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AMERICAN MORNING

Afghan Fighting; Haditha Probe; Pope's Emotional Trip; The Hoffa Legend; Gift Of Life; Indonesian Earthquake

Aired May 29, 2006 - 07:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody.
Happening on this Memorial Day.

Testimony begins again in the Saddam Hussein trial. Meanwhile, at least 34 people are dead in a series of attacks, including the attack on a military convoy in central Baghdad.

A Senate panel is launching an investigation into an alleged massacre in the Iraqi city of Haditha. Two dozen Iraqis, including women and children, were killed. Congressman John Murtha says the fallout could have a bigger impact than the Abu Ghraib scandal.

And the minutemen, building a 10 mile long border fence in southern Arizona. They say the fence will help funnel people who are crossing illegally right into the hands of the border patrol.

Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us on this Memorial Day.

The U.S. military is under fire, literally and figuratively. In Kabul, Afghanistan, there is gunfire and rioting. A lot of anti-U.S. feeling. In Iraq, a series of roadside bombs. At least 30 Iraqis are dead as a result of that. And in Washington, calls for an investigation into what happened in Haditha, Iraq. Did Marines cross a line killing innocent civilians in retaliation for the loss of one of their own? General Peter Pace is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He joins us in full Marine regalia from the Pentagon.

General, good to have you with us.

First of all, your thoughts on this Memorial Day. I know you'll be there for the wreath laying at Arlington Ceremony. It's always an emotional moment. What will you be thinking about?

GENERAL PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEF CHAIRMAN: Well it is, Miles. Thank you for your time this morning. It's a chance for all of us who serve on active duty today to pause and today give thanks to those who went before us. Since the founding of this republic, more than 2 million Americans, men and women, have given their lives that we might enjoy the freedoms we have today. It's a chance for us who serve today to rededicate ourselves to ensure that the freedoms that we inherited we pass on to our children and our grandchildren. MILES O'BRIEN: Let's move on to Kabul, Afghanistan. What we've seen there, I think, caught some of us by surprise, the anti-American sentiment which evolved out of this accident involving a convoy. Apparently a truck into an area of crowded traffic. Kind of sketchy what happened after that. Can you shed some light and offer any details on what happened there?

PACE: No, it's still sketchy, Miles. Apparently there was a traffic accident of some kind. As a result of that, a crowd gathered. I understand that some local police responded to the scene. After that it's a little bit sketchy as far as what happened. So I don't want to speculate. But there has been a problem there. We need to find out what happened.

MILES O'BRIEN: It comes amid escalating violence, though, in Afghanistan. Springtime offensive for the Taliban. At a time when I suspect you'd like to be pulling back troops from Afghanistan, it seems like things are unraveling there. How would you characterize it?

PACE: Well, I think it is springtime offense. Normally when the snows melt, the Taliban try to do something to reassert some kind of control. They've been gathering up in groups of maybe 50 to 100. Each time they do, they've gotten very badly damaged, killed, by both the Afghan forces and by coalition forces. So this has been a bad couple of weeks for the Taliban.

MILES O'BRIEN: Does the Taliban, though, at least think it's getting a foothold at this point for some reason?

PACE: No, they shouldn't. I mean President Karzai and his government, the newly elected and seated parliament in Afghanistan, the coalition forces, NATO now, all 26 nations going in to help. If I were Taliban, I would be feeling pretty weak right now.

MILES O'BRIEN: Let's move on to Haditha. What happened at Haditha, Iraq. I know this is a very painful discussion for anybody in the military, particularly in the Marines. November of 2005. The allegation is that Marines, in retaliation for loss of one their own, engaged in -- the allegation is a rampage essentially killing civilians. Congressman John Murtha, a fellow Marine, just over the weekend had some things to say about this. And he's essentially alleging that the military trying to cover this up. Let's listen to him for just one moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: We don't know how far it goes. I mean, it goes right up the chain of command, right up to General Pace, to when did he know about it? Did he order the cover up? Who ordered the cover up? I'm sure he didn't. But who said we're not going to publicize this thing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MILES O'BRIEN: I'll put the question to you right now. What do we know about this cover up? Did you order a cover up?

