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CNN NEWSROOM

Harlem Homecoming for James Brown; Schedule Set for Nation's Farewells to Gerald Ford; Focus on Force in Iraq

Aired December 28, 2006 - 14:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in today for Kyra Phillips.

Well, here you go again, Denver. Sorry. Another blizzard bears down on the Mile High City, and these winds may be worse than before. Just last week a big old snowstorm.

We're watching the forecast.

LEMON: Plus, his first lady was the only lady as far as Gerald Ford was concerned. We'll take a look at a marriage that endured more than a half a century.

WHITFIELD: And we've got our eyes on the Apollo Theater, where an open casket viewing is taking place right now, and those live pictures. Thousands of people waiting in line to pay tribute.

You're in the NEWSROOM. And you're now in the Apollo Theater on West 125th Street in Harlem, New York, where thousands of people are lined up outside to file inside to pay tribute to the "Godfather of Soul," dead at the age of 73. Dying on Christmas Day, James Brown.

LEMON: Looking at some of the folks there in the front row, don't -- I would imagine some dignitaries, but I don't recognize anyone. Mourners and people from all over, really, paying their tribute to James Brown.

You saw there was an open casket earlier, and standing in front of that casket was the Reverend Al Sharpton, who will be doing the eulogy today for a man that he called his mentor and he said was the only father figure he had after Sharpton's dad passed away. And that is a horse-drawn carriage leaving now, but earlier it went through the streets of Harlem this morning, made its way through the streets of Harlem this morning, with folks following it.

Fredricka, said -- chanting, "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud," and other lyrics from James Brown's songs.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And you can't see it here because of the shadows being cast inside the Apollo Theater, but it's a gold casket. And it was quite the sight to see, this gold casket on that white horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Harlem. It's at the Apollo Theater. It's taking place here. Significant, because this really was a springboard for James Brown and for so many others before and after him. Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Gladys Knight, all of them making their debut at the Apollo Theater before making it big.

LEMON: Yes. We'll be following this all day long in the CNN NEWSROOM and throughout primetime right here on CNN.

We're also paying tribute today to someone else. The plans are being made, the scheduled is set for the nation's farewells to President Ford. Note the plural, farewells, and that means a whirlwind of preparations under way in three cities with a big role for Homeland Security and the Secret Service.

CNN's Dan Simon is in Palm Desert, California, where the first official tribute will take place tomorrow.

Hello to you, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don.

Well, we are at the St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California, and you can see the Hearse behind me that will be carrying Mr. Ford's casket tomorrow. This church means a great deal to the family.

In 1988, when the church built a new addition, the Fords helped to put up the money for it. There's also a pew dedicated inside to the Fords. And when their daughter got married here in 1979, Susan, she got married inside this church.

We spoke to the pastor, and he says the plans and the preparations for tomorrow really started a long time ago.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. ROBERT CERTAIN, ST. MARGARET'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH: With any of the former presidents, the burial plan actually starts when they are in the White House. And so -- because it's such a big state event.

When I came here in 1998, there was already the beginnings of a plan. It was not completed and detailed and all those sorts of things. We worked on it periodically every year until we got to this day, so that when we came to this day, the only thing we had to do really was to start the clock, and everything else is already planned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: Now, starting tomorrow afternoon, there will be a private service here for close friends and family, followed by a public viewing. Now, they don't have a very large parking lot here, so people wanting to pay their respects to the former President are asked to go to the Indian Wells (ph) tennis facility, where they will be bused in.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Ford's body will fly to Washington, D.C. But on Wednesday, Don, he will ultimately be laid to rest in Michigan at his presidential library in Grand Rapids.

Back to you.

LEMON: All right, Dan. We'll keep checking. Thank you so much for that report.

And, of course, with the passing of President Ford, journalist Bob Woodward has released a 2004 interview in which the former President took strong issue with the war in Iraq. With the war then in its second year, Ford told Woodward that he thought President Bush and his top advisers made several big mistakes.

One was justifying the war by emphasizing weapons of mass destruction, which never turned up. Another Ford said was using war to try to spread democracy. Here are some of Ford's comments which Woodward recorded and played last night on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think if I had been President, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly, I don't I think I would have ordered the Iraqi war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer. I think Rumsfeld, Cheney and the President made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

LEMON: The White House spokesman declined comment on those remarks.

WHITFIELD: Well, we know folks in Denver ought to be used to it, but snow on top of snow? Back to back? Well, they are getting dumped on again, the second time in two weeks. Will this blizzard be as bad or perhaps even worse than what we saw last week?

