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Three Firefighters Killed Battling California Blaze; President Bush Signs Bill Authorizing Border Fence; October Death Toll In Iraq Steadily Nearing 100

Aired October 26, 2006 - 15:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live in the CNN NEWSROOM, Kyra Phillips and Don Lemon.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: A wildfire takes a tragic turn.

All day, we have been following this fire racing across the hills near Palm Springs, California -- hundreds of firefighters trying to rein it in -- now word that three of them have been killed.

Captain Don Camp, California Forestry Department, joins me now on the phone.

Don, can you tell us what happened?

CAPTAIN DON CAMP, CALIFORNIA FORESTRY DEPARTMENT: At this point in time, we are confirming that three fatalities, firefighter fatalities, have occurred on the Esperanza in Cabazon, California.

Two additional firefighters have been seriously burned, and have been transported to a local burn facility. These firefighters were actively involved in attempting to suppress the 4,000-plus acre Esperanza fire in Cabazon.

As a matter of routine investigation, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, central homicide unit, along with investigators from the Cabazon sheriff's stations, will be conducting a death investigation regarding these three fatalities.

There will be an interagency press conference with additional details, to be held after confirmation has been made that the family members have been notified.

This is a real difficult time, obviously, for all of us in the fire service and fire service personnel. And we ask that you folks be patient with us while we continue our investigation.

PHILLIPS: Captain Camp, can you tell me how it happened? Were they working on a particular home? Were they trying to get people out of a certain area? We heard that they were trapped in their truck.

Can you tell us what happened?

CAMP: Actually, I don't have that information available to me.

The information that I do have is, this fire started at about 1:12 this morning at the intersection of Esperanza and San Gorgonio in the community of Cabazon, located in Riverside County, California.

Again, at this point in time, the fire is 4,000-plus acres. It's burning in a south-southwest direction, pushed by 18- to 25-mile-an- hour winds, with, sometimes, gusts up to 30.

PHILLIPS: Well, it just goes to show what these firefighters are up against, because we had gotten an earlier report from the U.S. Forest Service that the firefighters were killed trying to protect a home from those flames that broke out in that community of Cabazon, as you mentioned, and that they got trapped inside their truck.

Can you tell me, as the -- obviously, this is not going to end any time soon. You have got to send a lot of women and men out into the field. So, what is -- tell me what kind of precautions are being taken right now to try to prevent that from happening again, as these firefighters try to contain this wildfire, as it spreads?

CAMP: Well, obviously, because of the incident, we're making sure that all of our fire ground commanders on the incident are making sure that they have good communication with their personnel, that lookouts are being established to make sure that, if conditions in the area -- that suppression activities are taking place, change, that we're aware of it, so our personnel have the ability to utilize either escape zones or safety routes to move out of the area, to keep from being overrun.

PHILLIPS: Are you concerned about other areas that we have not talked about yet? We have specifically talked about Cabazon, this area just outside of Palm Springs. How -- I guess, let me ask you, are you asking anyone else to evacuate at this point in other areas that maybe we haven't mentioned or talked about?

CAMP: Actually, the only two mandatory evacuations that we have in place at this time are for the communities of Twin Pines and Poppett Flats, which is located off of Highway 243. We have two highway closures in the area.

Highway 243, from Banning to Lake Fulmor, has been closed to all traffic, other than emergency vehicles. Also, Highway 79, from the city of Beaumont to the city of Hemet, has been closed to all traffic, other than emergency vehicles. We have established two evacuation centers, one at Hemet High School, located at 41701 East Stetson, in the city of Hemet, and the Banning Community Center, located at 789 North San Gorgonio Avenue in the city of Banning.

PHILLIPS: Captain, do you know how this started initially?

CAMP: We have investigators from both the United States Fire Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on scene at this time, actively involved in the investigation of this incident.

PHILLIPS: Captain Don Camp, California Department of Forestry, appreciate your time. We will stay updated with you.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Captain, before you go, did you say two or three people injured, besides the two firefighters who were killed -- the three firefighters? Did you say two or three injured?

CAMP: I actually don't have the information. The information that I have is that we have three confirmed fatalities.

LEMON: Three, OK. Go ahead. And ...


CAMP: And two other serious injuries that have been...


CAMP: ... transported by medevac helicopter...


CAMP: ... to a local burn center.

LEMON: OK. Great. Thank you very much for that.

We want to bring in our security expert. And, also, he's a former firefighter. Mike Brooks is on the phone. He's going to give us a personal perspective about this.

