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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Did U.S. Marines Commit Massacre in Iraq?; Interview With Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha

Aired May 30, 2006 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to almost a brand-new week here. Glad to have you with us.
Here's what's happening at this moment.

Experts tell a House hearing the FBI's recent raid on the offices of Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was unconstitutional. And, in a rare move, members of both parties agree it's time to lay down new rules for any future searches related to lawmakers.

Well, the V.A. official who waited for weeks to sound the alarm about the theft of records on 26 million veterans is out of a job tonight. The theft is still under investigation. The records are still missing.

And our nightly look at gas prices across the country, our "Crude Awakenings." The states with today's highest prices are in red, the lowest in green. The average today for unleaded regular, holding steady at $2.85 a gallon.

Now on to a story that's been simmering for months, but it's about to explode. And the repercussions could be huge. That's why we're devoting a significant amount of time to it tonight.

The question at the heart of this story, did U.S. Marines massacre some two dozen Iraqi civilians, including women and children, then cover up what they had done? Tonight, we know that a pair of military investigations are almost done, and that some people fear the results could spark a new worldwide scandal, like the outrage that followed the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The story begins just over six months ago, on November 19, 2005, in Haditha. That's a town just northwest of Baghdad. What exactly happened in Haditha?

Ryan Chilcote has put together this account from eyewitnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's plenty of evidence civilians were killed in Haditha. Twenty-four bodies were counted, at the morgue, women and children among the dead, many images too graphic to show.

But the dead can't speak. So, at CNN's request, a human rights organization went back to Haditha with a camera to interview survivors. The interviewer found three, all children. For each, the story begins here, where a roadside bomb struck a Humvee carrying American Marines, killing one of them. It was 7:30 in the morning.

Twelve-year-old Saffa Yunis was getting ready for school. She says she was the only survivor in her house, eight relatives killed.

SAFFA YUNIS, EYEWITNESS (through translator): A bomb exploded on the street outside. We heard the sound of the explosion, and we heard shouting. We were inside the house when U.S. forces broke through the door. They killed my father in the kitchen. The American forces entered the house and started shooting with their guns.

They killed my mother and my sister, Noor (ph). They killed her when they shot her in the head. She was only 15 years old. My other sister was shot with seven bullets in the head. She was only 10 years old. And my brother, Mohammed (ph), was hiding under the bed, when the U.S. military hit him with the butt of a gun, and they started shooting him under the bed.

The U.S. military then shot me. And I was showered in blood. We couldn't leave the house, because the U.S. military surrounded the area with a large number of soldiers.

CHILCOTE: Saffa's cousins, 8-year-old Abdul Rahman (ph) Walid and 9-year-old Eman Walid, were next door in the first house entered by the Marines. They say seven were killed in this house.

EMAN WALID, EYEWITNESS (through translator): They entered the house. They burned the room. And my father was inside the room. Then they attacked my grandmother and my grandfather, and they threw a bomb. Me and my brother, Abdul Rahman (ph), were injured. I saw how they killed my mother, Asman (ph), and I saw how they killed my grandmother.

I saw Hiba (ph) -- she's my aunt -- taking little girl Isa (ph) and running away outside the house.

CHILCOTE: Eman (ph) is initially poised. She has clearly told the story many times. She needs no questions to prompt her.

WALID (through translator): My grandmother, she decided to open the kitchen door. Before she opened it, she said, "Maybe they will break it otherwise." I wish she hadn't.

CHILCOTE: Eman's brother, Abdul Rahman (ph), doesn't say much. The interviewer asks him to show his wounds.

Off camera, a voice in the room is heard asking: "He didn't have a weapon. What danger did he pose?"

But there is an intriguing variation in Eman's account the third time she tells it. She says she was expecting the bomb.

WALID (through translator): I was planning to go to school. I was about to get out of bed. I knew the bomb would explode, so I covered my ears. The bomb exploded. The bomb struck an armored vehicle. I don't know if it was a Humvee or an armored vehicle. When the bomb exploded, they came straight to our house.

CHILCOTE: The question is, was her expectation of the explosion a premonition, a fear based on the sound of the passing convoy? Or was it based on some knowledge? The interviewer does not follow up. He says the 9-year-old got confused and got her story mixed up.

All three children were wounded. Eman and Abdul Rahman (ph) were treated at a U.S. hospital in Baghdad.

Saffa Yunis says she wants tough justice for those who killed her family.

YUNIS (through translator): I want them to be tortured and killed, and I want them to leave our country.

