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President Defending Defense Secretary; Thrill Ride Safety Back in the Spotlight

Aired April 14, 2006 - 07:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, where the president is defending the defense secretary. I'll have more on that story coming up.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And they are on the drawing card for amusement parks all over the world. Now thrill ride safety is back in the spotlight after that death we've been telling you about at Walt Disney World. An update in just a moment.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: You get an e-mail from the IRS. Now that's going to get your attention, right? But beware, there's a good chance someone is phishing to rip you off. We'll tell you what to do, to watch out for online. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

And it is Friday.

M. O'BRIEN: Friday before vacation, too.

Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us this morning.

We begin this morning in Durham, North Carolina, where a community fractured along racial lines tries to patch things up this morning. A racial summit is slated to begin shortly. Representatives of Duke University and community leaders to discuss some simmering issues brought to a boil after a black woman accuses white lacrosse players of rape.

David Mattingly live now for us in Durham.

Good morning, David.


Some new developments first to talk about. Late yesterday, the Durham Police Department released an audio tape. It's a recording of radio traffic from the night the police officer first encountered the woman who claimed she was raped by three men at a Duke University lacrosse team party. The department doesn't have any further comment about the contents of this tape. But on it, you can hear what the officer's saying as he encounters this woman, and he describes her condition as passed-out drunk.


OFFICER: This is going to wind up being a 24-hour hold. She's 10-56 and unconscious (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

DISPATCHER: 10-4, do you need a medical truck?

OFFICER: She's breathing, appears to be fine. She's not in distress. She's just passed-out drunk.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): And while their lawyers publicly played defense, the players are quietly going to classes. Their season was ended. Their coach resigned. The doors and windows remained closed at the off-campus house where the young woman says she was raped, during a raucous party where she and another young woman were performing as hired strippers.

Now, a full month later, officials on and off campus look for ways to mend racial and cultural ties, strained by the scandal.

CRAIG KOCHER, DUKE ASST. DEAN OF THE CHAPEL: When wounds bleed, it's better to bleed in the open, so that healing can take place in the open.

MATTINGLY: Duke University has launched five separate investigations, examining the university's response to the scandal, the campus culture and an apparent pattern of partying and bad behavior by the former team of winners.


MATTINGLY: Today's meeting is the second between black community leaders and the leaders of Duke University. They're all trying to figure out best how to handle the fallout from this scandal -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Tell us about the news conference coming up in an hour or so. What are we going to see? What are we going to hear about then?

MATTINGLY: What they're doing, they're meeting to discuss what sort of problems, what sort of sensitivities have been affected by this scandal. This is the second such meeting that they've had, and they're trying to build bridges over cultural and racial divides that might have been aggravated when the scandal broke. So we will see what they have to say. They're working very hard to keep a lid on any sort of problems that might arise from this as the legal system works its way through this case.

M. O'BRIEN: David Mattingly in Durham, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Now to the report we're bringing to you on baseball slugger Barry Bonds. CNN has learned that a grand jury is looking into whether he lied under oath about steroid use.

Let's right to Carol Costello. She's in the newsroom this morning with details.

Hey, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Soledad. You know, this is very serious stuff. If Bonds is found guilty of perjury, he could serve five years in prison.

Here's the deal -- sources close to the investigation tell us for more than a month a federal grand jury has been hearing evidence about whether Bonds lie to a different grand jury about taking steroids. "The San Francisco Chronicle" reported Bonds testified before that grand jury he never took steroids, but he than said his trainer supplied him with flaxseed oil and a balm. Substances which really describe two undetectable performance-enhancing drugs made by BALCO called the clear and the cream. Last night, after the Giants game in Houston, Bonds was simply hounded by reporters. You see him surrounded. They were shouting questions at him, urging him to come clean.


QUESTION: Barry, what do you want to tell the fans?



COSTELLO: Now, I don't know if you heard his response to the question. What are you going to tell the fans? And he said, tell them I love them. Now Bonds' attorneys predicted that this would happen. They say prosecutors have been overly aggressive when it comes to Bonds.


MICHAEL RAINES, BARRY BONDS' ATTORNEY: Barry testified truthfully to the grand jury. Barry bonds is clean. We think this has always been the case of the Barry Bonds show. It hasn't been U.S. versus Conte, U.S. versus Anderson. It's been U.S. versus Bonds.


COSTELLO: Well, you heard the Conte's name mentioned. He founded BALCO, and he went to prison for supplying steroids to athletes. Bond's longtime friend and trainer Greg Anderson also went to prison for steroid distribution. Bonds is just seven home runs shy of breaking Babe Ruth's home run record, and no, no home runs for Bonds last night. In fact, his season is getting off to a slow start, but that's pretty normal for him actually -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Carol. Well, we'll watch it. Thank you -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: More heat on the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this morning. Two more retired generals calling for Rumsfeld to step down. That made six retired generals in all who say it is now time for Rumsfeld to go.