Mike, you can tell us about the condition that these firefighters are facing. I would imagine, three people dead, very menacing.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I'll tell you what, Don. You -- these rural firefighting efforts that they're going through right now are some of the toughest conditions that you can even fight any kind of fire in.

You know, you have got a lot of problems that arise. And these five firefighters, it sounds like, became trapped, because the conditions change so quickly. You know, when you have got winds, you know, from 18 to 25 miles an hour, with 30-mile-an-hour gusts, it -- the conditions can change just in a -- in a snap.

And -- and that's probably what happened. The fire got behind them. And, you know, they were in their truck. Now, the truck they're in, they might not have even had any water left in those trucks, Don, because you figure...


BROOKS: ... one of the problems is water supply.

LEMON: Right.

BROOKS: One of those trucks can have anywhere between 500 to 1,000 gallons of water on board. But, after you use that up, you have to set up some kind of water shuttle. And, when the roads get blocked off, like we're hearing about is going on in this fire, you have no way to set up a water shuttle to keep a constant water supply going.

LEMON: Hey, Mike, tell us about the procedures here, when you say they are setting up the water shuttle. We have been seeing those helicopters, where they go in the lakes and the reserves, and they dip the water out. And, then, they bring it, and they throw it on the fire.

Do they bring this water ever this way to the fire engines? How do they get that water? Because you're saying this one may have been there without any water left in it to fight the fires that are going around them.

BROOKS: There is that possibility.

It looks earlier like -- we saw an aerial shot where it looked like a fire truck that had burned up. And what they do, they -- you can attack a fire like this from on the ground and in the air, in the air, for some of the real rough conditions that you can't get to. But if you're going to some areas where there's homes, there's roads that lead to those homes, they can come up, set up a water shuttle, set up one area with a tanker operation.

You can set up a dump tank.


BROOKS: And, then, the other trucks come up, and then load off of that...

LEMON: Right.

BROOKS: ... and head back to the fire front, while other trucks bring more water and shuttle it to this dump tank to supply the other firefighters who are on the ground.

LEMON: But, if all the roads and access routes around you are, you know, surrounded by fire, you -- you can't get that. You can't get out, and you can't get in.

BROOKS: That's exactly right. And that's where you run into the problem.

LEMON: And tell us about -- I know you were a firefighter. And I know that this is terrible.

What happens with the community, especially with the community of firefighters, and the families there, when they get word of this, not only that the fires are happening, but, then, when they find out that there are injuries and fatalities?

BROOKS: Well, you know, Don, the California Department of Forestry has some the best-trained firefighters that train under some of the tough conditions of any departments in the country -- in the world.

And, you know, they just -- they keep on keeping on. These are dedicated men and women, highly trained men and women, who are out there doing a job, and specialize in this kind of firefighting techniques. And they know the inherent dangers. They do have some kind of -- most of them will carry some kind of emergency shelter, should they get trapped out inside of the woods, you know, outside in the woods, and, then, the fire will blow over them. They can pull something over top of them.

But, when you're in conditions such as this, with so much fire volume, it -- you know, it's extremely dangerous.

And, you know, my heart goes out to the families of these three firefighters.

LEMON: And, Mike, just so you know, we heard from the governor and -- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he said that all U.S. Forest Service personnel were pulled off the fire after the deaths, so that they could gather their thoughts. And he said that everyone was in their prayers, of course.

Mike Brooks, our security expert here at CNN, also a former firefighter, thank you, sir.

BROOKS: Thank you, Don.

PHILLIPS: Rob Marciano also watching it closely from the CNN Weather Center.

Rob, the winds, still tough for firefighters to go up against.


PHILLIPS: Three lives lost. It's not easy.

MARCIANO: You know, it's a pretty smart move to pull those firefighters off for a secondary reason, which is the winds are only getting worse.

Since we last talked, they have come up five to seven miles per hour, according to what we're showing here on our radar. This is live, real-time data, 29-mile-an-hour wind right now, down to 18. So, it's between 18- and 29-mile-an-hour winds, right out of north- northeast. And this is near Riverside, California.

Yes, you go up in through the canyon even further, or into the valley even further, and those winds only go up. So, we're seeing the weather conditions continue to get worse for these fires. You couple that with humidities, relative humidities, that are down in the single digits. Mother Nature is not helping, by any stretch of the imagination. And the forecast is for Mother Nature to continue to not help for the next couple of days.

