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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Iraqi Insurgent Group Proposes Peace Talks; Madonna's Adoption Controversy; Republican Party Doomed?

Aired October 16, 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: Hi, everybody. Thank you all for joining us.
Tonight's "Top Story" is the exclusive new information from Iraq, where an insurgent group is making an offer of peace talks, even as the number of coalition deaths reaches 3,000.

In politics, a new round of polling just three weeks before the midterm elections, and the news for the president is not good.

In entertainment, Madonna is under fire once again tonight for adopting a 1-year-old African baby boy. We're going to find out why so many people are outraged by that.

Now on to our "Top Story" of the day, what could be a dramatic new development: an offer from a major insurgent group to stop attacking U.S. troops in Iraq. It's all on an amazing new videotape you're about to see, exclusive information, only here on CNN, and it comes at a time when the death toll in Iraq has taken an alarming surge.

Let's go straight to Michael Ware, who joins us live from Baghdad.

Michael, what is behind this amazing surge in violence?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you need to bear in mind a number of things, Paula.

This is the holy month of Ramadan. So, we're seeing the fourth Ramadan offensive by the insurgents since the war began. This is a traditionally high period of insurgent attacks. Plus, al Qaeda's new leader launched a Ramadan campaign of his own. So, in many ways, this is to be expected, particularly as we see the ebb and flow of this war, as the insurgents adapt to new techniques, more lethal ways of attacking U.S. troops -- Paula.

ZAHN: And you got some, as we said, exclusive information from one of these insurgent leaders by asking him questions. He, in turn, supplied the answers on a videotape. What did he say about his effort to derail the U.S. military efforts in Iraq?

WARE: Well, what he was saying, essentially, is that the U.S. mission has not been working. He's saying that, by and large, you have given power in Iraq to a rival of both our organization and you, the United States, which is Iran. He said that this, in fact, has become one of the driving forces sustaining the insurgency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): America and Iran have occupied Iraq. America is the disease that caused the infection, which is the Iranian occupation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WARE: But what he also says is that this faction of the insurgency, one of the most important for the attacks against U.S. forces, renews its longstanding offer to negotiate.

We have seen covert discussions under way between the insurgents and U.S. military. We have seen Ambassador Khalilzad acknowledge that these talks have been taking place. Here, again, the insurgents are saying, let's try again -- Paula.

ZAHN: What else did this insurgent leader have to say, specifically a message for the U.S.?

WARE: Well, that was the thing about these -- these statements, the answers to our questions. He was talking directly to Americans.

He talked about President Nixon and Watergate. He talked about President Bush's May 2003 "mission accomplished" statement. He said that you need to question -- he called upon the American people to question the president's record on Iraq.

What he also said was that the Iraq insurgents, not al Qaeda -- he said, we are different to them -- but the Iraq insurgents pose no threat to U.S. homeland security. They just want to free their country -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, that's something that's strikingly different than -- than we hear back here from some of our politicians.

Michael Ware, in Baghdad, thanks so much.

Our "Top Story" coverage now moves on to America's options in Iraq. Stay the course no longer seems to be the only one Republicans are talking about. Now Washington is buzzing with talk about overhauling the administration's entire Iraq strategy. But that has apparently caused so much concern in Baghdad, that President Bush phoned his Iraqi counterpart to reassure him that the U.S. was not about to withdraw troops.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has been tracking these events from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the alarming rise in the rate of U.S. casualties in Iraq -- 55 dead so far this month, and almost three times that many Americans seriously wounded -- and with Iraqi casualties running even higher, the calls for change are getting louder from President Bush's own party.

The White House says President Bush called Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who was troubled by rumors the U.S. might be losing patience with him, and could impose a timeline for him to bring the violence under control.

Some of those rumors are fueled by speculation about whether the independent Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, might recommend a timetable for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.

But the White House says the commission's recommendations, due after the midterm U.S. elections, are advisory only.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is something you listen to seriously, but we're not going to outsource the business of handling the -- the war in Iraq. The president has welcomed lots of differing advice.

MCINTYRE: In his phone call with Nouri al-Maliki, President Bush reassured the Iraqi prime minister he still has the full support of the U.S. And, in turn, Maliki dismissed the notion of the partition of Iraq, something the U.S. feels would only make sectarian violence worse.

But many experts question whether al-Maliki, in office only four months, has the political clout to unite the Sunni and Shia factions.

LAWRENCE KORB, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The situation in Iraq is getting worse because the unity government -- so- called unity government -- is really not a unity government. Prime Minister Maliki has not taken the steps that he needs to do to disband the militias or to create a sense of a unified -- unified Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now, the White House today rejected any suggestion that this Iraq Study Group is providing political cover for President Bush, so he doesn't have to admit that the current strategy is flawed, until after the midterm elections.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said that would indicate, that would suggest that this 10-member commission, five of whom are Democrats, were merely stooges of the administration, something he -- he clearly rejects.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much for the update.