CHILCOTE: The people in these houses were not the only ones to have been killed. Others died in this house, too. But the survivors here did not want to talk.

Ryan Chilcote, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: At first, the U.S. military simply didn't believe the villagers who accused the Marines of murdering unarmed civilians.

Even when "TIME" magazine assembled its own evidence, the military insisted the civilians were killed by a bomb.

Now, with two investigations on the verge of wrapping up, CNN has learned that some members of Congress have been told privately to brace themselves for the worst, possible murder charges against some Marines and allegations of a cover-up.

Here's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The White House says President Bush was informed of the allegations of atrocity in Haditha as soon as "TIME" magazine began asking questions back in February, questions which prompted the U.S. military to launch a criminal investigation.

And the U.S. is promising full disclosure as soon as two separate probes into whether there was both a crime and a cover-up are done.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president also is allowing the chain of command to do its what it's supposed to do, and the Department of Defense, which is to complete an investigation. And the Marines are taking an active and aggressive role in this.

And I have been told and was assured earlier today when I called about it that, when this comes out, all the details will be made available to the public.

MCINTYRE: The preliminary findings began to leak out as soon as key members of Congress were briefed.

Congressman John Murtha, a former Marine, was the first to disclose, the evidence strongly suggests 24 Iraqi civilians, including eight women and four children, were murdered. He blames it on the stress put on overworked American troops fighting a determined insurgency.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: It breaks my heart to think Marines did something like this. And when you hear some of the stories now that are coming out, it just makes it worse than ever.

MCINTYRE: Even before any charges have been filed, defense attorneys have been talking to Marines from Kilo Company of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton, California, some of whom may be charged with murder.

At least one attorney tells CNN that there was a firefight near where the killings took place, something that, if true, could support the original report given by the small squad of Marines.

Meanwhile, attention focused on the events in Haditha last November is prompting questions about other killings in Iraq, including one that took the life of a cousin of Iraq's newly appointed ambassador to the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SITUATION ROOM")

BLITZER: So, what you're suggesting, your cousin was killed in cold blood, is that what you're saying, by United States Marines?

SAMIR AL-SUMAIDAIE, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: I believe he was killed intentionally. I believe that he was killed unnecessarily.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Jamie, you now have the top guy at the Marines in Iraq right now talking with troops on the front line. What impact is this going to have on morale?

MCINTYRE: Well, it certainly doesn't help.

You know, 99.9 percent of U.S. military personnel uphold the highest standards and adhere to the -- the laws of armed conflict. And what the U.S. is concerned about, obviously, is the effect on the troops and the effect on the U.S. reputation around the world for protecting noncombatant in a combat zone, which is the obligation of all U.S. troops.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, keep us on top of all the latest developments from the Pentagon. Thanks.

And, just a short time ago, I spoke with Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who you just saw very briefly in Jamie's report. Murtha is a former Marine, a 37-year veteran of the military, and a leading critic of the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Congressman Murtha, thanks so much for being with us tonight.

MURTHA: Good to be here, Paula.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You are accusing Marines of committing murder against innocent civilians in cold blood, even before the investigation is over. What's your evidence?

MURTHA: Well, Paula, the highest level of the Marine Corps came to me -- first, I started hearing stories in the Marine Corps.

Then, March -- in March, "TIME" magazine came out with a story which became confused, and I think confused on purpose. This happened six months ago. Two days later, they knew exactly what happened. They know that there was no hostile fire. They know that -- that the IED killed a Marine. And they know that they overreacted. So, the investigation...

ZAHN: Is there proof of that, sir?

MURTHA: Paula, you want to listen to what I'm saying?

ZAHN: Absolutely.

MURTHA: I'm telling you that that is what the Marine -- commandant of the Marine Corps told me.

Now, you just wait and you will hear the -- there's nothing I have said so far that hasn't turned out to be true. I said, there were 24 people killed. I said this a month ago -- exactly the number who have been killed.

I said there are women and children been killed, babies been killed. That's what happened. And there was no hostile fire. So, you are going to find out exactly -- everything I'm saying is true. The cover-up is just as despicable and worries me just as much. They tried to cover this up.

And six months is way too long. General Pace says he found out about this in February. This should have been over since February. They still tied to -- to do nothing about it. This has -- we have to find out what happened. We have to find out when the higher level knew about it and why they tried to -- to cover this thing up. And they will have hearings in the Senate and the House, I'm sure, to find out the details of -- of why the cover-up.

