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Nation of Islam Leader Recovering From Surgery; Bush Meets With National Security Team; Crackdown in Baghdad

Aired January 6, 2007 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: "Now in the News," a new vow from Iraq's prime minister to crack down on militias. Nuri al Maliki is out with a new Baghdad security plan. He says Iraqi forces withheld from American troops will hunt down what he calls "outlaws" regardless of their sectarian or political affiliations.
The U.S. embassy in Iraq says it's checking reports that an American contractor was kidnapped in Basra. Reports say the man's Iraqi interpreter and driver were abducted at the same time. Police in the southern Iraqi city say two men found shot to death today may be the kidnapped Iraqis.

From Chicago, word that nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is recovering from surgery. The group says Farrakhan underwent a 12 hour operation. The nature of the surgery was not revealed. Farrakhan told his followers in September that he was seriously ill but did not say what the illness was.

In Los Angeles, it's a day for cleaning up after a strong windstorm blasted the region. The wind blew down trees and knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses. Some gusts were higher than 80 miles-an-hour.

Signing up with Uncle Sam, will the promises made by your military recruiter be honored? Legal tips you need before you enlist.

A grisly crime, an unusual form of interrogation: two men suspected of murdering several children now being injected with so- called truth serum.

And mystery in the sky over Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Workers say they've spotted something rather unusual. It was a UFO?

The news is unfolding live on this Saturday, the 6th day of January, I'm Fredricka Whitfield, you're in THE NEWSROOM.

A new strategy in Iraq and a major shake-up in command. President Bush unveils his new plan in a major address early next week, but we've learned some of the details already. Our Elaine Quijano is live at the White House -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Fredericka, that's right. President Bush, this morning, had his usual intelligence briefing but he also met with top members of his national security team. Now, among those that we saw arriving here at the White House, earlier this morning, included the outgoing, now, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Now, the White House is characterizing this meeting, really, as part of ongoing discussions, ongoing meeting, but we do know, of course, the president is close now to making an announcement about changes to his Iraq policy. The political landscape for President Bush has certainly changed as well with Democrats now in control of Congress.

The president, in his radio address this morning, talked about areas of cooperation but made no mention of Iraq, not so for the new Senate majority leader Harry Reid. He, in his radio address, launched a preemptive strike of sorts making clear that he is against idea of a temporary troop surge.


SEN HARRY REID (D), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Rather than deploying additional forces to Iraq, we hope the president will make clear to the Iraqi government that the time has come for them to assume more responsibility for the future and that he will announce he's beginning the phased redeployment of our force in the next four to six months.


QUIJANO: Now a timetable is certainly something President Bush and the White House have expressed their opposition to all along. But yesterday interesting to note, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked about a letter that Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent to President Bush outlying their opposition to a troop surge for Iraq. Here is what Snow had to say about that.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They don't believe the U.S. combat troops provide that solution. That's fine. We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed. That's precisely the kind of dialogue the president would love to have, which is, OK, when you say we want to do anything we can, what is that? And how do you define success? And those are the kinds of conversations that are going on.


QUIJANO: Temporary troop surge is certainly one of the ideas under consideration, but there have been concerns expressed by some in the military as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill that a troop surge would also involve political and economic steps as well and that there would be a clearly defined mission for U.S. forces in Iraq. They want to ensure that, in fact, those troops are there with some sort of end game in mind.

Now, as the White House certainly continues to weigh option, those are among the factors being considered, an announcement, Fredericka, is expected by President Bush in primetime address to the nation Wednesday, possibly Thursday of next week -- Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elaine, thanks so much.

Well, more now on what a change in command might mean on the ground. America's new top combat general, General David Petreas has a reputation as a innovative, optimistic, and determined leader. Our Brian Todd reports Petreas might need to tap into every bit of that.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mounting casualties at a key turning point. Will General Dave Petreas take to the fight any differently than his predecessor, General George Casey, or will the much anticipated surge in troops be a surge to defeat?

LT COL ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RET): I see Petreas as more complex, imaginative, someone that is willing to take risk. He'll do things with a smile, but he's vicious behind the scenes.

