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Search for Kidnapped American Contractors Continues; Iraqis on the Internet

Aired November 18, 2006 - 22:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Grocery shopping, driving, walking. No hard task for you, but for them...



LIN: Ever wondered about life in Baghdad? Iraqis on the Internet. Up front and real.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a wonderful man. I don't know who he is, but I wish he would have told me his name so I could have thanked him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Lord, come here, give me a hug, Santa Claus.


LIN: After 30 years of giving people money, Santa is now counting on the kindness of strangers.

It's no laughing matter.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The people in the Connection Center had been (INAUDIBLE)?


LIN: Whoopi, Billy, and Robin take on the tough questions and provide a few chuckles all in the name of Katrina victims.

And far, far away in a large castle, nestled in a sleepy little town, mission accomplished. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Welcome to the NEWSROOM, your connection to the world, the Web, and what's happening right now. I'm Carol Lin. You've been busy today, so let's get you plugged in. Starting with the latest headlines. Scary moments in New Mexico a short time ago. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from the state fair grounds. Two containers labeled 'radioactive' were found under a car. A Geiger counter detected low levels of radiation. A National Guard team was called in to remove the items.

The family of American Paul Reuben is holding out hope for his release. Reuben is one of five people, four of them American, taken hostage Thursday in southern Iraq. He was working for a private contractor when he was abducted.

And call it a failure to communicate. A spokeswoman says British Prime Minister Tony Blair does not use the word 'disaster' to describe the situation in Iraq. Interviewer David Frost used the word in a question and Mr. Blair appeared to agree. A public outcry prompted the clarification from Downing Street.

Well, it's already Sunday morning in Vietnam. President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush attended church in Hanoi. Mr. Bush plans meetings around the APEC Summit with the presidents of both China and Russia later in the day.

Our Ed Henry joins me live from Hanoi at the bottom of the hour with his own reporter notebook.

Now it lived up to its billing as the game of the year, certainly. Number one ranked Ohio State defeated number two Michigan 42-39. Ohio State still undefeated. The Buckeyes will play for the national championship in January.

Oh, and, by the way, just in case you haven't heard, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes did get married at that castle in Italy. About 150 friends and family, including actress Brooke Shields were there to wish them well. Now you might recall Tom and Brooke had a bit of a spat in the recent past, but they seem to have made up.


BROOKE SHIELDS, ACTRESS: I hope that they're able, amidst all of it, to just look at each other and feel thrilled and happy and peaceful.


LIN: All that good stuff. Now we want to hear from you. Tonight's "last call," the Tomkat marriage -- will it last? Give us a call at 1-800-807-2620. And we're going to air some of your responses later this hour.

And now it's your turn to choose the news. Is there a particular story that you want to hear more about? E-mail us at " or send us your video or webcam suggestion at And we're going to get you the answer within the hour.

Our top story now, a desperate search for five contractors kidnapped in southern Iraq. It's still coming up empty. But today, a claim of responsibility. A video is out reportedly from a Shi'ite group that says it took the four Americans and one Austrian. It's airing on an Iranian-run news station.

Now the video doesn't show the contractors. And CNN cannot independently verify its authenticity.

Now Thursday's kidnapping near Basra is chilling for the thousands of American families who have a loved one working in Iraq, but it is a nightmare come true for friends and relatives of the missing contractors. One of them is Paul Reuben. CNN's Ed Lavandera spoke with his family.


JOHNNIE REUBEN, KIDNAPPED AMERICAN'S MOTHER: I came home from work, I was really tired and I found this note on my door.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This little scrap of paper has never meant so much to Johnnie Reuben, left by her son when he was just a high school senior. REUBEN: It said, important, please open immediately. I love you very much. Love, Paul, 1985. And he was always like that.

LAVANDERA: Twenty one years later, Paul Reuben is an American contractor held hostage in Iraq. This simple note is one of the few things that brought a smile to her face. As we talked with her and his sister in their Minneapolis home.

REUBEN: I thought about him so much last night. I wondered if he's cold, if he's hungry, if he's injured or if he's here.

LAVANDERA: Before heading to Iraq, Paul Reuben spent eight years working as a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb. Three years ago, he was lured by high paying security contractors to work in Iraq. His family says the longer he stayed, the more he loved the work. But a week ago, Paul called to say he was done and that he'd be home in a few days. The job was becoming too dangerous, too violent. Paul's family could sense something had changed.

REUBEN: I always saw his strength every time when it meant that part of that fear that was a reality fear, but not let it overtake him.