ZAHN: In spite of what you're saying, sir, what do you make of the report in "The Washington Post" that says investigators have seized radio traffic messages between Marines in the field and a command center showing, in fact, that they did take small-arms fire after the initial roadside bomb went off? If that is true, weren't those Marines entitled to defend themselves?

MURTHA: Well, I wouldn't say they're entitled to defend themselves when a taxi pulls up and they kill everybody in the taxi, when they go inside the homes and they kill women and children.

We have a responsibility in this country to defend American principles. We're lowering ourselves to the standards of the terrorists who are acting against us. We have a responsibility to -- to follow the rules of engagement.

That means, if you're not threatened, you don't just kill innocent civilians. And this is what happened here. This is a tragic thing about this whole episode, the fact that not only did it happen. You keep asking questions like this. You will find out everything that I have said turns out to be true.

Radio traffic doesn't mean anything, unless you know. Just because they say something's happening on the radio doesn't mean that's what's happening on the radio.

ZAHN: So, you discount that -- you discount that completely?

(CROSSTALK)

MURTHA: I'm -- I'm saying that the highest level in the Marine Corps came to me and told me exactly what they felt had happened. And they're over there today.

The commandant of the Marine Corps, who is not in the chain of command, is over there talking to the troops and telling them they have to guard against this kind of action against noncombatant.

One -- one Marine carried a little baby who had been shot in the head out of there in his arms and put it in a body bag. Why am I incensed about this? I'm not sure the investigation would have gone on if I hadn't said something, and I hadn't pressed them.

This thing should never have dwelled this long. It should have been over a long time ago. It's a tragic event. It breaks my heart to think this happened. But you can't hide it. You can't cover it up.

ZAHN: How high do you think this cover-up goes?

MURTHA: Well, that's what worries me, Paula.

I don't have any idea. I know they made payments to the families. They don't make those payments to the families unless we kill people in the process of doing the fighting.

ZAHN: Finally, tonight, Congressman Murtha, many of your critics would say that you are making these allegations in advance of the investigation being over, in advance of anybody being charged, because you're politically motivated by your opposition to this war.

MURTHA: Paula, you will see that everything that I'm saying turns out to be true. I'm the messenger.

I'm not the guy that committed the crime. The crime is what we should be focusing on, not these -- these allegations. You folks pick up all these stuff from these people that say you shouldn't do it before the investigation. That's just -- six months ago, this happened, Paula. Six months ago, this thing should have been -- should have been done in a month or so. The investigation should be completed. It should have been open, transparent.

We should have known what the outcome was and exactly what happened. If I hadn't spoken out, Paula, this would not have happened.

ZAHN: Congressman Murtha, thank you so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And there's a whole lot more to this story.

We are going to dig deeper into what could be some of the most explosive allegations yet in the war in Iraq.

"Beyond the Headlines" -- Haditha and the Marines who were there. Tonight, a heartbroken military mother speaks out on the tragedy that turned her battle-hardened son into a haunted casualty.

And the "Eye Opener" -- an industry with a kind of growth you have never seen before, patients too heavy to move, too big to diagnose. As obesity becomes an epidemic, is this the future of American medicine? And who should pay for it?

All that and much more just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back.

Here's what's happening at this moment.

President Bush welcomed the new Iraqi ambassador to the White House today, saying he hopes the new government can stabilize Iraq.

Meanwhile, a Maryland jury convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad of killing six people in a series of shootings in the Washington area in 2002. Muhammad has already been sentenced to death for one shooting in Virginia. A total of 10 people were killed in those attacks.

And Justice Samuel Alito broke a tie today and helped the Supreme Court scale back protection for government whistle-blowers. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the jobs of public employees who reveal corruption or official misconduct are not protected by the right to free speech.

The allegations of killings of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines last November could have serious consequences for the war, for the U.S., for Iraq, and for all of the Marines involved. That's all ahead of us right now.

But it is already deeply affecting one Marine. After the deaths, he was in a unit sent to remove the bodies. And what he says he saw, no one should ever have to witness.

Dan Simon takes us "Beyond the Headlines" tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lance Corporal Ryan Briones may be a tough Marine, but his mom says, right now, he's fragile.

SUSIE BRIONES, MOTHER OF LANCE CORPORAL RYAN BRIONES: It was horrific. It was a terrible scene. The biggest thing that keeps to his mind is the children, you know, that -- that were there.

SIMON: The children and adults unarmed, allegedly killed by U.S. Marines in his unit. His mother says he had to carry away the body of a little girl, an image he still cannot get out of his mind.