TODD: Two army veterans, who know this Princeton and West point educated officer, tell us he's got the intellect, background, and backbone for what will likely be a very tough new phase of combat.

GEN DAVID GRANGE (RET), MILITARY ANALYST: I do believe he has to take on different way and I think he is aggressive enough to do so.

TODD: And by most accounts, Petreas knows this kind of fight. He led the first efforts to train Iraqi forces and just signed off on a lengthy new Army field manual on counterinsurgency. One key passage: "...killing insurgents -- while itself cannot defeat an insurgency." Gaining the imitative it says, "...involves securing and controlling the local populace and providing for essential services."

In an Internet article he wrote for the Army a year ago, Petreas said "money is ammunition," a reference to what won him hearts and minds when he commanded U.S. forces in early Iraq in the war.

MAGINNIS: I was in Mosul in 2003 when he was there and enthusiastically showed us his cement plant, all the small businesses he started.

TODD (on camera): those who know him say with that experience in Mosul and in training the Iraqi army, David petreas under the cultural complexities of Iraq, but one retired officer telling me he wishes Petraeus would have been put in place maybe two years ago and wonders if it's not too late now.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: And now a major snafu has the U.S. Army saying "sorry." About 275 wound or dead officers received letters last month urging them to reup. This statement from the Army, "...officials are contacting those officers' families now to personally apologize for erroneously sending the letters."

The "Washington Post" today, reveals a chilling eyewitness account of the killing of Iraqi civilians in Haditha. It says and Iraqi soldier told investigators a Marine squad leader gunned down five unarmored civilians following a deadly roadside bombing. The paper sites an investigative report and names Sergeant Frank Wuterich as the shooter. Four Marines face murder charges in the deaths of 24 Iraqis in Haditha.

Crackdown in Baghdad, Iraq's prime minister Nuri al Maliki comes on strong, outlying his new security plan and telling critical nations the execution of Saddam Hussein is none of their business. Our Ryan Chilcote has more from Baghdad -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The Iraqi prime minister defended his government's decision to execute Saddam Hussein in his first comments, really, in defense saying that Saddam Hussein had received a fair and just trial, though as he put it, even though he didn't deserve it. Prime Minister Maliki also lashed out at Middle Eastern governments that have been very critical, not only of the execution itself, but how it was handled by the Iraq's government saying Saddam's execution was an internal matter of the Iraqi people.


NURI AL MALIKI, Iraqi PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I am astonished by the statements coming from some governments that are crying for the tyrant. The Iraqi government may reconsider its relations with any country that does not respect the will of the Iraqi people.


CHILCOTE: It should be noted, however, that the government's handling of Saddam's execution has not just provoked criticism from outside of Iraq, it has been an enormously divisive issue here in Iraq. Many of Iraq's Sunni Arabs have been out on the street, over the last week, expressing their anger at their Shiite-led government, who the believe is not taking their interests into account and have been deeply offended, quite frankly, by the execution and how it was handled, many of them saying that this really only deepen the sectarian divide that has led to so much violence this year in Iraq -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Ryan, is al Maliki's statement saying that the government in no way shape or form feels like the way the execution was carried out and put on the Internet, in any way, underscores the differences, the strife between Shiites and Sunnis?

CHILCOTE: The prime minister has not come out and condemned the behavior that we saw on that cell phone video that was leaked. And I think that that was what was most offensive to Sunni Arabs, here. He has order an investigation into how that cell phone video was leaked. But he hasn't come out in public and said he thinks it's wrong that Saddam was taunted by Shiites chanting Shiite slogans, something that's enormously offensive to Sunnis, here in Iraq.

WHITFIELD: And Ryan, a few people, a couple of people have been arrested as a result of that cell phone videotaping, but does anyone have any confidence that means anything?

CHILCOTE: It is a tough sell in the Sunni-Arab community. There have been at least two detentions that the Iraqi government has said they've detained two guards that were already at the facility that they say somehow managed to sneak in cell phones, but the government hasn't talked about any punishment at this point, it's just detained them, its questioned them, and again it hasn't come out and really, out in the open, condemned the behavior that really offended so many people, not just here, but throughout the Middle East.