Now we move on to another top international story, today's fast- moving events in the North Korean crisis -- the U.S. government officially confirming that North Korea did conduct a nuclear explosion one week ago. But, tonight, there are some new concerns about plans for a second nuclear test. And, as tough new United Nations sanctions go into effect, Secretary of State Rice is getting ready to leave for Asia tomorrow, fully aware that Iran, another would-be nuclear power, is watching this Korean crisis very closely.

Let's turn to White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With confirmation that North Korea did, indeed, conduct a nuclear test and is possibly ready to carry out another, a measured warning from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It goes to say that that would further deepen the isolation of North Korea, and I hope they would not take such a provocative act.

MALVEAUX: On the eve of Rice's trip to Northeast Asia, the Bush administration faces a critical test: whether it can convince members of the U.N. Security Council, which approved tough sanctions against North Korea, to follow through.

Australia has already prohibited North Korean ships from its harbors, and Japan has ratcheted up its restrictions further. But China is already balking at interdicting cargo entering or leaving North Korea, for fear it will escalate tensions.

Today, Chinese guards were taking only brief looks at trucks going in and out of North Korea.

WANG GUANGYA, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Inspections, yes. But inspection is different from interception and interdiction. I think -- in that area, I think that different countries will do it in different ways.

MALVEAUX: Rice is trying to downplay those differences, as well as suggestions that China and others may be getting cold feet.

RICE: I am not concerned that the Chinese are going to turn their backs on their obligations. I don't think they would have voted for a resolution that they did not intend to carry through on.

MALVEAUX: But carrying through may be tough for some allies, who each have their own interests at stake. China, which shares an 880- mile border with North Korea, insisted that, as part of the U.N. resolution, any inspections of North Korean cargo would be voluntary for each state. South Korea also fears, an embargo could lead to a military confrontation with its northern neighbor.

RICE: We have no desire to ratchet up conflict either, but we will have some discussions on precisely how this will be carried out.

MALVEAUX: But sanctions against North Korea may not be enough to get it back to the negotiating table. Former Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn insists that it will take one-on-one talks between the U.S. and the North Korean leadership.

SAM NUNN, CO-CHAIRMAN, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: We're in a race between cooperation and catastrophe, and it's certainly not apparent now who's winning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, tonight, CNN national security producer Pam Benson reports that U.S. spy satellites are picking up some activity at North Korea's nuclear testing site, but, according to one U.S. intelligence source, who says that there's no reason to expect that a test is imminent.

But, Paula, of course, it certainly raises the stakes for the Bush administration -- Paula.

ZAHN: And it certainly raises a bunch of questions, Suzanne.

So, if you already have these sanctions in place, what leverage does the U.S. have left, if in fact North Korea goes through with a second test?

MALVEAUX: Well, Paula, certainly not much more.

I mean, the thinking at the White House is, if they go through with this second test, that, hopefully, North Korea's neighbors will consider this an intolerable situation that will be that much more dangerous, and that they will be more willing to have those kind of tough economic sanctions, political sanctions, and, of course, those interdictions that they were not willing to do in the past -- Paula.

ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks -- a member of the best political team in TV.

Our "Top Story" coverage moves on to politics next, and whether there's any good news for the president and his party in some of the latest polling just out tonight. How should the president confront the crises in Iraq, North Korea and his own party? Well, we asked his supporters on conservative radio the other day. Tonight, it's the liberal radio hosts' turn, some of the most provocative voices on the air. You will get to hear them when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight's "Top Story" in politics now: a brand-new poll just out tonight on how the president is doing his job. With just three weeks to go before the congressional elections, Republicans hoping for a boost from the president aren't getting one.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider looks at the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Leading Republicans now acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is bad.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It seems to me that the situation is simply drifting sidewise.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: We clearly need a new strategy. Obviously, by any measurement, we're in a lot of trouble in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Nearly two-thirds of Americans now say they oppose the war in a new CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation. That includes a majority of men and an overwhelming 70 percent of women.

Pessimism about Iraq is contributing to a continuing deterioration in President Bush's support. Sixty-one percent now disapprove of Bush's job as president, his worst rating ever.

The president's rating on Iraq is even lower. Sixty-four percent disapprove.

But Mr. Bush's ratings on North Korea are not so bad. Forty- seven to 41 percent approve.

The president's approach to North Korea has been less bellicose.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, my administration decided to take a new approach. We brought together other nations in the region, in an effort to resolve the situation through multilateral diplomacy.