BRIONES: Her head was blown off or something, that her brain splattered on his boots. And that's what affects Ryan the most, is that he had to pick up the child's body to put her in a body bag.

SIMON: Briones told "The Los Angeles Times" he was asked to photograph the scene and ordered to help remove the bodies. He is quoted as saying: "I can still smell the blood. This left something in my head and heart."

Mrs. Briones says she will never forget the phone call she got from her son that day.

BRIONES: It was the hardest phone call that I received. He was calling me and he was telling me some information, that -- but I didn't know what to do with that information.

SIMON (on camera): He told you that he observed these dead bodies, these civilians who had been killed by the U.S. military, did he not?

BRIONES: He said that they had shot them, yes. He did say that, but he wasn't in when they -- when they did the shooting. He wasn't there. He was there to do the cleanup. That's what he was instructed to do.

SIMON (voice-over): Earlier that day, Briones' best friend, Terrazas, was killed in a bomb blast that also wounded another Marine. That bombing allegedly sparked a rampage by members of the unit.

Mrs. Briones says that, in the places where her son went to take pictures and remove the bodies, he saw no survivors.

(on camera): What's going through his mind now, in terms of what happened that day with those civilians, those children being killed?

BRIONES: He's feeling remorseful, even, because he's part of the -- a military group, and he's part of the United States military. And although he has no say-so in anything with regards to giving words or, you know, saying -- giving the command to go and do this or go do that, he's part of that.

SIMON: Briones is back at Camp Pendleton. He's no longer speaking to reporters. It's not clear if his silence is self-imposed. His mother worries that he may never fully recover from what he says he saw in Haditha.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The killings in Haditha began after a roadside bomb went off and killed a Marine. He was Lance Corporal Miguel "T.J." Terrazas.

Keith Oppenheim has been speaking with Terrazas' family today. And he joins me now live from El Paso, Texas -- Keith.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula.

This is a very traditional Mexican-American Catholic family with really deep ties to the military. Miguel Terrazas was just 20 years old when he died. He was, of course, a U.S. Marine. He had two uncles who are Marines. And his grandfather served in the Army.

In fact, his grandfather Jorge showed us a room in the family's home that was kind of a memorial for his grandson. And, in showing this, he said that, in the wake of the roadside bomb that led to the investigation that killed his grandson and led to the investigation that is now ongoing, the family has great concerns about whether or not this investigation is fair or not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JORGE TERRAZAS, GRANDFATHER OF KILLED OF SOLDIER: My -- my wife, she speaks to me and tells me when she's, you know, in her very saddest moment. What she tell is, they just won't leave our grandson rest in peace.

OPPENHEIM: That's how it feels?

TERRAZAS: That's how bad it feels. And she's absolutely correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OPPENHEIM: One reason that the grandfather feels this way is because he says that he believed that insurgents were using civilians as cover.

And, Paula, he also feels that the Marines were family to his grandson when his grandson was serving two tours of duty overseas. And, overall, he feels that, as a military man, he trusts that family and feels it's very, very difficult for anyone in his family to believe that they could be capable of a massacre -- Paula.

ZAHN: It must be so troubling for him to try to weigh in all the noise around this -- these allegations of a potential and alleged massacre here, and how that could potentially drown out his grandson's legacy. Did he talk about that at all? I know he said he couldn't rest in peace.

OPPENHEIM: Very much so.

I mean, keep in mind that this is a family that really is still very fresh with their mourning, as he died just last November, Miguel did. And, so, I think that they are grieving over again. Every time that they see his image on television in the last few days associated with this now criminal investigation, I think the family feels it's very difficult to feel that they can heal -- Paula.

ZAHN: Keith Oppenheim, thanks so much.

Just ahead, an update on CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who was critically injured in Iraq. Tonight, she's at a hospital in Germany. What's her prognosis? And what do eyewitnesses say happened to her yesterday in Iraq?

First, on to our countdown of the top 10 most popular stories on CNN.com, more than 19 million logging on to our Web site today.

At number 10, the latest search for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa ended today ended today at a Michigan horse farm. The FBI was there for two weeks. They say they found nothing.

Number nine, relief for the survivors of this weekend's earthquake in Indonesia, and from the U.S. and other countries finally arriving -- more than 5,700 people were killed; 200,000 are homeless tonight -- numbers eight and seven straight out of the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: It has been an especially deadly day in Iraq. Attacks killed 47 people, including an American soldier. Two car bombings took most of those lives. More than 100 people were also injured.