WHITFIELD: Ryan Chilcote thanks for the update out of Baghdad.

Well, it is January, after all, and a lot of people are saying these days, at least in this country, where's the snow? We'll get an update on the winter forecast, coming up.

And more questions than answer coming up in South Louisiana where investigators are taking a second look at a mysterious death of a small town's new mayor. "CNN Investigates," also this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been at O'Hare for quite some time and let's just say that I've never seen an object in my time there that looked like this.


WHITFIELD: It was a UFO? Find out what airline workers have been seeing at Chicago's airport. That's later in THE NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Checking some stories "Across America," now. Federal investigators are looking into a near collision at Denver's International Airport. A commuter plane a Frontier Airlines passenger jet came within 50 feet of each other while the jetliner was trying to land.

The Frontier pilot spotted the commuter plane and aborted the landing; authorities say the smaller plane was on the wrong runway.

In New England, dozens of people who came in contact with the University of New Hampshire student before she died from bacterial meningitis have now been given antibiotics. The student died Wednesday. Health authorities had urged nearly 100 people in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts to get the antibiotic shots.

In Georgia, a prostitution bust in one of Atlanta's exclusive neighborhoods, a former "Penthouse" model is accused of running a high class brothel and call ring from her home. Lisa Taylor and her alleged business partner were arrested several days ago. Police say their customers included doctors, lawyers, and prominent businessmen and they, too, could face charges.

And some really weird weather across the United States, in this first week of the New Year. In Colorado, more snow after back to back blizzards. The latest storm dumped several inches of snow on Denver, parts of the region are still reeling from those holiday blizzards.

And in the South, tornados, hail, and heavy rain. South Carolina, one of several states now cleaning up from a powerful line of thunderstorms. The National Weather Service says at least two tornados touched down in the South Carolina upstate, more than a dozen people were injured and storm damage also reported in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

And this scene, it's not Florida, nor is it Arizona, it's Ohio. The big question, where is the snow? Why are these people golfing? The Buckeye state, like other parts of the Midwest and northeast, are having unusually warm weather and a lot of people like that. Reynolds Wolf in the Weather Center, a lot of people who, perhaps are not relying, you know on the slopes business and having fun skiing.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh absolutely. You're always going to find some people that are ecstatic and you're always going to find a couple of people that, as you mentioned, aren't too happy about it. The reason why we've had all the weird weather is because of this. Not really this big blob, but rather what it represents. Unusual heating in the Pacific waters which we refer to as el Nino. And el Nino can do a lot of weird things especially to the southern and northern branch of the jet stream.

As we zoom back over to the North America, you can see, again, what we're getting when you have el Ninos. You have different type of weather patterns that you typically don't see during the winter months, in fact what we normally see is, again, very cool conditions in the northeast and sometimes quite a bit of snow. But right now, we're seeing that moisture trapped in the southern half of the U.S., warm conditions in the northeast.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks a lot, Reynolds.

WOLF: You bet.

WHITFIELD: Well state police, in Louisiana, are now investigating the mysterious death of a man who had just been elected the first black mayor of a small mostly white town. The local coroner ruled it a suicide, but not everyone is satisfied with that explanation. CNN's Sean Calebs reports.


GERALD WASHINGTON, LOUISIANA MAYOR: Great feeling to be mayor of the town where you live.

SEAN CALEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gerald Washington seemed to be on top of the world with everything to live for. He had just been sworn in as the first black mayor of West Lake, Louisiana, then a shocking call from the sheriff that his family members still don't believe. The 6'6", 58-year-old Washington had committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

GERMAINE BROUSSARD, GERALD WASHINGTON'S DAUGHTER: I was in shock. I was upset, I was angry, I just said there's no way that this were a self-infliktsed wound.