LAVANDERA: Paul Reuben's family says they're receiving updates from the U.S. State Department but there's little information, leaving them fearful and upset.

SUZANNE REUBEN, KIDNAPPED AMERICAN'S SISTER: I cry in spurts. And I just hope that my brother, whom I love very much, comes home safe and sound.

LAVANDERA: To those holding Paul Reuben hostage, his mother pleads for mercy.

J. REUBEN: If there is any goodness or kindness left or anything that you can show a fellow man, show it. Because that kindness will come back to you too.

LAVANDERA: Johnnie and Susan Reuben say they're holding on to shreds of hope that Paul will soon be home, alive to celebrate his 40th birthday with a twin brother.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Minneapolis.


LIN: Well, it may be very dangerous work, but the high pay is drawing a lot of American contractors to Iraq. There's an estimated 100,000 of them working in the country. And the jobs, they're as varied as the people.

There is a need for everyone from highly trained former Special Forces soldiers to drivers and cooks and other support personnel. Some won't be returning home. The U.S. Department of Labor says at least 647 civilian contractors have been killed between March of 2003 and September of this year.

Well, the U.S. military death toll is much higher. And today, some of the troops heading to Iraq were among those honored in what's billed as the largest military rally in the nation.

Thousands of soldiers, veterans and supporters took part in the "God Bless Fort Benning" event in Columbus, Georgia. The celebration featured music, and food, and games. The founder of the event says he is moved by the dedication and the sacrifice of the troops.


JACK KIDWELL, DR., FOUNDER, GOD BLESS FORT BENNING: These soldiers are there for us. So we need to be there for them. Those soldiers, they're steady and ready. These guys are trained professionals. And they look young, but they know what they're doing. I've seen them in action.


LIN: And CNN is supporting U.S. troops in their time of need through Warrior 1. It is a totally overhauled hummer making the rounds before it's auctioned off to raise money for special cause. Here's a peek.


ANNOUNCER: CNN's Warrior One. It broadcasts from battlefields in Iraq. Now it's overhauled and on the road for the Fisher House, a home away from home for the families of our wounded vets. A place to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're 800 miles from home. And so, it's not a familiar place.

ANNOUNCER: The time to heal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she wasn't here, it would be a lot harder on us.

ANNOUNCER: The care they need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We found that that support that comes really does aid in the positive power of healing.

ANNOUNCER: CNN's Warrior One, on the road and on its way to the Barrett-Jackson car auction January 20th, where every nickel this hummer commands will be donated to Fisher House. Check out This hummer saw war. Now we will help those who fought it.


LIN: Now in 12 minutes, a very different view of life in Baghdad. Straight talk, fearless Iraqis tell their stories of everyday life to bloggers who risk their lives getting the stories.

And random acts of kindness. Nice phrase, but one man really made it a reality. Now he's revealing hits identity. Find out later, find out why.

But first, they're tickling the crowd tonight in Las Vegas.


ROBIN WILLIAMS, COMEDIAN: It's always good for me to come to Vegas after rehab. I love that.

BILLY CRYSTAL, COMEDIAN: It's a good time for you.

WILLIAMS: Good time for me. It's like going to Colombia. You know, here are you going for detox? Colombia.


LIN: Robin, Whoopi and Billy come together for a night of laughs. Find out how tonight's event will benefit the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Stay right here in the NEWSROOM.


LIN: So here's what you're checking out on tonight. They've been part of police speak for decades, but it looks like it's over and out for 10 codes. Some police departments are dropping them in favor of plain English. But 10-4 is so ingrained, it may still be used.

Also, the Duchess of York wants to be the dancing queen. Sarah Ferguson says that she'd like to be one of the contestants on the hit show, "Dancing with the Stars."

And two puppies with cleft palates are getting some extra TLC from a New York animal shelter. They couldn't nurse on their own, so workers are feeding them with a special syringe. The shelter is looking for a vet who can operate on the puppies. So if you want to contribute, go for more details right there on The NEWSROOM returns in just a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you wanted us to come back, you would be doing things that indicated that you wanted us to come back.


LIN: Well, it's been more than a year since Hurricane Katrina, but the struggle continues. Today in Louisiana, a group of people held a protest over the state's road home program. Only 27 families are reported to have received money from the program, even though it was created to rebuild 123,000 homes. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has acknowledged problems and promises to investigate.