(WEATHER REPORT)

LEMON: He's consulting. He's discussing. He's undecided. But he's close -- President Bush on making changes to his policy in Iraq.

CNN's Brianna Keilar joins us from the White House -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Don.

President Bush met with his national security team at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, today, his second meeting in about a week. And a senior Bush administration official tells us that this meeting lasted about three hours and that it was "very productive."

That official also saying that the president's new defense secretary, Robert Gates, expanded on the briefing that he gave President Bush earlier this week. That was a briefing on his trip last week, a three-day trip to Iraq, where he met with Iraqi leaders, as well as U.S. commanders on the ground. And the president did have some brief remarks for reporters right after the briefing.

Standing right behind him, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as Defense Secretary Gates, and also General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff. Here's some of what Mr. Bush said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're making good progress toward coming up with a plan that we think will help us achieve our objective. As I think about this plan, I'm always -- have our troops in mind. There's nobody more important in this global war on terror than the men and women who wear the uniform and their families. And as we head into a new year, my thoughts are with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: All along, White House officials have billed this meeting as, in their words, non-decisional, more of a chance for President Bush to consult with his advisers and others. But Mr. Bush did say that today's discussion was "an important part of coming to a closure on a new way forward." A new way forward, of course, in the war in Iraq -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Brianna Keilar at the White House. Thank you so much for that report.

WHITFIELD: And in a moment we'll go back to Harlem, where it's tribute time at the Apollo, where you see right there in live pictures they are lined up to quietly file by the body of the late James Brown. A live report straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Dana Bash in New Orleans, where former senator John Edwards formally kicked off his presidential campaign here just a few hours ago. It was an early start and an unconventional site.

I'll have more of that coming up in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: "Tomorrow begins today," says John Edwards, whose 2008 presidential bid began this morning in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash is there.

And so why did he pick New Orleans?

BASH: Well, you can probably see behind me what this site looks like. It is officially, as you said, the Ninth Ward, known locally as New Orleans East, but there still is a lot of damage. This house behind me, no one lives in it still 16 months after Katrina hit, and that is why John Edwards chose this site to officially launch his second run for the White House.

You'll remember back in 2004, during his first run for the White House, he talked over and over about two Americas, the haves and the have-nots. Well, he said today that this -- what's going on here purposely illustrates what he talked about in the last campaign, but he also went on to talk about 2008 and the fact that he wants to kind of morph that message into a new call for action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not like we don't know what needs to be done. And this is not rocket science. Everybody in America that's listening to me right now knows what we need to do. They know about the challenges we face and they know what needs to happen.

So, we would ask everyone who's interested in changing America, who's interested in actually taking action, to join us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Edwards also says he want Americans to focus on -- when they focus on patriotism, to focus not just on war, to look beyond war. He talked about the need to focus on things like ridding America's dependence on oil and conservation.

And, of course, when it comes to the idea of patriotism, or even war, there is no escaping the Iraq war as a political issue now, and as we head into 2008. So John Edwards repeated what he has said in the past several months about the fact that he believes it's important to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, even said that 40,000 to 50,000 troops should come home right now.

And he actually went after the whole idea that's being bandied about and really, we understand, is being seriously considered at the White House right now for a surge in troops, adding more troops right now. He said that would be a big mistake. And actually, on his campaign Web site he launched today, he specifically went after a potential Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, because he has been talking about this idea for some time.

Now, on the political front, John Edwards, of course, is a familiar face. He not only ran his own campaign in 2004, he was John Kerry's running mate then, too. So that is an asset for him, especially going into what we all expect will be a very, very crowded field.

There's a lot of buzz, the Edwards campaign knows very well, about two candidates -- potential candidates, I should say -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, so that is part of the reason why this announcement happened so early. It is still 2006. And the -- the campaign and Senator Edwards himself understands the need to really get out, get ahead. But also, the timing of this week is interesting in terms of what we do. Generally, it's a slow news time between Christmas and New Year's. They were well aware of that and thought maybe this is a good time to get -- to get some attention -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Although it turned out not to be the case this holiday season.

BASH: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: So, Dana, is Edwards hearing, perhaps, the echoes of what he heard in '04, that he didn't have enough domestic or world leadership experience?

BASH: You know, he certainly expects to, because as you just said, that was a big part of the criticism of John Edwards as a candidate last time around. He only served in the Senate one term. And before that, he had no political experience at all.

