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PAULA ZAHN NOW

President Bush's Meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Delayed, Iranian President Writes Open Letter to Americans, Poisoned Spy Fallout, Paxil May Increase Risk of Birth Defects

Aired November 29, 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: Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for being with us tonight.
There's important news coming into CNN all the time. Tonight, we are choosing these top stories for a more in-depth look.

The "Top Story" in the war: a summit conference that hasn't happened so far. Iraq's prime minister cancels a meeting with President Bush, after a leaked memo exposes U.S. doubts about the Iraqi leader's ability to govern his own country.

An international spy mystery is a "Top Story" once again -- the fallout this time, tens of thousands of unsuspecting airline passengers who may have been exposed to radiation.

Then, on to the "Top Story" in crime today: shooting to kill. In the wake of a deadly police shooting in New York, 50 bullets fired at an unarmed man, we have an amazing look at how police are trained to react and show restraint when bullets fly.

Our "Top Story" is the war tonight, and disturbing new signs that the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is in danger of falling apart. Today alone, we have seen a leaked White House memo question Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to govern. We have seen more horrific bloodshed in Baghdad, and the beginnings of the new Iraqi political crisis.

But the most unexpected thing we have seen so far is President Bush getting stood up by Iraq's leader, as a crucial summit conference gets under way in Jordan.

From Amman, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has the very latest for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under extreme pressure on all sides to stop the carnage in Iraq, President Bush, Jordan's King Abdullah and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were scheduled to meet here in Amman, Jordan, tonight -- but an abrupt cancellation. The president took the call aboard Air Force One en route. He was being stood up by the prime minister of Iraq.

White House Counselor Dan Bartlett insisted, it wasn't a snub, but that, because Maliki and the king sat down earlier in the day, the three of them no longer needed to meet. Mr. Bush's and Maliki's face- to-face talks are still planned for tomorrow.

But, even before the president arrived, the summit looked to be off to a rough start. First, a secret and very blunt memo was leaked, expressing White House doubts, whether Maliki was capable of quelling the violence in his country. Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Maliki had good intentions, but that "Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Second, backers of the radical Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr made good on their promise, when they withdrew their support from Maliki's government, in protest of his planned meetings with Mr. Bush.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered a speech in the Middle East, saying he believes the violence in Iraq should be called a civil war, adding, if he were still in the administration, that's what he would do.

(on camera): The summit comes at a critical time for both leaders. Their credibility is on the line. This is a game of high- stakes diplomacy -- President Bush, of course, under pressure to change course in Iraq. And Maliki is under pressure at home to show his strength and independence from the Bush administration -- Paula.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux with the very latest for us.

And my colleague Anderson Cooper went to Jordan, expecting cover the results of tonight's meeting between the president and Iraq's prime minister. But, with tonight's session canceled, the story takes on added urgency and uncertainty.

And Anderson now joins me from Amman.

So, Anderson, how is this playing there? Do people believe this was a snub, or not?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Well, it -- it's certainly hard to imagine what else to describe it. Certainly, this is not what the White House expected.

Obviously, as Suzanne was reporting, they got the call aboard Air Force One, really not even much advanced notice of this. Clearly, al- Maliki under intense measure from -- from forces back inside Iraq, as Suzanne noted. Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr had withdrawn their support from the government. That's some 30 -- some -- some 30 seats in parliament, some six government ministries.

There -- there is real question about the power of al-Maliki to operate, to rule without Muqtada al-Sadr. And that, of course, is a worrying fact for -- for -- for the U.S. So, it is certainly not a good night for this White House. They had hoped that this summit would show President Bush in charge, would show President Bush on -- on the move, with some forward momentum, trying to at least look for solutions in Iraq.

This is certainly not the kind of evening they expected to have. They point out, of course, that, tomorrow, there will be face-to-face meetings. The summit will continue.

And we will, of course, be watching -- Paula.

ZAHN: The face-to-face meetings might happen, or -- or are expected to happen. But -- but the truth is, tonight, there are a lot of people who believe that this leaked White House memo, which basically called into question al-Maliki's ability to lead, is going to hurt the process.

What impact do you think it will ultimately have?

COOPER: There's no question I think there's a lot frustration among administration officials that this memo was leaked.

I mean, the fact that, you know, within 24 hours of -- of a meeting, of a high-level meeting, between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Iraq, to have this memo leaked, put -- given out to "The New York Times" on their Web site late last night, as we were reporting, is -- was -- I think was probably of great concern to -- to many in the White House.

It is -- certainly cannot be interpreted in any positive way by al-Maliki. And whether or not this cancellation of the meeting tonight is -- is a direct result of that, we don't know. But it -- it's hard to imagine this thing happening in a vacuum.

ZAHN: Anderson Cooper, you have got that right. That's what most of the prevailing wisdom is here tonight, as well. Appreciate your update.