SCHNEIDER: Sixty percent of Americans believe the situation with North Korea can be resolved using diplomacy and economic sanctions. More than 70 percent believed that three years ago.

Suppose diplomacy and sanctions fail. Would the public favor taking military action against North Korea? Three years ago, Americans were divided. Now a majority opposes military action.

Why? Iraq. More than 70 percent of Americans believe the war in Iraq is making it harder for the United States to deal with North Korea.

(on camera): We have also been hearing a debate over whether the Bush administration's policies or the Clinton administration's policies are more to blame for the problems with North Korea. Fifty- three percent of Americans say they blame the Bush administration a great deal or a moderate amount. Forty-three percent blame the Clinton administration.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, with support for the war in Iraq dropping, the crisis in North Korea, and elections just 22 days away, the mood of the country is pretty darned volatile.

And, recently, we asked three feisty conservative radio hosts what their listeners were saying.

Tonight, we hear what the left has to say.

Joining me for a "Top Story" panel right now, Sam Seder of Air America Radio. Stephanie Miller is heard on the Jones Radio Network, and Joe Madison, host of "The Power" on XM Satellite Radio.

Glad to have all three of you with us.

SAM SEDER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you.

JOE MADISON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you.

ZAHN: Sam, I'm going to...

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you.

ZAHN: Our pleasure -- start with that poll -- it's going to be up on the screen right now -- showing that two-thirds of Americans now oppose the war in Iraq, even Republican senators, like Senator John warner and Chuck Hagel, saying that President Bush needs to change course, not stay the course.

SEDER: Right.

ZAHN: Why haven't Democrats been able to take better advantage of this deep division in the Republican Party?

SEDER: Well, I'm not sure that they haven't taken advantage of that. I mean...

ZAHN: Don't you think they should be doing better than they are right now, when you look at these poll numbers?

SEDER: Well, I mean -- I mean, right now, it depends on what polls you're looking at.

But, I mean, they're -- most of the polls that I have seen have shown that there's the chance -- and I don't really hold that much stake in polls, but there's a chance of a massive, massive tide of Democratic victories in the House and in the Senate.

So, I -- I'm not convinced that the premise is right. I mean, I think the Democrats have actually stood up and they have said, you know, we're not interested in a permanent occupation of Iraq, and we have to do something different.

Now, I think what you're hearing from Democrats are a couple, two or three, different plans, but at least what we're hearing is, some notion of change is important. And -- and we're not seeing that from the Republicans.

ZAHN: And -- and, Stephanie, the -- the problem is, I think, when some voters out -- they hear the Democrats have two or three plans, they're saying, there's no unified voice. Why can't you guys all get on the same page? MITCHELL: Well, according to the poll you just cited, Paula, there's an awful lot of cut-and-run Defeatocrats out there, like us.

I think that most people agree that what's happen -- what they're doing now is not working. So, you know, I think, you know, you look at the national intelligence estimate, which says the same thing Democrats have been saying for two years, that the Iraq war is making terrorism worse, not better. You know, I think the insurgency is only about 4 percent al Qaeda. You know, I -- I believe in what Jack Murtha says, that, you know, we are the problem. We are the target. The vast majority of Iraqis want us out of there. We're caught in a civil war.

ZAHN: But, Joe, Stephanie just brought up that term Defeatocrats, which Republicans accuse John Murtha of being, and -- and -- and they want the American public to believe that Democrats don't want the U.S. to win this war.

MADISON: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Don't Democrats risk this?

MADISON: Well, no. That's...

ZAHN: By their strategy?

MADISON: I mean, that's absolutely ridiculous.

I think Democrats have made it very clear we appreciate the sacrifices that the soldiers are making. We just don't want them to be sacrificed.

But let's keep -- we keep talking Republican-Democrat in these polls. Keep in mind, the majority of American voters are right in the middle. They're neither Republican, nor Democrat. So, what you're seeing is this middle that's being courted by both Republicans and Democrats. And they're siding with the Democrats.

The Bush administration cannot articulate how they're going to get out of Iraq, and that's going to be their downfall.

ZAHN: And that's the same criticism, though, that's being heaped on the Democrats. What is this plan? OK, you got a couple of plans.

MADISON: Well, I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But we -- we can't trust you to get out any faster than Republicans are.

MADISON: I would argue that the -- that George Bush is not even articulating a desire to get out of Iraq. I mean, we know that, several months ago, both the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans stripped from bills in both houses the desire, the -- the -- the statement that we have no designs on permanent occupation of Iraq.

