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AMERICAN MORNING

Laura Bush Treated for Skin Cancer; Mt. Hood Rescue Teams Rush To Canvass Avalanche Area Before Another Winter Storm Sets In Tomorrow

Aired December 19, 2006 - 07:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: At that time the press secretary of the first lady, Susan Whitson, said it was a sore.
Now, Whitson later explained said, this was a sore, however, that did not go away so there was a biopsy that was done. That's when it was discovered that, in fact, it was a malignant tumor, it was cancer. It is the second-most common form of skin cancer. Susan Whitson says after the election there was a very simple procedure, is what she calls it. She was put -- this patch, this malignant tumor was removed under a local anesthetic. They said it was no big deal. That this was something that she caught early and that was treated early.

Now, Soledad, how this all came about was disclosed yesterday. There was another reporter who saw the first lady at a Hanukkah party and asked about this bandage, this Band-Aid, that was on her leg. And it is that time they decided they would disclose the full story and talk about the procedure and about the cancer. They wanted to stress that her schedule had not been interrupted. That she is fine and they do not expect there will be additional cancer scares, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Thank you, Suzanne, with an update for us. Thank you, Suzanne.

And ahead in this hour we'll talk more about skin cancer with our Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen -- John.

ROBERTS: On Mt. Hood in Oregon, rescue workers are racing to find climbers Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke today before the next storm closes in; expected to hit tomorrow. The body of Kelly James was brought down from the mountain late Monday. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence is live for us in Hood River, Oregon with the very latest.

And Chris, not looking too good for the remaining two climbers today.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: No, honestly, John. And realistically, these rescue teams have one full day left to find the two climbers before that new storm is going to knock them off the mountain again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice over): The small window of calm, clear weather around Mt. Hood is closing. And with it, high hopes of finding two climbers alive.

ANGELA HALL, SISTER OF BRIAN HALL: The prayers that are with us, they need to be even stronger now.

LAWRENCE: Family members say Kelly James, Brian Hall and Nikko Cooke were united by their love of climbing.

MICHAELA COOKE, WIFE OF NIKKO COOKE: The bond forged between them will last throughout eternity. We hold out hope today for Brian and Nikko's safe return.

LAWRENCE: It's too dangerous for ground crews to get near the top of Elliot Glacier, where avalanches have dumped 10 feet of new snow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that's where they're at, I think we've got real problems.

LAWRENCE: Rescue teams now believe the climbers summited the mountain Friday, but that James had a severe arm injury. All three dug out a snow cave and huddled together. The next morning Hall and Cooke went for help. But blinding wind and snow stopped them, and they anchored down, north of James' cave. What happened next, authorities might never know.

SHERIFF JOE WAMPLER, HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OREGON: I think it's going to rain or snow some more, I think that's going to drive us out of the woods.

LAWRENCE: It's been nearly two weeks since the men started their climb. At this point the sheriff says exposure and altitude would be debilitating.

WAMPLER: If they didn't get in a hole somewhere, no, we may be actually beyond.

LAWRENCE: His voice trails off, like the footprints leading to the remaining two climbers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: At one point the sheriff even said we failed these climbers. Nobody, including the families, believes that. But there is a sense of "what if" the weather wasn't so bad and those rescue teams could have climbed to the summit this time last week, John.

ROBERTS: A lot of what ifs in this story, Chris. Any sense in how long they'll continue with search and rescue operations before they switch them over to recovery operations?

LAWRENCE: No definite sense, but they plan to probably scale back drastically around midday on Wednesday, which is when the bad weather is going to come in. Actually, that may be even sooner because they wanted to get everyone off the mountain well in advance of the bad weather moving in.

ROBERTS: Chris Lawrence for us. Thanks very much.

Next hour we're going to talk with a man involved in the search, not a trained professional, just a dedicated co-worker dropping everything to help find a friend. That's coming up at 8:15 Eastern, here on AMERICAN MORNING -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: As Robert Gates begins his first full day as secretary of Defense, a new Pentagon report shows violence in Iraq is the most intense in years. A number of -- average number of attacks per week is up 22 percent, from 800 to nearly 1,000 every week, and that's over the last three months. That's the highest it's been since June of 2004. The Pentagon, also in that report, is calling Baghdad and the Anbar Province the most volatile areas.

