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New York City Strike On; Saddam Hussein Back in Court

Aired December 21, 2005 - 06:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Driving slowly and for many people walking, walking, walking. A live picture from the traffic there. We have obviously the helicopter shot. This is from our affiliate WABC. And also you can see the traffic tied up already. It's only 6:30 in the morning. Normally the streets would be pretty empty. What a mess for New York City's seven million commuters who are still looking for alternate ways to get to work. The transit strike is costing the city as much as $400 million a day.
Other news. Saddam Hussein showing up this time. His trial resumes with some pretty horrifying testimony. We've got that.

Plus, Sir Elton John is getting hitched right now. We'll take you live to Windsor, England, this morning.

Those stories all ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Boy, this thing in New York has a lot of people confused. You could just tell they were doing things that were out of the ordinary for them, like driving when they weren't used to, or walking when they weren't used to.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, the number of bad drivers in the city is incredible. People don't know how to merge or change lanes or do anything. Yes, it's been a real mess in the city.

SANCHEZ: And people negotiating with cab drivers.

S. O'BRIEN: I did that yesterday.

SANCHEZ: Did you?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I did.

SANCHEZ: I thought you said it was $20. No, it's $30, right?

S. O'BRIEN: It is whatever money they will take to get you where you need to go, I think.

Let's get right to our top story this morning, which is the strike here in New York City of the transit worker, the largest transit system in the country.

Allan Chernoff is at the Brooklyn Bridge. It's one of the main gateways right into Manhattan.

Hey, Allan, good morning.


You know, this is the stuff that New York legends are made of. And most of the people who are walking across the bridge now, they're smiling. They feel very proud this is something that they'll be able to even tell their children about.

So, people are starting to flow across. We're getting a bigger and bigger flow. People also walking their bikes across. The police are requiring that people dismount and just walk them across, because already it's a little busy crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge. Normally you would see barely a handful of people walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

And, of course, coming across by car, a little more difficult for a lot of people. They have to have at least four people in the car to cross the bridge and also crossing over other bridges and tunnels into Manhattan.

People are wondering how long this strike is going to go on. Certainly the pressure mounting on the union, because the union is being fined a million dollars a day for this illegal strike -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, OK. Considering you got this fine of a million bucks a day, and you look at the past previous transit strikes, what's the best educated guess on how long this one could last?

CHERNOFF: Soledad, I don't think anybody really knows how long this strike will last. The two sides not talking to each other yet again.

But in the past, 25 years ago in 1980 we had a strike that lasted for 11 days. And in the '60s there was a strike that lasted for 12 days.

So, it's theoretically possible that this could be going on for a while. And, as I said, intrepid New Yorkers are jogging, everything, they don't care about cameras. They're just marching on through.

S. O'BRIEN: It's going to get ugly, especially if it lasts a long time. Allan Chernoff with that update, and obviously we'll check in with Allan throughout the morning. Thanks, Allan.

Lots of other stories making news. Let's get right to Carol Costello for an update.

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

More testimony this morning against Saddam Hussein. Just a short time ago, a witness described how his entire family was rounded up by Hussein's officers more than 20 years ago. This is the first testimony since the trial adjourned two weeks ago. Hussein and seven co-defendants are on trial for crimes against humanity, including the 1982 killings of more than 140 people in an Iraqi village. Much more on this throughout this morning.

A federal judge calling it quits in protest of President Bush's spying program. You know those secret wiretaps we've been hearing about. According to "The Washington Post," Judge James Robertson was a member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He helped oversee how officials gathered information on terror suspects and apparently thought that eavesdropping without a warrant crossed the line. In the meantime, the president says the program is legal, and he will continue to use it in the war on terror.

A final farewell for Stanley Tookie Williams, and perhaps it was fitting. The 1,500-seat Bethel AME Church in South L.A. was filled to capacity. For four hours, mourners remembered Williams as a man who turned from an early life of violence to peacemaker and advocate. Rapper Snoop Dog among those in attendance. Williams was put to death last week after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down his pleas for clemency. Shortly after this funeral, nearby gunshots rang out, and police say it was all part of gang violence.

A commercial jet was forced to make an emergency landing in Boston. Pilots on the Midwest Airline flight realized they had trouble with the landing gear shortly after takeoff from Logan Airport. So, they circled for about two hours burning off fuel before landing safely.


PATRICK SWIESKOWSKI, PASSENGER: They came on about 15 minutes beforehand and said there would be, like, emergency equipment out, and there could be some sparks. They thought the doors would drop off the landing gear holds for some reason. But the landing was pretty normal, except you'd see a fire truck every few feet.