And, clearly, all the Democrats are saying, that's something that we should tell the Iraqi people, that we're not going to be there indefinitely. But the Republicans have fundamentally disallowed any opportunity for the Democrats to say that.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Stephanie, I want to move you on to the issue of -- of North Korea...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: ... because that's really important.

MITCHELL: Let me -- I -- I -- I agree with Sam, though. That's -- you know what I mean? It's like, if you look at these polls, I mean, Americans are not buying this Democrats want to lose.

SEDER: Yes.

MITCHELL: Define winning. Many of us feel that winning would be getting out...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL: ... the terrorists.

ZAHN: In closing, I'm going to quickly move you on to North Korea.

Stephanie, Condoleezza Rice moving into the region. A lot of people think, and some of your listeners think she should meeting -- should be meeting one on one with Kim Jong Il.

Do you think she should be? And is that what your listeners are really telling you?

MITCHELL: Yes. Oh, no, Paula. I think our -- our Paris Hilton foreign policy that we're using now, which is, no, just don't speak to anyone, they know what they did, I think that's working very well.

We have even James Baker saying, I mean, you know, we need to talk to people that we don't agree with. I mean, we had inspectors in there when Bill Clinton was president. We had -- they had 400 percent less nuclear capability. And now this is Bill Clinton's fault?

ZAHN: Joe, you get...

MITCHELL: I think his problem -- I think his problem, Paula, is, once he got away with killing the Lindbergh baby and sinking the Titanic, Bill Clinton moved on to being able to be responsible for much more important things.

ZAHN: Wow. That was -- that was loaded.

Joe, you get 10 seconds for a closing thought on North Korea and what is at stake.

MADISON: Well -- well, look, the bottom line is that we need to back-channel.

Here's my suggestion to George Bush, if he's listening. Bring in a bipartisan group of people, Baker, Powell. Bring in Republicans and Democratic secretaries of state, the best brains you can find. Please, Mr. Bush, check your brain at the Oval Office, and get some people in there that know what to do now.

ZAHN: I have a -- I have a feeling he's otherwise engaged at this time, this evening, but we will let you know, Joe, if he's listening to you, Joe.

MADISON: All right, and if he heard me, yes.

ZAHN: Joe Madison, Stephanie miller, Sam Seder, thank you for all of your time tonight.

SEDER: Thank you.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: We're going to get back to our "Top Story" coverage in just a moment.

Right now, let's quickly check in with Melissa Long, who joins us from our Pipeline studio with our countdown.

Hi, Melissa.

MELISSA LONG, CNN PIPELINE: Hi, Paula.

More than 20 million people logged on to the site today.

Many wanted to know about a milestone nor the U.S. The Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. population will reach 300 million tomorrow morning, right when you're heading off to work and school, some time before 8:00 in the morning.

Story nine: Pennsylvania's Curt Weldon is the latest Republican House member to be the target of a federal probe. We're going to have more on this story coming up.

Story eight: Readers were curious about the personal life of TV actress Mel Harris. She's appeared on "The West Wing," was one of the stars of "Thirtysomething." Harris has filed for divorce. She's on her fifth marriage -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right. Who's counting, Melissa?

LONG: I'm not. I can't blame that..

ZAHN: I'm not either.

LONG: OK.

ZAHN: OK.

Still ahead: our "Top Story" political coverage continues, with the investigation Melissa just mentioned. It's just what the Republicans don't need, another congressman battling a corruption probe.

And, then, a little bit later on: Madonna's new controversy. Is her adoption of an African child just a case of a celebrity trying to get the latest must-have accessory? A lot of people think so.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our next "Top Story" in politics now, tonight, another Republican member of Congress finds himself in the crosshairs of a federal investigation. Pennsylvania's Curt Weldon is already in a tough reelection fight. Now, he faces allegations that he helped his daughter, a lobbyist, cash in on his connections, something he vigorously denies.

Congressional correspondent Dana Bash has just sent us this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A senior law enforcement official tells CNN the FBI searched six businesses and residences related to the Curt Weldon probe, including the Philadelphia home of Karen Weldon, the congressman's daughter.

Sources familiar with the inquiry say the Justice Department is investigating whether Republican Curt Weldon used his influence to steer clients to his daughter's lobbying firm. Weldon insists, neither he, nor his daughter, did anything wrong.

REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I would absolutely never use my position to help anyone in an unusual way. My daughter would be -- my -- my kids don't need my help. My kids are successful. They're talented. They do a good job.

BASH: Weldon travels to Russia frequently and is a vocal advocate for strong U.S.-Russian relations. The investigation appears to be focused on whether the congressman helped his daughter's firm win contracts with two Russian companies and two Serbian brothers, contracts worth $1 million a year, according to McClatchy newspapers.

