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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Encore Presentation: Unforgettable Stories 2006

Aired December 31, 2006 - 21:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our American viewers and everyone watching around the world on "CNN INTERNATIONAL."
The year that's about to end was extraordinary in many ways, both large and small. In the hour ahead we're going to look back at some of the most remarkable stories of 2006. Many were unpredictable and unexpected, all of them unforgettable.

We begin at the beginning, in the first days of the New Year when 2006 was full of possibilities and hope.

Here's CNN's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

January 2, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a few extraordinary hours of relief and pure joy, 2006 began with a miracle.

After an excruciating 40 hours of searching, shouting and praying, exhausted rescuers down deep in the shafts of the Sago Mine near Buckhannon, West Virginia, say they've located a dozen coal miners trapped by an explosion. And the garbled message that comes from 260 feet underground is that the trapped miners are alive. Church bells ring, cheers erupt, tears of happiness.

VOICE OF RANDI KAYE: What can you confirm for us at this hour? We're being told 12 miners alive.

REP. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R) WEST VIRGINIA: 12 miners alive.

JOHNS: It was in fact too good to be true. It was a terrible disaster followed by a cruel accident. The news was wrong. Sago was not a miracle. Slowly, painfully the story. What they really found deep in the mine emerged.

COOPER: Wait, wait. Come here. What's happening?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's only one -- there's only one made it out alive.

JOHNS: All dead, except for one, lone survivor Randal McCloy, a father, the youngest of the men trapped.

For most of the rest of 2006, West Virginia investigators sift through the evidence. And it would be months before we finally learned from one of the rescue team members how the confusion underground got started.

BILL TUCKER, MINE RESCUER: I started screaming for help then and saying, they're over here, they're over here. I don't recall the exact words that I used, but I -- I -- and I didn't have a radio. I was just screaming out for help. And I think I said, they're alive.

JOHNS: And an apology from the men who risked their own lives to save their brothers in the mine.

RONALD HIXSON, MINE RESCUER: We apologize for any of the problems or heartaches that the miscommunications caused. That was not meant to be.

JOHNS (on camera): Maps and mockups suggest that when the explosion occurred January 2, the miners were underground somewhere near here.

On the surface is West Virginia woodlands, sparsely populated, rolling hills.

(Voice-over): 26 stories down into the earth, the miners were struggling to survive, which was perhaps the biggest curiosity of all, that a society so advanced that it could map the human genome, but not after so many years devise a way to locate and rescue miners trapped in the earth before their air ran out.

What sparked it? Probably a freak lightning strike, said authorities, though that conclusion prompted extreme skepticism from some quarters because the mine company and investigators were at a loss to show conclusively how such an electrical spark could travel miles from its impact point on the surface, and then down into the mine. And even then, a spark needs fuel to start an explosion.

What was the fuel? Best official guess, methane gas, allowed to reach dangerous levels in a sealed-off part of the mine. And, oh, the seals in the closed-off part failed.

Any great tragedy is closely followed by legislation; and there was some, including a bill passed by the Congress to make coal mining safer. But federal regulators said they would not recommend changing many of the relevant rules on mine safety until after they issue their own report next spring.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Shortly after the Sago Mine disaster, an explosion rocked the publishing world. A best-selling book, its sales super- sized by a coveted endorsement by Oprah, turned out to be fiction. It wouldn't have been a problem for a novelist, but James Frey had told the world his book was a memoir. What happened next, memorable.

Here's CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

January 11, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES FREY, AUTHOR, "A MILLION LITTLE PIECES": I don't think it's necessarily appropriate to say I've conned anyone.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That was January 11th. Author James Frey, defending his credibility on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE." It was three months after Oprah Winfrey had this to say about Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces."

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: It's a gut-wrenching memoir that is raw and it's so real.

KAYE: When Winfrey added Frey's the book about his personal struggle with addiction to her book club, sales skyrocketed. But soon after, Frey was under fire for lying about details of his story.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Why embellish anything?

FREY: In certain cases things were toned up. In certain cases things were toned down.

KAYE: Then came a surprise caller.

VOICE OF OPRAH WINFREY: The underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me and I know that it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book.

KAYE: It looked like Frey had weathered the worst. But as it turns out, this was only the prologue to the literary scandal of the year.

WILLIAM BASTONE, EDITOR, "THE SMOKING GUN": He has been promoting the book for two and a half years and basically lied continuously.

KAYE: The investigative Web site, "The Smoking Gun," which broke the story, reported on even more blatant fabrications in Frey's book. For instance, that he only spent a few hours in jail, not 87 days as he claimed.