Give you some perspective here. We will widen things out. Bakersfield, L.A, San Diego. There is a wind advisory out for San Bernardino and Riverside counties through 6:00 p.m., local time. That means winds gusting 35 to 45 miles an hour, and, at times, more than that. Zooming in just a little bit to the L.A. area, showing you where this fire is. This is the Salton Sea. This is where Palm Springs is, kind of distanced from downtown L.A. or Long Beach area, about 81 miles, as a crow flies. Obviously, if you're heading down I-10 on a weekend afternoon, that drive could take three, sometimes four hours.

All right. Show you some of the landscape across L.A., flatlands. Then, you go north of L.A., you got the San Gabriels, the Santa Monica Mountains. They're experiencing right now in the 40- to 50-mile-an-hour-gust range.

Up I-10, towards San Bernardino -- incidentally, here is the county line for Riverside County, which is a very large county. And, then, you go north of Riverside County, and we're talking about San Bernardino County. It's one of the largest counties in the country. It's got Big Bear Mountain. It's got the Mojave Desert. It's got Death Valley. It's a huge expanse of land -- Riverside County, no slouch there.

You go from San Bernardino to the fires. We're talking about 25 miles up I-10. And look how it just cuts right through these mountains, unbelievable -- San Jacinto Mountain up here, snowcapped, even into the summertime. And, then, as we mentioned before, these mountains and this cut through the mountains can often exacerbate the situation.

There are wind farms in this area. I wouldn't be surprised, when we see some of these aerial shots, to see the big wind turbines. They get some of their electrical power from this area, from winds going out, and, in this case, coming in, and then down and up and over these mountains.

So, this is the type of rough terrain that Mike Brooks was talking about. And that rough terrain, unfortunately, kind of, you know, makes that wind even stronger. And then we're dealing with desert air, which is very low humidities.

And the forecast is such that it will likely not get any better today. We will see similar conditions tomorrow. Might get a little bit better on Saturday -- no relief in the forecast, at least until late Saturday or Sunday -- guys.

PHILLIPS: Rob Marciano, we will keep talking. Thanks.

MARCIANO: You bet.

LEMON: Rob, they're talking about the fires.

Now let's talk about snow -- the color Colorado, white today. The snow is coming down by the shovel-full. It's even blowing sideways, making driving really tricky there. Schools are closed. And most businesses are closed, too.

But our very own Jonathan Freed, he is on the ground, braving the elements. Tell us how people are dealing there, Jonathan.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we are never closed.

CNN is open 24 hours a day. And we have been here since before dawn this morning, watching this situation just increase. We have got about a foot of snow, at least, here in this area now. And we're starting to see a little bit more activity. It's more wind than anything else right now.

I think there's a little bit less snow than there had been earlier. But the effect of the wind is really whipping it up. We're starting to see some people risking coming outside with their dogs now that we were not seeing during the rest of the -- earlier today.

And schools are closed. Courthouses are closed. Libraries are closed -- people being asked to just stay home. Do not come out outside, unless you really have to.

The interstates, big sections of them are closed. In some cases, it was a rockslide on Interstate 70, which heads west out of Denver. And here, Don, all day, we have been promising to show you Pikes Peak. We have been hoping that maybe it would lift behind us, because it's right there. It rises majestically to 14,000 feet, 7,000 feet above where we are now.

So, in lieu of the actual mountain, I have found a Pikes Peak brochure.


LEMON: Gosh.

FREED: ... which...


FREED: ... which I would like to offer up to you now...


FREED: ... because we have been promising the viewers all day long that they would see this.

And I have to tell you now, get this -- tomorrow, guys, it is supposed to be in the 50s and sunny, and in the 60s here this weekend.


FREED: So, a real roller coaster of weather for the people here in Colorado.

LEMON: And you know what they say about this time of year? If you don't like the weather, wait a minute. It will change for you.

Now, does -- hey, these westbound lanes of Interstate 70 closed -- so, that was due to weather, that rockslide due to weather, there?

FREED: That's right. And it's unclear how long it's going to be closed for at this point. Basically, traffic was being turned around and rerouted. People here were expecting this kind of thing. This is a big deal, if you are not used to this kind of weather. But people here were shrugging at this storm system coming in -- concerned, a clear level of concern, but looking at it and saying, you know what? It usually snows before Halloween here anyway.

And everyone is just playing the waiting game, waiting to see exactly how bad it's getting. The storm is moving to the south right now. Pueblo, south of us, is getting hit a little bit harder than we are now.

And there are some power outages around town here, as well. But we have power here. We have had it all day long. And I think, in many respects, it is not as bad as some people thought it was going to be.

LEMON: Yes. And it's good to keep...

FREED: Not pleasant, by any means.