CALEBS: Their father's body was found in a remote area of West Lake. Germaine Broussard and her brother, Geraski, don't believe the coroner's report that Washington put a revolver to his chest and pulled the trigger. They say the sheriff's investigation was sloppy and wonder why it apparently took just over four hours to pore over the crime scene, then clean, and return his truck to the family instead of impounding it as evidence.

Coroner Terry Welke says it's difficult for families to accept suicide, but that's where the evidence points.

TERRY WELKE, CALCASIEU COUNTY CORONER: If it was a homicide, there would be more injuries. In other words, he would have fought off, someone would have tied his hands behind his back, hit him on the back of the head, something of that sort and the autopsy showed absolutely none of that.

CALEBS: The sheriff's office isn't talking about the case. After twice meeting with the family, the sheriff hand over all evidence to the Louisiana State Police which has taken over the investigation.

BROUSSARD: They've shown the sense of urgency that the Calcasieu sheriff's office should have show.

CALEBS: The state is now performing a second autopsy. Something the coroner says is almost unheard of. And there is something else that is difficult for the family to address. As the first black mayor in an overwhelmingly white community, Washington's children believe he could have been targeted by someone out to get him.

BROUSSARD: And I'm sure that race did have a good deal to do with it, but...

CALEBS: The state NAACP has asked the U.S. Justice Department to look into Washington's death, but says it was told the federal agency will wait until the state police investigation has wrapped up before deciding whether to weigh in.

(on camera): A makeshift memorial has cropped up near where Washington's body has found. Mourners say their hearts go out to the Washington family, a family facing nagging questions. They say why would he have killed himself? They believe Washington had everything to live for. The family says hey have been asked about his gambling. They admit that Washington was an avid gambler, but say that had nothing to do with his death.

Sean Calebs, CNN, West Lake, Louisiana. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And now straight ahead, new information about the final moments before an Indonesian jetliner disappeared.

And will truth serum help authorities find a serial child killer?


WHITFIELD: "Going Global," now. Massive protests rock Somalia. In the streets of Mogadishu, demonstrators voice opposition to Ethiopian troops that ousted Islamic militants, this wiek. At least two people were killed. A U.S. State Department envoy is expected to arrive tomorrow. It will be the first visit by a U.S. official in nearly a decade, to Somalia.

Still no trace of the Indonesian airliner that disappeared five days ago. U.S. experts have arrived to help investigate. The plane, carrying 102 people, was flying through storms when it vanished from radar screens.

In Brazil, they're searching for bodies buried in killer mud slides. Scores of people are dead, tens of thousands are homeless. It could get worse. Heavy rains are expected to continue throughout the weekend.

A gruesome murder case, an entire nation shocked and outraged. An Indian man and his servant are accused of raping and killing at least 17 people, most of them, children. Police have turned to a so- called truth serum to try to get to the bottom what happened. CNN's Seth Doane reports.


SETH DOANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The two men allegedly behind the gruesome cereal killings that have rocked India are brought to a laboratory to be interrogated. Here, they'll undergo a so-called narcoanalysis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At present we are doing some psychological testing, the interaction going on with them, trying to find out and trying to ascertain their mental condition, their psychological condition.

DOANE: part of this testing includes injecting the two allegedly behind this grisly crime with truth serum, a drug like sodium pentothal that, physicians tell CNN is no longer used for interrogation purposes in much of the world.

DR. T.D. DOGRA, FORENSIC MEDICINE, AIMS: This is narcoanalysis -- the person is administered some drug -- say for example, sodium pentothal may be given and after administering this drug, to a level the person goes to a stage of that neither is unconscious nor is conscious.

DOANE: the accused of being questioned for their alleged role in the strangulation, dismembering, and possible sexual assault of at least 17 people, mostly children, who were kill, then buried in bags around the suburban home.

(on camera): Investigators hope to learn more about these grisly killings from the accused in the narcoanalysis and polygraph tests. Meanwhile, the political battle among the central government, state government, and local officials continues to heat up.

(voice-over): Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling congress party here, visited the crime scene and criticized the handling of the investigation, saying it'll be turned over to the central government.