Meanwhile, there's a reported split over the idea of sending a surge of 30,000 or so troops into Iraq. This morning's "Washington Post" is reporting that the joint chiefs of staff is against that move because it could create more targets for insurgents. Also potentially Shia militias could keep a low profile while the extra troops are there and then re-emerge after they leave. CNN's Barbara Starr has more for us from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING (voice over): A car bomb attack in a vegetable market in a mostly Sunni area of southern Baghdad killed five and wounded 19 on Monday. Could more U.S. troops on the streets have stopped this from happening?

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I, Robert Gates, do solemnly swear --

STARR: As Robert Gates is sworn in as the 22nd secretary of Defense, that is the military question he has to answer. President Bush wants to know if the violence would ease if an additional 30,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq. Gates will soon go there to meet with his commanders.

GATES: I look forward to hearing their honest assessments of the situation on the ground and to having the benefit of their advice, unvarnished and straight from the shoulder, on how to proceed in the weeks and months ahead.

STARR: Increasing troop levels would be accomplished by leaving some units in Iraq for more than a year-long tour of duty and sending others in early. If the idea is approved, it would mean potentially the highest number of troops on the ground ever, perhaps nearly 165,000. Commanders say sending more troops might mean only putting more targets on the street.

GEN. JAMES CONWAY, COMMANDANT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We would fully support, I think, as a joint chiefs, the idea of putting more troops into Iraq if there is a solid military reason for doing so. But I don't think that we believe -- in fact, I can tell you we do not believe -- that just adding numbers for the sake of adding numbers, just thickening the mix, is necessarily a good way to go.

STARR (on camera): So how violent is Iraq? Well, a new report from the Pentagon says that attacks last month rose to nearly 1,000 a week. That is the problem. What if the U.S. sends more troops and still the violence doesn't let up? Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Breaking news out of England this morning, a second man is now under arrest in the murders of five women in the town of Ipswich. Police are still holding another man, a former police officer, who was arrested on Monday. CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh is live from Ipswich. He has the latest for us.

Good morning, Alphonso.

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: That's right, John.

As you mentioned, a second startling revelation in a little over 24 hours. Earlier on today, the lead investigator at Suffolk County police got journalists together to give us an update on the latest in the investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN MARSH (voice over): Another startling revelation in a serial killer mystery that's shocked a nation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A second man has been arrested by detectives investigating the murder of five women in Suffolk.

VAN MARSH: The announcement comes as police shift through evidence collected from this brown brick house, understood to be the home of a 37-year-old man police arrested early Monday morning. Tom Stephens lives here. Police would not officially name him, but he's been identified locally as the first man arrested in the killings of the five prostitutes.

Stephens is not well known in this small town, Trimly. Residents say he did not make an impression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I did was notice him when he was coming in and out of the house all the time. But he didn't seem of any -- there wasn't anything different, just a regular guy.

VAN MARSH: A regular guy with a regular presence on the Internet. His profile at Myspace.com is dotted with pictures of himself and a few friends. Online he says he's not much of a TV watcher and talks about his job at a national supermarket chain. Before his arrest Stephens said plenty about Ipswich's prostitution rings. Police say investigators interviewed him numerous times. Stephens also talked to local media about the murders and said he was innocent, saying he knew the victims personally.

TOM STEPHENS, SPEAKING ON BBC RADIO: Also (ph) I wanted sex, besides paying for it. But I know that I also -- I wanted to chat with the girl before and after, which is partly why I was always happy to give them a lift.

VAN MARSH: People in the area's sex trade says Stephens was a regular at a downtown Ipswich brothel. They described him as a quote, "decent guy, whose marriage had fallen apart." They called him Mr. Preacher because they said he often offered opinions, often unsolicited. Community leaders say even though there's been an arrest, they're far from breathing a sigh of relief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point in time we don't know if they've got the right person or not. We pray that they have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAN MARSH: Now, it's important to mention that police have not officially named either one of the suspects. But I can tell you where we're standing now, you can see there are police gathered, there are some international journalists gathered here. This is the neighborhood where we believe the second suspect lives. We understand from police that they did remove a blue vehicle from this area as part of the investigation, John.