And please join Anderson tonight at 10:00 p.m. for much more from Jordan on the rough start to this U.S.-Iraqi summit.

Our next stop is Iraq itself, where the horrifying violence isn't letting up.

For the latest political or diplomatic crisis, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins me now from Baghdad.

First off, Nic, help us better understand what Mr. al-Sadr's intentions are here.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Really, Sadr is in a power play with Nouri al-Maliki.

Nouri al-Maliki wouldn't be prime minister in Iraq would the backing of Sadr. Sadr had clearly seen this leaked memo as well. The implication of the memo is that some of the politicians around Nouri al-Maliki are distasteful, that their views and positions are too extreme.

Sadr isn't -- isn't named in it directly, but he can read between the lines, too. And it's clearly a message he's sending, a very clear message, to Nouri al-Maliki: Don't go down that road with President Bush. Don't do any deals with President Bush. I'm the real power broker here in Iraq. And, while you're in Jordan, I'm going do make trouble for you back in Amman and make it very embarrassing for you, make it very difficult for you to make any progress there in Jordan.

ZAHN: So, given that threat, how is Mr. al-Maliki expected to respond to this?

ROBERTSON: He's in a very, very difficult position.

I mean, clearly, he -- he's very likely displeased with what he has seen in that memo. It makes him look like a puppet of the U.S. The memo goes on to describe what we can do for al-Maliki, how we can convince him, how we can push his position, change his position, how we can influence this democratically elected government.

So, it puts him in a very weak position, in Iraqi eyes. It is going to be very difficult for him to go into a meeting with President Bush, and then come out and speak in clear conscience to -- to the Iraqi people afterwards.

We have noted this evening a memo from his office, saying that, almost as soon as he gets done with his meeting with President Bush, he will be on a plane back to Iraq, holding a press conference here, very likely trying to lay out his new position.

But it -- he has -- he has been put in a very, very difficult position. He's being undermined on both sides here -- Paula.

ZAHN: And, given that, does anybody think anything useful will come out of this summit tomorrow?

ROBERTSON: The assessment that we have been hearing is that there is very little that's useful that could come out of it.

A lot of the context we have been hearing in the run-up has been that there needs to be more support for the Sunnis in Iraq. That's not something Nouri al-Maliki's government has been seen to be delivering, at least by the Sunni community here in Iraq.

What he can get out of this meeting that he can tangibly bring back to Baghdad to make a change on the ground here, to alter events, I don't think there's anyone in Baghdad tonight that really thinks, when -- when the prime minister comes home to tomorrow, things are going to begin to change. They just don't -- they can't imagine what it is he would bring back with him that could do that -- Paula.

ZAHN: Nic Robertson, thanks so much. Appreciate the update.

There is another "Top Story" from the Middle East tonight. Iran's president has some things he wants you to know. Coming up: What's in the open letter he addressed to noble Americans?

Then, a little bit later on, the latest twist in the case of ex- Russian spy who was killed by radioactive poisoning -- why is radiation showing up now on airliners that have carried some 30,000 people so far this month?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: our top international story tonight focuses on Iran. It is the Islamic fundamentalist power the White House blames for fueling the violence in Iraq, and the country the U.S. may have to go to for help.

Well, today, the always unpredictable Iranian president sent a message and warnings directly to the American people and to the newly elected Democrats in Congress.

State Department correspondent Zain Verjee has been working on the story all day long, and just filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're talking not to each other, but at each other. Iran's president has sent a letter to the American people, saying the war in Iraq has ruined Iraq and cost the U.S. too much blood and money.

"I consider it extremely unlikely," he says, "that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure."

President Bush, earlier this year, had this message for Iranians.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty.

VERJEE: Regardless, Iran considers itself a force to be reckoned with.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say, Iran is fueling much of the bloodshed in Iraq, backing Shia groups fighting Sunnis. And that's not all. In Lebanon, Tehran is a key supporter of Hezbollah guerrillas, currently pushing the government to the brink of collapse.

In the Palestinian territories, Iran backs militant groups, like Hamas, that launch attacks against Israel. And don't forget about the oil. Iran is drenched in it, at a time when oil prices are volatile -- a powerful and confident country in a region on fire.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, IRAN ANALYST, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: And the perception in Tehran is that, right now, what is taking place is a regional war between the United States and Iran for -- for power and influence in the Middle East.

VERJEE: And now the buzz in Washington, ahead of a highly anticipated report on the way forward in Iraq, is, talk to the enemy.

ROB MALLEY, MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA PROGRAM DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: The U.S. and Iran are going to have to sit down and put all their issues on the table, or you are not going to find an Iranian regime that's prepared to play ball in Iraq.

VERJEE: Iranian officials say, that's why they won't make concessions to the U.S. for free.

SADJADPOUR: The problem is, is that the price tag on engaging Iran in 2006 is much higher than the price tag of engaging Iran in 2003, before the Iraq war was prosecuted.