SONIA GANDHI, CONGRESS PARTY PRESIDENT: A CBI inquiry has been asked for. Law and order is absolutely missing out here.

DOANE: A Senior superintendent of police for Noida, the area where the bodies were found, tells CNN, it's a complicated case.

RKS RATHORE, SR POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: The culprit has still not come out on his own. That's why we are adopting the scientific method of narcoanalysis.

DOANE: But a team of doctors at the New Delhi all India Institute of Medical Sciences questions whether a truth serum is reliable and if it should be used at all.

(on camera): Most countries in the world don't use this sort of interrogation.

Yeah, yeah.

DOANE: Why is that?

Reporter: Because, they considered that it's not reliable, No. 1. Secondly, as I told you, that presence of medical man is necessary and by ethics, a medical man cannot be part of a confession.

DOANE (on camera): There is a lot of speculation about the information coming out of this narcoanalysis, but police officials tell CNN it will take at least three to four days for the tests to be completed and then we may know more.

Seth Doane, Noida , Uttar Pradesh, India CNN,


WHITFIELD: Recruiters are under heavy pressure to fill the ranks of the U.S. military. What are their legal obligations and what should you be on the lookout for when you or your children sign up? Our legal team weighs in straight ahead.

And Democrats in Congress say they want to accomplish a lot in their first 100 hours in power. Just what does that mean?



WHITFIELD: The race for the White House is starting to take shape a bit as we move into this new year. Senator Joseph Biden says count him in. The Delaware Democrat says he expects to form a committee around the end of this month to pursue his party's nomination in 2008. Biden says it's his intention to run, but he hasn't picked the exact date to announce it. With the Democrats in charge of the Senate, Biden is now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

A Republican senator also appears ready to join the race, an aide to Senator Sam Brownback says the Kansas lawmaker plans to formally announce his candidacy on January 20. Brownback filed papers last month to form an exploratory committee.

With new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leading the charge, Democrats are vowing to get right to work Tuesday on their so-called 100 hours agenda. CNN's Tom Foreman takes a look at the ambitious plan.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA) SPEAKER: The House will come to order.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDNET (voice-over): 100 hours to introduce, discuss and pass legislation. 100 hours to get Washington moving. Like school kids back from break, the Democrats have sharpened their pencils and say they're ready to work. Is 100 hours enough time? Maybe, according to long-time capital watcher Norm Ornstein.

NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: What the Democrats have done is set out a number that sounds like it's going to be a rush of time. But what actually is a fairly long time to process and pass six narrowly defined bills with no amendments.

FOREMAN: Count a strict 100 hours from the drop of the gavel and you run out of time by Monday evening. But this is Washington, nothing here works like that. The Democrats are launching their 100 hour push on Tuesday. And counting only the hours that Congress is in session.

Those hours have dwindled dramatically in recent years as politicians as have abandoned the halls of Congress to spend more time raising money and campaigning for re-election. Long time politicians don't like it.

TOM DASCHLE, FRM. SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Senator Lawton and I used to joke if we really wanted everybody here for every important vote, the only time we could actually schedule is it was Wednesday afternoon.

FOREMAN (on camera): This new congress is promising to get back to something more like a full work week. But can they make that or anything else stick?

(voice-over): The Republican president has a veto pen and the Democratic edge over Republicans in the Senate is much smaller.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) MAJORITY LEADER: We know from experience that majorities come and they go. Majorities are very fragile. And majorities must work with minorities to make that lasting change.

ORNSTEIN: The fact is the House wants to act now, the Senate wants to act some time in the future.

FOREMAN: So even without engaging Iraq right away, the Democrats have their work cut out -- 100 hours to show if Washington is seeing real change or just a shift change.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: And So Uncle Sam wants you and maybe you want him -- patriotism, job training, money for college, young men and women enlist for a variety of reasons. But how often does it end up like this? One New York couple has been declared AWOL because they left the service when it became clear recruiters promised that they would serve together and not have to go to Iraq was wrong.

But let's ask our legal experts what you should look for in an enlistment contract before signing up.