LEMON: Yes. It's good to keep the right attitude about these things. So far, we're lucky we don't have any injuries in the rockslide and in the weather there.

But we will keep checking back in with you.

FREED: That's right.

LEMON: We have got this happening. We have also got the fires.

Jonathan Freed, on the ground in Colorado Springs, thank you.

PHILLIPS: A 700-mile fence between the U.S. and Mexico, what's the point? Will it make America safer? The president's bill surrounded by debate -- I bet you know what CNN's Lou Dobbs has to say about this. Buckle up. Strap in. He's going supersonic right after the break.


PHILLIPS: Most Americans think the government should do something about illegal immigration. But what and how? That's the tricky part.

Today, 12 days before the election, President Bush signed a bill authorizing a new fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

CNN's Lou Dobbs has made no secret of where he stands on the immigration issue. He joins me now from Washington.

Lou, good to see you.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Good to be you, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: You talk about, constructing the border fence is certainly...


PHILLIPS: ... you say, is a good beginning, but it's not nearly enough.

DOBBS: It isn't. In point of fact, this is really half of a -- of a 700-mile fence along a 2,000-mile border.

It's an important first step. And it's very important that the president today acknowledged his responsibility, his administration's responsibility to secure these borders, and to do so because it is, first of all, in the interest of the nation, national security.

We have -- most of our drugs, nearly all of the amphetamines, methamphetamines, coming into this country originate in Mexico. Nearly all of the cocaine originates in Mexico, is -- either -- is a transportation point crossing that border, and, of course, the vulnerability that is placed in 300 million Americans, because no one knows who is entering this country.

And, so, for those reasons, the president has acknowledged a very serious responsibility that one hopes that he is going to meaningfully and quickly fulfill.

PHILLIPS: We have been watching the town hall meetings.


PHILLIPS: Last night, some good exchanges, particularly one with you and Rosa Rosales, the...

DOBBS: Right.

PHILLIPS: ... the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

DOBBS: Right.

PHILLIPS: Let's take a listen.



DOBBS: Rosa...

ROSALES: We're not being invaded, you know?


ROSALES: What's all this hysteria? Is it because the Latino population is growing in such great numbers that we fear the voting power...

DOBBS: Oh, Rosa.

ROSALES: ... that we fear that they can contribute to this country?

DOBBS: Organizations...



DOBBS: All right.


DOBBS: Rosa, I was so proud of you.


DOBBS: Rosa, I was so proud of you, and then you bring up race.

ROSALES: President Reagan, who is an icon for the Republican Party...

DOBBS: Rosa, as of now, I have no -- I have no interest -- I have no...

ROSALES: What did President Reagan tell Gorbachev?

DOBBS: Rosa...

ROSALES: What did he say?

DOBBS: Rosa.

ROSALES: Tear down that wall!


ROSALES: And now we want to build walls.

DOBBS: Rosa...



PHILLIPS: All right. She's talking about the fear of the voting power.

DOBBS: Right.

PHILLIPS: Yet, you're saying, OK, now, Rosa, don't go there. Don't turn this into race.

DOBBS: Right. Rosa had -- really has no choice. Rosa is the head of LULAC, and it is one of the foremost ethnocentric organizations in the country, focusing on Latino interests, as they define them.

The injection of race and the distortion that she offered up in that town hall meeting was breathtaking -- breathtaking because, first of all, the suggestion that illegal aliens in this country contribute 500-and-some-billion dollars, as she suggested, is an absurdity, and without concerning the cost.

And every study you look at in this country shows the cost of illegal immigration to American taxpayers, to our communities, for social services, for medical services, for the privileges of citizenship which has not been earned to be exorbitant -- great benefits for the illegal employers of illegal aliens, but a crushing burden on local communities, on state governments, and on the federal government.

PHILLIPS: Here we are, election time coming up...


PHILLIPS: ... less than two weeks. My guess is, you are going to say illegal immigration and border security will be the main issue. There are a lot of people saying, no, it's going to be Iraq.

DOBBS: Right.

PHILLIPS: People care more about Iraq.

What is your take?

DOBBS: I have no particular dog in that hunt, Kyra.

I think you're going to see this issue of illegal immigration, of border security, very important to -- to people. I have no way in the world of ranking it as -- amongst the concerns. I know it's a top concern.

I'm not certain how much the war on Iraq will be a focal point of the interest of voters across the country. Historically, midterm elections are very local in their focus, focusing on the candidates that are running for those district congressional offices, and for the senators' jobs in those states.

But to -- for anyone to say what is going to be primary in the voters' minds, I think, is premature, until we see what they have been thinking about.