ROBERTS: Alphonso have police talked at all about any kind of evidence they might have linking the murders to these two people they have in custody?

VAN MARSH: What police have told us so far is all five murders are being linked. They're very hesitant to use the term serial killer. And they have made appeals to the public, in the past, asking them for help in helping solve this investigation, particularly the clothing. What were these women wearing at the time they disappeared?

Between that time and the time that their bodies all, all five of them, did appear naked in this area, all within 10 miles of each other. Very interesting to see what's going to be happening if the police do eventually tell us there may be -- maybe -- a link between these two suspects and, of course, the link between the suspects and the murders, John.

ROBERTS: Well, typically they're pretty tight-lipped about that whole thing.

Alphonso Van Marsh, thanks very much from Ipswich there -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, snow is on the way in the heartland. Where will we see a white Christmas? Chad has the forecast for you, up next.

Plus, more on the first lady's cancer scare. A closer look at the skin cancer that Laura Bush had removed from her leg. Did you know that more than a million cases of skin cancer were diagnosed last year?

Then a look at those mini cars. Obviously, easy to park, easy on the gas. How do they stand up in crash tests? We have some new results out this morning on the very safest. Ahead, on AMERICAN MORNING stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning, so much for the ceasefire that was set over the weekend. Today security forces for Hamas and Fattah exchanged gunfire. Killed one person, wounded 11. The fight is all over that new call for elections, new elections in the Palestinian territories.

The search for two missing climbers is narrowing on to an avalanche area on the top of Mt. Hood. Rescuers are hoping to get one more day of searching in before the weather turns for the worst.

Just about quarter after the hour. Let's get a check of the "Traveler's Forecast" for you. Chad's got that at the CNN Weather Center.

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: As we were reporting this morning, First Lady Laura Bush had to have a malignant skin cancer tumor removed from her leg back in November. Our Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now from the CNN Center, in Atlanta, with a closer look.

Elizabeth, first of all, what kind of skin cancer was this? How dangerous is it?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is squamous cell cancer, John, and it is one of the least dangerous forms of skin cancer. It is not melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Let's take a look. Mrs. Bush is not alone in having this kind of skin cancer. It is an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people have squamous cell carcinoma, which is a type of cancer, that's new cases per year. And about 1,000 to 2,000 people die of it. You can see that is a very small number. It is mostly elderly people, where it was diagnosed quite late -- in her case it was diagnosed quite early, we're told -- or people with immune compromised diseases.

ROBERTS: The most common form of skin cancer is the basal cell carcinoma. I had one of those about a year and a half ago, took care of it pretty readily. How difficult is it to treat the squamous cell carcinoma? And what are the chances that it could spread, metastasize?

COHEN: It's really not difficult to treat if it's caught early. And as we said before, this was caught early. That's what we're told by the White House. So it's really not difficult to treat. They go in, they do -- there are different kinds of procedures. You can do a surgical procedures where it's removed on local anesthetic. You can see the bandage, right there, on her leg. It is not difficult to remove. Now, Mrs. Bush is more likely to get this kind of skin cancer again, or other kinds of skin cancer, as well. She is at a higher risk for that. Let's take a look at who's at risk for squamous cell skin cancers.

The first is, previous skin cancer, as we just explained, or too much exposure to the sun or to tanning beds. That also puts someone at a higher risk. Having fair skin. And men, actually, are at a higher risk for getting this kind of cancer, simply because, experts say, they just spend more time out in the sun than women do.

ROBERTS: Yes, and it's also believed there could be a genetic component to it as well.

Now, her husband has had four precancerous lesions, called actinic keratosis, taken off of his face. So, this is a couple, well, they spent so much time in Texas, obviously, exposed to an awful lot of sun.

There are early warning signs, Elizabeth, that people can sort of keep a close eye on to see if they believe they're developing skin cancer. What are those warning signs? What should people look for in terms of spots or lesions on their body.