VERJEE: So, what could this cost the U.S.? The Iranians say, stop talking about regime change and treat Iran like a regional power and with respect, and drop threats of sanctions over its nuclear program.

The U.S. has agreed to joint talks with Iran, if it stops enriching uranium first. Iran says, talk to us now about all the issues.

With so much hostility on both sides, one-on-one talks seem unlikely. But an international peace conference that includes Iran, Iraq and their neighbors and the United States could be the winning formula.

(on camera): Some experts say, Iraq is already lost, and there's really no point in engaging Iran, adding that, by giving it too much power, it could create even more trouble.

Zain Verjee, CNN, at the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: But the question tonight is, does the U.S. have anything to gain from closer relations with the Iranian government?

Let's bring in a "Top Story" panel now that will be with us for the whole hour, syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock, Air America radio host Laura Flanders, and Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate.com.

Glad to have all three of you together.

DEROY MURDOCK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: How are you?

JACOB WEISBERG, EDITOR, SLATE.COM: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: You're so civil.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MURDOCK: ... haven't said a word.

ZAHN: But we are just getting started here.

The U.S. government is saying this does not even dignify a response, any reaction at all to the Ahmadinejad letter, calling it a P.R. stunt. But I found it stunningly arrogant, to the point where this guy is actually offering Democrats advice for 2008.

What did you make of the letter?

MURDOCK: A real Hallmark moment, isn't it?

Well, this guy can write a lovely letter. But I think what is more important are -- are his broader policies. I mean, this is the government that supported Hezbollah, that continues to support people in -- in Lebanon who are trying to destabilize that government.

We saw, in that package earlier, a picture of the Ayatollah Khomeini up on the wall. And this still a -- a government of people who are very much admirers of what the Ayatollah Khomeini -- who, of course, had Americans held hostage for 444 days back in the late '70s and early '80s. I don't think they have really changed their tune very much. And now they are trying to get atomic weapons. So, I think, if we talk to them, we are really going to get ourselves in a world of hurt.

ZAHN: Do you think it's a government that we should be engaged in any kind of talks with?

WEISBERG: Well, Iran is an enemy of the United States. Sometimes, you talk to your enemy, because you hope it serves your interests. But we shouldn't be under any illusions about what's going to come out of that. Iran is not going to change its policies in Iraq or its pursuit of nuclear weapons because we invite it to sit down at a table.

But I do think we're making a real mistake -- I think Bush makes a real mistake -- not responding to these letters. Ahmadinejad is a skillful propagandist. His last letter, which is -- was addressed to Bush, was not really directed to Bush or to the American people. It was directed to the Arab world. And...

ZAHN: Isn't this one -- the intended audience for this one, too, the -- the Muslim moderates?

WEISBERG: Exactly the same.

And, when Bush says, we are not going to dignify this with a response -- I mean, the Bush people are supposed to be pretty good propagandists, too. This is a good time for them to show us some of that skill, and answer in kind, and try to win some of those same people that Ahmadinejad is trying to win to his side over to ours.

ZAHN: How would you answer this letter, if you were President Bush?

(CROSSTALK)

LAURA FLANDERS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I thought it was very nice to get a letter. I think we would rather have diplomatic relations, frankly.

I mean, I think that this, if anything, is an opportunity for the United States to say, we need person-to-person communication. We need these two people to be communicating, these two countries to be communicating.

I didn't need Ahmadinejad to tell me that, you know, my president is trampling on my rights, and -- and making the United States hated in the world. I didn't need him for that. But we do need to know what's happening in Iran. No wonder we think they're crazy.

ZAHN: But he did say Americans were truth lovers and justice- seeking.

FLANDERS: He talked about "we."

ZAHN: He likes the American people, but not the...

FLANDERS: He talked...

ZAHN: ... American -- U.S. government.

FLANDERS: Well, exactly. And talked about a "we." And I think, you know, if he's summoning American people to be global citizens, that is not a bad thing.

ZAHN: What is the risk of engaging with Iran, on any level?

MURDOCK: Well, I think there's a great column by "National Review Online" by Andrew McCarthy, a federal prosecutor.

And he said, when we were fighting the Mafia, we never said, hey, let's sit down and talk to these guys.

The risk is, you legitimize a government that, in many respects, I think is illegitimate. And you basically raise their international profile, their international stature and prestige and respectability. And, when you're dealing with a guy like Ahmadinejad, who not only do I think pursues a lot of violent policies and -- and promotes terrorism, this is a very strange man, who, at the United States -- at the U.N. Security Council, said that he was talking -- talking -- talking to the delegates, and, all of a sudden, everything stopped, and he saw a great green glow that was -- that filled the room.

(CROSSTALK)

MURDOCK: The guy seems to have a certain flakiness factor that really disturbs...