COSTELLO: That interview from ANDERSON COOPER 360, which airs weeknights at 10:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

In the world of sports, two-time All Star Johnny Damon could be wearing Yankee pinstripes soon. Can you believe this? The Boston Red Sox centerfielder is said to be heading to New York in a $52 million, four-year deal. Let me say that again for you: $52 million for four years. That's 13 million big ones per year. This is the very same guy who said back in May there's no way he could go to play for the Yankees. But I guess something convinced him. The deal is not official, though, until Damon passes a physical. Thirteen million a year. Wow!


COSTELLO: It does.

SCHNEIDER: But is he going to cut his hair? That's what I want to know.

COSTELLO: No. Oh, I hope not. I love that.

SCHNEIDER: All of those fans would be very disappointed if he did, that's for sure.


SANCHEZ: Still to come right here on AMERICAN MORNING, divers recovered key parts of that vintage seaplane that crashed off of Miami Beach. The latest from investigators.

S. O'BRIEN: And prosecutors in the Saddam Hussein trial promise a witness surprise. We'll have the latest, talk to one of the court's legal advisors as well. That's all ahead as we continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Saddam Hussein back in court today, the first time that we've seen him since he boycotted the last trial session, which was about two weeks ago. A witness today offering emotional testimony about arrests and torture and executions following an attempt on Saddam Hussein's life back in 1982.

Joining us this morning from Cleveland is Michael Scharf. He's a lawyer who helped train the judges and the prosecutors. He's now the court's legal advisor.

It's nice to see you, Michael. Thanks for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

When we last left this, of course, Saddam Hussein was refusing to come into the courtroom. They proceeded without him. Are you surprised that he's now back?

SCHARF: No. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, the judge has more cards in his deck than Saddam Hussein does. And what Amin did is he said, all right, Saddam, you can't derail the trial. If you don't want to come to court, you can watch the proceedings from your detention center through a two-way video link. That's perfectly legal. That's the way they've done it in other international trials at The Hague, in Rwanda, in Sierra Leone.

The problem for Saddam is he can't score any points in the courtroom if he's sitting in his detention center. So, he knew he had to come back to court.

S. O'BRIEN: And that's what it's all about. He's not going to be on TV if he doesn't come to court.

Let's talk a little bit about the first witness who we've heard. It's such moving testimony. It's a guy whose name is Ali Haj Hussein al-Hadari (ph). And his story that he tells of torture is just horrific. Let's listen to a little bit of what he's been telling the court.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Forty three people is my family, 77 years is the oldest and the youngest was born in the prison, Zena (ph). Zena was born and after two months she died in the prison before the eyes of her mom.


S. O'BRIEN: Oh, that's just a little list of what he went on to say about his brothers being killed and his family members being tortured. He was just 14 years old at the time. It's kind of more of the same in a lot of ways. What do you think the impact on the court is, Michael?

SCHARF: Well, the trajectory of the prosecution's case is that they began with the insider witness that established the hierarchy, the military command structure. Then they started having the witnesses who were at Dujail when the town was attacked describing what actually happened there.

Now we're starting to see the phase where the witnesses who were incarcerated and subject to torture are testifying. This phase will last a little bit longer, and then we're going to start seeing inside witnesses, documents, forensics evidence. And the case is slowly building up into a very formidable case against Saddam Hussein.

S. O'BRIEN: We haven't seen really many antics so far this morning from Saddam Hussein. We did see a little back and forth between one of his co-defendants and the judge. Let's listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Well, how is it -- Mr. Baza (ph), what you have -- what you have, your comments, please give me time. The court has procedures and rules procedures. We are limited by. This is selective, your honor. If you have anything, present to us in writing.


S. O'BRIEN: What do you make of the way that the judge is handling these debates, which we've seen, really, each and every time we've shown the court session? He seems more in control to me this time around.

SCHARF: Well, the American media in particular are focusing on this issue of the battle of the wills and whether the judge has enough control over the proceedings. I actually think that the Americans have to understand that the judge has a different tactic in mind. He is trying to bend over backwards to look as fair as possible, as sympathetic as possible. The one thing you're never going to see is this judge lose his cool. He will never yell at the defendants. He's giving them a lot of rope, but at the end it may be enough rope for them to hang themselves.

And so, I'm not as concerned about him having tight control of the courtroom as I am concerning about him being seen as really fair and not trying to be too heavy-handed with the defendants.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting. You obviously heard about these 24 former top officials who have now been released. What do you make -- or is there is a significance to the timing, do you think, Michael?