It happened to be like a bloody rerun of yesterday, when 50 people were killed and 80 others injured, including CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier. She was severely injured in a car bombing that killed her cameraman and soundman and an American soldier. Right now, Dozier's family is rushing to Germany, where she is in critical condition tonight, after being flown to a U.S. military hospital there.

Chris Burns has the very latest now from Landstuhl, Germany.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kimberly Dozier arrived on what's called the intensive care unit in the sky, connected to a ventilator, to machines measuring her vital signs, to I.V.s delivering medicine and nourishment. This is the story of how she made it here alive, from that horrific moment at a Baghdad traffic circle.

SGT. EZEKIEL HERNANDEZ, U.S. ARMY: We stopped every traffic every which way. No one came through.

BURNS: Sergeant Ezekiel Hernandez was with his 4th Infantry Division Monday morning, searching for improvised explosive devices.

Kimberly Dozier was with her CBS camera crew, documenting the unit's day. The C.O., or commanding officer, issued an order.

HERNANDEZ: At that time, our C.O. said, yes, they can come through. So, when he started to wave them off, Specialist Potter (ph) had called me over and said, is it all right if vehicles pass through the outer part of the other section over here, which was kind of not close to us?

So, we were like, yes, that's fine. They can pass that way, but they can't come, like, within 50, 75 meters from us.

And, right when he did that, that's when I just felt the gush of wind and fire all around me. And I went deaf in my ear, my eardrum was blown out. I commenced to run across the street.

BURNS: A bomb planted in a car had exploded. Kimberly Dozier's cameraman Paul Douglas and sound man James Brolan were killed. So was an American soldier and an Iraqi translator. Dozier was blasted with shrapnel. A young medic applied tourniquets to her legs which kept her alive until she got here, to what's called the 10th CASH, the combat zone support hospital in Baghdad.

CAPT. TIFFANY FUSCO, US MILITARY HOSPITAL: Her blood pressure dropped to a point where we could barely see what it was anymore. We could barely assess it. Basically it means that she was going down and she did pretty hard. But we were able to get her back by giving her fluids and medications.

CAPT. DAVID STEINBRUNER, US MILITARY DOCTOR: She was here by the time I got here. She had already been wheeled back and was just lying back about as white as the pale floor that we have here too.

BURNS: Capt. David Steinbruner is the trauma ER doctor that led the team that saved Dozier's life.

STEINBRUNER: She was tough. She was near death when she first came in. She had lost so much blood out in the field. So what we needed to do was protect her airway, stop the bleeding, literally just clamp it off at the leg, stop the bleeding and then fill her up with blood.

BURNS: The bleeding under control, Kimberly Dozier was put on the C-17 transport plane, that intensive care unit in the sky, for the five-hour flight to the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany.

COL BRIAN GAMBLE, LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MED CENTER: During the trip up, she did open her eyes to some simple commands and I was present when they were taking her off the bus this morning, and I did notice that she was moving her feet. So that's a good sign.

BURNS: As of this evening, Dozier was listed as very seriously injured. She is under sedation and attached to a ventilator. Nearly two dozen other war wounded arrived in Landstuhl hospital today as well. Does it get to be too much sometimes?

GAMBLE: It's always hard to see, see wounded people.

BURNS: And that's the way it is, every single day, from Baghdad, Iraq, to Landstuhl, Germany. Chris Burns, CNN, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Landstuhl's commander says doctors are waiting for Dozier's family to arrive before actually discussing when to send her back to the U.S. And they just simply aren't saying how long it may take for her to recover.

America's facing a health crisis tonight brought on by too much food. Coming up, who should foot the bill? The people who have become obese? That's one out of three of us or the companies that fed them all the calories? We have a debate tonight on that.

And if tabloid headlines shock you, just wait. Are you ready for rotting heads, now this is true, this is really in there, legless golfers and the new magazine that Jeanne Moos has just found? You be the judge.

Before that number eight in our countdown. Another alligator attack in Florida, the latest victim a golden retriever. The dog was out with its owner yesterday when a seven-foot alligator grabbed the dog's head. The owner was able to fight off the alligator and save his dog.

Number seven, the National Hurricane Center is keeping an eye on the year's first tropical storm of the Pacific. Alita is just off the coast of Mexico. Hurricane season in the U.S. begins on Thursday.

Number six and five straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we're back. Here's what's happening at this moment. Whether to keep a near total ban on abortion could be up to South Dakota voters next. Abortion rights groups delivered twice the number of signatures need for a referendum repealing the state's law.

Toyota says 1 million cars worldwide may have a problem with steering, including the popular Prius hybrid. 170,000 of the gasoline/electric models made between the years 2002 and 2005 may be affected here in the U.S.

