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AMERICAN MORNING

Congress in War of Words with Cheney Over Iraq; Al Qaeda Targeted in Somalia; Answers in L.A. Terror Scare; Homeowners Win Lawsuit for Hurricane Katrina Damages

Aired January 25, 2007 - 08:00   ET

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


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We'll be going down to 20 degrees below zero. New York City, you'll be 19 for a high tomorrow, but it never feels above zero.
The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: Thank you, Chad.

War of words. The Senate committee rejects President Bush's plan to surge troops into Iraq, and the vice president fires back.

MILES O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: A CNN exclusive. Los Angeles authorities under investigation for the failed response to what could have been a terror attack.

S. O'BRIEN: And cash at last. We're going to talk to a man who fought for justice for homeowners devastated by Hurricane Katrina and won.

Those stories and much more on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back, everybody. It is Thursday, January 25. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

We begin once again in Iraq. Here's what's new this morning. At least four dead, more than a dozen hurt after a bomb rigged to a parked motorcycle blew up in a Shiite neighborhood in a market this morning.

Another bomb, another part of town, this one in a religiously mixed part, western Baghdad. Also a market targeted there. Two dead there.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi troops tallying the losses this morning after launching a third raid on Haifa Street in Baghdad. That's a Sunni stronghold. At least 30 insurgents reportedly killed there, according to U.S. and Iraqi authorities.

Here at home, the war over the war. Vice President Dick Cheney pulling no punches about Iraq, telling CNN Congress can do what it wants, but it won't stop the president's plan to get more troops on the battlefield.

CNN's Ed Henry at the White House with more.

Good morning, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

A Senate vote yesterday, a big slap at the president who's heading to Missouri today to try to talk up that health care plan he unveiled in his State of the Union address. But Iraq hanging over the domestic agenda.

Two nights ago in that big speech, the president pleaded with lawmakers in both parties to try to give him more time to try and make this new strategy of sending more troops to Iraq work, but clearly the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was not listening. They passed a nonbinding resolution declaring the president's plan is not in the national interest.

The only Republican who voted for it, Senator Chuck Hagel, had some very tough talk for the White House, but Vice President Cheney, as you noted, in that exclusive interview with CNN, basically made it clear that the White House will not be stopped by the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in -- Anbar province, in Iraq, in Baghdad, are not beans. They're real lives. And we better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are moving forward. The Congress has control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want to cut off funding.

But in terms of this effort, the president has made his decision. We've consulted extensively with them. We'll continue to consult with the Congress, but the fact of the matter is, we need to get the job done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The point is that while this resolution does not have the full force and weight of law, if it passes or another resolution passes next week before the full Senate, it will put even more pressure on Mr. Bush to come up with a more dramatic course change in Iraq. And it also could lay the ground work for eventually -- eventually Congress trying to cut off funding for the war -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: What's the likelihood of that, Ed?

HENRY: Of the second part, of the funding?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

HENRY: I think it's highly unlikely in the short-term. First of all, Democrats realize it would be political suicide at this point. They want to show that they can govern. They obviously are scarred by Vietnam, looking like they were anti-military. They want to make sure they're supporting the troops that are out there in the field.

But I think over the long-term, as more and more Republicans come out against this war, the likelihood of funding eventually being cut off increases -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Ed Henry at the White House, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Another front in the war on terror is prompting some big concern in Washington. The Pentagon ordering a second air strike in as many weeks aimed at suspected al Qaeda terrorists who are doing business in Somalia. Could there be an escalation on this front, as well?

Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon for us this morning.

Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

As you say, two U.S. military air strikes so far this month. And sources saying expect to see more military action.

It was on Monday an AC-130 gun ship, again, flying out of Ethiopia, as it did earlier this month, launching an air strike in southern Somalia against suspected al Qaeda targets, suspected al Qaeda on the run in Somalia since an Islamic militia there was driven out of power by Ethiopian forces coming in from the north.