(CROSSTALK)

FLANDERS: ... the point is, people that you have a disagreement with, you want to talk with, not fight with. Haven't we learnt that?

Plus, talk about arrogance. This is not the United States' moment any longer. If this president had a moment, it is gone. U.S. power in the region, if it was in the ascendancy, it is in the descendancy. I think we have got to talk to the region, maybe not Iran alone, but the region has got to come together, and help us in Iraq.

WEISBERG: We have had a policy of isolating Iran since 1979. Look where it's gotten us.

FLANDERS: Exactly.

WEISBERG: It has got us Ahmadinejad.

And I think, at this point, try something else. It's like Cuba. It is like North Korea. It is like Burma. Isolating these totalitarian regimes makes them more totalitarian, more extreme, and more anti-American.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Let's quickly move on, before I let you go, to what was perceived as a total diplomatic crisis today, when the prime minister of Iraq apparently so-called snubbed the president, and did not meet with him today -- of course, will meet tomorrow.

Was that because of the leaked White House memo?

FLANDERS: I think so. I mean, the guy didn't like being...

ZAHN: Which basically questioned his ability to govern.

FLANDERS: Exactly. I mean, the guy didn't like being a puppet. I think he likes even less being set up to be the scapegoat for this disastrous policy. And he said: No way. I am going to stay home.

MURDOCK: This is yet another example of "The New York Times" taking classified information, leaking it, and frustrating American diplomacy.

WEISBERG: Oh, please.

ZAHN: Oh, you don't think that was fed to "The New York Times"?

(CROSSTALK)

MURDOCK: Well, it might have...

(CROSSTALK)

MURDOCK: Well, look, if the -- if the Bush administration wants to get this -- this information out, they should declassify the memo and hand it out, and say, here's what we think.

FLANDERS: That's not their way of doing business.

MURDOCK: OK. If that's not what they want to do...

(LAUGHTER)

MURDOCK: ... and somebody sneakily let this out, A, that shouldn't have happened, and the person should be prosecuted. ZAHN: You get the last word.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: ... to do it in eight seconds.

MURDOCK: And, second -- and, secondly, "The New York Times" again is -- is frustrating American diplomacy...

(CROSSTALK)

WEISBERG: "The New York Times" should always get a signed permission slip from the Bush administration before it does anything, I think.

MURDOCK: These days, I agree with you.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: All right, trio, thank you. We will see you a little bit later on...

MURDOCK: Thank you.

WEISBERG: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: ... at the back end of the show, Deroy Murdock, Laura Flanders, Jacob Weisberg.

ZAHN: On to one of the most bizarre top stories of the week: the fatal poisoning of a former Russian spy. Tonight, the investigation is turning up traces of radiation on British airliners. And some 30,000 passengers may have been affected. We will have the very latest on that for you coming out of London.

And, then, a little bit later on: Amid the controversy over a police shoot-out that killed an unarmed man, we have a dramatic look at how officers train to make split-second decisions about when to shoot or when to hold back.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: On to our "Top Story" now in crime: A real-life and very deadly spy drama now could threaten tens of thousands of people.

Less than a week after former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko died of radiation poisoning in London, traces of radiation have been found on two British Airways planes. Now the airline has to found more than 30,000 passengers who actually flew on them.

Matthew Chance is covering this chilling story from London for us tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): British Airways now confirms that low-level traces of a radioactive substance have been detected on two of its Boeing 767 aircraft.

No one has confirmed that it's the same as the polonium 210 that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. A third B.A. plane has been grounded in Moscow, until a team of British forensic experts can get there.

The three aircraft made a total of 221 flights since late October, about the time Litvinenko was poisoned. All the flights are between London and European cities. As many as 33,000 passengers may have been exposed. B.A. says it will try to contact each one of them. Some may be referred for radiological tests. The largest number of affected flights were between London and Moscow, renewing questions about the origin of the poison.

Litvinenko was a severe critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He claimed Putin had ordered him killed, a charge the Kremlin denies. There have been reports that Litvinenko himself may have been the source of the radiation on the planes, but his associates in Britain have denied he traveled after falling sick.

A Russian who met Litvinenko on the day he was poisoned, former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoy, did travel to Britain from Moscow. Police have refused to comment on whether he is now being sought.

Of course, the substance could have been transmitted by another B.A. passenger who unknowingly came in contact with the radioactive material. British police have been retracing Litvinenko's steps. Traces of the substance he was poisoned with have already been detected in a number of locations across London. And, so far, dozens of people have been examined for radiation exposure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Well, the British authorities have been playing down the impact on public health of this radiation contamination. Likewise, British Airways says it has been advised by the government, Paula, that the amount of radiation discovered on its aircraft won't cause much harm to the public -- small comfort, though, to the thousands of passengers and staff who may have been exposed -- back to you.

ZAHN: Yes, I can imagine anybody who had flown on one of those flights that has to identify themselves as a passenger is going to be pretty frightened doing so, even though they're told not to worry about it.