The controversy began to snowball. Winfrey retracted the remarks she made on "LARRY KING LIVE," and called Frey to the mat.

WINFREY: ... because I really feel duped. I read this book as a memoir. And to me, a memoir means its the truth of your life, as you know it to be, and not blatant fictionalization. KAYE: It was like watching an angry prosecutor.

FREY: I have, you know, essentially admitted to...

WINFREY: Lying.

(CROSSTALK)

FREY: ... what I have been...

WINFREY: To lying.

KAYE (on camera): While Frey was publicly humiliated, "A Million Little Pieces" was still the sixth best-selling book in 2006, proving there may really be no such thing as bad publicity.

Randy Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, publicity, good and bad, can also put issues on the map.

If the average American wasn't thinking about immigration reform last New Year's Eve, they soon would be. 2006 was the year that millions of people living in the country's shadows found their voice, even as they stayed hidden.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

January 25, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): January 25th, the battle over illegal immigration goes underground.

(On camera): You go down the ladder, you've -- you enter another world.

(Voice-over): A tunnel extending from Tijuana all the way to just south of San Diego. It's the length of 12 football fields. This passage was used primary for drugs, but might have also been used to smuggle people into the U.S.

(On camera): They've wired the entire tunnel with these cables. They have light bulbs on them. There's even a pipe that brings in fresh oxygen.

(Voice-over): Their shipments can end up here, one of 67 heavily guarded warehouses operated by Customs and Border Protection.

(On camera): This is just one package of marijuana. This one weighs about 13 pounds. It's worth about $45,000 on the streets in the Midwest.

(Voice-over): The battle on the border also took us to the ocean's edge, where the fence along the U.S.-Mexican border stretches into the sea.

(On camera): It's very easy to climb over, as you can tell. I mean, it's very easy to get a handhold here. It's about 12, maybe 15 feet high.

(Voice-over): And to Los Angeles. Hundreds of thousands pour into the streets, demanding respect and rights for what they call undocumented workers.

(On camera): There's several hundred people carrying an enormous American flag, which is probably very visible from above. There was a real sense after the first major demonstration that there were too many Mexican flags shown and not enough American flags.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless America!

COOPER (voice-over): The rally, the reaction, part of a defining battle for 2006. By some estimates, as many as 20 million illegal immigrants are in the U.S.

Should they be jailed or made citizens? Deported or given guest worker status?

We heard many immigration stories over the years. Like this woman, who was willing to sell her baby at the border.

And Marlin Vargas, deported from the U.S., a passenger on what immigration officials called Con Air, a new way to speed up the process of sending undocumented immigrants home. Our Rick Sanchez rode along.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is this the first time you tried to come to the United States?

MARLIN VARGAS, DEPORTED: No.

SANCHEZ: No? How many times?

VARGAS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SANCHEZ: Seven times?

COOPER: After the plane lands, Vargas is home. When our cameras are there, the roof is leaking, there's no food in the cupboard, not even running water.

SANCHEZ: If it was easier to get in, would you go back?

VARGAS: Probably.

COOPER: Inside America and out, one more story in a year when the fight over illegal immigration seemed more like a war. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (on camera): While immigration rallies were filling the streets last spring, the FBI was turning up the heat on a man named Warren Jeffs. The polygamist leader landed on the FBI's Most Wanted list, joining the likes of Osama bin Laden. Well, it worked.

Coming up, Jeff's capture, the case against him and the secretive world of child brides at the heart of this story.

Plus, the nuclear showdown that took a new and troubling turn this year. North Korea's missile test. How worried should the world be?

Those were just two of the top stories this year, but is either one the top story? We've been adding up your votes. And later this hour, we'll tell you which story you picked. All that ahead on "Unforgettable Stories 2006."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is it that it took so long for the president, for you, for anybody else to know that the vice president accidentally shot somebody?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, earlier the next morning, Mrs. Armstrong reached out to the Corpus paper.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded Harry Whittington during a weekend quail hunt. It took almost 24 hours for the news to be released.

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: Welcome back to our year-end special, "Unforgettable Stories 2006."

For Warren Jeffs, 2006 was the year the law finally caught up with him. The highly publicized chase and Jeffs' capture opened a window onto a secretive world of child brides, multiple wives and extreme religious devotion.

It's a story that kept CNN's Gary Tuchman on the road on Warren Jeffs' trail.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

May 6, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On May 6th, the leader of the largest polygamist sect in America was put on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list. Warren Jeffs, the head of the fundamentalist Latter Day Saint church, a prophet to his 10,000-plus followers, was on the list for more than three months.