Now according to all accounts, they did not get any top al Qaeda operatives, no senior people. One mid level al Qaeda person perhaps captured. U.S. forces, once again, went in on the ground in Somalia, U.S. personnel, after the air strike to look at the scene and try and assess what had happened.

So very quietly, U.S. forces on the ground in Somalia, U.S. air strikes. Expect to see more.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. So it's quiet. There are U.S. air strikes. Is this being considered a low-level war?

STARR: Well, consider this: there are indeed five warships off the coast of Somalia right now. The aircraft carrier Eisenhower, other warships. They are flying F-18 fighters over Somalia. There are unmanned drones conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

What they want is to get those al Qaeda operatives that have been on the run. There is a lot of concern that Somalia continues to be a safe haven in east Africa for al Qaeda, and they don't want to see them take hold there. So they're trying to chase them down.

But at this point, two air strikes and the admission is that they haven't gotten any of the senior people they want -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Thanks, Barbara -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Los Angeles this morning, still a lot of unanswered questions about a shockingly slow response to what could have been a terror attack. The man caught on tape spilling mercury at a subway station is not a would-be terrorist after all. But what if he was?

CNN's Deborah Feyerick joins us now. She's been following this, an exclusive story.

Deb, good to have you with us. First of all, what do we know about this guy and what he was doing on that platform there?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sheriff's authorities now tell us that he was a drug addict, that he was searching through a dumpster in order to find things to buy drugs that he could sell to buy drugs and that he found the vial of liquid mercury. Authorities now, of course, want to know who put that container in the dumpster. So they're searching for that person.

But the man, his name is Armando Bustamante Miranda, he told authorities that he was fixated by the silvery liquid and how it moved, and so when he got down into the train station, he was playing with it and either it opened or it broke and that's when it spilled all over the platform.

M. O'BRIEN: Do you know how they found him, by the way?

FEYERICK: Well, they found him because they went public.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

FEYERICK: They went public. They started putting out signs that they were looking for him.

M. O'BRIEN: Somebody recognized him.

FEYERICK: Somebody recognized him, an acquaintance, and set up a meeting with the authorities.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So the sheriff's department initially says -- sees this, that's suspicious. Could be terror. Then somehow along the way they talk themselves out of that notion.

Now, we've talked to some experts who looked at it and said immediately, "I want to talk to this guy at the very least." What happened in that process? Where was the disconnect?

FEYERICK: The disconnect was that local authorities looked at the evidence and they said, "Well, it's nothing. It's not a credible threat. We think it was an accident."

Other people who saw the tape said, "No, we see something very different. We see some suspicious activity." And their issue was motive. You can not dismiss it. You cannot write it off until you really know what the guy was doing, why he was there and why he was carrying liquid mercury.

So to write it off before knowing those sort of key components is a little bit premature in this age of 9/11 when something perhaps simple, perhaps an accident could mean something very different.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Post-9/11, one of the big lessons we all learned, if you read the 9/11 Commission report, is how this kind of information is handled between agencies, how it is passed along, how intelligence is shared. Is there other turf battles? Are they protective of the intelligence? What happened here?

FEYERICK: Well, in this particular case we do know that the intelligence was filtered in a very different way. We spoke to somebody over at the Department of Homeland Security who probably should have known about the information.

They said they didn't get it through intelligence channels. They got it because they saw it on a local news web site. Not exactly the way you would think it work, especially because it involved some sort of a hazardous material.

M. O'BRIEN: They saw it on the Web.

FEYERICK: Saw it on the Web. Open source.

M. O'BRIEN: Deb Feyerick, thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: More now on that exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. CNN's Wolf Blitzer sat down with the vice president to talk about the war and other topics, as well, in what turned out to be a sometimes combative interview.

Here's a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Vice President Dick Cheney, hard-pressed to admit any blunders in the war on Iraq, strikes a defiant tone. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the vice president says the White House will not budge from its plan to send in more troops, despite a resolution from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opposing the build-up.

CHENEY: They won't stop us. And it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops.

BLITZER (on camera): So you're moving forward no matter what the consequence?