PACE: Well, first of all, there are two ongoing investigations. One investigation has to do with what happened. The other investigation goes to why didn't we know about it sooner than we knew about it? To my recollection, the first we knew about it back here in D.C. was around the 10th of February. And the very next day is when the investigations began. So from my perspective, as soon as we found out that there were allegations, the investigations began.

I understand it's going to be a couple of more weeks before those investigations are complete and we should not prejudge the outcome. But we should, in fact, as leaders, take on the responsibility to get out and talk to our troops and make sure that they understand that what 99.9 percent of them are doing, which is fighting with honor and courage, is exactly what we expect of them. And that's why General Mike Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Crop, is out right now as we speak talking to his Marines. Because regardless of where this investigation goes, we want to ensure that our troops understand what's expected of them in combat.

MILES O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this, though, General. It's got to upset people at the Pentagon at your level to not hear about something like this for so long. It happened in November. You didn't know about it until February.

PACE: That's correct. And we do not know yet why we did not know. We'll find out. And when we find out, we will tell everybody else. But that's one of the two investigations. One about what happened, the other about why didn't we know sooner.

MILES O'BRIEN: Do you suspect there was an effort at a lower level in the field there to cover this up?

PACE: I don't suspect anything. I want to wait for the investigation. We will find out what happened and we'll make it public. But to speculate right now wouldn't do anybody any good.

MILES O'BRIEN: Do you think at this point that there will be serious charges leveled at some of the Marines involved in this?

PACE: If the allegations, as they're being portrayed in the newspaper, turn out to be valid, then of course there will be charges. But we don't know yet what the outcome will be. It'll take its course. It will be made public and we'll all be able to make our own judgments.

MILES O'BRIEN: General Peter Pace, best to you on this Memorial Day. Best to you as we pause to remember those who have fallen so that all of us can have freedom and, quite frankly, a discussion just like that. Thank you for your time.

PACE: Thank you, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: A German-born pope visiting Auschwitz, the concentration camp in Poland. Pope Benedict XVI lit a candle at the wall of death. A poignant moment on an already emotional visit. Delia Gallagher traveled with the pope.

Delia, good morning to you.

Why was it so important for Pope Benedict to go to Auschwitz?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, I don't think you can underestimate the symbolism of a pope, and a German pope, at a place like Auschwitz and Birkenau. First of all, as pope, because as representative of the catholic church, there is an ongoing argument that the catholic church didn't do enough during the time of the Nazi oppression for the Jewish people, that they were silent. And so the pope, I think, has been criticized for the fact that he didn't directly address that point in his talk at Birkenau.

But I think for his part, Pope Benedict would say that that has already been done by John Paul II. And, of course, when Pope Benedict was Cardinal Ratzinger, he was a close collaborator. And so I think that he feels that he has already done that and played a role in the request for forgiveness for what they called the sins of the church during that time.

Now, also, as a German, of course, the pope said it was very difficult to be a German pope going to those places. And he said he came as a son of Germany to ask for reconciliation for the men and women who suffered there. So on both levels I think you have a highly symbolic and significant visit on the part of the pope.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Delia Gallagher who traveled with the pope. Delia, thanks.

Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: It's dry as a tender box in several western states. Conditions ripe for wildfires. Fires are now burning across parts of Colorado and New Mexico and Arizona. At least 1,000 acres are destroyed. Several ranches near the Prescott National Forest evacuated right now.

Let's get a check of the weather. Rob Marciano looking at that and other things for us.

Any relief in sight out west?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, they've got cooler weather now. So that's half the battle for those folks, as you know, Miles. Definitely cooler. Not as windy today and there's no areas of critical fire danger as put out by the storms prediction center. It's expected to get to 72 degrees in Denver. Look at Salt Lake City, 61. So these numbers certainly down from what they were just a couple of days ago.