Secondly, the idea that we have had the lower voter turnout in our country's history in our primary elections this year, the lowest in history for midterm elections, is troubling.


PHILLIPS: Where do you think that comes from? Do you think it's frustration, whether it's Iraq or illegal immigration?

DOBBS: I think that what it comes from is a middle class, some 250 million Americans who are awakening to the idea that neither of these political parties are representing their interests.

Both parties are throwing up these silly, nonsensical wedge issues, suggesting that this election is about gay marriage; it's about Mark Foley; it's about "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance; it's about gun control; it's about abortion; while the real issues facing this country, and particularly our middle class, Kyra, a failing public education system, rising health care costs.

The very foundation of the country, our middle class, is being beset upon by all sorts of economic and political forces that are not working in their interests. Our middle class, for crying out loud, both parties have put them in direct competition with the cheapest labor in the world.

It is unconscionable, what is happening in this country. The middle class is awakening to it. And I think you may see a very strong signal back from voters in this election, saying, you know, to the Republicans and Democrats alike: Until you act in our interests, and until you listen to our needs, we may just simply thumb our nose at you.

PHILLIPS: Lou Dobbs, always a pleasure.

DOBBS: Good to be with you, Kyra.


LEMON: A stare-down is brewing between Sudan and U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan. Annan met today with the U.N. envoy Sudan sent packing for his remarks about the Darfur crisis.

To fill us in, CNN's Richard Roth is live at the headquarters in New York.

Hey, Richard.


Jan Pronk is the secretary-general's special representative for Sudan, the African country where many say a genocide has been going on in the Darfur region. Pronk declined so far to talk to reporters here, but he has met already with Kofi Annan.

He was recalled by the U.N. here. The Sudan says they kicked him out. Sudan says that Jan Pronk, writing on his blog, overstepped his authority, and intruded on military internal affairs. Sudan's ambassador at the United Nations said why his country opposes Pronk being back in Sudan.


ABDALMAHMOOD MOHAMAD, SUDANESE AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: He abused his authority, his mandate. He was not faithful to the mandate of the United Nations. He lost his impartiality and integrity in the country. He became part of the problem, rather than a solution. And, for all these reasons, he left the government with no other choice but to ask for his replacement.


ROTH: Sudan's ambassador said it's a matter of principle; Pronk lied.

As for the U.N., well, Secretary-General Kofi Annan is standing by his man.


STEPHANE DUJARRIC, UNITED NATIONS SPOKESPERSON: His status remains unchanged. He remains the secretary-general's special representative, having been recalled for consultations.

But, obviously, the decision regarding Mr. Pronk, as the decision regarding any special representative of the secretary-general, is the secretary-general's to make.


ROTH: The African union praised Pronk. The Sudanese government said it's willing to work with his replacement.

Don, you mentioned the stare-down between Sudan and Secretary- General Annan. Sudan may have time on its side. Kofi Annan only has a little bit more than two months left in office. And many of his special envoys would likely be replaced in a rotation -- back to you.

LEMON: All right, Richard Roth, thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: Flames and fierce winds, a dangerous combo, east of Los Angeles.

Our live coverage continues. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.



GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I just wanted to say that, this morning, at 1:30 in the morning, we had a fire start in Riverside County.

And that fire has killed three federal firefighters. And one firefighter is critically injured. And there is -- so far, there's 700 people have been evacuated. And we have 700 firefighters battling this fire right now to contain it.

That is all the information we have right now.

My and my wife's and all our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those firefighters that were killed in this fire.


PHILLIPS: The governor is talking about a wildfire driven by fierce winds taking a tragic turn -- live pictures now from our affiliate KABC out of Los Angeles.

All day, we have been following this fire racing across the hills near Palm Springs, California. Hundreds of firefighters were trying to rein it in. They have just been pulled off the front lines, after learning that three of their fellow firefighters were killed.

A Forest -- the Forest Service spokesperson says that they were trying to save a home, when the winds suddenly shifted, and pushed the flames right over them. This is actually the scene right here. You can see the fire truck where those firefighters were trapped.

The other two members of that crew are in critical condition right now. Hundreds of people who live in the area have fled. More than 4,000 acres and several homes have been burned.

And, as you heard the governor there, just to update our script there, he is saying there are 700 people that have been evacuated now, as firefighters are out there, trying to battle this blaze.

LEMON: Rob Marciano, our meteorologist here, is watching all of this very closely.

Rob, you said 18-mile-an-hour winds, but those can gust up to 40, 50 miles an hour?