JUDGE JAMES SHUMATE, WASHINGTON CO., UTAH: Mr. Jeffs, you should have a copy of the charge there in front of you. Do you have that paperwork there, sir?

WARREN JEFFS, FUGITIVE: Yes, I do.

TUCHMAN: He was apprehended in August, near Las Vegas, in a brand new 2007 Cadillac Escalade. Police say he had iPods, cell phones, and many disguises -- all against his religious teachings -- and more than $50,000 in cash.

He was flown in a chopper amid intense security to a jail in Utah.

SHUMATE: Tell me, is your name spelled correctly?

JEFFS: Yes, it is.

TUCHMAN: Jeffs is accused of performing marriages of girls under 18 to older men, many of them polygamists. Jeffs was charged with being an accomplice to rape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No comment, thank you.

TUCHMAN: His followers, who consider Jeffs a prophet of God, were aghast, and in some cases angry.

(On camera): What do you think of him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a great prophet. And you're damn fools for bothering him. Because your ass is going to get hung one of these days; when you look up from hell and look at him in the face.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Most of Jeffs' followers live in the twin border towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, and remain loyal to him. Although others now question his integrity and his claims.

Elsie is one of the doubters. She told us what the 51-year-old church leader said to her on the day she found out she was getting married.

ELSIE, WARREN JEFFS ARRANGED HER MARRIAGE: I am President Warnez Jeffs -- that's what he said when we first went in. And then he told me he wanted me to marry Robert Richter, and I didn't know who he was, but found out real soon.

TUCHMAN: And when you were told you were getting married, how soon did you get married?

ELSIE: Well, we waited five minutes after that until he arrived.

TUCHMAN: That's a lengthy -- that's a lengthy courtship.

ELSIE: And then I married him.

TUCHMAN: Elsie was of legal age when she got married. The star witness at Jeffs' preliminary hearing was not.

Jane Doe was 14 when she was forced to marry her 19-year-old first cousin. And though the camera is not permitted to show her, you can hear her, as she testified about her wedding ceremony.

VOICE OF JANE DOE, ALLEGED RAPE VICTIM: This entire time I was there, I was -- I was crying. And I just -- I honestly just wanted to die because I was so scared.

TUCHMAN: The judge ruled there was enough evidence to send the case to trial.

(On camera): The trial of Warren Jeffs is scheduled to begin April 23rd. He faces the possibility of life in prison. But for now, he remains the leader of the FLDS church, a prophet behind bars.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, St. George, Utah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: As secretive and controlling as Warren Jeffs may be, he has nothing on North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.

When 2006 began negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program were at a standstill, and the crisis was about to get worse.

In July, four and a half years after President Bush first called North Korea part of an axis of evil, the communist state raised the stakes.

Here's CNN's John King.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

July 4, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Breaking news this independence day in the United States. North Korea fires at least three missiles, clearly in a provocation designed to get the attention of the Bush White House and its neighbors across Asia.

(Voice-over): It was a fourth of July rocket show, guaranteed to escalate an already tense nuclear showdown.

MICHAEL GREEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, ASIA EXPERT: And they wanted to demonstrate, I think politically, they were willing to escalate to get what they wanted in the six-party talks.

KING: Missiles tested included the long-range Taepo Dong 2 rocket that could ultimately reach the United States. That test was deemed a failure, though the message from North Korea's unpredictable leader was that his nation had proven its military clout.

GREEN: It's the most closed regime in the world. And there are battalions of psychiatrists in the U.S. and other governments trying to figure out who this guy is. I think the strategy for Kim Jong-Il -- it's a cliche to say it -- is survival, regime survival.

KING: It would not be long before Kim Jong-Il would again choose defiance over diplomacy.

October 9th, North Korea's state-controlled news agency announcing what it called a historic event, an underground nuclear test. This despite worldwide warnings that such a move would only increase Jong-yang's (ph) isolation.

GREEN: Kim Jong-Il doesn't have much to export -- mushrooms, drugs, counterfeit $100 bills, and fake Viagra. But he does export and manufacture tension and create a sense of crisis, and then try to use that to extract concessions and get something diplomatically.

KING: The test alarmed China, however, and helped the United States win support for tougher new sanctions at the United Nations Security Council.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This action by the United Nations, which was swift and tough, says that we are united in our determination to see to it that the Korean peninsula is nuclear weapons-free.

KING: It was enough to convince North Korea to return to the so- called six-party talks, which resumed in December.

GREEN: Yes, it's tactical. I don't think we should expect a change of heart.