Now next door in Mississippi, people are battling red tape and, in many cases, insurance companies. CNN's Kathleen Koch recently returned to her home town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. And she has an update on what the people there are facing.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): August 29th, one year later.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joanna Dagnel. Ralph Dagnel.

KOCH: A year after the nightmare of Katrina, death, destruction and loss. Bay St. Louis comes together to remember.


KOCH: Nothing has been easy this year. Every step forward a struggle with FEMA, the SBA, and the insurance companies. Exhausted, some are handing the fight to the professionals, lawyers.

KAY WINGATE, BAY ST. LOUIS RESIDENTS: We felt we had no other route to go but to go ahead and get somebody to take it off our shoulders and...


K. WINGATE: Give us a rest. We're tired.

B. WINGATE: We are worn out, physically, mentally.

K. WINGATE: That's right.

KOCH: But a day in court for many on the Gulf Coast will likely be a long time coming.

DICKIE SCRUGGS, HOMEOWNERS ATTORNEY: With all of the thousands of cases, they can't be tried one by one and give justice to people, because justice delayed is indeed justice denied. KOCH: Currently, just one federal judge in Mississippi is available to hear the more than 1,000 lawsuits filed.

SCRUGGS: If you're an illegal alien or a criminal, you'll get a day in court within seven or eight months. If you're a family that got wiped out by wind alone in Katrina, you're not likely to see a day in court any time in your lifetime or that of your grandchildren, even.

KOCH: So some people who've lost everything have settled. Many for just pennies on the dollar. But for others, the fight and the wait go on.

B. WINGATE: We went the mediation. And they offered us 11 cents on the dollar. We are going to stick in there for the duration. If they come up at the -- on the steps of the courthouse and say, we want to close, if they do not give us that, what we want, we're still going in that courtroom.


LIN: You can watch more of the recovery of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Kathleen Koch hosts "CNN Presents: The Town that Fought Back," at the top of the hour.

Well, humor arising from tragedy. Top comedians are pulling out their best jokes tonight, all to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims. Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams are hosting the 20th Annual Comic Relief at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Well, earlier this week, CNN's Anderson Cooper sat down with all three to get their funny and serious takes on what happened last summer.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think if the people in the Convention Center had been predominantly white, the response would have been different?

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, COMEDIAN: I hate to say it because I've never been this kind of person, but yes, I do. I do. This would have never happened in Florida this long. This would have never -- honey, if Disneyland had got hit, do you think, you think that Mouse would be down? We got to get on a boat!

ROBIN WILLIAMS, COMEDIAN: I don't believe they're coming with a trailer!

GOLDBERG: You know, I mean, you know, and I don't take away from...

WILLIAMS: Time once again for the Katrina re-enactment. Everybody, brace yourself. Time to get crowded in a bus again.

GOLDBERG: ...that have had trouble. I don't take away from them at all. And I don't want it to sound like I'm saying that. But this is -- this is a year. You know, as it turns out.


GOLDBERG: What are you going to do?

BILLY CRYSTAL, COMEDIAN: Well, I think what Whoopi said is true. And what it also means is that he and I are going to get audited.

WILLIAMS: My mama grew up in New Orleans.

CRYSTAL: Did she?

WILLIAMS: For sure.

CRYSTAL: Mm-hmm.

CRYSTAL: She did, that's right, she did.


COOPER: Did she really?

WILLIAMS: She was born in Pass Christian, which for years and years and years I thought it was in Louisiana. And then some very sweet southern woman said, "Sweetheart, that's Mississippi." Your mother was trying to upscale herself. Bless her heart. They always say bless her heart rather than "Back that bitch up."


LIN: Oh, now if you'd like to make a difference in the lives of thousands of people affected by Hurricane Katrina, comic relief is asking that you make donations by logging onto their website,

All right next right here in the NEWSROOM, undercover in Iraq. Iraqis risk their lives to tell the world what's really going on. We're going to talk to a young man behind this award-winning blog, alive in Baghdad. That's what it's called, next.

Plus, for decades, he was a town secret Santa. But this holiday season is unlike any other. And we are going to show you why.

And don't forget tonight's "last call. Tomkat's marriage, do you think it's going to last? We're going to have your responses at the end of the hour.


LIN: It's real, it's personal, and it's raw. We're talking about Iraq. Rarely do we get to hear what's actually going on on the ground from Iraqis themselves. That's where "Alive in Baghdad" steps in. The award-winning blog puts cameras in the hands of Iraqi citizen journalists. And they record amazing video entries of daily life in Iraq. Take a look at this, for example.