SCHARF: Well, I have one concern, and that is that this tribunal was supposed to be the first tribunal to focus on the top leaders. And then the ordinary Iraqi courts are supposed to be prosecuting the next level down, which these 24 officials were. And if they're going to be released, I think it's going to be very hard to bring them back into custody to have those trials. And that's a real concern.

But it also raises the possibility, and also with the prosecutors saying he has a surprise for today, that some of these 24 mid-level officials are going to turn state's evidence and testify against Saddam Hussein, and that that was the price that they paid for their early release.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, you think that could be the surprise that the prosecution has been talking about...

SCHARF: Well, you never know.

S. O'BRIEN: ... but hasn't really explained.

SCHARF: Yes, it's possible. The one thing that everybody needs to remember, though, is that the way this court is set up, the defense has to be given the names of all of the witnesses in advance. And so, it's really hard for them to have an actual surprise witness or a surprise document. That would be seen as unfair.

S. O'BRIEN: Michael Scharf is an advisor to the Hussein tribunal. Thanks for talking with us, Michael. As always, appreciate it.

SCHARF: Good to talk with you.

SANCHEZ: It sounds like one of those techniques they used in mob trials, where they get somebody to turn to go against the other guy, right?

Well, Andy is "Minding Your Business," and he's here on AMERICAN MORNING now.

What you got coming up?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Rick, Soledad, maybe you thought the era of corporate scandals and scoundrels was over. It's not. How about a $100 million insider trading case? It's coming up on AMERICAN MORNING. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: No, nobody is dreaming of a white Christmas, because that would mean walking right through the snow to get to work if the transit strike continues as it is. Welcome back, everybody. Andy is "Minding Your Business."

First, though, let's get a check of the headlines with Carol.

Good morning, Carol.

It looks like we don't have that. Let's get to Carol in just a moment.

SANCHEZ: Well, let's go to Bing Crosby then.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Andy.

SERWER: You want go to business?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, why not?

SERWER: Yes, let's do that.

All right, we're talking about a couple of high flyers who have gone splat, Soledad. Let's go to Denver, Colorado. First of all, Qwest, not exactly like WorldCom, but also a large telecom with problems.

Yesterday former CEO Qwest Joe Nacchio indicted in Denver, 42 counts -- there he is -- of insider trading involving stock sales of $100 million. He sold the stock in 2001 when he said Qwest was still doing OK, and the company was taking instead. Nacchio says he's innocent.

Let's go out to San Jose, California, after this. Calpine, a very large utility company, not exactly like Enron, but there are some similarities.

S. O'BRIEN: Kind of.

SERWER: Let's talk about that a little bit. They had some problems as well: $22 billion in debt, Calpine filing for chapter 11 yesterday, $926 million of losses over the past couple of years. This is a company that, like Enron, got into the deregulated parts of the utility business in the late 1990s, expanded like crazy. Then when Enron went splat and the business contracted, Calpine tried to grow its way out of its problems. It didn't work, and now it's gone chapter 11.

So, you think this era is over. It continues. And, of course, we have the giant Enron trial in January. So it keeps on going a little bit, these scandals.

S. O'BRIEN: That is going to be one to watch, I tell you.

SERWER: It sure will be.

S. O'BRIEN: That's going to be interesting to hear from Ken Lay, I think. All right, Andy, thanks.

SERWER: I agree.

SANCHEZ: In a moment, today's top stories, including Elton John tying the knot and making history. We've got all of the details from the ceremony when we go live to Windsor next. Stay with us right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Be sure to check out our Web site,, for the latest on this morning's top stories, including this top story, the transit strike here in New York City. As you can see, people are hoofing it to work once again today. It's the second day -- or in some cases riding their razors to work. It's the second day of the transit strike. Seven million people have got to figure out a way to get to work. And it is really economically having a big impact on some of the businesses this time of year especially. They could be losing big money if shoppers don't come in their doors.

Also, here's a story that's one of the most popular stories on our Web site. A 12-foot shark attacks a rowing boat. A boat was involved in this race. At some point a 12-foot shark starts attacking the New Zealand team in the race. They said that they were afraid that the shark was actually going to take a big chunk out of the boat. They wired for help and got a support ship in about six hours. The whole thing last just about 15 minutes. Everybody on board is just fine.