CHENEY: We are moving forward. We are moving forward.

BLITZER (voice-over): The vice president strongly ruled out the nightmare scenario of a Shiite-led government in Iraq eventually turning against the United States.

CHENEY: Wolf, that's not going to happen. BLITZER: And despite a recent election that shows a loss of confidence among the American people, Mr. Cheney insists the war in Iraq has gone well.

CHENEY: Wolf, if the history books were written by people who have so eager to write off this effort, to declare it a failure, including many of our friends in the media, the situation obviously would have been over a long time ago. Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes, and we will continue to have enormous successes.

BLITZER: The vice president spared no words for his critics of the war, but chose his words carefully when asked about a critic from his own party, John McCain.

CHENEY: John is a good man. He -- he and I have known each other a long time. And we agree on many things and disagree on others.

BLITZER (on camera): He said the other day, "The president listened too much to the vice president. Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the vice president and most of all the secretary of defense." That was John McCain.

CHENEY: So?

BLITZER: You want to react?

CHENEY: I disagree with it.

BLITZER (voice-over): no tough words for John McCain. But the vice president shot back when asked about his pregnant openly gay daughter, Mary Cheney.

(on camera) Some critics, though, are suggesting, for example, a statement from someone representing focus on the family, "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father does not mean it's best for the child."

Do you want to respond to that?

CHENEY: No, I don't.

BLITZER: She's obviously a good daughter. I've interviewed her.

CHENEY: I'm delighted. I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf. And obviously, I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Mary Cheney served in her father's campaign and has written a book about her life and her family. And a reminder, you can catch Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" weekdays at 4 and at 7 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, storm trooper. He lost his home in Katrina and then led the fight to get State Farm to pay up for hundreds of homeowners. We'll talk with him straight ahead and see what it means for others out there waiting for a check.

Most news in the morning right here on CNN. You can take that to the bank.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

We're watching some live pictures from Spartanburg in South Carolina. That's where a congressman from California, Duncan Hunter, is about become to become the second Republican to join the race for president in 2008. He is a 14-term congressman from California's San Diego County, and he's attending a fund-raiser there.

That's the Spartanburg sheriff who is at the podium right now. We're going to take that live, and also, Duncan Hunter is going to be a guest on "THE SITUATION ROOM" a little bit later today.

Fourteen minutes past the hour. About to head out the door? Take a moment and listen to the travelers forecast. Chad has that for you.

Hey, Chad.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

Well, better late than never, I suppose. State Farm Insurance cutting a deal and soon cutting some checks for some Mississippi policyholders who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina.

More than 600 families represented by someone who felt their pain personally. Attorney Dickie Scruggs lost his home in Pascagoula. He's standing right there on the slab where the home was.

Mr. Scruggs, good to have you with us.

DICKIE SCRUGGS, ATTORNEY: Thank you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: The issue here was -- the issue here was wind or flood. Many of these people didn't have flood insurance. And the insurance company insisted it was flood which caused the damage in their homes. And basically they shifted the burden. The insurance companies now have to prove that it was, in fact, flood.

So basically, people are going to get a lot of money fairly quickly here. Congratulations on that. The total number of people is only 600 families. But it will extend to more people, will it not?

SCRUGGS: Well, if it actually covers about 35,000 Mississippi homeowners who had State Farm insurance. And while this is a great milestone in rebuilding the Gulf Coast and helping people rebuild their families, there's still a ways to go. There are other insurers besides State Farm here, and there are other states like Louisiana that got hammered pretty hard in Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

And I hope this settlement of 35,000 cases plus the 600 you mentioned will be a template for the other companies to follow in settling with the people that they owe money to.

M. O'BRIEN: It will -- could be a template, but it doesn't have the weight of legal precedent, because it is, after all, an out of court settlement. So while it's a big victory, there are some that are raising questions.

I want to share with you a critique from a fellow attorney. He's out of Tampa, Florida. His name is William Merlin. He's representing some other State Farm policyholders.