He was asked about that today, and he simply said that it's a legitimate question and that over the past two years, since he lost in 2004, he spent a lot of time traveling the world and getting a better sense of what may be needed on the foreign policy stage. But he also quickly tried to pivot and attack the Bush administration.

He said, look at Donald Rumsfeld, look at Dick Cheney. He said, that's evidence, from his perspective, that experience could equal major mistakes when it comes to foreign policy.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dana Bash in New Orleans.

Thanks for the update.

LEMON: Theirs is a love story that spanned more than half- century, Gerald and Betty Ford, inseparable, straight ahead, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: James Brown always drew huge crowds to the Apollo Theater, and pretty much everywhere he went. And today is certainly no exception.

You're looking live now outside of the Apollo Theater at 125th Street in Harlem, upper Manhattan, so to speak. James Brown will be eulogized there today later on by the Reverend Al Sharpton, and we're expecting hundreds of thousands of people, some dignitaries -- lots of dignitaries as well.

As we said -- as we said, James Brown got his start at the Apollo about 50 years ago.

Why don't we take a listen. This is, I think, appropriate. Take a listen to him performing at the Apollo some years ago.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BUSINESS REPORT)

LEMON: Hello everyone it's the bottom of the hour, I'm Don Lemon at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield in today for Kyra Phillips.

He was the first president to ever mention his wife in an official speech. We love that. That's just one example of a love that endured its fair share of downs as well as ups. Straight ahead in the NEWSROOM , a closer look at the bond shared by Gerald and Betty Ford.

LEMON: But, first, we want to talk about the "Godfather of Soul," James Brown. He always drew huge crowds to the Apollo Theater and today, of course, is no exception. Fifty years after Brown's first appearance at the legendary Harlem showplace, fans are paying their last respects.

Roger Clark of CNN affiliate New York 1 joins us now live. And that line, I imagine, extends down the block and probably down a couple more blocks, Roger.

ROGER CLARK, NEW YORK 1 CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Tom, let me tell you, I went to take look, and I couldn't even see that far that's how -- this is unbelievable. This is 125th street and it basically takes up the whole block, around the block and then just keeps going.

Finally, just about ten minutes ago, they finally started letting folks in, and there were people here who have lined up, believe it or not, some people lined up here at midnight last night, just to get to the front of the line and make sure that they got in.

Now, how it worked throughout the day is that right now James Brown's body, his coffin, is on the stage here at the legendary Apollo Theater, the place, as you mentioned, he had played so many times and sold out. You know, electrified crowds here for many, many years. In fact, one of the great albums that he recorded was a live album right here back in 1962, and that really put him on the national map. He had made -- had a lot of R&B hits but that kind of put him out there and into the national spotlight as a great performer and entertainer.

Earlier today, it all kind of started, his journey to Apollo at 124th street, a couple of blocks away here in Harlem. He was his coffin was put on a horse-drawn carriage and made the trip south to the Apollo Theater where he will be on the stage. And there will be viewings here until about 8:00 tonight and also a short service which will be presided over by the Reverend Al Sharpton who was a close friend of James Brown.

We have some folks here to talk to you. And first of all, Tuwana Goss (ph) you have been here, you came from Patterson, New Jersey. You've been here how long?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been a couple hours, since about 9:30, 10:00 this morning.

CLARK: Why did you feel it was so important to come here and pay your respects to James Brown?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I've never seen him in concert, but this is like history for me, and to see all of these people out here for James Brown, he was one of the most phenomenal artists that have ever lived. And I've never seen him, like I said, but to know his music had impact like this. A few words, I'm black and I'm proud, that's a profound statement for kids my age. And you know, I'm an adult, but not a kid.

But for people that were above -- up above me, my seniors, to hear that statement, in the time that they lived. This is history for me. This is phenomenal, I'm loving it. This is absolutely phenomenal.

CLARK: Thanks, Tuwana (ph). And also here is Don Brown, no relation, at least you don't think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not that I'm aware of, correct.

CLARK: Tell me about the legacy of James Brown here in the New York/Harlem community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, James Brown is an inspiration. James Brown is a cultural icon, not only the words that he used the words, say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud, that inspired so many from the African-American community, but he said stand up and be somebody. He says, I don't want nobody to get nothing, open the door and I'll give it myself. Give me a level playing field. James Brown provided the fuel for the civil rights moves movement. So I'm here to honor and show respect.