TELEPROMPT: Each night, Iraqs take turns keeping watch over their neighborhoods to protect their families from death squads."

ISAM RASHEED (through translator): The neighborhood is calm, but there are some places which need protection. The men in these areas will begin to guard them from strangers who are coming to this area, and taking people to their death.

Why are you standing here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To protect this area.

RASHEED: To protect it from what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): To protect it from any stranger who comes here.

Because of the situation now in Iraq, if any stranger comes to our area, we stop him and ask him, "Why are you here? What are you doing here? Did you come to visit someone?"

If he has a gun, we will shoot him, or try to grab him and detain him. But if he has a gun and tries to shoot us, we will shoot him back. It depends on the situation.

RASHEED: What area do you live in. What are you protecting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's Adhamiya.

TELEPROMPT: Seemingly random attacks with rockets and mortars have become more and more common in feuding Baghdad neighborhoods.

Today we speak with Um Basheer, a woman whose whom was struck recently by a devastating rocket.

UM BASHEER (through translator): The first thing I want to say is peace be with you. This is the second thing that happened to me after my husband's murder, which took place on the 25th of February, 2006. As you can see this is my car, which I used to use for transportation and to drive my children to their school. It's worth $7,500 and as you can see, now it's totally destroyed.

On Friday at 10pm, was with my family in my home. We were preparing dinner. We heard a big blast and the doors were shaking and the windows were destroyed and glass was on the floor.

We did not expect that the attack was in the garage of my home.


LIN: Enlightening stories told by Iraqis on the ground. Now earlier this week, I spoke with the 26-year-old founder of "Alive in Baghdad's" blog, Brian Conley. He's an American who enlisted Iraqi citizen journalists to post their stories. And I asked him why he launched this project. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN CONLEY, FOUNDER, "ALIVE IN BAGHDAD": It's really an attempt to sort of tell people in the United States what life is like in Iraq. And not just the United States, but really everywhere. And we have viewers on pretty much every continent except -- sorry, we have viewers on pretty much every continent except Antarctica at this point.

LIN: Well, one of the clips that you showed us, we actually saw an Iraqi version of neighborhood watch. Residents who actually felt that they had to arm themselves and patrol their own streets against gunmen.

CONLEY: Yes, that's something, you know, we've heard a lot about anecdotally, especially in the print news, where they'll talk and they'll say, oh, you know, neighborhoods are starting to arm themselves, they're starting to kind of take on defense themselves.

But in fact, I didn't even know that Issam was covering this story, I think, because he was too worried about security concerns. So when I received the delivery of tapes for that month or that week, I had this footage. And it was really amazing. You know, and it was really great. And I talked to him since then to sort of vet it or check the background.

LIN: Right, because you don't know what's going to happen next. I mean, you're looking, a bomb could explode, shots could be fired. The risks that these men are taking to try to protect their street and their families.

CONLEY: And that's, I mean, that's really the biggest thing for us is that we try to explain to people, look, Iraq most of the time, you know, it's a pretty big country. And even in Baghdad, you know, most places have been pretty calm and are sort of incredibly boring, you know, with no electricity, and the curfews, and things like that, just punctuate by extreme violence.

So in a case like this, nothing happened that night. You know, but maybe the next night something did.

LIN: But you could feel the electricity in the air. You know, I think that's the point that the footage is grainy and you don't know what's going to happen next.

You also had video of this -- of an Iraqi woman whose house was destroyed. Her car, probably one of her only possessions that had any value, was destroyed. And you know it was kind of interesting how she -- she was so philosophical about what happened. Did that strike you, too?

CONLEY: I think it becomes really clear that people in Iraq, as hard as it is to believe, it's just kind of like day-to-day life, you know. And people don't really like it. And they don't really want to accept it, but they sort of say, this is life. You know, this is really just a matter of being straightforward. And at the end of the day, that's the thing we're most interested in doing is to say, you know, "Alive in Baghdad." Right? Like people are there. These are their stories.

LIN: But you heard from people who, what, are -- were former Abu Ghraib detainees, people who are being kidnapped, personal accounts of life during the war. But why would they want to show their faces on camera? Weren't they afraid?

CONLEY: Yes, I would say that probably only one in 10 or less want to talk to us. You know, so I think that's something to keep in mind. Like just because what you're seeing is a very small percentage of the work that we're trying to do and the interviews we're trying to produce.

You know, Omar said to me, I don't understand it. I mean, people are so scared, but they don't want to take a step to do something about it. And to sort of let the world know what's going on. And yet, they're angry about what's going on.