He says this: "State Farm should not be in a position to stop a criminal investigation by agreeing to pay people what they were already owed beforehand."

What do you say to that? That you have, in some ways, made it more difficult for future people to lay claim to their money?

SCRUGGS: Well, that's an argument I have heard. Prosecuting someone or putting four, five mid level employees in jail, if that's what it turned out, would not rebuild a single home or business on the Gulf Coast.

And I think the cruel choice that the attorney general had to make was to whether to rebuild the coast or to attempt to prosecute some people who had overstepped their bounds.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the implications for other people, people in Louisiana, for example. Does this have -- does this help them in any way?

SCRUGGS: It should help them. It should give them some encouragement to stay with it. This is an example of the American legal system at its finest.

When the federal regulators failed everyone on the Gulf Coast so miserably and so visibly, thanks to CNN, the court system and indeed the trial lawyers had to come -- had to come into the breach, and I'm very proud to have been part of it.

M. O'BRIEN: So what lies ahead then for other residents outside of Mississippi who are impacted by Katrina and, for that matter, Rita?

SCRUGGS: I'm very hopeful that this will serve, again, as a guide, as a model for other companies and other states. And for State Farm, indeed, and Louisiana, and Alabama, and Texas, where they were equally damaged by hurricane force winds.

M. O'BRIEN: We're talking now about 17 months later. Is there -- I'm sure there's a lot of relief that the checks will be cut relatively soon. There's got to be some lingering anger, too.

SCRUGGS: There's a lot of -- a lot of lingering anger. To take 18 months almost to get your insurance check and -- is obviously very galling and very humiliating to families. It's caused a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress. I guess you could only say better late than never.

But I think that this will be a signal to the entire insurance industry that they cannot take a population anywhere in the country for granted and treat them with a high-handed disposition like they did after Hurricane Katrina.

M. O'BRIEN: And one final thing I want to share with you, a statement which came out from State Farm in the wake of this. If we can put it up on the screen so I can see it and read it with you. "Our goal has always been to resolve these matters quickly, fairly and efficiently." It's part of a long statement.

What do you say to that?

SCRUGGS: Well, that's been their mantra and all the companies' mantra since the storm came. But the -- it's a huge gap between that -- between those high sounding words and the actual performance in paying people the claims that they were owed.

M. O'BRIEN: Finally, are you going to rebuild?

SCRUGGS: We're going to rebuild down the street. Not on this very spot, but right down the street. We're in the process right now of doing that.

M. O'BRIEN: Attorney Dickie Scruggs, thanks for your time.

SCRUGGS: Thank you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, a startling new study out today about what kills teenagers when they get behind the wheel of a car. We'll take a look at that study.

Then a new approach to dieting. Pour on the hot sauce, and it helps you lose weight. Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at that claim straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: If you have questions about how we do things here at CNN, you can e-mail them to me. I'll be answering some of those questions on some of the stories we pick, the reports we do, right here on AMERICAN MORNING. You want to go to CNN.com/AM. Scroll just about halfway down the page. That's where you find it. Global warming hot on the agenda as the World Economic Forum gets under way in Davos, Switzerland. CNN Richard Quest is live in Davos this morning for us.

And Richard, good morning.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you.

The one thing about the World Economic Forum in Davos is you can never be quite sure, Soledad, which direction it's going to go. No matter how much they try and set the agenda for the prime ministers, the presidents, the CEOs like Bill Gates and Michael Dell, who turn up, things can always take an odd turn.

And that's happened this year. Global warming, climate change, the environment. These are the hot button issues that they're getting to grips with as the great and the good discuss halfway up a Swiss Alpine mountain, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Richard Quest, what are the big headlines out of Davos, Richard?

QUEST: Well, you see, one of the most interesting things is that the United States, unlike in previous years, Soledad, is not very well represented. Go back to the Clinton years, and Bill used to pop along here with half the cabinet and every secretary of state he could find.