CLARK: Well, a great dancer and singer and entertainer, but so much more than that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Much more than that, yes. James Brown, the man, we're here to all honor him, the Harlem community come out -- not just Harlem, but throughout the whole New York, all the Burroughs and throughout the world is right now to pay respects to James Brown.

CLARK: Mr. Brown, thank you very much. I know you want to go pay your last respects. That's for talking with us.

And that's the kind of stories we've been hearing all day, Don, really just great stories -- oh yeah, this is a nice picture that an artist gave Mr. Brown earlier this morning. That's cool. Thanks a lot.

LEMON: That is a really nice tribute to the person you were talking to earlier, I forget her name, Tiana (ph)? I don't remember her name.

But she's not an older person. And for her to know James Brown's music really speaks volumes. And Roger, as you were talking there, there was some video. We know the Reverend Al Sharpton is going to be eulogizing James Brown earlier, but there were photographs of James Brown and Al Sharpton basically the same hairdo and them on stage at the Apollo, if we can get some of those pictures of there. It is amazing.

He sort of modeled himself, Roger, after James Brown, because he didn't have a father figure, and James Brown really became his father figure.

CLARK: You know, we've been covering Al Sharpton in the news here in New York quite a lot in the past couple of weeks related to the police shooting episode...

LEMON: Right.

CLARK: ...that took place, and, you know, you see him wearing that hat, so to speak, and to see him on Saturday, holding the press conference over the weekend, when James Brown died, to see him in tears, a totally different kind of Al Sharpton.

LEMON: Yes.

CLARK: It really -- it really was incredible to see kind of that side of this guy who we're see used to leading protests.

LEMON: And we're looking at pictures alongside of you, Roger, of Al Sharpton greeting people next to it, an open coffin, an open-casket I should say, greeting.

So, yes, it is sort of -- was interesting to see the juxtaposition of that, because it really the entire country has been covering the police shooting as well, and seeing Al Sharpton with that and then to see him in that teary-eyed press conference just a couple days ago was really quite amazing.

CLARK: Yeah. And some great stories here, today, I'll tell you, Don. Just like, one, a daughter, her mother and her mother, three generations of James Brown fans came together. Met a guy this morning at 6:30 a.m., comes running down the block, I got to get a spot, I just got here from Philadelphia. Unbelievable stories.

LEMON: Roger Clark, he is loved. That is fantastic. Thank you very much for your live report. Great reports and great interviews with all the Brown fans out there. We'll be checking back with you. And we'll be following the story right here on CNN. Roger Clark from CNN affiliate New York 1, joining us today. Thanks.

WHITFIELD: And, Don, now paying tribute to a late president. If there was one constant in Gerald Ford's life, it was Betty Ford. CNN's Randi Kaye takes a look at a love affair that lasted more than half a century.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Politics was Gerald Ford's second love, his first was partner and friend of more than 50 years, his wife Betty.

BETTY FORD, FRM. FIRST LADY: We just thanked the good lord for the days he's given us, and we just hoped to keep going as Gerry says, another 50.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they enjoyed each other's company enormously.

KAYE: Karl Sphirasa Anthony (ph) has known the Ford family for a quarter century and has written about many first ladies. He saw first hand the love affair between Betty Ford and the former president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On that day he inherited the presidency, when Nixon resigned, he immediately mentioned and thanked his wife in his speech. And basically said he has no obligation to anyone except one person -- his wife. And that was unprecedented.

KAYE: Gerald Ford first met Betty Bloomer back in 1947 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They married the following year, two weeks before he was elected to his first term in Congress. Over the years, through four children, a host of health problems, and personal battles, their affections only grew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He certainly was a man who had absolutely no reservations about kissing his wife in public. And I think, as president, that was really unprecedented.

KAYE: In 1974, when Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer just a month after they moved into the White House, they battled it together. And when she went public with her prescription drug and alcohol dependency, it was Mr. Ford who stopped drinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He decided that he would stop drinking. He would do that, not because he thought he had any problem or she thought he had a problem, but simply because it would make it easier for her.

KAYE: Their love for one another was not lost on the public or the media. And the first lady handled questions about it with her hallmark frankness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said, you know, I've been asked every possible personal question, except how often I sleep with my husband. And the interviewer said, and if somebody asked you that? Well, I'd say, I sleep with him as often as possible. You've never heard a first lady talk about sleeping with her husband.