LIN: So is it their anger that gets them in front of the camera, even at the risk of being kidnapped again?

CONLEY: I think that's the thing. Some people they get to the point where they say, what am I doing if I'm not going to sort of take a stand for my country?

LIN: Right. Well, that's what we're seeing, everyday life in Iraq, a very rare, rare view. And thanks to your correspondents and your producers on the ground, because I know that they're taking those risks, too, Brian.

CONLEY: Sure, thank you.


LIN: Now right here in the NEWSROOM with your headlines tonight and tomorrow. Missing in Iraq, Paul Reuben, a former Minneapolis police officer, is one of five missing contractors. Reuben, three other Americans, and an Austrian were kidnapped along the Iraq/Kuwait border Thursday. Reuben's mother says that her son was planning to come home for good after Thanksgiving.

And a shootout in a Maryland mall food court. Three people were wounded, one critically in the incident outside Annapolis. Witnesses say two gunmen got into an argument and then pulled weapons and started shooting.

And radioactive material turns up at the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The National Guard evacuated hundreds from the area after two containers marked 'radioactive' were detected. But police are downplaying it, saying the radioactivity is low and poses no immediate threat.

And former Congressman Mark Foley is grieving the loss of his father tonight. The six-term lawmaker resigned from office in September, disgraced by a scandal involving underage male pages. Foley sobbed as he gave the eulogy, saying he had disappointed his father so much.

And now it's your turn to choose the news. You know, just 30 minutes ago, we asked you to send us your questions regarding stories you hadn't seen covered in the media.

Well, Mariam Fatima writes, "I'd like to see the protest of UCLA students who condemned police for using a Taser on a student."

Well, here's a look at Friday's rally. Students gathered at the university to express their anger. They called for an independent probe of the incident. And the university says it will meet their demands.

Now take a look at this amateur video. On Tuesday, campus police were conducting a routine check of student IDs, look at that, when they tasered an Iranian-American student at a computer lab. They say he refused to show his ID, refused to leave, and urged others to join his resisting. Thanks are Mariam, for your question.

Now the Iraq War is part of a very interesting chat our Ed Henry had with an English teacher.

But here's the twist -- the teacher is Vietnamese. She lives in Hanoi. He's going to join us live from Hanoi next.

And a $10 spot here, a $20 there, small donations adding up to a very big heart. Stay with us right here in the NEWSROOM.


LIN: Well, the holidays are almost here. And if you thought Santa's workshop was still at the North Pole, think again. Apparently, Santa has been doing a little outsourcing to China.

More than 90 percent of the world's toys are now made in China. More than half of the world's shoes are made there, too. And oh, by the way, check your shirt tag. China also makes about half the world's clothes.

And that brings us to President Bush's trip to the APEC Summit in Vietnam, or if you prefer, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. That's what APEC stands for.

The group's official goal is to increase trade across the Pacific Rim. Mr. Bush is expected to meet with China's president tomorrow. He's also talking with the other leaders, who represent the 21 major economies that belong to APEC. Today's meetings also gave Mr. Bush a chance to discuss the North Korean nuclear standoff with the leaders of South Korea and Japan.

And for most Americans, the image of Vietnam was shaped a generation ago, but a lot has changed since then. More than you can imagine.

CNN's Ed Henry is making his first trip to Vietnam. He's traveling with the president. Here's a look at what he found.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Faces of the new Vietnam. As an American, I came to Hanoi thinking I'd find a nation defined by the war, but this is a city bursting with pride. It's moment in the sun -- hosting its first APEC Summit.

Communism still rules, but the experiment with the market economy has taken off. It's now an Asian tiger.

(on camera): I was immediately struck by the constant chaos in the streets, people in perpetual motion. Whether you're walking or riding, it's hard to stay in a lane. And just trying to cross the road is a big-time adventure. And wait till you see what people carry on some of these vehicles.

(voice-over): Televisions, ladders, wide loads, a rolling botanical garden, a mobile shoe store, a family of four on the Vietnamese version of the SUV. I even saw two whiz by with freshly- slaughtered pigs.

Young people are full of optimism, like this 17-year-old girl. A first-year university student, she wants to be an English teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think my family love it very much. You know?

HENRY: Maybe too fast.

The gap between rich and poor is widening. On one street, Hanoi's first Louis Vuitton boutique. Close by, abject poverty. A spanking new convention center built for the summit with energy- efficient solar panels, while decrepit power lines dangle dangerously all over the city.