Matthew Chance, thanks -- really fascinating story.

Now, tonight's "Top Story" in law is the continuing rage over a shoot-out where police fired more than 50 bullets, killing an unarmed man -- next, a shoot-out that looks real and is deadly serious, but is actually meant to teach officers when to fire, when to risk their lives by holding back. It's the closest you will ever get to this kind of training exercise.

A little bit later on: Colin Powell is now calling Iraq a civil war. Is it time for the rest of us to do the same? I will ask my always opinionated colleague Glenn Beck, when he joins me for our weekly chat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. Now onto the top story in law, the latest developments in the police shooting of three unarmed men in New York City. One of them was killed just hours before his wedding.

Well, today, family members, including grieving bride to be, made an emotional visit to the scene. Civil rights leaders are demanding answers to a very troubling question: Why did police fire a deadly volley of 50 shots when none of the men even had a gun?

That question led investigative correspondent Drew Griffin to a training simulator, the same kind the NYPD uses where police go through a grueling course to prepare them for that heart-stopping, life and death decision to draw their guns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Magazine (ph) seated. Charged weapon. Should be on.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sheriff's deputy Kevin Casal has only a few seconds to decide, crouched behind a barrel, his gun aimed at a man with a knife at a hostage's throat. All three of their lives will be forever changed if Deputy Casal squeezes that trigger or not.

Fortunately for him, this is just training in an air-conditioned studio. But the nervous sweat shows just how real it can feel.

Captain Carl Sims has brought five members of the Gwinnett County, Georgia SWAT team to FATS, a virtual training facility where police officers practice making split second life and death decisions. Here they learn not only when to shoot or not shoot, but if they actually could shoot and kill another human being.

CAPT. CARL SIMS, GWINNETT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: And that's what I love about this scenario, because you can sit there and when you go home tonight you think about it and you sit down and you have a talk with yourself, your God, whoever your inner soul is, and decide what you are made of and what you can do. Is this really what I want to do for a living?

GRIFFIN: I'm about to learn some of that myself.

SIMS: When you can use deadly force and when you cannot use deadly force as a police officer.

GRIFFIN: The rules sound simple.

SIMS: Not a slap on the wrist, OK? Not a punch in the nose.

GRIFFIN: If someone is threatening me or someone else with a serious threat that could lead to death, then shooting is justified. In practice, it becomes much more complicated.

(CROSSTALK)

GRIFFIN: It is a domestic abuse call. A frantic family says someone in a back bedroom is being attacked. My partner opens the door. A man choking a woman. No weapons visible.

(on camera): Step away, sir. Step away from her, sir.

(voice-over): I hesitate because the man has no weapon. Captain Sims says the weapon is his hands on the girl's throat. He would shoot.

SIMS: If that is your child on that bed, are you going to wait?

GRIFFIN (on camera): No.

SIMS: OK, that is someone else's child and you have got to make that choice, yes or not. It is a hard decision; it's not an easy decision.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): A second later, my decision becomes easy. The man attacks my partner, grabs her gun, I open fire.

Back to Deputy Casal, focused on the man with a knife. Like me, he hesitates. It's a mistake. The criminal kills his hostage before Kevin can kill him.

GRIFFIN (on camera): What happened?

DEPUTY SHERIFF KEVIN CASAL, GWINNETT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: He stabbed her.

GRIFFIN: She is dead.

CASAL: It's a hard decision to make. Especially, like how Captain Sims said. It's a hard decision to make in here but it's even harder out on the street and you have got to live with it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Casal hopes he never has to make the decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officers have responded...

GRIFFIN: But it is always there for any police officer -- shoot or don't shoot.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And once again, we turn to our top story panel, Deroy Murdock of the "New York Post," Laura Flanders of Air America Radio, and Jacob Weisberg of Slate.com. Welcome back.

We have just been given an incredible view of what it is like for these police to train and have to make these split second decisions they make. Is there any justification for the 50 shots that were fired at this unarmed man?

DEROY MURDOCK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think one thing we ought to think about -- and there's a lot of speculation. We're investigating to see what really happened, but what the perceptions were of the victims and the police. These were undercover cops.

They were not in uniform and it's entirely possible when these guys walked out of that night club and sat in the car, they suddenly see five people coming at them in civilian clothing with guns out. They might have thought, oh my god, we are being robbed, let's get out of here.

They throw the car into reverse and hit the police car behind them. Throw it -- drive out in front and almost run over one of these guys, and the thought might have been let's get away from these criminals right away.

The cops, in turn, see the guys going off at high speed thinking, oh my god, these criminals who they think have guns are trying to peel out of there in a hurry, and then you get this awful sort of situation. That may have been -- something else may have happened and may have been what was in their two sets of mine.