KING: North Korea wants the sanctions lifted or at least eased, but says it is now a member of the world's exclusive club of nuclear nations, and has every intention of remaining one.

John King, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: While the crisis in North Korea was smoldering, a full- scale war erupted between Israel and Hezbollah. Israeli and Lebanese civilians paid the price.

Coming up, the frontlines, the catastrophe on both sides of the border.

Plus, one of the most bizarre stories of 2006. He was arrested for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. And then things got really strange. John Mark Karr, one of the most unforgettable people of 2006.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Unforgettable Stories 2006" continues now in the Middle East where the past shapes the present every day.

In mid-July, the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers ignited a full-scale battle between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shia militant group in Lebanon.

For 34 days Israel unleashed its massive firepower on its long- time enemy, but Hezbollah did not back down, it didn't even blink.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

July 13, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER (voice-over): Thursday, July 13th, Hezbollah's rockets slam into Haifa, Israel's third largest city.

It's the first time Hezbollah has struck so far inside Israel, but far from the last.

Over the next four weeks, thousands of rockets will rain down on Israel. One slams into a train depot in Haifa. My crew and I arrive soon after. Eight people die. You can see the hole in the roof the missile made. There was blood all over the concrete, shiny pools of it. These men were picking up pieces of the bodies.

To the north across the border, Beirut is crumbling.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, for the past two hours, Beirut has been a city under attack.

COOPER: Weeks of air strikes will reduce parts of the capital, much of the country to rubble. Millions will be left homeless. As the casualties mount, Israel comes under fire.

KOFI ANNON, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS: While Hezbollah's actions are deplorable, and as I've said, Israel has a right to defend itself, the excessive use of force is to be condemned.

COOPER: But Israel's new Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under pressure to crush Israel's long-time enemy. Hezbollah's brazen kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers has given him a chance.

BRIGADIER GENERAL IDO NEHUSHTAN, ISRAELI DEFENCE FORCES: We are aiming to cripple Hezbollah.

COOPER: As the bombs and rockets fall, life on both sides of the border turns surreal.

In Kiryat Shmona I met some kids who make a game of war. They're collecting Katyusha rockets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you can really see the Katyusha.

COOPER: Their father, a teacher, believes it helps them cope.

BARRY SILVERBERG, FATHER: Collecting the rocket fragments gives them a bit of feeling of control over something that was trying to kill them.

COOPER: In southern Lebanon, it's too dangerous for relief workers to reach trapped civilians. Families face a horrible choice. Is it safer to stay in the rubble or risk dying while fleeing.

25,000 Americans are stranded in Lebanon as well. U.S. Marines are sent in to help evacuate them.

No one is safe. Four United Nations workers are killed in an Israeli air strike. Five days later, at least 28 Lebanese civilians, including children die when Israel bombs a building. Israel says it was responding to missiles being launched from the area.

As the death toll mounts, so does the outrage.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop.

COOPER: But on the frontlines, neither side sees madness. They simply see no other choice. They rarely actually see the enemy.

(On camera): Each Israeli...

(EXPLOSION)

COOPER: ... commander knows. He passes the order down to them. The whole process just takes a matter of moments.

(Voice-over): Hezbollah proves tougher than Israel imagined. The group's leader Hassan Nasrallah becomes a hero in the Arab world.

The fighting lasts 34 days. By the time a cease-fire begins and peacekeepers arrive, more than 1,000 people have died, thousands more injured, millions are homeless. It will take billions to repair all the damage. It's almost too much to absorb.

(On camera): War is like that. It is the smallest details that haunt you.

When you actually see the Katyushas, they're sickeningly simple. They're filled with scrap metal and ball bearings, designed simply to maim or kill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): We were on the front lines in Israel and Lebanon for nearly a month.

Shortly after we returned to New York, a story no one could have predicted caught everyone by surprise, the ultimate cold case suddenly turned red-hot.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

August 16, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): August 16th, nearly a decade after 6-year-old Beauty Queen JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in her Boulder, Colorado home. And this man is thrust to the center of the world stage, a role he seemed to relish.

JOHN MARK KARR, ARRESTED FOR MURDER OF JONBENET RAMSEY: I love JonBenet and she died accidentally.

FOREMAN: John Mark Karr was arrested in Thailand. With hindsight, we know he was obsessed with JonBenet. The details he knew about her murder and her family seemed to fit. Clearly, the district attorney in Boulder thought she had closed the case.

MARY LACY, BOULDER DISTRICT ATTORNEY: John Mark Karr, 41 years old, was arrested for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

FOREMAN: Soon, a strange portrait emerged. Karr had been fired from a substitute teaching job after complaints from parents.