New buildings sprout up above dusty old bamboo shacks. Still, amid all the optimism and growth, I found reminders of the war sprinkled around Hanoi, like the American B-52 bomber that crashed right in the middle of a neighborhood, or the lake where Senator John McCain's navy plane was shot down.

But people here have moved on. I found this 75-year-old man proudly teaching young people the origins of Vietnam's national anthem. What do you think about President Bush coming here from America?

"This is good," he said, "the people of Vietnam and America are a step closer to healing." The aspiring English teacher said she was happy about Mr. Bush's visit, but had a strong message for him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like the way he make the war in Iraq. You know? So because I don't like war. I like peace.

HENRY: Then she turned the tables on me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think about Vietnamese people?

HENRY: They're very happy.


HENRY: I don't know. You tell me. Why are you so -- you seem very optimistic and happy. Everybody's smiling.

She was shy, but then...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My life now is very OK. I am satisfied.


LIN: Wow, some terrific observations. Ed Henry joins me live now from Hanoi. It's morning there.

Ed great, to have you and thanks so much to share those insights.

HENRY: Sure, Carol.

LIN: I was really struck by the remnant of an American B-52 sitting like a monument to the war.


LIN: Why do you think the Vietnamese people keep the memory alive of such a disastrous war?

HENRY: Well, for one thing, obviously over 58,000 Americans died in that conflict. Thousands more Vietnamese. So they want to remember.

But also, there's a plaque right near that B-52 bomber that talks about Yankee imperialism. Perhaps the Vietnamese government wants to make a political point in case anyone around here gets any idea about democracy. They want to put America in a bad light, even while they're toasting President Bush this week. So I found that interesting.

Also found it interesting that I've been told over the last couple days, I haven't seen it myself, but many people here and the press corps, some people in the White House have noticed that a previous package I filed, when it's been airing on CNN International here in Vietnam, when I've mentioned the Vietnam War, all of a sudden, it goes to bars and classical music plays. The piece is not playing here in Vietnam on CNN International. It's apparently being censored. We don't know why. But people have to remember, this is still a communist government here, Carol.

LIN: So I'm wondering, Ed, what do they make of President Bush and what may or may not come out of the APEC Summit?

HENRY: Well, we're not expecting any major agreement or breakthrough. I think mostly what the Vietnamese leaders and the people wanted to hear was more of a commitment from the American government that there will be an increased amount of trade.

The economy here is just absolutely exploding. You see it everywhere. I saw one Internet cafe that was an Internet cafe/barber shop. You have these small businessmen popping up everywhere.

The president came empty-handed. He wanted to have a final U.S.- Vietnamese trade deal. Congress didn't finish it. He came here and said, look, it's going to get done, there's a procedural problem, but most of the people in the government here wanted to hear that this investment from U.S. companies is going to continue, Carol.

LIN: And what a scenic backdrop behind you. Ed, thank you very much. We've got a developing story now coming into the CNN center, but I want to -- appreciate the time that you gave us tonight.

We have just new information into CNN on those Americans taken hostage Thursday in Iraq. The family of 23-year-old Jonathan Cote in Buffalo, New York, has released this photo to CNN. They confirm that he is among the five contractors, four of them American, who were captured by gunmen posing as Iraqi police.

Now this photo was taken while Cote was serving in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne. He was working for a civilian contractor when he was captured. A member of Cote's family tells CNN they remain optimistic that he will be released, as we all pray for that to happen. We're going to take a quick break. And we'll be right back.


LIN: Just into the CNN Center, you were looking at picture of 23-year-old Jonathan Cote. He is one of the American security private contractors, who was kidnapped in Iraq near the Kuwaiti border.

CNN has spoken to his family, which does not want to make a public statement, but they are optimistic that he will be released.

Also, another contractor we've been able to confirm, Paul Reuben, 39-years old. He is, again, one of the four kidnapped contractors. And his family as well optimistic, but terrified but optimistic that Paul Reuben will be freed one day soon.

Now some people never forget where they've been and do all they can to help others get where they're going. Around this time of year, we see their spirit come alive as they don the role of Secret Santa. But in Kansas City, one man's secret is out. And he says it's a blessing. A story certain to touch your heart from KNBC reporter Bev Chapman.


BEV CHAPMAN, KNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a day filled with snow and anticipation, this Kansas City businessman is about to make dreams come true.

SANTA: Thank you very much. Merry Christmas to you. CHAPMAN: For 10 years, we've followed his giving in Kansas City and to disaster areas across the country. But this year, Santa's path took an unexpected turn.