LAURA FLANDERS, HOST, AIR AMERICAN RADIO: We're all carefully psychoanalyzing the cops here, and I'm afraid your package -- what I saw of it -- was a little misleading in that the pictures of the stories presented there looked like violent incidents and you have the final one of someone having their throat -- that is not what happened.

We have three unarmed men in a car driving away. There were simple violations involved here. You're not supposed to shoot more than three times without pausing. You're not supposed to shoot at a vehicle that isn't firing at you at all. You're not supposed to pursue a vehicle if you're undercover. You're blowing the cover.

ZAHN: Do you think these men were targeted because they were black?

FLANDERS: I think there is -- you know, talking about crime control, talking about interaction in our society without talking about racism in this context, it's like talking about -- you know, saying that the guns made no difference or bullets made no difference.

ZAHN: So what are you saying? That's the reason why they were shot?

FLANDERS: I think racism plays a role and I think that, you know, until we see white young men, unarmed, dying in the sort of numbers that we see young black men, we have to deal with the idea that there's a race question here.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: The mayor has said he doesn't believe race had anything to do with this tragedy.

JACOB WEISBERG, EDITOR, SLATE.COM: The point is, we don't know what happened. And the question is what you do in the absence of real information. Obviously, this merits an investigation. Police shooting 50 bullets at men who turned out to be unarmed, we've got to investigate that.

There's been a lot of criticism of the mayor for inviting Al Sharpton and other African-American leaders into City Hall and saying that it looked excessive to him, but it seemed to me he did the right thing. He tried to avoid what Giuliani did during the Diallo shooting, which was to not let Sharpton anywhere near it and ended up inflaming the racial dimension to that incident. I think Bloomberg worked to diffuse it, and I think he took right steps today.

MURDOCK: I think it is very important to point out one key fact here, which is of the five cops, two of them were black, two of them were white, one of them was Hispanic. So it's a little hard to believe that they had some...

WEISBERG: I think he was Arab actually.

(CROSSTALK)

MURDOCK: Is that right? I stand corrected. I didn't know that.

FLANDERS: That doesn't mean they don't live in a racist environment.

MURDOCK: But in any case, this is not, you know, five white cops and, OK, let's go shoot some blacks or something like that or some case of insensitivity of that type.

ZAHN: But, as you know, many blacks believe -- while anybody wants to admit it or not -- that some members of the NYPD police force use racial profiling in making judgments in situations like that. Do you deny that that is even in the equation?

MURDOCK: Well, Paula, there's a history of that. I think a lot of people believe that. I don't know if that crosses peoples' minds. I think one is appearance, independent of color. Are people dressed a certain way? Are they behaving a certain way? I mean, there are a lot of other things independent of race that will play into a situation that goes way beyond people's skin color.

FLANDERS: You can't just throw the statistics out of the window, though. You have black men shot, incarcerated at numbers entirely unproportionate to their presence in the population. What other explanation do you have?

MURDOCK: In many cases, unfortunately, involving black on black crime.

(CROSSTALK)

MURDOCK: But in this case, these guys were unarmed, of course.

FLANDERS: Exactly.

MURDOCK: But I think it's very important, before this turns into a giant, racial maelstrom that we need to remember that these were not five white cops engaging in some sort of racist act. Two of these cops were black, so it's very hard to say that this happened to be some kind of a case of racism.

WEISBERG: And I don't think there's a basis for thinking New York police systematically racially profile. Individuals may, but Ray Kelly, the New York City police commissioner, is an eloquent opponent of racial profiling. I mean, he talks about whites bad policing, and I think that message has down through the NYPD and it's very hard for me to believe that whatever we find out here, we'll find out that that was a policy of the police department.

FLANDERS: And we're not talking policy. I mean, the week began with a comic, a well-loved comedian -- what spurted out of him in a moment of panic were racial epithets, was racism. I mean, we don't need to talk about a policy. We are talking about the communities in which we live, the culture that we are steeped in that we all have to work against. But I think these cops...

MURDOCK: But you saw the reaction to that. I mean, people were horrified and he's been on an apology tour ever since.

FLANDERS: Well, good.

MURDOCK: And his career may be crushed, as well he should. As well he should.

(CROSSTALK)

MURDOCK: But if this were as racist a country as some people like to say, a lot of people would say, yes, keep that up. And you didn't see that.

WEISBERG: No.

MURDOCK: People were horrified and appalled and disgusted and he has now been, you know, just going across country apologizing to anybody who will listen to him.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: And the tour continues. We have to leave it there. Appreciate the range, everything from Iran to Iraq to Michael Richards. All right here with the fabulously talented, Deroy Murdock, Laura Flanders, and Jacob Weisberg. Thanks.

WEISBERG: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: In just a minute, my colleague Glenn Beck will join me to compare tonight's top stories with me. What does he think of the Iraqi prime minister's cancellation of tonight's meeting with President Bush? Is it a snub? Was it because of that leaked White House memo or worse than that?