COHEN: Right, there are specific things that you want to watch out for, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun -- which, of course, you shouldn't be doing. But if you are, or if in any case, look out for these warning signs: A new growth, a spot, or a bump that's getting larger, something you haven't seen before on your skin that's getting larger; changing an existing moles, blemishes and freckles, or a sore that won't heal within three months. Those are some things that people need to keep an eye out for.

ROBERTS: Yes, they say there is the ABCDs of skin cancer, asymmetry, border, color and diameter. Any time you look at something like that, that might be a little irregular, go get it checked out.

COHEN: That's right, the change is what you're really looking for. If you've had a mole that you've had on your body all your life, it hasn't changed, chances are that's OK. But if you have something new or getting bigger, you really need to get it checked out.

ROBERTS: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, two of the biggest names in the phone business are looking to "hookup". Ha, ha, get it? We're "Minding Your Business" straight ahead.

And the latest crash test results on those popular little mini cars. AMERICAN MORNING continues right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Top stories, a new report from the Pentagon, sectarian violence in Iraq up 22 percent over the past three months.

And the Space Shuttle Discovery undocking from the International Space Station today, preparing for a return to Earth on Friday.

S. O'BRIEN: New information this morning on the safety of the popular little subcompact and mini cars. The Insurance Institute just released its review of the smallest cars that are sold in the U.S. CNN's Brianna Keilar joins us live from Washington, D.C., with the crash results.

Hey, Brianna, good morning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Soledad.

They're, oh, so cute, they have great fuel economy, but unfortunately, they don't weigh much. Take a look at this Mini Cooper, here. Mini cars like this weigh 2500 pounds or less. Now, when compared to a large SUV, like this Chevy Suburban, you are looking at a car that weighs almost three times that. And that tells you who probably is going to win in a crash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice over): Small cars can save you big money at the pump, but they could cost you dearly in a crash. Driver death rates in so-called mini cars are more than double that of mid-size and large cars.

ADRIAN LUND, INSURANCE INST. FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY: If you are in a small, lightweight vehicle, like these mini cars, and you get hit from behind, almost everything that hits you is larger and heavier, which means on average, your crashes are more severe than what the other people are seeing. So, it's more important that you have good safety equipment to protect you.

KEILAR: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety measures vehicle safety on a four-part scale, from good to poor. Overall, the Hyundai Accent and the KIA Rio faired the worst, with an acceptable rating for front crash tests, but the worst possibly rating for side and rear impacts.

(On camera): The popular Mini Cooper gets average scores overall, a "top rating" for front crashes, and "acceptable" for side impacts; and lower "marginal" score for rear crashes.

(Voice over): The Scion XB earned a "good" score for front impacts, but a "poor" for side crashes. The barrier used in the test penetrated far enough into the Scion to hit the dummy driver's head. The Scion also earned a "marginal" for the rear crash test.

The Nissan Versa earned the best score of all. It was the only car to get top ratings in all three crash tests. But there's a catch. Technically, it's not a mini car. It's a small car that's marketed with the minis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: So, the take home message, here, is that when it comes to automobile safety, generally speaking, size really does matter. But what's interesting Soledad, is the Institute for Highway Safety tells us that actually more people are buying these mini cars. That's actually why they decided to test them.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, a mixed bag there, though. Obviously, it will save you on gas, certainly very cute. You can park it anywhere, but those figures are scary in a lot of ways.

Brianna Keilar for us this morning. Thanks, Brianna for the update.

John.

ROBERTS: An $86-billion deal in danger of being disconnected. It's 25 minutes past the hour now, Stephanie Elam is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Morning, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Morning, John. That's right, taking a look at a very large deal here that we have ahead of us.

But the issue here is whether or not the FCC is going to be able to get it through just the way they want it to go through, and the way that AT&T wants it to go through. Now, here's what's happened. There is a five-person panel that has to decide on what sort of concessions need to be made by a company that is looking to buy a company like BellSouth.

Well, one man has already removed himself from the proceedings because he used to be a lobbyist. He used to work for a group that represents smaller communications companies and that group is opposed to the merger. So, now what's left are two Democrats and two Republicans. And the Democrats are pushing for certain conditions, while the Republicans are opposed. This means that AT&T will probably, since it's facing this deadlocked group here, will probably not get everything that it wants.