California wanted him on child pornography charges.

In the years after JonBenet's murder, Karr sent an avalanche of e-mails to this University of Colorado professor who had produce a documentary on the murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a single thing that prompted you to say, OK, I've got to go to the cops now?

MICHAEL TRACEY, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO: There was, but I'm not going to say what it is.

PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER: I think we need either DNA, a handprint or something he snuck out of her bedroom he couldn't buy on eBay.

FOREMAN: Karr's statements soon began to unravel.

For example, he said he drugged JonBenet the night of the murder. But her autopsy report did not reveal drugs.

Further, DNA tests at the crime scene did not match Karr.

Plus Karr's ex-wife insists he was nearly 1,500 miles away at home in Georgia with her the Christmas night JonBenet was killed.

Finally, despite Karr's bizarre behavior...

SETH TEMIN, COLORADO PUBLIC DEFENDER: The warrant on Mr. Karr has been dropped by the district attorney.

FOREMAN: The case against Karr shattered. But it would get even stranger. On the question of how he became suspect number one in the murder case...

KARR: I don't ever recall saying that I did on the child.

FOREMAN: Soon, the state of California ordered him back to face the child pornography charges, but they were dropped too because officials lost evidence on a computer hard drive.

Today, John Mark Karr is a free man. And despite one of the most famous murder arrests of 2006, the murder of JonBenet Ramsey remains unsolved.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Ahead on 360, another person whose words made headlines. 2006 was a breakout year of sorts for Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Coming up, some of his most memorable moments on the world stage and on 360, an interview I won't soon forget.

Plus, inside the killing fields of Darfur. In 2006, the crisis got worse while the world watched. 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta takes us inside a refugee camp, inside one of the most troubling stories of the year, when "Unforgettable Stories 2006" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

August 24, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The recommendation is that we consider Pluto to be in a special class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

The International Astronomical Union voted to demote Pluto from a planet to a new category of "dwarf planet." There are now officially eight planets in our solar system.

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER: Pluto got downsized in 2006, and frankly no one put much of a fight.

But the leader of Iran -- well, think of him as they year's an anti-Pluto. He stood up to a superpower, and saw his popularity surge.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

September 19, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

COOPER (voice-over): September 19, the U.N., the world literally at his feet. Nuclear ambitions, destroying Israel, meddling in Iraq, standing up to the United States. Nobody captured our attention this year quite like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To holocaust deniers, Ahmadinejad has become a champion.

(On camera): I mean, the argument could be made that the genocide was perhaps the most well documented genocide of the 20th Century. Do you really believe that the holocaust never happened?

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): If this event happened, where did it happen? The where is the main question. And it was not in Palestine. Why is the holocaust used as a pretext to occupy the Palestinian land?

COOPER (voice-over): It's that kind of talk and other issues that trouble Washington.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: I think he's a Hitler type of person. He has made it clear that he wants to destroy Israel. He's made it clear he doesn't believe in the holocaust.

COOPER: So some, this son of a blacksmith is leading a global anti-American movement. But others in Iran fear his defiance toward the West threatens their recent economic gains. And they're speaking out.

Despite the debate both in and out of Iran, Ahmadinejad says he only has peaceful intentions for Iran's nuclear development. President Bush, however, isn't buying it.

BUSH: Iran is obviously part of the -- part of the problem. They sponsor Hezbollah. They encourage a radical brand of Islam. Imagine how difficult this issue would be if Iran had a nuclear weapon.

COOPER: Then there's Iraq. It's suspected Iran is helping to fund the sectarian violence raging there. And once a bitter enemy with its neighbor, the two countries are now holding talks with each other.

While the White House isn't interested in talking with Ahmadinejad, the Iraq Study Group says reaching out to Iran is an option that must be considered.

But even if that happens, Ahmadinejad will not be easy to pin down.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): Are you asking the questions that are on your mind or the questions that are given to you by others?

COOPER (on camera): Actually, in America we have a free press, unlike in parts of Iran.

(Voice-over): We saw and heard a lot from Ahmadinejad in 2006. Let's see what happens in the new year ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (on camera): Of all the places we traveled to in 2006, one of the most unforgettable was western Sudan. To call what's happening in Darfur a humanitarian crisis, well that doesn't begin to tell the story. You have to go there, you have to see it.

360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta did just that.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

September 28, 2006,

(END GRAPHIC)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): September 28th, we land near the border of Chad, Darfur. It's the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

(On camera): A lot of people ask, what does a refugee camp look like. Well, you're looking at one of the biggest ones, where so many of the 200,000 displaced people from Darfur are living.