Avery Freidman is a civil rights attorney and law professor. Good to see you. Happy new year.


WHITFIELD: And Richard Herman is a New York criminal defense attorney. Happy new year to you as well.

RICHARD HERMAN, ATTORNEY: Happy new year, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So gentleman, before we get to the contract, let's talk about the promises that might be exchanged between possible enlistee and the recruiter. So Richard, what should people expect? And what should they take away from that initial conversation?

HERMAN: Well, Fred, if you're going to take lessons to jump out of a plane you know that's a dangerous activity. But if you're going to enlist in the armed forces, that's an inherently dangerous activity. You better do your homework, you better go to You better do as much as research as you can when you sit down with a recruiter to enter into this contract.

Any verbal representations that are made are null and void, they're meaningless, their of no force and effect. The document, the written agreement sets forth exactly what the terms are and if you don't get it in writing, you have no grounds to appeal anything. You're in.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Avery, your take. I mean a lot of folks might be thinking well, I want to sign up because I want some assistance in my college education or I want to get some kind of special traing that I think no one else can give me, but I'm not interested in going to war. Now when we're a nation in peacetime maybe your expectations can be that, that you won't be going to war. But we're not.

FRIEDMAN: Well, the reality is that the army is under huge pressure to meet goals in terms of increasing recruitment. So there are occasions, there are truly occasions where recruiters have gone over the line. So I figured what we should do is let's check out the state of the law.

In all our research from the time that we've had enlistment contracts in the history of America, the total number of cases in which contracts, recruitment contracts were been invalidated based on oral representations of a written contract have been a total of zero.


FRIEDMAN: And the reason again is that whatever oral, verbal representation are made prior to the execution of the contract are indeed inadmissible in a court of law.

So I am in an accord, I think if you're going to do something like this -- you know, there's a legal max sum, what are you stupid? If you really think you're going to enlist and not be deployed, that's in Never Never Land. So I don't think realistic there's any kind of defense, you better do your homework.

WHITFIELD: All right. So what about for the parent who says, you know, my child didn't read the fine print, they didn't really know what they were getting into, they didn't do the homework, they didn't know to ask certain questions. Is there any legal recourse for them, Richard?

HERMAN: Fred, there is no -- once you put your name on the dotted line, unless you can show that you were intoxicated that day or you were under some mental impairment so that you couldn't appreciate or understand the nature of the document and that's really the only defense. And in these types of contracts, like Avery said, not one has been invalidated. You know, it's like real estate contracts, any verbal representations must be in writing.

FRIEDMAN: But the question was that Fredericka asked us is what about the parents, do they have any rights? And they are actually one step removed. They probably don't even have, as the court calls it, standing to bring a challenge. And usually people that are recruited and enlist are 18 and over, they're adults anyhow. So as much -- the only thing a parent can do is again advise a young woman, a young man, make sure you know what's going on.

WHITFIELD: All right. Gentleman, we're not done with you. Straight ahead, the case against the three Duke University lacrosse players. Well, it's changed a lot since it first began. And Avery and Richard, we know they've had some fiery thoughts in the past and I imagine they still do. They'll be back to discuss all of that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Well, at first the charges against three Duke lacrosse players raised issues of class and race. Lately the case is raising questions about the prosecution. Our legal experts will discuss the latest developments after David Mattingly brings us up to date.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Duke University is allowing two lacrosse players accused of sexual offense to return as students in good standing for the spring semester. Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were placed on administrative leave after their indictment for assaulting a stripper last year. But Duke's president said Wedesday in a statement "the circumstances in this case have changed substantially. And it is appropriate that the students have an opportunity to continue their education."

Last month, the Durham D.A. dropped rape charges against Finnerty, Seligmann and a third player, Dave Evans, who graduated in May after the woman said she couldn't recall details of the alleged attack. An attorney for Collin Finnerty says Duke's offer is a vindication.

WADE SMITH, ATTORNEY FOR COLLIN FINNERTY: I think it helps the legal side of this case because it's an announcement to the world that this important institution has confidence in these boys, we would like to have them come back.