PHILLIPS: In Iraq, the October death toll is steadily nearing 100. Five more deaths were announced today, that's 96 for the month. And U.S. forces continue to comb Baghdad to find a missing comrade.

That story now from CNN's John Roberts.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The search for that Army specialist who went missing on Monday afternoon from the International Zone here in Baghdad goes on tonight. It has been continuing 24 hours a day. A frustrating search that has led to plenty of leads, but nothing concrete as to the whereabouts of this missing soldier.

Today though, in his briefing Major General William Caldwell, the spokesman for the multinational forces here, said the Army is doing everything it can to try to discover where he is.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY: We're using all assets in our arsenal to find this American soldier. And the government of Iraq is doing everything it can also, at every level. Make no mistake, we will not stop looking for our service member. We ask you to remember him and his family in your prayers.


ROBERTS: Entire neighbors of Baghdad have been blocked off since Monday evening. Checkpoints set up by the U.S. military, the Iraqi police and the Iraqi Army as they search every vehicle going in and out of these neighborhoods for any possible clues as to the whereabouts of this missing Army specialist. The military has also been searching house-to-house in some neighborhoods, going through buildings but, so far, they have come up with nothing to suggest where this fellow might be.

Yesterday during an early morning joint operation between the U.S. and Iraqi military, they got a tip that perhaps he might be being held in a mosque in Sadr City, that's the Mahdi militia stronghold in northeastern Baghdad. The Army had been in there, trying to capture a Mahdi militia commander, who they believe might be leading some of these death squads that have been exacting so much violence here in the sectarian warfare that has consumed Baghdad.

When they got through a two-hour firefight, trying to put down those elements of the Mahdi militia, they moved on toward this mosque. The Iraqi military went inside this mosque.

They did not find the missing soldier in that mosque, but they did come across three people who they believe may have had some knowledge of his disappearance. Those people have been taken into custody, now being questioned by the U.S. military.

But at this point, no word from the military on what they might have found out from these individuals or any hard leads as to the whereabouts of this missing soldier.

John Roberts, CNN, Baghdad.

LEMON: All right, John.

Hold on to the rice. New Jersey still throwing around a hot potato when it comes to same sex marriage. The state supreme court can't quite commit. Details ahead in the NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: September 11, the end of innocence for many Americans. The beginning of nightmare for one British Muslim. He was swept up in a terrorist dragnet cast by the Bush administration. Now freed, he's among those asking, has the president's powers gone too far?

CNN senior national correspondent John King tells us his story.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He began on a very different course, a governor with a famous name who conveyed more west Texas than Washington. Compassionate conservative was his label of choice. Kinder, gentler, his promised worldview. A crisp September morning suddenly changed from gorgeous to gruesome. He whispered words in a Florida school room, transformed a presidency and a president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.

KING: Islamabad, Pakistan, an edgy place in the weeks after September 11th. Moazzam Begg among the newcomers arriving from neighboring Afghanistan after the bombs started falling. He thought he had escaped, until a midnight knock at the door introduced him to the most expansive display of presidential power in American history -- no search warrant, no arrest warrant; enemy combatant was his designation.

MOAZZAM BEGG, FMR. DETAINEE: Dragged across the floor, thrown onto the ground. Our clothes were ripped off with knives, with several soldiers sitting on top of us. We were being kicked, punched, beaten, sworn at, spat at. Dogs were barking around us. We were photographed naked, and then dragged naked and shivering into interrogation rooms where the first questioning began.

KING: The president obsessed with preventing another attack, and convinced people like Begg were the key.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first question was really, what do we do with these guys. It wasn't that they came to us and said, we want to do something; give us a justification for it. They honestly didn't know what the right thing to do was.

KING (on camera): What happens if somebody says I'm torturing these people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What people really want to know is how much flexibility does a president have even to make those kinds of choices.

KING (voice-over): Mr. Bush argues the results justify the extraordinary steps.

BUSH: There can be a legal about whether or not they have the authority to do this. I'm absolutely convinced they do.

KING: Moazzam Begg says the president who jailed him in the name of keeping America safe will some day learn his lesson.

BEGG: Once you take this road and once you go down this road, you're actually make the world a much less safe place, because if that's what the Americans are going to do around the world, then they must accept repercussions.


PHILLIPS: John King joins us live from Washington.

So, John, is the U.S. saying that it was a mistake to detain Begg? KING: Kyra, that is the great paradox of this debate. The CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, to this day, swear that the statement Mr. Begg signed in custody is accurate, and that statement said, according to our intelligence sources, that he trained at three al Qaeda terror camps, that he knew several top al Qaeda operatives and that he planned to take up arms against the United States.