This year, all the U.S. has sent is the trade representative because trade talks are being spoken about. So everyone is saying why hasn't the Bush administration sent more representatives to gab fest in this auditorium?

And one reason is, of course, that perhaps they don't consider it as important to be as engaged in these sorts of forums as in previous years, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I would imagine it's certainly being read that way by some people there. Richard Quest for us this morning in Davos. Thank you, Richard, for the update -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: A week and a half -- sorry. A week and a half before the big game. Just love that Richard. We're getting a preview of some of the Super Bowl ads. At 25 minutes past the hour, Carrie Lee has that.

Good morning.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I thought you were excited about the Colts versus the Bears. Some people are for next Sunday.

For others, though, it's all about the advertising. And once again, the king of beers is going to be the king of ads. Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch, buying ten ads, about $2 million a piece for a total five minutes next Sunday. And we're looking at some directions the ads are going to go in. First of all, a couple driving down a long dark road. And you can see here they come across a hitchhiker. The woman gets upset because the hitchhiker is carrying an axe. The guy says, "So what? He's carrying Bud Light." So that's the first one for Bud Light.

M. O'BRIEN: Hardy-har.

LEE: Yes. And in the second one here, a bunch of women, of course, in bikinis, right, on a beach. Standard -- standard beer advertising practice. And a group of little red crabs come along and take the Budweiser away.

Now what's interesting is that in the past couple of years, Budweiser has had a more serious advertising stance. The humor has been left to Bud Light. Well, Bud sales have been dropping, so now they're trying to get laughs both ways. So we'll see if the money pays off.

M. O'BRIEN: The force multiplier in those ads, the amount of talk about them is tremendous.

LEE: It really is.

M. O'BRIEN: So it's really worth the money. I mean, you see the amount for 30 seconds, you're seeing...

S. O'BRIEN: And they run over and over again.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

LEE: Yes. A lot of people watch. And by the way, Budweiser has been the only alcoholic beverage sponsor for the big game since 1989, and that goes through 2012.

M. O'BRIEN: OK.

LEE: Quickly, do we have time for K. Fed?

M. O'BRIEN: Sure.

LEE: Also in a Super Bowl spot for Nationwide Insurance. Not everyone likes this, though. Restaurant industry complaining the punch line to this is K. Fed is sort of -- he's in a rap video, a glitzy music video. Turns up, though, he's just day dreaming while, you can see here, cooking French fries.

M. O'BRIEN: Some burgers.

LEE: Yes. The restaurant industry not too psyched. Basically, Nationwide says where humor is involved, there's always somebody who doesn't get it.

M. O'BRIEN: And so the point of the ad is you better buy your insurance because you could end up...

LEE: Exactly. It shows K. Fed has a sense of humor. M. O'BRIEN: OK, got you. All right. Thank you, Carrie.

LEE: Sure.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, the truth behind this diet. You guys heard about this diet?

M. O'BRIEN: No.

LEE: No.

S. O'BRIEN: The secret...

M. O'BRIEN: We're on the edge of our seats.

S. O'BRIEN: ... in this diet is in the hot sauce and lots of it. One man swears he lost 70 pounds on this diet. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us with that.

Plus, President Bush becomes to some degree the salesman in chief, but are voters buying his State of the Union offerings? We'll take a look at that.

Plus, young Americans risking their lives in Iraq. Some of them just out of high school, still teenagers, forced to make life or death decisions every day. We're going to have the story of some young soldiers straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

M. O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Some senators have an answer for President Bush -- no more troops to Iraq. A resolution going to the full Senate is the strongest rebuke to the president in nearly four years of war. Dana Bash live from Capitol Hill with more.

Good morning, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

And the vote in that Senate Foreign Relations committee was 12-9. Every senator who voted to condemn the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq said the resolution may be symbolic, but they also said it's long past time for Congress to stand up to the president on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Twelve hours after the president asked Congress to give his new Iraq plan time to work, he got his answer.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee began debate on a resolution opposing more troops in Iraq. SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: And what it is, it's an attempt to save the president from making a significantly -- a significant mistake we regard to our policy in Iraq.