(WEATHER REPORT)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, aid is pouring into Indonesia following Saturday's devastating earthquake. We'll talk to a relief worker on the scene. Find out what they need right now.

And then coming up next, the mystery behind Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance. The FBI is still searching for his body at that farm in Michigan. Are the agents wasting their time? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILES O'BRIEN: No holiday in the search for Jimmy Hoffa. FBI agents at that horse farm near Detroit once again this morning. They're acting on a tip that the former union boss is buried there, as you know by now. Hoffa disappeared 30 years ago. Plenty of time for a lot of urban myths and theories about his whereabouts. CNN's John Zarrella takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Lynda Milito insists the FBI is wasting its time.

What do you think the FBI is going to find in Michigan?

LYNDA MILITO, AUTHOR, "MAFIA WIFE": Nothing.

ZARRELLA: Nothing because Milito, who authored the book "Mafia Wife," says it was her husband, New York mobster Louie Milito . . .

MILITO: Remember something. He was schooled to kill.

ZARRELLA: Who killed Jimmy Hoffa and told her about it one day as they were driving over the Verrazano Bridge in New York.

MILITO: Louie says, you know that boss, that teamster boss, Jimmy Hoffa? And at that point my son was very sick, I said, yeah. He says, I killed him and he's over there in that stanchion (ph).

ZARRELLA: Louie Milito can't collaborate his wife's story because he's dead. He is said to have taken two bullets to the head in 1988. His body has never been found. Dan Moldea, who wrote "Hoffa Wars," has heard them all, the claims from those swearing to have done in Jimmy Hoffa. One man promised deliver the bones. He believes that about as much as he believes Milito's story.

DAN MOLDEA, AUTHOR, "HOFFA WARS": I assure this lady that there are plenty of places right there in Detroit where a body can be disposed of. They didn't need to take it to the east coast.

ZARRELLA: Hoffa's disappearance in 1975 after leaving a Detroit restaurant has become one of the great unsolved mysteries. It's also been the source of endless jokes, black humor and rumors. Was he mixed into concrete and buried in the west end zone near section 107 of the Meadowlands? For the New York Giants football players, that's been a long running joke.

CARL BANKS, FORMER NEW YORK GIANT: Yes, I heard somebody talking one time, too. You know, it's -- help, help.

ZARRELLA: A Hoffa ate here sign sits in front of one restaurant in a town where the FBI is now digging. A bakery there rolled out cupcakes with green hands sticking out. None of it sits very well with Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien, who was raised by Hoffa.

CHARLES "CHUCKIE" O'BRIEN, FORMER TEAMSTER OFFICIAL: I would pray every day if they could find him. He deserves it. He don't need some selling Hoffa cupcakes. I mean he don't deserve that.

ZARRELLA: O'Brien himself has been questioned about the disappearance repeatedly over the past 31 years.

CHARLES "CHUCKIE" O'BRIEN: The only place they haven't said he's at is Grant's tomb in New York. And they haven't said he's there yet. I'm waiting for that one to come up, where they open the tomb up to look in there.

ZARRELLA: For now, it's a farm in Michigan where the truth may finally be uncovered and the mystery buried for good.

John Zarrella, CNN, Boca Raton, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, the very latest on those earthquake relief efforts in Indonesia. Aid is pouring in. What's the biggest need, though, for people there right now? We're going to talk with a relief worker who's on the scene.

And coming up next, the surgeon who save a little boy's life. Not only did he perform the surgery, he donated blood right in the middle of it. That story's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is (INAUDIBLE) Jared Angel (ph), 287. I want to say hi to my wife Melissa (ph) and my two kids Haylie (ph) and Madison (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Take a look at these pictures. Do you remember these Iraqi children? Each of them had a heart defect that couldn't be fixed in Iraq. We told you their story back in December. How they were brought to the states through Operation Iraqi Hearts. Dr. Samuel Weinstein, a pediatric heart surgeon at Montefiore Children's Hospital in New York was the surgeon who operated on the children. They've recovered beautifully and they've since returned to Iraq.