These little huts is where the people actually live. These trees are actually bound together. They're sorghum trees. They use this to actually pound food into a paste that they can cook. And over here is where they keep some of their water. It's not enough.

Everyone tells us that all the time. They don't have enough food. They don't have enough water.

This is where they're living though. This is how they're living as well.

(Voice-over): It's been nearly four years, and the fighting rages on. The refugees, mostly tribal farmers, they live in fear of the Janjaweed, a pro-government militia accused of atrocities across Darfur.

At least 2 million people have fled their homes. Nearly 400,000 people killed. Each one of them has a face. Each one has a story.

(On camera): There's also a lot of power behind some of these images as well. Take a look at these images. You hear the chanting. We lost our parents and families because of one genocide, killing and burning. They talk a lot about these pictures that they're drawing, This is the passion behind it.

(Voice-over): The Sudanese government refuses to allow international peacekeepers in. For now, African Union troops are charged with standing in genocide's way. Clearly, it's not enough.

(On camera): How many people feel safe here? Nobody. How many of you lost somebody during this conflict? Almost everybody.

Yes, the stories are horrifying. And so many of them start just beyond those hills, where the Sudan-Chad border is. So many people came by foot, walked all the way to these refugee camps. What we find, though, is they have so much in common with people in other parts of the world. Yes, they want food and water, but they also want their own land. And most importantly, they want education for their children.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, this was an election year, of course. And it was also a year of scandals in Washington. Not the best combination in the end, especially for Republicans. We'll have that ahead.

And the top story of 2006, according to -- well, according to you. But which story is it? This one? Maybe not. We've counted your votes and later this hour, we'll give you the answer.

"Unforgettable Stories 2006" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It was certainly a flush year for political reporters. 2006 brought a bumper crop of stories, many of which would shape the biggest political story of the year, the midterm elections. And well get to that one in a moment.

But first, the scandals. From rehab to prison to the unrepentant.

Here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

September 29, 2006

(END GRAPHIC)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): On September 29th, Congressman Mark Foley, who had seemed to be one of the fiercest opponents of child exploitation and pornography...

MARK FOLEY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: We encourage everyone to take this home. Because there are some successful tips to protect your kids.

TUCHMAN: Ended up resigning from his House seat. The reason? Allegations he sent sexually explicit and suggestive Internet messages to young men who had served as Congressional pages. The six-term Florida Republican was a good friend and mentor to many pages over the years.

FOLEY: I warn all of you not to cry in front of me, please, so I can get through this important day with you, without shedding tears as well.

TUCHMAN: But Foley ended up in an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Arizona, after declaring that he had serious issues to contend with.

DAVID ROTH, ATTORNEY FOR MARK FOLEY: Mark is contrite, remorseful and devastated by the harm that his actions have caused to others.

TUCHMAN: Foley's seat was won by a Democrat, one of the many Democratic gains that gave them control of the House.

RANDY DUKE CUNNINGHAM, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct and disgraced my office.

TUCHMAN: Another contrite politician is Randy Duke Cunningham, who is now behind bars. In March, the Republican Vietnam War fighter pilot was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for accepting at least $2 million in bribes.

CUNNINGHAM: I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions. Most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.

TUCHMAN: A much a much less contrite lawmaker is William Jefferson. The FBI conducting a corruption probe, says it found $90,000 in cash in the freezer of his Washington home.

REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (R), LOUISIANA: I will take full responsibility for any crimes that I committed if that were the case, but I will not plead guilty to something I did not do, no matter how things are made to look and no matter the risk.

TUCHMAN: In the midterm elections he was forced into a runoff against Democrat Karen Carter, who put on this commercial which features a mock spelling bee.

ANNOUNCER: Bill Jefferson was videotaped by the FBI taking $100,000 bribe, $90,000 of which was later found in his freezer.

TUCHMAN: But Jefferson, who has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing, handily beat his opponent and continues to represent Louisiana's second district.

Scandal is nothing new in Washington, but each story has its own unique and often depressing twists.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: One of the biggest twists in 2006 came on November 7th, election night. That's when voters sent a message to the man who likes to call himself the decider. Coming up, what shaped their votes and who sent the loudest message of all.

Plus, the man who lost his job after the midterm elections. In Iraq, 2006 will be remembered as the bloodiest yet in the war. How will Donald Rumsfeld be remembered? Well, you're watching "Unforgettable Stories 2006."