And the CIA has a new director tonight. General Michael Hayden was sworn in earlier today. He replaces Porter Goss who resigned earlier this month.

Now, a startling look at how obesity is changing America. At least one of every three Americans is considered obese. It has devastating consequences in lives lost. More than 100,000 people a year die from conditions brought on by simply being too heavy. And now America's fat epidemic has created a whole new mini industry in health care. Jonathan Freed has tonight's eye opener.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most of us take for granted that we can get out of bed. Not Mindy Sheriff. She weighs 442 pounds. It takes three nurses and a crane just to maneuver Mindy into a chair in her hospital room.

MINDY SHERIFF, BARIATRIC PATIENT: You're wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel hike you're slipping at all or are you OK?

SHERIFF: No. It feels so good.

FREED: Mindy's weight peaked at 961 pounds eight years ago. She lost 500 of it by dieting. Now, she's come to the medical university of Ohio in Toledo for what's called bariatric surgery to try to lose even more. She can't go anywhere without planning ahead.

SHERIFF: I always have my kids run in and check to see if the chair was going to be big enough to fit me or even the bathrooms.

FREED: Mindy is having a gastric bypass or stomach shrinking surgery at this hospital because it's equipped to deal with the unique challenges presented by severely obese patients, like chairs big enough and strong enough to hold them and operating tables. This one's called the Hercules. For doctors, just making a diagnosis can be a challenge.

DR. FREDERICK CASON, MEDICAL UNIVERSITY OF OHIO: We can look here and see that the transverse diameter is only about 27 inches.

FREED: Heavier bariatric patients can't fit through a standard CT scanner. If you can't put your patient through this machine, does it mean that in certain circumstances you're operating in the blind?

CASON: If we operate on a morbidly obese patient who exceeds the ability of this table, then we operate on that patient at our own peril and the patient's peril because if there's a complication, we'd had a very difficult time making a diagnosis expeditiously.

FREED: But aside from the CT scanner, the hospital has a new wider and heavier duty MRI machine that can help. And, according to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery, there are plenty who need help. The society says between 8 and 12 million people in the United States are morbidly obese, meaning at least 100 pounds above their ideal body weight. It says 170,000 people had a bariatric procedure in 2005.

BRIAN KIRSCHNER, BARIATRIC PATIENT: Whatever size my stomach was, it shrunk down now to like the size of like an egg.

FREED: Brian Kirschner is recovering from a gastric bypass that's changing his life.

KIRSCHNER: Like a single serving bowl of cereal in the morning where normally before the surgery I could eat a box of cereal. Now they bring that bowl. If I can eat three spoonfuls of the cereal, I feel like I'm stuffed.

FREED: Brian weighs in at 602. But he's lying on an inflatable mattress that hovers like a puck in an air hockey game allowing nurses to move him as if he weighed only 150 pounds.

WENDY HOLLEY, LEAD NURSE, MED UNIV OF OHIO: It's a big concern because, one, we don't want to injure them. Two, we don't want to be injured ourselves.

FREED: The Surgical Review Corporation, a research center, calls obesity America's most serious epidemic. And they're taking that kind of talk seriously at the Detroit Medical Center System, where an entire floor is now dedicated to bariatrics, with rooms outfitted for the oversized, even reinforced toilets. But the hospital says you need to look beyond equipment.

DR. TOM MALONE, DETROIT MEDICAL CENTER: The real investment is in human capital, the people. You need the resources that are able to handle the patient. You need the specialists that can handle any of the complications. You need special anesthesia that cannot only intubate, but manage complications during surgery.

FREED: This facility alone handled 800 bariatric patients last year at a cost of about $25,000 per surgical case. Specialists like Dr. Michael Wood, say insurance companies pay for it because it will save them money in the long term.

DR. MICHAEL WOOD, BARIATRIC SURGEON: We can decrease the incidence of diabetes for instance, high blood pressure. They go down with weight loss.

FREED: Hospitals won't take just anyone. Patients like Mindy and Brian usually have to follow a program and demonstrate up front they're truly committed to losing weight. Brian's goal --

KIRSCHNER: to get back to doing things that you take for granted.