MATTINGLY: Wade Smith says his client hasn't decided whether to accept duke's offer to return.

SMITH: I am sure that Collin loves Duke and wants to come back at some point, but we'll have to wait and see. All of the circumstances surrounding this case would bear upon a decision to return. The most important of course is the fact that the case is still pending.

MATTINGLY: Finnerty, Seligmann and Evans are still charged with sexual offense and kidnapping, but Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong has been heavily criticized for his handling of the case. Nifong was sworn in this week for a second term in offense and says he'll do his talking in court.

And he may soon get that chance. Defense attorneys will argue that the D.A. improperly conducted lineups when their clients were identified. If they convince a judge to throw out this evidence, it would be another big blow to the prosecution's case.

David Mattingly, CNN, Durham, North Carolina.


WHITFIELD: So the circumstances in this case have changed substantially. You heard those words in the statement we just heard that David read from Duke's president, probably all of that understating the situation, I bet, that our legal experts won't understate their views.

Let's see what they have to say about this.

Avery Freidman, back with us along with Richard Herman.

All right, well, let's talk about how this case or the turning of the tide is taking place. Now all eyes are on Nifong, which many eyes have been on from the start, we know that from you, Richard. But now is there a case to be made against Nifong if the defense attorneys are saying well, wait a minute, we want to see if this improper lineup took place, we want further investigation on that. Might the prosecutor be facing charges himself?

HERMAN: Fred, I think this prosecutor is going to get indicted. I think he's going to get disbarred. You know, we talked about immunity for the prosecutor. But I'm telling you, his immunity is based upon his good faith performance of his role as a public official. And here, if it's determined his performance was in bad faith, I'm telling you this man can be prosecuted. He can have civil litigation brought against him. And there are criminal charges that can be brought against him for misconduct as a public official.

And Avery, I'm telling you, it can be done. And I'd be happy to go down will and help these guys bring that.

FRIEDMAN: Oh, my goodness.

WHITFIELD: Avery, what do you think?

FRIEDMAN: Let's see if we can more clinical in looking at what happened here.


FRIEDMAN: I concede, we're dealing with a travesty, but number one, he has absolute prosecutorial immunity.

HERMAN: For good faith conduct.

FRIEDMAN: That's not true. Good faith is not the factor that the Supreme Court has talked about.

However, I will modify that, and I've stucked to my guns on that -- one thing that is important out on the campaign trail, not in the context of his prosecutorial duties, he talked about a deep racial motivation in what these young men did. And that maybe the only exception. He is not going to be disbarred. There are going to be consequences to this 180 paragraph ethics complaint.

And here's the bottom line, I think what is going to happen here, Fredricka, is that Michael Nifong is out. And what we will see is there will be someone replacing him who will reevaluate the state of teh case. And I think we may go in a completely different direction. WHITFIELD: OK. With all due respect, public officials are not immune from misconduct and illegal activities. Like the lineup, like working with the forensics here, like the DNA forensics.

FRIEDMAN: These are criminal defenses, they are not civil rights claims. He is not going to be indicted.

HERMAN: He's going to be prosecuted. He's going to be arrested.

FRIEDMAN: Not going to happen.

WHITFIELD: OK. So all that pertaing to the D.A.'s office. Now what about Duke University? Unusual, yes, for the university to come out and say. All right. Well, the one charge has been dropped, there are two other charges still pending, but we want to invite you back.


WHITFIELD: Is Duke University doing that because the defense just might pursue -- wait a minute, maybe even suing the university for dropping these students before the cases were closeed, cases solved?

FRIEDMAN: Let me make this clear. If you look at the law, what duke university did was both morally and legally correct.

HERMAN: Oh, please.

FRIEDMAN: What Richard Broadhead (ph) did as the president was guide this through a process. They were not ultimately expelled, what happened is they went on administrative leave as David Mattingly explained in his package. That meant they continued to go to school, they lost no credit. They're in good adademic standing. And they've been invited back. There is no legal claim against Duke.