He was released, and the president's national security team objected to this, but Mr. Bush released him in part because of pressure from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, international protest over the treatment of the detainees of Guantanamo Bay, over Abu Ghraib Prison. So the CIA did not want Mr. Begg released.

He says he's not a terrorist. He says he signed that statement under duress after being tortured. But he is still closely being watched, we are told, by both U.S. and British intelligence services. But he is free -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And I'm seeing you're in New York. I apologize. I'm used to seeing you in Washington. You're working on your special report, obviously. President Bush and how we've been talking about his powers and did he push it too far, did he do the right thing? What do people think is his boldest claim of executive authority?

KING: There's some dispute over this. Some in Congress think it is the detainee treatment issue, because the Constitution specifically spells out that it is Congress that should regulate the capture of people during war time. So some in Congress think it is that.

But most presidential historians actually point to the Iraq war as the boldest stroke of a president deciding what his authorities are as commander-in-chief, because the president went into Iraq absent the traditional provocation. No direct attack on the United States, no direct threat on the United States from Iraq. So some say it is Iraq.

Others say it is the global expansive reach, essentially scooping people up on the battlefield, throwing them into custody. Mr. Begg, for example, did not see an attorney for almost three years in U.S custody before he saw an attorney. And there are others who go at least long, as well -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: John King, we'll see you filling in tonight for "A.C. 360," right?

KING: That's right.

PHILLIPS: All right, see you then.

KING: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, tonight, our "BROKEN GOVERNMENT" series continues with "Power Play," anchored by John King. That's at 8:00 p.m., only on CNN.

LEMON: Well, we're watching a dangerous situation in California. Wildfires burning out of control. Three firefighters dead, two of them are injured. We'll have live updates coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Confessed killer goes to his own death signing. For the families of Danny Rolling's five victims, his end signals a new beginning. But no one who lived in Gainesville, Florida, in the summer of 1990 will ever forget Rolling's brutal crimes.

Josh Rojas has more now, from our affiliate Bay News 9 in Stark, Florida.


JOSH ROJAS, BAY NEWS 9 REPORTER (voice-over): The sun was setting on the Florida State Prison when serial killer Danny Rolling was executed at 6:30 Wednesday night. The "Gainesville Butcher" killed five college students in the summer of 1990. He raped three of the women and beheaded another.

Now it was the victims' families turn to see Rolling die.

LAURIE LAHEY, TRACY PAULES' SISTER: To watch him disappear, oh, I don't know. I'm feeling a lot better now.

RICKY PAULES, TRACY PAULES' MOM: Very, very bitter. I was very bitter. Very bitter. I looked at him throughout the whole thing. I saw his breath go out of him.

ROJAS: But before Rolling was executed, he decided to sing a song as his last words. Our partners at the "St. Pete Times" had the only Bay area reporter who actually witnessed the execution.

Here is what he said about Rolling's song.

CHRIS TISCH, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": "He who flung the stars into the heavens above created the oceans, mountains, eagles and doves." And then the chorus, which was "None greater than thee, oh, Lord, none greater than thee." And there were five verses, five choruses. It went on for, I'd say, between two and three minutes.

DIANNA HOYT, CHRISTA HOYT'S STEPMOTHER: I didn't appreciate his song. I didn't understand how he could sit there after the horrendous crimes that he has committed and talk about the angels watching over him.

SCOTT PAULES, TRACY PAULES' BROTHER: In essence, ignored it as much as I could.

ROJAS: Outside the prison, some death penalty supporters showed up. But there were more protesters who held prayer vigils. One of the victims' brothers did not appreciate the protesters.

MARIO TABOADA, MANUAL TABOADA'S BROTHER: For those who believe that something like this is wrong, perhaps the only thing that's wrong is that it's taken 12 years. ROJAS: This hearse took the serial killer's body away from the prison. His victims' families hope Danny Rolling is a name everyone forgets.

TABOADA: He's a piece of garbage. He's gone. Danny Rolling will never kill again.

ROJAS: At the Florida State Prison near Stark, Josh Rojas, Bay News 9.


PHILLIPS: Well, what started as a domestic disturbance investigation has turned into a national security probe. Police called to a mobile home in Los Alamos, New Mexico, discovered a small meth lab, then stumbled on to something bigger: three computer memory sticks from the top secret Los Alamos National Laboratory. The raid took place at the home of a former contract worker. She wasn't there at the time, but two other people were there, and one was arrested. They later talked to CNN and shrugged off fears that nuclear secrets may be at stake.


