through Katrina, Wilma, Rita, we're into the Greek alphabet. Soon we'll be into the Hebrew alphabet. When is Florence and all these other folks going to get their money?

M. O'BRIEN: Florence, a final thought. Are you at wit's end?

JACKSON: I'm very disappointed with my government. I've worked 40 years of my life plus. I have cerebral palsy, epileptic seizures, a son who I'm fighting desperately to just exist. And I feel like my government just has tossed me to the curb. I don't know what else to say, Mr. O'Brien.

I'm very disappointed. I've worked and been a taxpayer all of my adult life.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, we just -- we're going to button it up here.

FEMA does have a written statement in response and I'll give that to you. "FEMA," they say, "has disbursed $3.4 billion directly to more than one million households in an effort to supply Katrina victims with much needed financial aid. Every household will receive the full amount they are eligible for by law. That's FEMA's...

GODNICK: Miles, let me just ask one question with regard to that.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes?

GODNICK: When?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and that's a good question. That's a good question. We'd all like to know the answer to that. We'll follow this one.

Thank you very much for joining us, both of you.

GODNICK: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Florence Jackson and Howard Godnick -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, ahead this morning, Miles, listen to this for a graduation gift -- a free college education for anyone who graduates from public school. We're going to explain just ahead how they're doing it in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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