So, that means they're going to accept this thing that's called "net neutrality". That's the basic idea that everyone should be getting equal access to the Internet and the same quality of that, as well. There's little doubt whether or not the FCC will approve this merger. It should go through.

I also need to let you know, a little bit of breaking news here from Delta. There are some headlines coming out, from the airline, saying they're still against the $8.4 billion bid from US Air, which has been unsolicited. They do say that they plan on emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, and even say they expect to come back and be profitable just next year. So those are some headlines there. Coming up, I'll tell you how America's biggest cash crop is going up in smoke.

Back to you, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Stephanie.

Ahead this morning, our top stories, plus an exclusive CNN investigation. The witness to a deadly shooting is speaking out about what really happened when police in New Orleans opened fire on an unarmed man, just days after Hurricane Katrina? That story, and much more, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Target zone: The search for two missing climbers focuses now on an avalanche area of Mt. Hood. And new information about what just may have stranded that third climber who was found dead.

ROBERTS: Also a developing story: Police in England arrest a second suspect this morning in the search of a serial killer in Ipswich.

S. O'BRIEN: And a CNN exclusive, police accused of gunning down an unarmed mentally disabled man, in the days following Hurricane Katrina. You'll hear from a key eyewitness straight ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back, everybody. It is Tuesday, December 19th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

ROBERTS: And I'm John Roberts, in today for Miles O'Brien. Thanks for joining us. Happy Tuesday, to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for being with us. Thanks for joining us.

(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: Congressman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan is the outgoing chair to the House Intelligence Committee. He joins us now from Washington to talk more about this. Congressman Hoekstra, Robert Gates, sworn in yesterday. He said he's going to be on his way to Iraq very soon. As for his assessment of what's happening in Iraq, let's take a quick listen to part of what he said yesterday during his Pentagon swearing-in ceremony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECY. OF DEFENSE: Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Congressman Hoekstra, do you have faith that the incoming secretary of defense is going to be able to handle the situation and change the situation on the ground for the better?

REP. PETER HOEKSTRA (R), CHMN., INTELLIGENCE CMTE: Well, it's not only the responsibility of the secretary of defense; it's the responsibility of the administration and this Congress to get our hands around not only the threat we face from Iraq but the threat that we face from radical Islam. We need to develop a unified strategy to move forward.

ROBERTS: Do you think he's going to do a better job than Secretary Rumsfeld did, though?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think one of the things that is going to happen, is we're going to have the opportunity now for what we call a new set of eyes on this problem, on this issue.

I think Donald Rumsfeld over the last number of months and, perhaps the last year, was locked into a specific strategy as conditions on the grounds were changing dramatically. You know, the report yesterday clearly highlights that the threat, perhaps, today is not from Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents, but may actually be from the Shia folks in Iraq, and that is a dramatic develop, because what it says is this is more of an internal problem today, whereas a number of months ago, it was an external problem. The conditions on the ground are changing, meaning that the strategies we need to employ have to adapt as well.

ROBERTS: So one of the strategies that the White House is thinking of employing in terms of getting at this sectarian violence is a temporary surge in the number of troops, adding some 20,000 to 30,000 American forces, particularly in the area of Baghdad. We hear that there's a split in the administration. The White House would like to do this. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, doesn't particularly think that it's a great idea, would go very far. What do you think?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think as we take a look and see that this is much more sectarian violence, that that is the nature of the problem, I think we need to move more and more responsibility to the Iraqi forces, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people. This is a solution or the solution to this problem lies in their hands, not in the United States getting in the middle of the various warring factions in Iraq.

ROBERTS: You're the outgoing chair to the Intelligence Committee in the House there, as we mentioned. The Iraq Study Group had something to say about intelligence on the insurgents and militias, wasn't very good either. It said, quote, "The government still does not understand very well, the insurgency and the role of the militias."

You have said of intelligence meetings or your trips to Iraq, quote, "I don't walk out of there believing I've got a crystal-clear picture of what the insurgency is; I walk out with lots of unanswered questions."