FREED: He says being able to go for a walk would be a good start. Jonathan Freed, CNN, Toledo, Ohio.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: Just one example of the cost of obesity to the nation's health care system. Overall by one estimate, obesity adds $75 billion in medical costs every year in this country. So how should we pay for it? How about a fat tax, a sales tax on fattening foods. It's an idea that's reaching the boiling point tonight. Joining me now is John Banzhaf of George Washington University. He's in favor of a fat tax. Also with me, Jacob Sullum, senior editor of "Reason" magazine. He says the government ought to stay out of it. Gentlemen, good to see both of you. I'm going to start with you tonight, professor. Most of these people say that they don't choose to be overweight. They are addicted to food. What make you think by putting a tax on fatty foods, it will actually discourage folks from eating them?

JOHN BANZHAF, FAVORS FAT TAX: It's very simple. We tried that with cigarettes which we know are addictive and state after state finding out just how expensive smoking is about $140 billion, have dramatically increased the tax. We've seen corresponding declines or dramatic ones in smoking. We're saving an awful lot of money. By the way, the total cost of obesity estimated by the U.S. Surgeon General is about $120 billion. Health care cost is only part of it. We have a situation in France where they slapped a so-called sugar tax on a very popular beverage. Use of it had increased 10-fold in only two years. They slapped the sugar tax on, decrease of 40 percent. That tends to suggest as basic economics tell us, if you increase the price of the product, the demand for it will go down.

ZAHN: All right, Mr. Sullum, those seem like pretty convincing statistics. You just heard the case the professor laid out. Why wouldn't a fat tax work?

JACOB SULLUM, SR. ED, REASON MAGAZINE: Well, it's not a very efficient or fair approach to this problem. The problem is that people are being forced to bear the costs of other people's risky behavior. In the case of an obese person for example who is covered by Medicaid, the issue is not so much if the person is eating too much or not exercising enough. It is that the government is forcing you to pick up that person's health care bill. If you impose a tax on fattening foods, there are plenty of thin people and merely overweight not obese people who eat potato chips and ice cream. They're going to end up paying a penalty for that and that's doesn't seem fair and it's certainly not efficient in terms of recouping the costs.

BANZHAF: That gets to the other side of what we're proposing. Both Tommy Thompson and I have agreed that there ought to be a much higher cost for health insurance for obese people, so yes, make the person responsible. Pay for some of that huge equipment cost that you saw in your opening piece as well as using some of that money for treatment and helping them to lose the weight.

ZAHN: Mr. Sullum, do you think that's fair?

SULLUM: Yeah, I would certainly agree that insurers should be free to charge people who are overweight more if they think that makes sense in terms of the risks that they're insuring. They do that all the time with other kinds of risk factors. There's no reason why weight should be treated differently. My objection is getting the government involved in this. I don't think it's the government's business what you eat or how much you exercise or how heavy you are.

ZAHN: Final word tonight, professor goes to you. A lot of people are very concerned about having the food police in their lives, having to be weighed in to have their insurance analyzed.

BANZHAF: There's no food police. Nobody is telling anybody what they can or cannot eat. We're doing exactly what we now do with tobacco. We are saying if you make the decision to use tobacco and that adds huge costs to everybody's taxes and health insurance, then you pay for it. Similarly, by putting a tax on fattening foods, you are shifting some of that cost from the people who now pay, the great majority of whom are not obese, to the obese. You also substantially reduce the obesity level and the risk. Now Jacob says it's not the government's business. That argument was weighed more than 50 years ago with regard to smoking. We have over 150 countries which have signed a world treaty saying smoking is their business. They're going to tackle it by using a wide variety of measures. I don't see why obesity is (INAUDIBLE).

ZAHN: All right, Mr. Sullum, a quick closing word. You said that's neither fair nor efficient. Just give me a 10-second closing thought.

SULLUM: I don't think it is any different in principle. That's the problem. This is an open ended license for the government to meddle in our personal lives. There's no logical stopping point. There's nothing the government could not in principle tax or regulate or prohibit that carries any risk at all of disease.

ZAHN: I got to leave it there, gentlemen. We'll bring you back on because this is a debate that's going to continue to rage on. John Banzhaf, Jacob Sullum, thank you. (INAUDIBLE) news tonight.

"Larry King Live" is coming up in just a few minutes. He has a very special guest tonight.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR, LARRY KING LIVE: Oh, do we, Paula.

ZAHN: She's still coming, right? Elizabeth Taylor will be with you?

KING: Right there in the hall.

ZAHN: Terrific.

KING: Dame Elizabeth Taylor, the silver screen legend herself. It has been three years since she's done a major interview. It was right here three years ago. She'll be on with us in about 12 minutes. And we'll take your calls later in the show, too. Dame Elizabeth Taylor, what a dame. She's next at the top of the hour, Paula.