So be sure to check out the Web site. And if you're about to head out to work this morning, you can stay in touch with CNN and AMERICAN MORNING by just going right to our Web site, And our pipeline video service you can catch live commercial-free news updates right there. It's all there at -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Well, Sir Elton John is exchanging vows with his partner, David Furnish, today. A civil ceremony held just a few minutes ago in Windsor, England. It is the first day of a new law in England, recognizing same-sex couples.

The London Broadcasting Corporation "Showbiz" editor Jo Parkerson is joining us now with some of the details.

Hey, Jo, thanks for joining us. How big a deal is this over there?

JO PARKERSON, "SHOWBIZ" EDITOR, LBC RADIO: I'm going to say a really big deal. It's one of our biggest musicians, one of our biggest (INAUDIBLE). I think they are the most high-profile gay showbiz couple. For them to tie the knot, it's fantastic.

And also we know Elton John loves a party. And we love to watch his parties. And this has been one that we've kept our eye on for quite some time. And it all kicked off with the staggle hindu (ph), as we were calling it on Monday night.

And as we've seen, they got married at the Guildhall behind me in Windsor, and now they're heading off to his mansion just around the corner. In fact, it's called the "second Windsor Castle," because it's so big, which is where the big party will be happening later.

SANCHEZ: Is it a big deal for media types? Or is it a big deal for the average folk, like somebody walking in the Midlands today, is he thinking about this event?

PARKERSON: I'm not sure that everybody is thinking about it. I think they might read the stories tomorrow. As we've handled the stories from the stories from the past few nights, they've been in the newspapers today. And everyone has been wanting to know what happened. Apparently Elton John called Madonna a miserable cow because she didn't want to turn up and sing.

We love Elton John because he's outspoken. And I think that's, you know, one of the things that we like about him. It's a great big deal for the press, and I think it's a huge deal for the gay community.

SANCHEZ: Here on this side of the big pond this is very much what we call a "wedge issue," where people are very much divided about the same-sex union controversy. Is it that way over there or not?

PARKERSON: I think that there are people that disagree. We haven't seen any protesters down here today, which is good. There was a wedding yesterday in Ireland, where two women got married, and there were protesters there.

But, I mean, generally the newspapers are all for it. The TVs have been behind it. And I think some members of religious communities have maybe stepped forward and said it's not what they think is right. But generally, I think most people are behind Elton and David.

SANCHEZ: What are people saying, Jo, about the fact that they're using the same venue as Prince Charles and Camilla used?

PARKERSON: I think -- you know, we think it's a bit of a joke. It's quite ironic really. It's almost like the second royal wedding. I think it's certainly a big a deal as the world press is down here. There has been people lining the streets with banners and presenting them with cakes.

So, you know, we think it's quite funny.

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, you can't talk about an event like this without talking about the outfit. So, especially since we're talking about one of the most flamboyant entertainers we've seen in many, many years, maybe the Liberace of our time, what were they wearing? What did they do? Give us some of the details.

PARKERSON: They were really, really understated. Both of them looked absolutely impeccably stylish in sort of dark, midnight blues and navy. You know, your traditional wedding suit, that's what they were wearing.

I think Elton wants everyone to know that he's taking this wedding very seriously, so maybe deciding not to wear one of his multi-colored suits that he's been so famous for in the past.

But we haven't seen him, you know, wear those suits for quite a while. I mean, even to his hindus (ph) he wore a turquoise suit, but nothing too flamboyant. So maybe he's trying to put that behind him.

SANCHEZ: Was that last night? I know they had that pre-wedding party last night. A little more splendor there perhaps?

PARKERSON: They had that on Monday night, and it was at a club called Too2Much in London Soho. It's a very famous gay club. And, yes, it was flamboyant, and there was a huge cabaret. And many of Elton John's favorite singers performed. Blue Lu (ph) performed there. Take That (ph) performed. Bryan Adams performed, which I thought was very funny. And the Pet Shop Boys' (ph) Neil Tennant (ph) performed with Jake Shears (ph). Julie Gaylor (ph) (INAUDIBLE) I am what I am.

So, there was a very camp theme to it. And he also had waiters dressed up in cowboy suits. I don't think they were wearing much else apart from cowboy hats actually. A bit of eye candy for them too. But that was a lot more fun.

But I think, you know, the civil ceremony that we've just seen was a very understating thing. The party back at Elton John's mansion later will, I'm sure, be quite flamboyant.

SANCHEZ: Good thorough report. Jo Parkerson, we thank you, "Showbiz" editor from LBC Radio.

Let's go over to weather now and find out what's going on with Bonnie Schneider.


SCHNEIDER: That's a look at your forecast. Stay tuned. The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Bonnie. I'm Soledad O'Brien.


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