Congressman Hoekstra, can you defeat an enemy like this if you don't fully understand it? And also, what does it say if the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee doesn't know, or isn't getting good intelligence on these insurgents and these terrorist groups?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think you need to understand the very nature of the intelligence, I mean, talking about precise intelligence with these types of things. Intelligence is another avenue to give us an insight into the enemies or the situations that we're facing. It never gives you all of the information, it never gives you all of the data that you would like to have. We need to recognize the limitations of what intelligence can do for us.

That said, I think it's essential that we get more intelligence on the nature of the threat. This report that came out yesterday that clearly indicates that the threat is evolving, will help us shape different strategies.

ROBERTS: You've been there eight times. You just recently returned. The question of the last couple weeks has been is the U.S. winning or losing in Iraq. What do you think?

HOEKSTRA: I think, again, there are real challenges that are out there. I think kind of -- we're not making progress, we're not falling behind, and that's why I think the American people and those of us in Congress and the administration are disappointed. We need to continue to be making progress forward. We have not been doing that over the last number of months. We aren't seeing the kind of stability evolving in Iraq that needs to be there for us to lessen our commitment, and that would send a clear signal to the American people that we are winning. The signals that we are clearly winning are not there.

ROBERTS: We're all looking with keen interest into what these changes might be.

Congressman Peter Hoekstra, thanks for talking to us. Appreciate it.

HOEKSTRA: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Developing story in Gaza this morning: Gun battles between Hamas and Fatah. Listen.

It's really increased in the days since that call for new elections in the Palestinian territories. It's also the latest break in Sunday's cease-fire agreement, which didn't last very long.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is live for us from Gaza City this morning.

Ben, good morning.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

No, the truce, if it exists, is very weak at this point. Me and my cameraman, Joe Duran (ph), have been in three clashes already today. You saw some pictures of those. Basically what has happened is Hamas gunmen are deployed on street corners and whatnot. And what happens is Palestinian police who are loyal to Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement will drive through and they'll start exchanging gunfire, and the situation just goes out of control.

We were in one area just down the street from a school. Kids were coming out of class when this clash broke out. We heard reports that in one particular clash seven school children were wounded.

And in fact I've just gotten information that two members of the Palestinian National Guard, they are loyal to Fatah, and the president, Mahmoud Abbas, have been kidnapped and executed.

Every time another person gets killed in these tit-for-tat kidnappings and killings, it just makes the situation worse, snowballing here. And certainly going around the street people are very gloomy and grim about the situation. By and large, most people are worried that the cease-fire is, in fact, over -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Any sense that, in fact, this call for early elections will go through, that it'll happen?

HOEKSTRA: Not -- by what we've seen since Sunday, it doesn't look like that's going to happen, or at least in any form recognizable to us with gunfights in the biggest city in Gaza and the Gaza Strip, I don't know how many. I can't even count how many clashes have taken place so far today. It's almost impossible to envision the kind of stability and quiet that you would need to hold these elections, that Palestinian officials loyal to Mahmoud Abbas are saying that they need 110 days to prepare for these elections. And given the situation here, it's hard to imagine them going ahead. And Hamas, of course, says they won't participate in them anyway, and they will probably do their best to disrupt them. So chances for those elections are not very good at this point -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, without Hamas' acceptance probably won't happen. All right, Ben Wedeman is in Gaza City for us this morning.

Thank you, Ben.

I just want to tell you about a contest where the skyline is the limit. You know it for it's beautiful trans, streetcars. Of course, the Trans-America building. But the landscape of San Francisco could be changing. We're going to tell you how.

And will Miss USA hear those dreaded words from the Donald today? You're fired! We're going take a closer look at some of the naughty behavior, allegedly, that got her into trouble, when AMERICAN MORNING comes back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: A CNN exclusive this morning, a key eyewitness is coming forward, sharing what he saw when police opened fire on an unarmed mentally disabled man in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina. That eyewitness spoke to CNN's Drew Griffin, who has the exclusive details for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the sixth day after Katrina. New Orleans was underwater, its police force under fire. Rumors of snipers everywhere. The city looted, evacuated and on the brink of anarchy. It was under these stress-filled conditions that police shot and killed an unarmed man near this New Orleans bridge. Kasimir Gaston saw that shooting and has been silent until now. He is coming forward to CNN he says, because he is still troubled by what happened in front of New Orleans' friendly inn.