JUSTIN STONE, SUSPECT: What people don't realize is the information from the labs is really meaningless to us. I mean, for one, half the people that do math don't even know how to spell the word plutonium.


PHILLIPS: FBI investigators aren't convinced, though. They're analyzing the memory sticks to see if they contained any classified information.

LEMON: It's considered the rehab center to the stars. Now it's hosting a former congressman. Mark Foley has been admitted to the 30- day alcohol treatment program at Sierra Tucson in Arizona. Now, the clinic's past clients are said to include Whitney Houston and Ringo Starr. And it's not cheap -- anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 a month. Foley, of course, resigned from Congress last month after he was linked to explicit computer messages sent to teenage male pages on Capitol Hill. Authorities and the House Ethics Committee are investigating Foley's conduct.

Hold on to the rice. New Jersey is still throwing around a very hot potato. When it comes to same sex marriage, the state supreme court there just can't commit. Details ahead in the NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Seventeen years, two kids, does that count as commitment? Still Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden aren't married, can't get married but sincerely want to get married. For them, yesterday's ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court is a step in the right direction but not far enough. Karen and Marcye join me from New York now. Now, Karen is on the left. Marcye is on the right.

Thank you very much for joining us. According to people who were in the courtroom yesterday, they said it was less jubilation more than sort of puzzlement yesterday.

Karen, you turned to your partner I hear and said, am I supposed to feel some sort of relief?

KAREN NICHOLSON-MCFADDEN, MARCYE'S DOMESTIC PARTNER: I didn't. I didn't feel any relief. I think our hope was that, all along, Marcye and I have just wanted to get married. I just wanted to marry the woman that I love and be able to take care of her and protect her and our children and that didn't happen yesterday.

So we're still waiting. We're still hopeful that it will happen and because each of the seven justices yesterday said that under the New Jersey constitution, we've been denied our rights. They all agreed that we deserve all of the rights and benefits and protections of marriage.

To us, part and parcel of that is being able to say we're married, being able to participate in the entire process of marriage, to marry the person you love. So we're very hopeful it's going to happen. There is no relief because we still have to wait another 180 days.

LEMON: And Karen and Marcye, it's amazing how the world changes. You're sitting here on -- you can be seen across the world on CNN and you're holding hands as a couple.


LEMON: You've got two children, Casey (ph) who is 7, and then you've got another, Maya (ph), who is 3 years old.



LEMON: What do you just say about the -- because a few years ago, this may not have happened -- about what is happening now? You're here on television and you can -- you'll have the same rights soon as heterosexual couples.

M. NICHOLSON-MCFADDEN: I think there's no question that we've come a long way in terms of people understanding that gay people are really no different than them. But in terms of marriage, I think, you know, if people say why is the word marriage important to you, it's important for the same reasons it's important to everybody else, that we want to be married.

We don't -- you know, we would love to have all the rights and benefits of marriage but to be married is really what it's all about for us. You know, when you ask people who are engaged, why are you engaged to be married, they don't say to you because we want all the rights and benefits of marriage. That goes with it, of course. But they want to be married because it's person they love. It's the expression of commitment that everybody understands.

LEMON: And, Marcye, you know, you've answered just about every question that I've wanted to ask you here, and we don't have much time. But I want to -- when you look at the pictures of your kids -- and I can see how you're looking at Karen there.

Obviously, you care for her, because you guys are looking at each other. Many times you get couples on and they never look at each other. Tell us about your kids. Have they faced any problems because of this?

M. NICHOLSON-MCFADDEN: They haven't so far. I mean, Casey is 7, Maya is 3.5. It may happen. We have so blessed because we have a neighborhood, a community, family, friends who -- they just -- they love us, they love our kids and so we haven't face that yet. Perhaps we will. New Jersey is a great state. Maybe we never will.

K. NICHOLSON-MCFADDEN: But I think that's part of the point is our experience with people has been wonderful, wonderfully supportive, and now we're just hoping that the New Jersey legislature will reflect the experiences we've had in our neighborhood, with our pediatricians, with our kids' teachers.

LEMON: And I hate to stop it right here and cut you both off, but we don't have much time. Thank you both for joining us.


LEMON: We'll see you in six months.

K. NICHOLSON-MCFADDEN: Thank you so much.


LEMON: Is it civil union or marriage? Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, joining us from New York. Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, the "Closing Bell" and a wrap of action on Wall Street straight ahead.


PHILLIPS: All right. Time now to check in with Ali Velshi in New York, standing by for the "Closing Bell."

LEMON: Hey, Ali.



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