One source with knowledge of the inquiry tells CNN it has been under way for more than six months. The Pennsylvania Republican, a 20-year veteran of the House, was already in a neck-and-neck race to keep his seat, and acknowledged this investigation will hurt him. But he calls the timing, three weeks before Election Day, suspect. WELDON: ... assuming the Democrats will win control of the Congress. I think it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this district could swing control of the Congress.

BASH: Even before the investigation became public, Democrats were using this issue against him. A flyer mailed to voters in his Pennsylvania district last week said Weldon helped get clients for his daughter.

Weldon also blamed Melanie Sloan, the head of a liberal-leaning watchdog group, for spurring the issue. Sloan did file a complaint with the FBI, but that was two-and-a-half years ago, when questions were first raised by "The Los Angeles Times."

MELANIE SLOAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: We don't control what the Justice Department does. The Justice Department is investigating Curt Weldon. And I can't force the Justice Department to do anything.

BASH: Weldon did acknowledge, under questioning, the Justice Department is run by a Republican administration.

WELDON: Well, I understand it. I'm not stupid, you know, and that -- I mean, you know, I may have offended some people. I have been known to do that.

BASH (on camera): Weldon insists there's no need for this investigation, because he took documents to the House Ethics Committee two-and-a-half years ago to prove he did nothing wrong, and thought the case was closed. A call to that committee to confirm that was not returned.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And our "Top Story" coverage continues in just a moment, but, first, let's go back to Melissa Long for more of our countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: Paula, story seven comes out of New York City. An attorney is sentenced to 28 months in prison on a terrorism charge. Lynne Stewart was convicted of helping an Egyptian sheik who is now in prison to contact his followers.

A guilty plea from Idaho from a man accused of killing three members of a family, so he could kidnap two of the younger children. The plea deal calls for Joseph Duncan to be sentenced to life in prison, without parole. He still faces federal charges and could get the death penalty.

Story five: a scandal in Israel's government. The Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, is facing rape charges, could also soon be charged with sexual assault. He denies the accusations -- Paula.

ZAHN: Melissa, thanks so much. LONG: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: Check back with you in a little bit.

Still ahead: The African boy Madonna hopes to adopt is on a flight to London tonight, but the battle and controversy over the adoption, not quite over yet.

And a little bit later on: how friendship took two young men from a small Illinois town to war, and an amazing twist of fate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage moves on to conflict and controversy, entertainment, life and death in Africa, international and interracial adoption. Madonna finds herself in the center of all of it, this time with the controversial adoption of a baby boy from Malawi. Did the African country bend the rules for a superstar, or break the law? The newest member of Madonna's family is bound for London, as we speak.

For more on one very new life and a raging controversy, we start with Brooke Anderson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The moment Madonna set foot in sub-Saharan Malawi, watercoolers the world over heated up.

MICHAEL MUSTO, COLUMNIST, "THE VILLAGE VOICE": Africa is all the rage now. It's almost like the new trendy restaurant to celebrities.

ANDERSON: If you see it that way, an African child could be called the latest must-have celebrity accessory.

MUSTO: Oh, let me get an African baby, the way I had a Chihuahua, and the way I have a British husband, and a Golden Globe.

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO: Madonna has picked a kind of trendy choice, something Angelina has already dabbled in.

ANDERSON: Angelina Jolie, who already had an adopted Cambodian son, adopted Ethiopian Zahara Marley with Brad Pitt in 2005. That put Africa on the celebrity adoptions map and gave the movie star couple world-class philanthropist status.

MUSTO: Now Madonna is trying to do the same thing, and everyone is like, oh, please.

ANDERSON: Madonna and her husband, Guy Ritchie, were granted an interim adoption of 13-month-old David Banda, whose father sent him to an orphanage, when his wife, David's mother, died. CHERYL CARTER-SHOTTS, FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, AMERICANS FOR AFRICAN ADOPTIONS: That, if you really wanted to help this child, help him stay with his father. The extended family in Africa has very much broken down, predominantly because of HIV/AIDS.

ANDERSON: That's just one of the concerns of Cheryl Carter- Shotts, who, from her base in Indiana, arranges African adoptions for North American families. She says international adoptions from Malawi are particularly rare, because foreigners must live in the country for 18 months to obtain custody.

CARTER-SHOTTS: And the laws of Malawi were being dropped for this person, who was apparently brining in money. We absolutely, in our agency, and in many agencies, will not buy a child. And, when you tie it to money, you are buying a child.

ANDERSON: Carter-Shotts isn't alone. Outrage has been pouring in from Malawi and human rights groups. A coalition of 67 of them said it would launch a court challenge to the interim adoption this week.