KASIMIR GASTON, WITNESS: The minute he turned in, he fell.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Kasimir Gaston was living on the second floor by now, the door open. It was so hot, there was no power. When he woke up, he says he came out onto this balcony and witnessed right out on the street a firing squad of police gunning down an unarmed running man.

GASTON: With all motion, moving and just...

GRIFFIN: And then how did he fall?

GASTON: He just fell like -- like -- like he was collapsing. Like -- like he was collapsing. Like something had just like wiped him out.

GRIFFIN: You didn't see any gun on him?

GASTON: I didn't see any on him.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The family says Ronald Madison and his brother were running away from a police shootout with other people on the nearby bridge.

This autopsy report, verified by the New Orleans coroner, shows Ronald Madison was hit seven times, two wounds in his shoulder, five in the back. No weapon was found on the body of the mentally retarded man.

A police sergeant did testify in a preliminary hearing that Ronald Madison, quote, "turned, reached in his waistband and turned on the officers before they opened fire." Not so says Gaston.

GASTON: Hands out, full speed.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Did you see anything in his hands?

GASTON: No.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The only guns he saw were in the hands of the police. GASTON: They were all like in formation, in line, you know, in a row. And, you know, like at a firing range.

GRIFFIN: The New Orleans police have refused to discuss details of the shooting with CNN.

WARREN RILEY, NEW ORLEANS POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: It was a very tense time for the police department.

GRIFFIN: Earlier this year New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley told us the case remains under investigation.

(On camera): What has taken so long?

RILEY: What has taken so long? A thorough investigation. A very thorough investigation.

MARY HOWELL, ATTORNEY: It needs a thorough investigation. I don't know that I can say that the police department has done that.

GRIFFIN: Attorney Mary Howell is representing the family of Ronald Madison in a lawsuit against the police. She says a number of people saw what happened. Each, she said, told her what Kasimir Gaston is about to say.

Did any of the police officers at the time, at the scene, ask what you saw?

GASTON: No.

GRIFFIN: Did they take a statement from you?

GASTON: Not from me.

GRIFFIN: Did they take your name or phone number down?

GASTON: No.

HOWELL: It probably raises more questions than we have answers at this point.

GRIFFIN: Will you get answers? Will there be answers? Or will this be washed away with the hurricane?

HOWELL: Well, you know, there's a lot of things that have been washed away with this hurricane, and we are doing everything we can to make sure that this is not one of them.

GASTON: And he just dropped right here.

GRIFFIN: The only thing police told Gaston, he says, was not to touch the body lying behind his truck.

GASTON: He was laying like, probably, his body was stretched out about that, about this close to bumper. GRIFFIN: This photo was taken by a newspaper photographer that day. On the right you can see a damaged red taillight. It matches up perfectly with Gaston's pickup truck a full year later. On the truck, you can also see the marks of what Gaston says police told him were gunshots.

GASTON: They notified me that I had two bullet holes to the passenger side.

GRIFFIN (on camera): The investigation into Ronald Madison's death is now in the hands of a New Orleans grand jury. Gaston, now living in Dallas, says he is willing to come forward and finally tell what he saw that day if anyone in this city is now willing to listen.

Drew Griffin, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: Coming up, Will bad behavior end up costing the reigning Miss USA her crown? That story and more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: That's a lovely shot of our building there. You know, the moment of truth is approaching for the young Miss USA, Tara Conner. She could hear this morning whether the pageant owner, Donald Trump, is going to say, you're fired, force her to give up her crown, might have to give back the crown.

CNN correspondent Brooke Anderson has more. Oh, it has been an ugly path for this young lady.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been very ugly. You know, the allegations that have put Tara Conner in this predicament, Soledad, are not pretty. Reports of wild nights out, reports that she hasn't shown up to engagements and appearances, and much, much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON (voice-over): She just turned legal on Monday, celebrating her 21st birthday. But by many accounts, her partying began way before then.