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October 2, 2006

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the shots began in rapid succession and our people were assaulting the facility, that's when we believe that he was shooting the students.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

A Pennsylvania Amish community was devastated as a gunman entered a one-room schoolhouse, killing five girls, wounding five others, and then killing himself.

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(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

October 17, 2006

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Census Bureau estimated that the 300 millionth American would arrive at 7:46 a.m. today, and that's exactly the time that this baby was born.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

7:46 a.m., America hit the 300 million population mark. Many claimed to be the 300 millionth American, but no official winner was declared.

(END GRAPHIC) COOPER: Of those 300 million Americans, roughly 80 million voted in the November midterm elections. How they voted, of course, sent a stinging message to Congress. But why they voted the way they did was just as big a story.

With that, here's CNN's John Roberts.

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November 7, 2006

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JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Back in April, President Bush made it clear who was in charge.

BUSH: But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best.

ROBERTS: But little more than six months later, on November 7th, voters decided for themselves.

And after 12 years of Republican domination on Capitol Hill, they handed the keys to Congress over to the Democrats.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), INCOMING HOUSE SPEAKER: Tonight is a great victory for the American people.

ROBERTS: So what happened? It's the war, stupid. According to exit polls, nearly six in 10 voters disapproved of the war in Iraq and President Bush's job performance. They were angry, but not all the blame fell on Mr. Bush.

Americans also voted no on the GOP-run Congress, rejecting Republican claims that Democrats were soft on terror, siding with Democrats over who could best handle the economy.

Congressman Mark Foley didn't exactly help the Republicans either. You'll recall it was just weeks before Election Day that Foley's lurid online messages to former Congressional pages caused a sensation.

Then on Election Day, more than half of voters, 53 percent said they didn't like the way GOP leaders handled the situation, causing many self-declared Republicans, including evangelical Christians to abandon their party on election night. But it was moderates who spoke loudest in the voting booths, electing Democrats by a three to two margin.

Among those who lost the most, White House Strategist Karl Rove, the man who was dubbed Bush's brain for his skill at managing his boss's runs for office. In this election, Rove had predicted victory. It seemed he did not anticipate that critical swing vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's now official, Democrats will take control of the Senate as well as the House, balance of power. GOP, 49; Dems 51. ROBERTS: The one-vote edge means Democrats will control the Senate. The majority is bigger in the House. But in Washington, the message seems crystal clear. It is Iraq, stupid.

John Roberts, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Close to 3,000 U.S. troops have died in Iraq so far. Just this year, nearly 30,000 Iraqis have been killed and nearly 400,000 have fled their homes. 2006 was a turning point in Iraq. Whatever you call it, civil war or just chaos, the fighting between and among Iraqis got worse. And Donald Rumsfeld ultimately paid the price.

Here again, CNN's John Roberts.

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November 8, 2006

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BUSH: Earlier this week the American people...

ROBERTS: The day after the midterm elections, it was clear -- stay the course had been voted out.

And just days after the president assured Americans it would never happen, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was out, too.

BUSH: The timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon.

ROBERTS: Rumsfeld's downfall started in February. Sunni insurgents blew up the famous golden dome, an important Shiite mosque. It lit the fuse of sectarian warfare and ethnic cleansing that now has Iraqis killing each other in far greater numbers than they're killing allied troops. The U.S. was losing control in Iraq.

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): Poor military judgment has been used throughout this mission.

ROBERTS: In April, seven former generals made headlines, calling for Rumsfeld to resign. He didn't.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Just call it idiosyncratic.

ROBERTS: The administration had a bit of good news in the following two months.

In May, after weeks of squabbling, Iraq put together a cabinet. It finally had a full-term Democratic government.

In June, al Qaeda Terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, public enemy number one in Iraq, was killed in an air strike north of Baghdad.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM B. CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: Zarqawi attempted to sort of turn away off the stretcher. They -- everybody resecured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter.

ROBERTS: But one week later, Americans were sobered with news that U.S. deaths in Iraq had reach 2,500.

More cold realities followed. Zarqawi's death made a brief dent in the brutalities. But as the hot summer took hold, they came roaring back.

The Iraqi government, instead of uniting the country, seemed only to reinforce Iraq's sectarian divides. Three years into the war, Baghdad was going from bad to worse.

In August, the military launched "Operation Together Forward." It was supposed to clear, hold and build the capital's neighborhoods. But by October, military commanders had to admit it wasn't working.

CALDWELL: The violence is indeed disheartening.

ROBERTS: At home, the administration insisted it wasn't that bad.

BUSH: We're winning, and we will win.