LARRY STEWART, PHILANTHROPIST: There's people are praying for me that that -- I don't even know them.

CHAPMAN: This man...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's that? One, two, three, four, five, there's some more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh! Thank you! Thank you!

CHAPMAN: ...who gives so much has spent the last eight months fighting for his life.

STEWART: We found a growth in your esophagus. And I think it's malignant.

CHAPMAN: He was diagnosed in April, arrived here at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in May.

STEWART: I got down here and they said that I had four weeks to live without treatment.

CHAPMAN: Last month, he completed his 12th round of chemotherapy.

STEWART: I'm not glad that I got cancer. I'm not happy about it. But I will tell you, it has been a true blessing to me. It's been a blessing because it's allowed me to get some things right that needed to be done. It's allowed me the opportunity to make a connection with my children that I've always longed for. It strengthened my faith far beyond what it's ever been before.

CHAPMAN: Even as he finished his treatment...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a wonderful man. I don't know who he is, I wish he would have told me his name so I could have thanked him.

CHAPMAN: ...he was giving the planning next giving tree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Lord. Come here and give me a hug, Santa Claus!

CHAPMAN: He understands all too well what these unexpected gifts can mean. A little boy who was raised by poor, elderly grandparents in rural Mississippi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Praise the lord. Thank you very kindly.

CHAPMAN: His generosity goes back to a tough time in a young man's life.

(on camera): This is where it all started. It's a barber shop now, but 30 years ago, this place was known as the Dixie Diner. The sign is still up there.

(voice-over): And the man we know of as Secret Santa in Kansas City hadn't eaten for a day and a half when he came here. And he had no way of paying for his meal. That's when somebody said, here, I think you dropped this.


CHAPMAN: To date, he has given...

STEWART: Not counting this year, about $1.3 million.

CHAPMAN: He says illness will not mean the end of all this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know who you he is, nothing, hell of a nice guy, though.

CHAPMAN: He's training other Secret Santas to step up and help out.

STEWART: It is a tremendous rush. It's addictive. Giving is, it is addictive. It just, it makes you feel so good inside, it's healing.

CHAPMAN: Cancer, he insists, is only a detour in this remarkable life.

STEWART: Downstairs, there's a bell. When you get your cancer in remission, you get to ring the bell. I'm going to ring that bell.


LIN: That was Bev Chapman from our affiliate KNBC reporting. And just in case you're wondering, Larry Stewart made millions in the long distance telephone service and cable industry. And while his identity is no longer a secret, he asked that the name of his company remain private.

Well, look, up in the sky, it's not a bird, it's not a plane. It's something much farther out. Our Jacqui Jeras is at the CNN Weather Center with much more on that. We need a drum roll, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we do. And it's not a UFO, by the way either. It's a meteor shower. We've got a pretty decent one to look forward to tonight. Best chance of seeing it geographically is going to be on the East coast. And we're really about an hour away now from the peak viewing time.

It happens every time this year, every November. It's called the Leonid meteor shower.

Now the weather a little bit of trouble here into the Northeast. We have kind of a mix of clear skies and cloudiness. So there are going to be some pockets. And you might be able to get out and see it.

What is it going to look like? Some great pictures to show you from a couple of years ago.

Now this year, not expected to be quite this impressive. However, you should be able to see dozens of meteors per hour. So grab your blanket. Look in the east sky. And look low on the horizon and you'll have your best chance of seeing this between 11:45 and 1:30 in the morning Eastern time. This happens every year from the Temple Tuttle comet. All the debris and dust gets into the earth's atmosphere and it burns up. And that's why you see such an impressive display.

Now if you do happen to be out tonight and see it, we want you to show us your pictures. Go to here. And we've got a special link on here tonight for any kind of space weather that you happen to see. So click on the link and send us any pictures that you happen to see tonight. And we'll go ahead and show those on the air hopefully tomorrow.

We do have some great ireports from earlier in the week. This picture coming in from Doug Bush. He's from Chermengel (ph) Forks, New York. They had a lot of flooding in upstate New York the last couple of days. He said the road is washed out from his house. And unlike the driver of this truck, he's not brave enough to drive along the road. I think that's some good advice, Doug. He said it's the most floodwaters he's seen here in 30 years.

From too much rain to not enough. Got a picture in New Mexico at this hour from Carolina Green of Taos, New Mexico. She took this picture a couple of days ago as a cold front moved on through. A short-term drought going on in northern New Mexico. Nothing severe, but just abnormally dry conditions.