Here's what one of them is saying in an exclusive interview on CNN.


MAJ. GEN. CHARLES SWANNACK, FMR. COMMANDER OF 82ND AIRBORNE DIV.: I feel that he has micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there to achieve our strategic objective. I really believe that we need a new secretary of defense.


M. O'BRIEN: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joining us from the White House.

Suzanne, what's the White House saying about that all of this?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, you actually may recall that it was actually Rumsfeld who offered his resignation twice during the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. Both times President Bush refused it. Rumsfeld has not offered his resignation since.

Now, the White House thinking here is if that Rumsfeld were to leave, this would acknowledge some sort of defeat, some failure, like this was a big mistake, the Iraq War. The president doesn't believe that. Secretary Rumsfeld doesn't believe that. They do not think that a Rumsfeld departure would be the solution.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history. The secretary has led the Department of Defense during two wars, wars that resulted in the liberation of 25 million people in Afghanistan and 25 million people in Iraq.


MALVEAUX: So, Miles, what is the stand here? To focus on what they believe the American people want, that is for U.S. troops to come home, for the casualties to end. They say of course that they will admit to tactical errors, that they will adjust it on the ground in Iraq.

But simply a Rumsfeld departure or resignation of any sort would simply provide red meat to President Bush's critics -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Suzanne, let's shift gears. Andy card, The White House chief of staff, his last day today. What changes will be in store with Josh Bolten in that job?

MALVEAUX: Well, we actually saw Andy Card leaving yesterday. That was his last day, a shake and wave good-bye. Josh Bolten officially starts today, and essentially the talk is that there will be changes regarding legislative affairs, perhaps the strategic communications.

The one thing that's very interesting, Miles, here to people I talk to is Rumsfeld's name does not come up in the discussions. One person saying, perhaps he is untouchable -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: At least one person is dead after several twisters swept through eastern Iowa. The tornadoes damaged homes, knocked out power to thousands of people. Watch that at Iowa City and at the University of Iowa also. Classes at the university have been canceled today.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, hurricane season is almost here. Speaking of muggies, and in one Louisiana parish, they're feeling abandoned, really written off as the government tries to protect southeastern Louisiana from the next big one.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, thrill ride safety after is back in the news after that death we told you about at Disney World. Who makes sure that the rides are safe? You might be surprised by the answer. We'll tell you about that.

M. O'BRIEN: And with tax day upon us, you get an e-mail from the IRS, chances are it is a scam, and you should delete it quick as you can say 10-40. Some tips ahead.


S. O'BRIEN: No break from violence in Iraq. Today four people were killed in two separate bombings at Sunni mosques about 60 miles north of Baghdad. The sectarian violence is taking a toll, not just in bodies, but also families who have been uprooted and are scared to go home. Let's right to CNN's Aneesh Raman. He's got our story from Baghdad.

Hey, Aneesh, good morning.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Soledad. Good morning.

It is the disturbing new trend in Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis displaced from their homes, and the number is rising every day.


RAMAN (voice-over): These are the faces of refugees in their own land, Iraqis who fled their homes, threatened with death because they were Shia or Sunni. Now living in tent cities, their numbers are exploding. Iraq's government says there are now 65,000 displaced Iraqis countrywide. Only two weeks ago, it was half that number.

DR. SAID HAKKI, DIR., IRAQI RED CRESCENT: Their numbers start becoming some form -- some way alarming sometimes at this 22nd of March when we made our first assessment, and we were doing it every, like, three or four days. We were beginning to a serious trend.

RAMAN: The head of Iraq's humanitarian group, called Red Crescent, Dr Said Hakki, is the man managing the relief effort. It was always his worst fear, camps splitting Sunni and Shia apart, and at the end of the February, it became a reality. After a bombing destroyed a sacred Shia shrine, Iraq's spiralled toward civil war and in returning from that brink, has seen formally mixed neighborhoods stripped of residents, Shia fleeing Sunni areas, Sunni fleeing Shia areas, left with nothing but despair.

In Fallujah, at this camp for displaced Sunnis, the men are largely missing. Some taken away and presumed dead. Other disappeared before their families fled.

"Armed men came to our house, all with masks on," she says. "They knocked on the door and they took her husband and they handcuffed him, and they had a knife to his back."

She is now on her own with her children and no support.

Dr. Said is now working overtime to equip these camps with proper facilities to provide for the growing numbers and to prepare for what could soon be the country's biggest problem, helping those who had little and are now left with nothing.

HAKKI: They left their schools and work and they all of a sudden move to sort of a foreign neighborhood. And they're living in a camp instead of a house.