Well, the good Doctor Weinstein back in the news again. This time he was right in the middle of a complex surgery when he became not only the surgeon but the blood donor too. Pretty much saved his patient twice in a way. Gerri Willis has that story this morning.

He Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Dr. Weinstein travels with a group called Heart Care International. It's a team of American doctors giving medical care to people in Latin America who can't afford it. And when complications arose during a surgery on an eight-year-old boy, Doctor Weinstein was johnny on the spot.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SAMUEL WEINSTEIN, PEDIATRIC HEART SURGEON: And I think anybody down there would have done this. It's just that he had such a rare blood type, I happened to be the only one available.

WILLIS: Dr. Samuel Weinstein does most of his work here at the children's hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. But earlier this month, the pediatric heart surgeon took the doctor- patient relationship to another level during a medical mission to El Salvador.

WEINSTEIN: When there was a child who had had a very long operation who had a rare blood type and the blood bank in the local hospital, who had done a terrific job, ran out of his blood. We were standing around watching the heart and very pleased with our operative result. Unfortunately, we were afraid he might bleed to death. We looked around for donors. It was very difficult to find at that late hour, about 11:00 at night, when we realized that he was B negative and I happen to be B negative. Just seemed like the thing to do at the time.

WILLIS: Do, Dr. Weinstein interrupted the complex heart procedure for about 20 minutes to donate his own blood and help save his patient, a eight-year-old boy named Francisco.

WEINSTEIN: It wasn't even a question about what would happen. I scrubbed out, gave a unit of blood, scrubbed back in. Doctor Mitchell (ph) and I finished the operation. The child did beautifully.

WILLIS: And thanks to their B negative bond, doctor and patient will forever share a positive connection.

WEINSTEIN: The mother and I had a lot of jokes about the connection between the boy and myself. And my staff coached her on what to tell me. And she shared with me that some of his first words after waking up were asking how the New York Mets had done. I'm very pleased he did well. It feels pretty good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIS: And Dr. Weinstein says eight-year-old Francisco has been released from the hospital and is doing well. The American Red Cross, by the way, says just 2 percent of the population has B negative blood. Only AB negative is a rarer blood type.

Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: How strange, he gets a blood transfusion and suddenly he wants to know about the Mets are doing. It's amazing how that works.

Gerri, thanks. A nice story. Sweet story.

Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: In a moment, top stories, including the death toll rising following that earthquake in southern Indonesia. More than 5,000 now killed.

One lawmaker says an alleged atrocity in Haditha, Iraq, may be worse than Abu Ghraib.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist changes his tune on the FBI's congressional office raid.

Several western states threatened by dangerous wildfires.

And America remembers its fallen heroes. A look at Memorial Day celebrations all around the country. This is the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D.C. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Get the latest news every morning in your e- mail. Sign up for AMERICAN MORNING quick news at cnn.com/am.

It's Memorial Day and that means time to start thinking about your summer vacation. Coming up, we'll have some tips on how you can pick the perfect family vacation no matter what your budget is. That's ahead. Stay with us. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILES O'BRIEN: Relief is on the way to hundred thousand left homeless by that massive quake in Indonesia. The survivors there afraid to step inside buildings.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Congress and members of the Pentagon are bracing for the worst of allegations of a massacre by Marines of civilians in Iraq. I'll tell you what the nation's top military officer had to say this morning.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ed Henry at the White House. Senator Frist has had a change of heart over that controversial raid of a congressman's office. Some Republicans are charging it's because Frist wants to live right here at the White House after 2008.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington where we will talk to people who try and bridge the gap between wars of the past and wars of the present.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And high gas prices doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your summer vacations. Still plenty of deals to be found. Our own personal roamers guide is ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

MILES O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. We're glad you're with us this morning.

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