KAYE: With her husband at her side, Betty Ford set a new standard for White House candor. She let the nation know she and the president would be sharing the same bedroom, a first at the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was one of those men, I think atypical of his generation, who was not at all threatened by a strong, articulate woman. KAYE: In the end, it was Betty Ford who released word of her husband's passing to the nation, not a family spokesperson or friend. With a love so deep, who would have expected less?

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And perhaps you want to learn more. You can get more on the life and the legacy of Gerald Ford in a special report at CNN.com, see his life in pictures, watch what colleagues are saying about him, and interact as well. You can tell us how you remember the former president in a CNN i-report. Get more at CNN.com.

LEMON: And just ahead, the possible last words from a former dictator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: I bid you farewell and submit myself to the merciful and ever-faithful lord.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That story's ahead in the NEWSROOM.

And a complicated case of birth, adoption and kidnapping. Now, North Carolina police and the FBI are on the search for 17-month-old twins. Details ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Let's head straight to the NEWSROOM now. Carol Lin with details on a developing story. What do you have, Carol

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Following up from yesterday, Don, news of a body found high on a mountain in the Sezchen Province in China. We're hearing now from the Associated Press that that body has been identified as the man on the screen left there, Charlie Fowler, 52 years old.

He was a climbing guide and a photographer. He and his climbing companion, Christine Boskoff, took off towards the border with Tibet on a climbing trip, they did not leave a detailed itinerary behind and that obviously hampered the search for them when they went missing several weeks ago.

Now according to the Seattle adventure company, Mountain Madness, which Christine Boskoff actually worked for, it has said, that company has said, that the body found yesterday was that of Charlie, but that this person had no other details.

They were climbing something called Genie Mountain, Don, and I'm sure the searchers were wishing for some sort of magic that they would find these climbers alive. So far they have not found any indication of Christine Boskoff just yet. LEMON: Very sad.

LIN: Yes.

LEMON: Carol, thank you so much for that.

Be strong, don't hate, trust God. As farewell messages from former dictators go, Saddam Hussein's was unexpected, but not entirely venom free.

CNN's Carol Costello reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A good-bye letter from a condemned man. Former Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein attempting to get the last word in a long missive posted on a Baathist web site.

It's addressed to his supporters both inside and outside Iraq and it takes a swipe at Americans, which Saddam refers to as merciless tyrants. And Iraq neighbor, the largely Shia Muslim Iran, he calls the Iranians, hateful devil worshipping Persians.

He writes that both countries are trying to enslave you and incite you to fight each other. But Saddam urges Iraqis to unite, writing, I hereby call upon you not to hate or bear grudges because this will prevent you from being equitable and just.

The letter strikes fatalistic notes as well, with Saddam writing it's to God to decide if he wants me to join the pious and martyrs in Heaven or to postpone this as he sees fit. He is our creator and we all ultimately return to him.

He closes by calling Iraq a loyal and honorable nation, and saying, I bid you farewell and submit myself to the merciful and ever faithful Lord.

Carol Costello, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Iraq reinstated the death penalty just two years ago. And on that front, it lags far behind the world's leader.

Here's a fact check.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: In 2005, there were more than 2,100 people executed in 22 different countries. But the overwhelming majority, 94 percent, were carried out in just four countries -- China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States.

The U.S. executed 60 people. Saudi Arabia, at least 86. Iran executed at least 94. China's execution records are kept secret. Based on public records that are available, Amnesty International estimates China executed 1,770 people in 2005.

Saddam Hussein joins a list of world leaders sentenced to death. In 1945, a firing squad shot Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, then strung up his body upside down at a Milan gas station.

A military tribunal hanged Japan's war-time Prime Minister Hideki Tojo for war crimes in 1948. And 1962, former SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann was also hanged for crimes against the Jewish people. Pakistan hanged its former prime minister (INAUDIBLE) Bhutto in 1979.

In 1989, a Romanian firing squad executed the husband-and-wife team of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. The pair served as Romania's prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively. Their trial on charges of genocide lasted two hours. They were immediately sentenced to death by firing squad. In 1996, the Taliban executed Afghanistan's president Muhammed Naigiabula (ph). Two other Afghan presidents were executed months apart in 1979.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And now, in Iraq, more American casualties, and another grim distinction. A U.S. patrol on foot today, north of Baghdad hit a roadside bomb. One soldier is dead, another hurt. That makes 99 U.S. service members killed in Iraq this month alone and makes December the fifth deadliest month for Americans since the war began.