HERMAN: Fred, Duke's conduct in this case has been absolutely disgraceful for a higher learning institution. Their disciplinary code provides that if allegations are made agains you, you can be suspended from school.


HERMAN: That is the mindset in the United States that when allegation are brought against someone that must mean their guilty.

FRIEDMAN: Innocent until proven guilty.

HERMAN: That's right. Where is that lesson to be taught by Duke? And bringing them back now -- the changes, the totality of circumstances have not changed. There are two very serious felony charges against these guys, bearing the same prison terms as the rape conviction.

FRIEDMAN: Not the issue for Duke.

HERMAN: What changes the lacrosse season starts in February. That's what's changed here.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. OK, gentleman, I have a feeling we'll be talking about this again. Because as I said, still two pending charges, this case is far from over.

HERMAN: Hey Fred, it's the end of the world. It's in the 70s in January in New York.

WHITFIELD: I know. It is frightening, isn't it?

FRIEDMAN: It means nothing to the rest of America.

WHITFIELD: I know. All right. Well, the short sleeves at least for now. Avery and Richard, thanks so much. Have a great weekend.

All right. Well, what about this? What are airport workers seeing in the sky over Chicago's O'Hare International? They're not talking about the sun there. Something else.



WHITFIELD: Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is one of the busiest in the world. So what was that that was spotted in the air? Was it a plane? Or something else? CNN's Gary Tuchman checks out an out of this world claim.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flights come to Chicago's O'Hare Airport from all over the world, but do they come from other worlds?

(on camera): You don't believe this was possibly your imagination?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was definitely not my imagination.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Joe is a mechanic for united airlines, while taxiing a jumbo jet to the hangar he and another mechanic...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looked out the window and noticed an object in the sky, a dark gray object sitting above the terminal complex.

TUCHMAN: Joe, which is not his real name, is one of several airport workers, some of whom have talked to the Chicago Tribune who say they saw a saucer shaped UFO hovering just beneath the clouds at the airport. He's the first to go on camera to talk about it since this happened several weeks ago. He wants to remain anonymous.

(on camera): But you're sure it would not be an object that would be above O'Hare Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been at O'Hare for quite some time. And let's just say that I've never seen an object in my time there that looked like this.

And I'll tell you definitely, it was not on airplane as we know it.

TUCHMAN: But it could be an airplane as another world knows it.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): We brought in one of Chicago's top sketch artists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Followed the contours of the object.

TUCHMAN: To listen to Joe and draw a picture of what he says he saw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More like an oval. A dark gray oval.

TUCHMAN: Because no photos have surfaced and Joe doesn't know of any.

(on camera): It didn't say goodyear on it?


That's a really goo drawing.

TUCHMAN: Is that what it looks like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very much so. Yes.

TUCHMAN: Other witnesses have told an organization called the National UFO Reporting Center that the object eventually shot straight up into the sky at a great rate of speed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looked like literally someone had poked a hole in the clouds, just a round hole.

TUCHMAN: Joe thinks the disk is either a stealthy military project or a spacecraft from the another planet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I find it very strange or very peculiar that somebody who possesses the technology to travel between star systems would sit over an airport in Chicago.

TUCHMAN: Hard to argue that. A spokesperson for United Airlines says, "we are aware of what the employees say they saw, but this is not something United would investigate."

Talk to the FAA says the airline.

The TSA and the Chicago Department of Aviation also told to us talk to the FAA, so we did. And an FAA spokesperson told us we, too, don't have the power to investigate.

The FAA adds that radar did not pick up anything out of the ordinary. And the sighting might have been caused by a weather phenomenon.

(on camera): And you don't believe it was a weather phenomenon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all, not for a minute.

TUCHMAN: O'Hare has been UFO free since that november afternoon. Although Joe tends to pay special attention to that same patch of airport sky.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Chicago.


WHITFIELD: Also out of this world, our Jack Cafferty. "IN THE MONEY" is next.

And also ahead in THE NEWSROOM at 4:00 p.m. Easter, will Nancy Pelosi's visible role as Speaker of the House have an impact on women's rights? Headlines coming up.



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