RAMAN (on camera): And they don't know when they'll leave.

HAKKI: And they don't know how long they'll stay in the camps.


RAMAN: And, Soledad, one of the biggest concerns at these camp right now is security. A lot of them are being secured by local militias. Iraq's government wants to soon centralize that, and secure the camps with Iraqi security forces -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: What about the relief workers, Aneesh? What kind of problems are they facing as they're also in those camps trying to help people?

RAMAN: Well, the biggest issue they're dealing with are logistics. They want to make sure that hygiene is kept up as these camps as the numbers increase. They're trying to get latrines, get clean drinking water, set up these camps so that people can live there for quite sometime.

But they are also trying to reverse the trend, keep people from coming to these camps, get people in the camps to go home. To do that, though, You have to decrease the sectarian tensions, you have to increase faith in Iraqi security forces. Those, of course, the two big issues that Iraq has dealt with for three years now -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman for us in Baghdad. Aneesh, thank you for the update -- Miles. M. O'BRIEN: Listen up, roller coaster junkies: As you plan for some theme park visits this summer, you might want to think about who makes sure those stomach-churning rides are safe. The answer might make you think twice about that ride.

And a tranquil Louisiana parish that could be literally wiped off the map by another hurricane. Folks there say they've been abandoned by the government. We'll tell you why, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Walt Disney's Mission Space Ride is open again today at Florida's Epcot Center. It was shut down after a woman died a day after strapping in for that wild ride. No concrete link, however, between the ride and her death. An autopsy planned today.

That said, summertime is the season for theme parks, and roller coasters just seem to get more and more intense every year. So who is making sure they're safe? No simple answer to that question.

Here's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's happened before on this Mission Space Ride at Walt Disney World. A 4-year-old passed out and died last June. His autopsy showed he had an undiagnosed heart defect. It was an actual malfunction of a different kind of thrill ride that killed Andrew Fohlin a year and a half ago.

SYLIVA FOHLIN, ANDREW'S SISTER: It's a whole range of emotions, yes. And anger was part of it.

LOTHIAN: Fohlin was on a carnival ride, the Sizzler, in Shrewburry (ph), Massachusetts. Authorities say one side of the seat gave way, tossing him to his death.

FOHLIN: Nobody expects to lose their life or a limb doing that. There's a presumption, I think, on most peoples' part that this is a safe activity.

LOTHIAN (on camera): From large theme parks to local church carnivals, some 300 million people buckle up for a thrill each year.

But who's making sure the ride is safe? The answer depends on the park's location, size and mobility.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The reality is that there may be no state regulations, and there's definitely no federal regulations at all.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The rules seem as complicates as the twisted, gravity-defying ride. For example, nine states don't regulate rides at all. Two more rely on private inspections. The rest have varying degrees of regulations. And while the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission does oversee mobile carnival rides and small amusement park rides, it has no authority over large theme parks, like Disney World. Congressman Ed Markey says they are protected by a 1981 loophole approved by U.S. lawmakers.

MARKEY: Which prohibits the federal government from regulating amusement parks.

LOTHIAN: The amusement party industry say that there's a good reason for that.

BETH ROBERTSON, ASSN. FOR AMUSEMENT PARKS: The exceptionally safe record of the industry clearly demonstrates that federal oversight is not necessary.

LOTHIAN: Amusement park officials say their safety standards are extremely high, and that based on the hundreds of millions of people who go on rides each year, there is virtually no safer form of recreation.

ROBERTSON: We feel that the state and local level is most appropriate place to have regulations.

LOTHIAN: Andrew Fohlin died in a state that has regulations, but the carnival ride manager admitted he failed to properly repair the Sizzler. He pleaded to manslaughter last month, and was sentenced to two and a half years of probation.

Fohlin's family and their lawyer want more, like the bill Congressman Markey has been pushing for years. It gives the federal government oversight of all amusement parks.

LEO BOYLE, LAWYER: With the right regulations in place, the sanction for not being safe is you go out of business.

LOTHIAN: There's a growing effort to strengthen the safety net, even as the industry remains convinced it's already on the right track.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.




S. O'BRIEN: Well, If you haven't done your taxes yet - I have to file an extension again, again, again. Every year, I say I'm going to get it done, and I don't. But this time around. you might actually be the victim of a scam, or a target at least. Remember how this works? We reported on this about three years ago, was the last time we did it. You get a fake e-mail from the IRS in your inbox, fill it out, and suddenly you're giving up your personal information to a crook. We've got some tips to make sure that you're not taken this time around.

M. O'BRIEN: The IRS has your personal information. Don't give them anything, OK?

S. O'BRIEN: And take a look at some of these pictures. This is Midwest. More powerful tornadoes tore right through. Chad's got our forecast just ahead.

Stay with us, everybody.



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