LEMON: A look at al Qaeda in action. A videotape found in a mosque south of Baghdad shows a kidnapping of two U.S. soldiers in June. It also shows a terror suspect talking about it. The tape was found by Iraqi soldiers who captured the alleged leader of an al Qaeda cell. The two kidnapped Americans were tortured and killed.

The Iran connection, the White House and Pentagon have long said the fight for Iraq would be easier if it weren't for its neighbor to the east. Now, there may be hard evidence of just how hard Iran is making life for Iraqi and U.S. forces and non-combatants, too.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr lays it out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned there is evidence that two Iranians the U.S. military is now holding in Iraq are involved in bringing deadly IED technology into the country, including the type of armor-piercing bombs that have killed hundreds of American troops.

The Iranians may have been in Iraq at the invitation of President Jalal Talabani. They were seized an an early-morning raid at a Baghdad compound along with others on December 21st.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: We did seize on the site additional items such as documents, maps, photographs and videos. STARR: In a written statement, the U.S. military said some of the materials seized directly link the Iranians to attacks on U.S. forces. The statement said that "debriefing of the detainees, and investigation of the seized materials has yielded evidence linking some of the individuals being detained to weapons shipments to illegal armed groups in Iraq."

The U.S. says Iran is providing advanced IED technology to Iraqi Shia militia groups. Recently, the top U.S. commander directly accused Tehran.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It's clear that money is coming in through their intelligence services. Training is probably being conducted inside Iran through various surrogates and proxies. But I think it's very clear that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (INAUDIBLE) is trying to destabilize the situation in Iraq.

STARR: December already is the second deadliest month of the year for U.S. troops, with at least 90 killed in action. Military sources tell CNN the sophistication of the attacks continues to grow. Even before a strategy change is announced, commanders say they are pressing the Iraqis to make changes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one significant difference that will occur, is you're going to see the government of Iraq in the lead.

STARR: But there is great caution.

CALDWELL: There are still significant shortcomings in the Iraqi security forces. Iraqi security forces suffer from deficiencies in logistics, leadership and in some cases loyalty.

STARR (on camera): And U.S. commanders are projecting that the levels of violence in Iraq will remain high for sometime to come.

Barbara Starr, CNN, The Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Coming up -- a complicated case of birth, adoption and kidnapping. Now, North Carolina police and the FBI are on the search for 17-month-old twins. Details straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. You're watching live pictures. That's the Apollo in New York City and Harlem, 125th Street. And you're looking at mourners walking through a procession to view the body of James Brown. He is laying there, open casket, processional. He'll be eulogized later this evening by the Reverend Al Sharpton. Let's listen in. They are playing his music as folks stream through here.

(MUSIC)

LEMON: So anyway, that is the service for James Brown, died over Christmas. And you are looking at live pictures, and we'll get back to this later on right here in the NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: In the south, twins. 17-month-olds missing since Christmas Eve, but no amber alert has been issued. Even though police in North Carolina and Florida as well as the FBI are on the case.

Reporter Kelsey Carlson of CNN affiliate WRAL in Durham has more on a kidnapping with a history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELSEY CARLSON, WRAL REPORTER (voice-over): When 49-year-old Allison Quets took her biological twins for her monthly visit and didn't bring them back to their adopted parents, it became a kidnapping case, but Allison's sister, Gail, says there is more to this story.

GAIL QUETS, ALLISON QUETS' SISTER: God forbid that a loving mother should face criminal charges just for wanting to be with her children.

CARLSON: After getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization, Gail Quets says her sister's pregnancy was rough. She says Allison was so weak, she worried she couldn't care for twin twins Tyler and Holly.

QUETS: She was absolutely pressured into giving them up for adoption.

CARLSON: Allison apparently found the family through a friend, but immediately regretted her decision to give them up.

QUETS: She has been fighting since day one. She has spent over $400,000, all of her life savings on this legal process.

CARLSON: The custody battle was playing out in Florida where Allison Quets lives. She's been renting this Durham apartment, so she can have a monthly visits with the twins who now live in Apex. A neighbor says she saw a stroller outside Quets' apartment on Christmas Eve, but hasn't seen her since. Gail Quets says she doesn't know where her sister is, but investigators think she may be in Florida or Kentucky.

QUETS: I'm worried. I'm not that worried, because I know my sister's a very smart and capable person, and I know she loves her children very much and would never endanger them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Authorities think the children may be traveling in a white Plymouth van with the North Carolina license plate LRJ6644.

LEMON: Funeral plans revealed for President Ford, and plus Ford's real views on the war in Iraq. Later on, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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