Authorities at least bent the rules for Madonna. Her 18-month trial period will occur while David lives with her in the U.K. Madonna has pledged more than $3 million in aid for the country's orphans through her Raising Malawi charity. The gift includes an orphan center, which will be based on a Jewish school of thought called Kaballah, which Madonna follows.

CARTER-SHOTTS: Why should it have to subscribe to a certain religious belief? What is wrong with the religion of Malawi? Malawi is predominantly Christian. Why would you want to change their religion?

ANDERSON: Favin (ph) and Cian (ph), now 17 and 11, are among three Ethiopian kids adopted by the McNichols family. They live just outside of Los Angeles, and have watched as African adoption has turned, well, so Hollywood.

KEITH MCNICHOLS, ADOPTIVE PARENT: This process really opened our eyes to the needs of the world. It really -- it changed our family and gave us a much broader perspective. And I -- I think we're, you know, I don't want to say -- not better than other people, but we're certainly better people than we were...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Than we were.

MCNICHOLS: ... than we were before.

ANDERSON: And perhaps that's what Madonna went looking for in Malawi.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Chino Hills, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Brooke just mentioned that orphan care center that Madonna is putting the money up for. We're told that it could house up to 4,000 children.

Coming up next, we're going to have more on the controversy over Madonna's adoption of an African boy, as we look at why unwanted children are becoming one of Africa's fastest growing exports.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: More now of our "Top Story" coverage of the controversy surrounding Madonna's adoption of a baby from the African nation of Malawi -- babies now one of Africa's fastest growing exports. Yes, that sounds weird, but the number of adoption agencies in the world's poorest continent say those numbers have tripled in recent years.

And Jeff Koinange has just filed this report on a controversy with harsh, even life-and-death choices.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twelve- year-old Koketso Motshoane is just one of 48 million orphans in Africa. She has five other siblings scattered across various orphanages, whom she gets to see just once a year. She has never heard of Madonna, but says she would gladly jump at the chance of being adopted by anyone willing to give her a home.

KOKETSO MOTSHOANE, AFRICAN ORPHAN: I would feel happy.

KOINANGE (on camera): Tell me why.

MOTSHOANE: Because I have no mother. Yes, that's why.

KOINANGE: Koketso lives in this Johannesburg orphanage, along with 58 other children between ages 12 weeks and 21 years old.

(voice-over): It's run by Gail Johnson, a white South African who has adopted this 5-year-old Tabo (ph). She found Tabo (ph) in an abandoned warehouse five years ago on Christmas morning, after her first adopted child died of AIDS.

Regardless of race, she believes she has the right to offer the best care any mother can give to children abandoned or orphaned.

GAIL JOHNSON, ADOPTIVE PARENT: It's going to freak me to give him up. But, if there's a young couple who want him, or a black couple who want him, I -- I will hand him over. There was no one. And, after him living with me for -- nine -- a year, in fact, there was no ways I would give him up. I was not going to give him up to a child care facility.

KOINANGE: Gail says there are too many abandoned children across the African continent who are in desperate need of a good home, and she doesn't see what the big deal is about celebrities coming to Africa to adopt.

JOHNSON: Bottom line, if someone wants to, and it's sincere, and it's not a -- a publicity stunt, or whatever, why not? If you look at Angelina Jolie and -- and Brad Pitt, he's adopted her two little ones that she adopted prior to having her baby born in Namibia. Now, that's sincerity, as far as I'm concerned.

KOINANGE: But some child welfare activists are up in arms when it comes to celebrities canvassing the continent, in search of abandoned and orphaned babies.

LYNNE CAWOOD, CHILDLIFE: You know, the whole issue of intercultural adoption, either, you know, a white child in a black family or a black child in a white family, is a very controversial one, because, very often, children's identities get formed by -- within their family. And when children identify themselves as -- as different from their biological families, that's an issue that that child has to grapple with and come to terms with. And it has to be handled really sensitively.

KOINANGE: But Gail Johnson insists, the alternative is bleak, because the number of children in Africa losing parents to AIDS is growing, and adoption, though a last resort, is the only viable alternative.

JOHNSON: I get quite a lump when I try and visualize a little one going to bed with nothing. And I can't. It hurts too much, because it's wrong.

KOINANGE: It's something that anyone, even the critics, can agree on.

CAWOOD: We would rather have a good home overseas than no home in Africa.

KOINANGE: As AIDS continues to wreak havoc and decimate families across the continent, the number of orphans will no doubt continue to rise, giving way to more celebrities seeking more adoptions in what's becoming one of Africa's fastest growing exports.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And our own Jeff Koinange joins us from South Africa for a "Top Story" panel on international adoption. Also with us from Atlanta, CNN's Don Lemon who knows Malawi firsthand, and Bill Philbrick, program coordinator for the Hope For African Children Initiative, a part of CARE.