Also ahead, a top story in medicine that is absolutely critical for pregnant women. There's a new warning out there about a popular anti-depressant that may cause birth defects. Are there enough warnings? You will be the judge of that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back. So much to talk about. When you look at the crisis in Iraq, a great time for the always outspoken and controversial Glenn Beck of "Headline Prime". We had our weekly encounter just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Big debate going on whether Iraq is technically in a civil war or not. And the debate got larger today when former Secretary of State Colin Powell says it is in a civil war. Does that not mean anything to you?

GLENN BECK, HEADLINE PRIME: What difference does it matter? What difference?

ZAHN: What difference does the matter?

BECK: You can call it what we call it. What difference does it matter? Are we going to leave because it's a civil war? We've got people who say we should do something about Darfur. That's a civil war. What difference does it matter? Let's concentrate on winning the war.

ZAHN: The feeling is if the American perception...

BECK: Yes.

ZAHN: ... grows that this thing is a civil war, and there's really nothing you can do to be victorious, it will increase the calls for an immediate withdrawal call of troops or a quicker timetable.

BECK: Yes. It's almost surprising how that it seems here. Of course. But you know what? Kosovo, Bosnia, civil war. Rwanda, civil war. Are we proud that we didn't participate in that? That was a tragedy. We cannot -- look, we opened this can of worms. You cannot -- it is unbelievably immoral to open this can of worms and say, oh wow, no, wait a minute, looks like everybody is killing each other. We should leave.

That's so immoral. That's more immoral than going in the first place.

ZAHN: But is this the war the American public bargained for or thought the administration had prepared them for? BECK: Look, I am no fan of the way the administration has handled this. I believe we shouldn't have gone in because the real head of the snake has always been Iran. It was never Saddam Hussein. I truly believe -- I said this before we went in -- pay no attention to the weapons of mass destruction. I believed that they were there, but that wasn't the reason we went in. It was to take Afghanistan and Iraq and pop the head of the snake, which was the government of Iran. That's why we're there. That's the root of all evil. We are going to allow them now to fill into that power vacuum that we just left? It's insanity and will absolutely spell our doom.

ZAHN: All right. But now we know that Iranian government leaders are talking nice with Iraqi government leaders at the same time that president is supposed to be meeting with the prime minister of Iraq...

BECK: Which I don't trust.

ZAHN: ... a stinging letter was leaked today suggesting that the Prime Minister al Maliki isn't up to the job.

BECK: Yes.

ZAHN: Who leaked that?

BECK: I hope we did. I hope we did.

ZAHN: For what purpose?

BECK: Possibly to call him on the carpet and say, we're on to you. Possibly. You know, I got to tell you, I don't think this guy is up to the job. I don't know who is up to the job. I've been saying for a while, been hoping for a while, look for the guy that's going to end up on the Iraqi stamp. Find that guy, you know? We've got George Washington. Look for the guy who's on the stamp. I haven't seen him yet. There's got to be somebody soon that shows up.

But I'm not surprised at the president of Iraq's -- or prime minister of Iraq's attitude here. Here he is, he senses us getting ready to back out. What are you going to do? Of course, I'm going to make nicey-nice with the people who are cutting peoples' heads off. I want to survive.

ZAHN: Got to leave it there tonight. As always..

BECK: You bet.

ZAHN: ... thank you for not mincing any words for us tonight, Glenn beck.

BECK: Never, never.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And right now we're going to take a quick biz break.

(MARKET REPORT)

ZAHN: "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes.

Hey, Larry. I haven't had a chance to talk to with you lately.

How are you?

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Paula. How you been?

ZAHN: I'm doing great.

KING: Me, too.

ZAHN: Who's joining you tonight?

KING: What a show we've got tonight. Dog the Bounty Hunter, the reality TV star who may have to go to jail in Mexico for capturing a fugitive rapist.

Plus, Senator John Kerry, it's his first prime time interview since he met with the Iraq Study Group yesterday and since he came in last in a new popularity poll.

It's all ahead at the top of the hour, Paula.

ZAHN: And you know how much he hates those polls. You bring that up, he'll tell you what he thinks of polls. I remember him telling me about the polls going into the New Hampshire primary last time. Have fun.

KING: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Larry, we'll be looking for you in 12 minutes from now.

KING: You got it.

ZAHN: Tonight's top story in health is a new warning about a very popular anti-depressant and its potential for birth defects if taken by pregnant women. Coming up next, an exclusive. We're going to hear from a family that's suing the drug's manufacturer because of what happened to their baby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our top story in health tonight concerns many of the tens of thousands of American women who take anti-depressants during pregnancy. Well, tonight, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has just issued a warning that pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant should avoid the anti-depressant Paxil. The reason: potential birth defects.

Here's senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta with one of the first families to file a lawsuit over this. His exclusive report is tonight's "Vital Signs".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From his very first breath, Adrian Vasquez has fought to stay alive.