And by the way, look at those mountains in the background. Taos Ski Valley opens up on Thanksgiving. And we want you to vote. If you don't want to take the time to bring us the pictures, well at least you can vote on some of the best ones.

There's a collection from the last month. Click on the one that you like. Place it in number one, two, and three. And those that do get the best pictures, Carol, check it out. An ireport T-shirt.

LIN: Oh, awesome.

JERAS: Says "I report for CNN." So and look for the little ireport link. Looks just like that. You can't miss it.

LIN: You got it. All right. Thanks very much, Jacqui. And looking forward to those pictures of the meteor shower.

JERAS: Absolutely.

LIN: OK. In the meantime tonight, we did have some breaking news. There was a shooting inside a Maryland mall outside of Annapolis. Three people were injured inside this mall. According to the Associated Press, two of them were an elderly couple. All right, so we're following the story very closely. We now have a story from WBAL. Kerry Cavanaugh reporting in from the scene.


KERRY CAVANAUGH, WBAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Saturday night at the mall turned into Saturday night CSI when gunshots triggered panic in the food court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about five loud bangs. And then I didn't know what it was at first until I saw everybody running. And I looked into the food court and there was people, like, hiding under the tables.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden, a lady comes running in frantically telling everyone to duck, duck, there's a guy out there shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A whole bunch of people started running and started ducking. And I realized something was big, but I didn't realize it was like a shooting.

CAVANAUGH: Police say it all started with an argument between two teenagers at Westfield Annapolis Mall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of those individuals pulled a handgun and began shooting at the second individual. At that time, an individual who was in the immediate area, and we understand is an off-duty federal agent, drew his service weapon and began exchanging fire with the first assailant.

CAVANAUGH: Investigators say the federal agent and teenage gunmen were both shot and flown to shock trauma. One of other person was wounded and rushed to a nearby hospital. The scene cleared out the food court, but didn't close the mall or even deter those dining next door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finished the dinners, got a couple of scared little kids and three milkshakes, and tried to calm some people down.

CAVANAUGH: Now detectives are reviewing mall surveillance tapes to make sense of a chaotic crime scene.


LIN: All right, our thanks to Kerry Cavanaugh, who's covering that story on the scene for WBAL. We'll be following the story as well for you.

Meantime, the fanfare, the frenzy, the fireworks. The sights and sounds from this year's big celebrity wedding next in the NEWSROOM.


LIN: A lot of weddings took place all across the country today, but maybe you heard about the one over in Italy. Apparently, it was so perfect, it almost seems like every little detail was on cruise control.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have absolutely no official confirmation that the wedding is going to take place here in Bracciano, only the fact that there are a lot of journalists, that the city center has been closed off. As far as the Italian authorities are concerned, that state whatever ceremony will take place here, possibly a Scientology one, will not be recognized by the Italian state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can finally report that Tom Cruise and soon to be his wife, Katie Holmes, are here in Bracciano. She arrived a couple of hours ago. So the couple is here. The wedding will take place.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do know that it will not be a Catholic ceremony. The local priests here, who according to tradition must give permission for a Catholic wedding to take place have said no because Cruise is divorced, among other things.

We do understand that the ceremony will take place at some point within the next hour or so perhaps. You've seen everything behind me is ready. The candles have been lit.

What we do know, however, is that the wedding did take place and the people here absolutely going crazy and enjoying every moment of it after a crazy day in Bracciano, where Hollywood really met a small village in Italy.


LIN: We're still waiting for the official wedding picture. But that was our Alessio Vinci covering this developing story over there in that castle in Italy.

A check of the hour's headlines after the break. But first, your responses to our "last call" question. TomKat's marriage, do you think it'll last? Here's what you had to say.

CALLER: I don't think it will last, because the celebrity marriages today last an average of a couple of years. And then they're on to somebody else. And some other philosophy. It's very sad to watch really.

CALLER: Hello, my name is Amy. I'm calling from Abilene, Texas. I personally do not think that the marriage will last. I feel that Katie is still very young. And I think that she's still -- has a lot to see out in the world, and Tom Cruise is more experienced than her. And I just give it maybe two or three years.

CALLER: I say, who cares? There's more important things in life than those two. CALLER: I don't think their marriage is going to last, because I don't think the media is going to stay out of their business and let them live a normal life.

CALLER: I really hope that their marriage lasts, but I've had my doubts because of the age difference.


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