Good to see all three of you.

So, Jeff, you just talked about children being one of the largest exports of Africa right now. How many Africans feel that people who are coming in to adopt these children are simply buying children?

KOINANGE: A minority, Paula, to say the least. We spent most of the day in that one orphanage, and, as I mentioned, the kids range in age from 12 weeks to 21 years old. We spoke to a 21-year-old young man. And he told, blankly, told me, I wish that was me who was adopted, because he feels that would be a better life for him. And child -- even child welfare activists, they were telling us. All day long, they said, look, more power to Madonna. She's done a great thing, because what's the alternative? The kids are -- the homes, the orphanages, are all stretched thin. Resources are very few and far between. These kids hardly get three meals a day. So, they're getting a better lifestyle.

And, as long as -- like one of the activists told me, as long as it's sincere, as long as it's genuine, then, all the more power to it. And they were advocating it. They were all for it, bottom line.

ZAHN: And, Don, we know you have seen this firsthand, spending a lot of time in Malawi orphanages. Help us better understand why a -- or what would drive a biological parent, like baby David's father, to giving up this child for adoption.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Paula, when you're there, and you see the poverty, and you see the conditions under which -- under which these children live, not only do they deal with HIV and AIDS and malaria and a number of other diseases, they also are dealing with situations -- when we were there, one of the kids was -- some of the kids we saw were attacked by hyenas in their village in the middle of the night.

It killed nine people. And most of them are children. So, they're dealing with that and also the sickness. These are the children that died there. So, it -- it's no wonder a parent would want to give up their child, so that that child can have a better life.

Most of the time, the children have one parent, if that parent has survived, or either they're living with a grandparent who has become a parent again, because the -- the original parents died from HIV or AIDS.

So, you have a situation there where the children either become caretakers for their own parents, or the grandparents become caretakers for the children, because their parents have died from HIV or AIDS or some other disease. You know, the -- the life expectancy there, Paula, is only 37 years old.

ZAHN: Which is just staggering to try to get your arms around.

Phil, you have heard both Jeff and Don describe these desperate conditions these families are living under. What is the harm of families coming in from the outside and adopting these children in an attempt to give them better lives?

BILL PHILBRICK, PROGRAM COORDINATOR, HOPE FOR AFRICAN CHILDREN INITIATIVE: Well, that, in and of itself, is not the actual harm.

What we should be doing is focusing in on the underlying conditions which causes extreme poverty, where the communities themselves and the grandparents and the -- and a lot of the times, surviving parents are not able to take care of the children. We should be providing educational support, income-generating activities, and things of that sort.

ZAHN: Sure.

And everybody agrees with you. They wish more of that kind of work was being done. But, in the meantime, are you opposed to the kind of adoption that Madonna's trying to pull off here?

PHILBRICK: Well, again, it's hard for me to address the actual Madonna situation.

Adoption and orphanages should be an option of last resort. Ultimately, the -- the focus should be on, what is in the best interests of the child? And, first and foremost, evidence shows, and for the development -- for the best development of the child, that they should try to remain in the community, in a loving and nurturing family.

LEMON: And, Paula, can...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: And, if I can jump in here, it's not...

ZAHN: Sure.

LEMON: ... that there's a huge rush of people who are going out, especially from America -- I can speak from an American perspective -- to go out and adopt African children. It's the same problem we have in the U.S. with African-American children.

So, you don't have that. One is because there's not the demand for African children. And, two, it's because the adoption laws are so stringent. I mean, we're talking about Malawi. Madonna is adopting a baby. But, in 2001, 2002, zero children from Malawi to the U.S. were adopted, three in 2003, one in 2004, and then three in 2005. So, there's simply not the demand there for those children. So, maybe she will bring some light to it.

ZAHN: Well, if not light, certainly a lot of heat.

Jeff Koinange, Don Lemon, Bill Philbrick, thank you for your time tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Right now, we're going to take a quick "Biz Break."

The Dow came within less than three points of 12000 today, before dropping back to close up 20 points. The Nasdaq gained six points. And the S&P picked up three points.

Oil prices bounced up, after a long decline, closing up more than $1 at close, to $60 a barrel. Oil prices bumped up in advance of an OPEC meeting later this week, which may move to cut crude oil production by a million barrels a day. Speaking of energy, corn prices have jumped up 40 percent in the last couple of months, after years in the doldrums. Ethanol production and demand have been skyrocketing. Ethanol fuel production is hitting the five-billion-gallon-a-year mark. And that is been pushing the price of corn up toward $3 a bushel. I didn't know that.