MATILDA VASQUEZ (PH), ADRIAN'S MOTHER: I was scared to death. I was just hearing all these machines and beeps.

GUPTA: Just before his birth, Adrian's parents Anthony and Matilda received stunning news from their doctor.

M. VASQUEZ: She says, I'm sorry, honey, she's like, but there's something wrong with your baby's heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you ready?

GUPTA: Adrian was born with a double outlet on his right ventricle. That's a potentially deadly condition that restricts oxygen from getting through his body.

ANTHONY VASQUEZ, ADRIAN'S FATHER: You see something wrong with your child, you know, what are you going to do to fix it? When you can't fix it, you know, what are you going to do?

I know, buddy.

GUPTA: Now, two and a half, Adrian has endured three open heart surgeries. A pacemaker keeps him alive.

A. VASQUEZ: Good job.

M. VASQUEZ: Careful.

GUPTA: The family says it has no history of heart disease. Matilda says she did everything by the book during her pregnancy. Then Matilda started to wonder. Did Paxil, the pill that she took for anxiety, possibly cause Adrian's problems?

She says when she got pregnant, she asked the doctor if it was OK to keep taking it.

M. VASQUEZ: I said, so it's safe? And he said, yes.

GUPTA: Then late last year, Anthony searched the Internet. In December of 2005, the Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory about Paxil.

The FDA said early results from two studies suggested women who took paroxetine, which is available under the brand name of Paxil, during the first three months of pregnant were one and a half to two times as likely to have a baby with a heart defect as women who received other anti-depressants or women who simply didn't take anti- depressants.

In July, the family sued GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Paxil. The Vasquez's attorneys believe the company was aware of the drug's risk before Adrian was band didn't do enough to warn doctors or expectant mothers. A. Vasquez: I mean, how long did they know about this? You know, did they know way before, you know, whenever the memo came out?

GUPTA: GlaxoSmithKline declined to comment on the lawsuit. But in a written statement, said it "has diligently monitored the safety of Paxil before and after its approval by the FDA in 1992."

A company internal study released in 2005 and shared with the FDA found a 1.5 fold increased risk for heart malformations for Paxil compared to other anti-depressants.

To be clear, normally the risk of giving birth to a child with a heart defect about 1 percent. That increases to between 1.5 to 2 percent for patients taking paroxetine in the first trimester.

At the urging of the FDA, GlaxoSmithKline changed Paxil's labeling in September of 2005 to warn about the risk of birth defects. For some women, getting off an anti-depressant can be excruciating. And there is a chance the mother could harm herself or her unborn child.

DR. LILLITH SHAPIRO, OB/GYN: I think patients need to know that they're taking a risk. But they need to know that they're also taking the risk by not taking the medication.

DEBORAH CLOANINGER, TOOK SSRI WHILE PREGNANT: Baby, you want to mow the lawn?

GUPTA: Deborah Cloaninger is one Dr. Shapiro's patients.

CLOANINGER: I would stay up thinking about my children's mortality and how they might die.

GUPTA: After giving birth to her second child, she went on Zoloft. Deborah continued taking it while pregnant with her third child, Lillian. She says she has no regrets about taking an anti- depressants.

CLOANINGER: The benefits have definitely outweighed the risks. I think indirectly, more harm could have happened to my unborn child had I gotten off of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoops.

GUPTA: But for Matilda Vasquez, that's a risk she would have been willing to take.

M. VASQUEZ: Good boy.

He's going to need surgeries for the rest of his life. You can never assume that it's not going to happen to you.

Hi.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: But Sanjay, what is so heartbreaking about this is that women have to make some very individual decisions here, particularly if they think they can't cope without this medication. So walk us through how they try to avoid these mine fields here.

GUPTA (on camera): Yes, Paula, it's a very delicate situation. I think everyone's been cognizant of that. I think there's a few questions. We tried to boil it down in terms of what women, their families, their doctors should all be asking themselves when making decisions, specifically about anti-depressants and pregnancy, and even more specifically about Paxil.

First of all, how serious is your condition? Is it one of those situations where you feel kind of blue sometimes? Or do you have full-blown depression, diagnosed depression?

There is a concern about over usage of anti-depressants in this country. Do you fall into that category or another category?

Another question to ask is how long have you been on the medication, as well. And if you've ever off of it, if you've done a trial period off of it, how did that go for somebody? Were you able to tolerate that OK?

And finally, what are your other options? I mean, there are other anti-depressants which might be safer, as we talked about in the piece, but also could talk therapy be an option for somebody as well, getting off the medications altogether.

It is not easy, Paula. Having a therapist when you go off the medication or switch over, really, really important.

ZAHN: Thank you for better educating us tonight.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ZAHN: I love that free house call.

We're going to take a short break.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Thanks for joining us.

Good night.

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