JO PIAZZA, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": She's been drinking heavily, drinking in public. She was caught smooching Miss Teen USA at a club in New York City, and she apparently failed a drug test for cocaine.

ANDERSON: Tara Conner is a Kentucky beauty queen. She began her pageant career at the tender age of four. A year ago she was a model/student/waitress. And on April 21st she was named Miss USA 2006. She left her high school sweetheart and moved to New York City and wore her sash with pride. Appearing picture perfect at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but entertainment Web site TMC.com reports that behind the scenes people were worried.

HARVEY LEVIN, MANAGING EDITOR, TMZ.COM: We are told from sources inside the NBC and pageant camp that they believe that this Miss USA is out of control, that it really concerned them, and that she's missing appearances.

ANDERSON: The Miss USA pageant is a joint venture by NBC and Donald Trump. And The Donald will tell you his beauty queen should be above reproach. If he feels they're not living up to the terms of their contract, as Trump told the 2002 Miss Universe Aksana Federova (ph)...

DONALD TRUMP: You're fired.

ANDERSON: And then he replaced her.

And while Donald Trump initially said that Tara's future was of primary importance and that she had not been dethroned, tabloid reports over the weekend said he's ready to deal an eviction notice to the beauty queen. The people over at TMZ.com who broke the story are one of the group saying Tara is toast.

LEVIN: I am told that Miss California has already gotten the word to get ready. She's the first runner-up. So that's kind of where it all stands right now.

The bottom line is it would seem that Miss USA's days are numbered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: And that number could be up this morning when Donald trump holds a press conference to reveal Tara Conner's fate.

Soledad, Tara Conner has not responded to our request for an interview, but she is expected to meet with Donald Trump this morning before that press conference.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting timing, right before the press conference.

Now, you have a little personal familiarity with these type of contests, don't you?

ANDERSON: A blast from the past.

S. O'BRIEN: You were this close to being Miss Georgia.

ANDERSON: First runner-up. I participated in the America system. There we have a picture. Still smiling, trying to be a gracious loser there. But you know, I participated in the America system. She, of course, in the USA system. S. O'BRIEN: What are the rules? When you literally joined, did they say listen, they'll be no drinking, no partying, we don't want to see any pictures of you in your tiara doing anything your parents wouldn't want to see?

ANDERSON: It's a gray area. But bottom line, you're interviewing for a job. You know, and she signed a contract that outlined the rules, the regulations, the requirements, and it's very clear...

S. O'BRIEN: Does it say you can't drink?

ANDERSON: It's a gray area. I spoke to yesterday two former Miss USA finalists, who said it's crystal clear what your duties are, but what you're not supposed to do, a bit subjective. But they said she knows.

S. O'BRIEN: Missing work is the problem. If you miss the engagement, you've broken the contract.

ANDERSON: If you miss the engagement, miss the appearances, you know, then they say, hey, what's going on. That's their bread and butter. But those two girls, the former Miss USA finalists told me that, hey, she knows her alleged behavior is unacceptable. She knows she's expected to set a good example, be a role model. And, hey, it's only for 12 months. Keep it together for 12 months.

I don't want to judge her, Soledad. But you and I know...

S. O'BRIEN: I'll judge her.

ANDERSON: ... that if any of us violate a contract in any of our jobs, our employer has the right to fire us.

S. O'BRIEN: You could be more famous as a disgraced Miss America.

ANDERSON: Look at Vanessa Williams.

S. O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Could work out for her.

I think "Penthouse" or somebody is calling for her.

Anyway, that's a cute picture of you. You look good. That looks like it was taken two weeks ago.

ANDERSON: That's so embarrassing.

S. O'BRIEN: No, cute, cute.

ANDERSON: Don't put it up again. Take that down.

S. O'BRIEN: Blow it up life size. Of course, we're going to carry that press with The Donald on the Miss USA decision live 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time right here.

ROBERTS: A great Miss Georgia.

Coming up, the Golden Gate, the street cars, we'll show you how the skyline of San Francisco might be getting an extreme makeover.

We're back after a quick break.

(NEWSBREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

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