ZAHN: She's a great lady. I like to see her put down all these ridiculous tabloid rumors she has to sit through every day. Look forward to the show. Send her our best. See you at 9:00.

There's a new magazine out called "Shock." Does it live up to its name and why would anybody want to buy it in the first place? Stay tuned. Obviously there's a market or they wouldn't be putting this magazine out, would they?

Now on to number six in our cnn.com countdown. An Iraq war veteran and his girlfriend found a winning lottery ticket. The story in New York. They turned it in to police who then found the owner. The couple decided not to accept a reward. How unusual. Most people probably wouldn't behave that way.

Number five, we mentioned it earlier, insurgents in Iraq killed 47 including one U.S. soldier. Meanwhile, an extra 1500 U.S. troops have moved from Kuwait into Iraq's Anbar province. Numbers four and three straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Be honest. What does it really take to get your attention? How about human fireballs, eye gouging and celebrity backsides? You're about to see some of that so be warned. It may not be for everyone. Jeanne Moos has more on "Shock" magazine for tonight's "what were they thinking?"

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Looking to be shocked? Not that shocked. Try this. Does it lives up to its titles I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is shocking. I want a free copy of it.

MOOS: Take "The National Enquirer," add a little "Star" and get in touch with Web sites like rotten.com. OK? That's the recipe for "Shock."

MIKE HAMMER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SHOCK: We find images that most magazines shy away from.

MOOS: Like the photo captioned blood bath showing the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Or the Chinese man shot dead while holding a child hostage with a meat cleaver or the woman who set herself on fire to protest alleged racism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if the world needs more of like gory violence because I feel already people are desensitized.

MOOS: But one person's gory violence is another's --

HAMMER: Dazzling visual imagery.

MOOS: Visual imagery like this.

HAMMER: A dead man rotting. No it is not Paris Hilton.

MOOS: Actually, it's about the work of forensic scientists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a real dead man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CSI, huh?

MOOS: "Shock" also mocks, mocks those celebrity magazines with quizzes like match celebrity butts to the actual celebrity.

HAMMER: And then there's the animals. They're just like us.

MOOS: That's a takeoff on "Us Weekly" feature stars, they're just like us. Only animals, they're just like us features a hippo, they take birth control and a duck leading her babies across a grate into which they apparently fell. The Web site gawker called the new magazine a thing of low brow beauty.

HAMMER: Well, I thought I was a thing of low-brow beauty.

MOOS: "Shock" is put out with a major publisher with titles ranging from "Car & Driver "to "Women's Day" to "El Decor (ph)." As for the cover photo, an American soldier carrying a bloody Iraqi child, it is already causing problems. The magazine says it bought the rights from a photo agency. The photographer says the photo is sacred and the agency didn't have the rights. "Shock" is aimed at 18 to 34-year-olds brought up on computer games and Internet photos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. I think America needs a little shock reality once in a while.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.

MOOS: You're shocked?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's called shock, man.

MOOS: Would you buy this magazine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wouldn't want it.

MOOS: At the magazine's Web site, shockyou, they invite readers to send in their own shocking photos. We showed the dead man rotting photo spread to two guys who had just finished chowing down on pizza. Pizza sure looked better than that guy's face, he said. Low brow that raises eyebrows. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: All right. Let's see where that magazine is a year from now. You never know.

We move on now to our biz break. On Wall Street today, the Dow lost 184. The Nasdaq dropped 45. The S&P fell 20.

The president chooses Goldman Sachs Chairman Henry Paulson as his new Treasury secretary. If he's confirmed, Paulson will replace John Snow. And if you have a student loan, you can save thousands by consolidating your Federally guaranteed variable rate loans before July. That's when the rates on loans will rise by nearly 2 percent. You can find out more in our cnnmoney.com Web site.

Just minutes away from "Larry King Live." He has an exclusive interview tonight with legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor.

Now number four in our cnn.com countdown. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada is coming under fire for accepting free boxing tickets from his state's athletic commission while it was trying to influence his position on a bill to increase Federal oversight of boxing.

Number three, Mount St. Helens shoots a plume of steam and ash 16,000 feet into the air. Scientists say falling rocks triggered that activity. Top two on the countdown, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Number two on our countdown, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba one year ago today. Since then, investigators have arrested 10 people, but all have been freed for lack of evidence.

Number one, CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier in critical condition at a U.S. hospital in Germany. She was seriously wounded yesterday in Iraq. That's it for all of us. Thanks so much for being with us. We'll be back again tomorrow.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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