More "Top Story" coverage in just a moment.

Right now, let's get back to Melissa for more of countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: Paula, story four is about the powerful earthquake that rattled Hawaii, that quake measuring 6.7, causing blackouts and landslides. No deaths or major injuries have been reported, but damage is extensive. The governor has declared the entire state a disaster area.

And story three: Authorities in Florida have found the SUV that belonged to a family that shot to death along that state's turnpike. The vehicle was spotted this morning in West Palm Beach, three days after the bodies of a husband, wife, and two young boys were found. No arrests have been made in this case yet -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right. Melissa, see you back here in a couple of minutes.

A lot more still ahead tonight, including what happens when two high school buddies from a small Midwest town go off to war together -- tragic twist of fate.

Plus, the whole world was watching when John Mark Karr made his false claims about being involved in the JonBenet Ramsey killing. At the top of the hour, he will tell his side of the story to Larry King.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Now back to our "Top Story," fight for Iraq. A little bit earlier on, we told you about the growing American death toll there. Each soldier's life and death is a hero's story.

And, tonight, we introduce you to two young soldiers and the remarkable circumstances surrounding their death just hours apart in Iraq.

Here's Jonathan Freed on two inseparable friends, brothers in arms.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kristofer Walker and George Obourn Jr. had the kind of friendship most can only dream about. They were in the high school band together. They enlisted in the Army through what's called a buddy program, went through basic training at the same time, served in Iraq together. And they were both killed earlier this month, barely two days apart, in the town of Taji, near Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His last call had been the Saturday before. And they were nearing the end of their tour over there.

FREED: The deaths came so quickly, that the two sets of parents hadn't even spoken to one another about Walker, when they learned Obourn had fallen, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Emotions just ran so fast. You don't know what to think.

FREED: The friends both were Army specialists with the 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment. Walker's Humvee hit a roadside bomb. Obourn was killed clearing a building of insurgents. The death shook the small town of Creve Coeur, Illinois. The town's name, loosely translated from French, means broken heart.

And people here lined the streets to say goodbye and thank you.

(on camera): What has that meant to you guys?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot. It's -- it's really tremendous. It's -- it's almost overwhelming, the support that has been shown by the community, and the school district, and neighbors.

FREED (voice-over): Walker and Obourn were motivated to join up in part by September 11. Their parents say they made convincing, grownup arguments about why they should serve.

(on camera): All of you made the decision to support them in enlisting, knowing that the worst could happen. But now that the worst has happened, when you look back, do you feel that you made the right decision?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes and no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes and no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a thought that's just...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Selfishly -- yes, selfishly, the selfish side of me, if I had to do it over, I probably wouldn't let him go, just because I want him here. Did I make the right decision for his sake? I think so.

FREED (voice-over): Two wreaths stand at the town's war memorial, where the flags are flying at half-staff, and where they're preparing to add two more names under those who died in Iraq.

Jonathan Freed, CNN, Creve Coeur, Illinois.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: And George Obourn's father said he hopes his son's death inspires others to support the troops, while Kristofer Walker's dad says, if his son hadn't gone, it would have been like asking someone else to give their life for this country.

We are going to quickly wrap up our CNN countdown with Melissa Long -- Melissa.

LONG: Mmm-hmm.

Paula, a story about actor Bill Murray's travels is number two tonight. A Scottish newspaper is reporting that Murray created quite a bit of buzz in the town of Saint Andrews, Scotland. It happened when he crashed a student party last weekend, and even helped to do the dishes.

Story number one is about a man accused of killing his family, on his way back to Iowa now to face murder charges. Authorities say Shawn Bentler shot and killed his parents and three sisters some time early Saturday, then fled to Illinois, Paula, where he was eventually arrested.

ZAHN: All right. I'm not going to add anything else to that one. Yuck.

Melissa, thanks.

Coming up at the top of the hour: He was briefly a suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey killing, and had the world's attention focused on him. John Mark Karr tells his story tonight to Larry King.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: One more thing to let you know about tonight: former President Gerald Ford at home tonight in Rancho Mirage, California, after five days in the hospital.

The 93-year-old former president went to the Eisenhower Medical Center for tests. He received a pacemaker back in August, and has been hospitalized several times this year.

And that's it for tonight.

Tomorrow night: There is a lot of talk about containing North Korea, but can we trust China to help us do it?

But coming up in about 20 seconds, "LARRY KING LIVE" -- his guest tonight, the man who had the world's attention focused on him like a laser, John Mark Karr, who was briefly suspected in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey. Wait until you hear what he has to say.

Again, we will be back, same time -- same time -- same place tomorrow night. We hope you join us then.

Good night, everybody.

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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