ROBERTS: A week before the election, President Bush stood by both Rumsfeld and his vice president, proclaiming both would stay on through the end of his term. Both of these men are doing fantastic jobs, he told reporters, and I strongly support them.

It wasn't until after the president felt what he called the thumping of the midterm election defeats that he announced he had changed his mind.

(On camera): Donald Rumsfeld's resignation marks a cautious recognition by the administration that something has to change in its strategy towards Iraq.

As debate rages about what should be done, what countries to consult, whether to put troops in or pull troops out, there is one thing that all the experts agree on, and that is time is running out to stop Iraq from sliding into all-out mayhem.

John Roberts, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Donald Rumsfeld isn't the only one who ended the year with a black eye.

Coming up, celebrities behaving badly. The 2006 Hall of Shame.

Plus, the story you've been waiting all hour to see. Your choice for the top story of the year, next on "Unforgettable Stories."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KATHLEEN KENNEDY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Kathleen Kennedy at "HEADLINE NEWS." More of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Unforgettable Stories of 2006," in a moment, but first a news and business 360 bulletin.

Denver, Colorado, digging out. There's up to two feet of snow in parts of the state. Plows are working overtime. Schools are closed, and even the post office. And the airport is still shut down until tomorrow, leaving thousands of travelers stranded.

Now, feedback on the economy. It turns out it was a sluggish summer. Economic growth slowed to a 2 percent pace in the third quarter. The culprit, according to the Commerce Department, a weak housing market. And there are no expectations it will get better in the months ahead.

On Wall Street, stocks slide. The Dow lost 42 points, the NASDAQ fell 11, and the S&P dropped five.

Those are the headlines. Back to "Unforgettable Stories 2006," in a moment.

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COOPER: According to the Chinese calendar, 2006 was the year of the dog, which kind of seems fitting for all those celebrities in the doghouse this year. And there were plenty of them.

Here's Randi Kaye with a roundup to the worst offenders.

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November 17, 2006

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KAYE (voice-over): The meltdown of the year award goes to Michael Richards, aka Seinfeld's Kramer. His racist rant at a November 17th comedy show was caught on tape, "N" world and all. Yikes. Richards followed up his tirade with an apology and bizarre comments.

MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this.

KAYE: Well, maybe he was just taking a cue from Mel Gibson, who after being arrested for a DUI in Malibu this summer, began spouting anti-Semitic remarks at the cops. The police report noted Gibson said, among other things, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

Of course, he also followed it up with an apology, asking the Jewish community to help him.

Anyway, Gibson wasn't the only one -- vehicularly challenged.

Most recently, Nicole Richie was arrested for a DUI, following in the footsteps of her ex-best friend Paris Hilton.

For Hilton's new best friend, Britney Spears, it wasn't so much driving under the influence, as driving with baby in lap.

Next, she gave a gum-smacking, cleavage bearing interview, where she proclaimed her marriage to K-Fed was awesome. A few months later, she reportedly text messaged him she wanted a divorce.

Speaking of divorces, there have been plenty of nasty ones this year. Richie Sambora and Heather Locklear broke it off. So he hooked up with Denise Richards after she ended it with Charlie Sheen.

Heather Mills and Paul McCartney split started out amicably enough until she accused him of abuse, which he denied. Normally, it would be enough to make daytime talk show hosts giddy, but they had their own problems.

For starters, Star Jones' betrayal of Barbara Walters.

BARBARA WALTERS, HOST, "THE VIEW": We hoped then that she would announce it here on the program and leave with dignity.

KAYE: And then there was the Clay Aiken faux pas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, that's a no-no.

KAYE: Maybe someone should have put a hand over Danny DeVito's mouth when he appeared to be drunk on "The View." But ultimately the hosts agreed he was a fun drunk, which is more than we can say about the celebrities at the bottom of our list.

O.J. Simpson may take the cake with his hypothetical murder confession in his book, "If I Did It."

And Naomi Campbell proves she's all beauty, no brains, after she was arrested for allegedly hurling a cell phone at her housekeeper's head. She denies it.

The Chinese were right. It was the year of the dog.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, celebs behaving badly was a big story of 2006, but not the top story of the year, according to you, our viewers. We asked your opinion on the 360 blog. Here are the results. With 28 percent of the votes, the Democratic takeover of Congress was chosen as the top story of 2006, followed by the Darfur crisis in Sudan, Israeli-Hezbollah fighting in Lebanon, and the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. We appreciate you taking the time to vote. That does it for this special hour. Thanks for watching, "Unforgettable Stories," how politics and war and other stories shaped our world and 2006. Best wishes in the New Year. I'm Anderson Cooper.

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