BASH: The non-binding resolution says a troop increase is not in the national interests of the United States.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: We'd better be as sure as you can be -- and I want every one of you, every one of us, 100 percent of us, to look in that camera. And you tell your people back home what you think.

BASH: The sole Republican who voted for the resolution challenged the entire Senate to engage in what he called an overdue debate about a mangled war.

HAGEL: Why are you elected? If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.

BASH: Although nine out of 10 GOP senators voted against the measure, almost none said they support the president.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed.

BASH: The committee's top Republican said he was voting against the resolution because it would send the wrong signal to U.S. troops and he said the White House wouldn't listen anyway.

LUGAR: This vote will force nothing on the president. But it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray.

BASH: Four Republicans on the committee said they agree with Democrats that sending more troops to Iraq is a mistake, but said they're looking for what they consider less controversial language to support.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I happen to disagree with the president on the search. I don't believe that that is the most effective way for us to move forward at this point in time. Do I feel disloyal in saying that? No.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now the real test will be next week with votes on the Senate floor. Several leading Republicans have cosponsored another resolution opposing the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq, but with less confrontational language, they hope that could get a more bipartisan vote, and that could be a major repudiation in the end from the Senate floor of the president on Iraq -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Dana Bash on the Hill, thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Teenagers may be the most at-risk group of drivers on the road. There's a new national study that's just out today, that says the fatality rate for driver's between the ages of 16 and 19 is four times, of that of people who are over 25 years old.

AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence has a report for us and tells us that these teenagers are often driven to distraction, and sometimes the results are tragic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The class president and the prom king, packed into a car with four other kids heading to the dance. Their 16-year-old friend driving is sober and isn't speeding, but she gets distracted.

DONNA SABET, GILLIAN'S MOTHER: Somebody asked for a pack of gum, and there was a pack of gum in the driver's seat pocket, and she reached for it, and for an instant looked away from the road, and lost control of the vehicle.

LAWRENCE: Donna Sabet lost her daughter. Gillian and her boyfriend, both passengers, died when the car flipped over.

SABET: I loved being her mom, from the moment she was born to the moment she left that night. I love being her mom. And I miss her so much.

LAWRENCE: A new study of teenage drivers suggests that kind of accident was no accident. About 90 percent say they don't drink and drive. But nine out of 10 have seen passengers distract a driver. Drivers using cell phones. More than a third don't wear seat belts consistently.

RAMON HERNANDEZ, FRIEND OF GILLIAN SABET: Most kids think that they are invulnerable.

LAWRENCE: Actually, they are inexperienced, and according to Jill's brother, easily distracted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be music, it could be cell phones, it could be friends in the back even.

LAWRENCE (on camera): So teenage drivers should pay closer attention. Easy for adults to say, but when those drivers are out on the road, what do they see?

(voice-over): Men making calls, women getting ready for work, everyone eating.

And when you're 16, trying to stand up to your friends...

ANDRES VILLALOBOS, FRIEND OF GILLIAN SABET: You never want to be the uncool guy in the group. So you tell someone to buckle up, they're like, you're not my dad; don't tell me what to do.

LAWRENCE: That's why Jill's family and friends have started a Web site called journeysafe.org, encouraging teenage drivers to buckle up, turn down the music and shut off their phones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care if it's not cool. I don't care if my friends will bag on me for it. I want to keep people safe, and I want to stay alive.

LAWRENCE: And parents, two-thirds of teens surveyed say when it comes to driving your opinion still matters.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, San Clemente, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Jill's family says the purpose of the Journey Safe program is to change attitudes rather than laws.

Coming up this morning, the hot sauce diet. Are there other health benefits from eating spicy foods? Dr. Sanjay Gupta will give us a taste.

Plus, America's fresh-faced troops in Iraq. We'll tell you how the war is forcing young men and women, some of them barely out of high school, to grow up much faster than any of us can imagine.

Plus, rehab for homophobia? How "Gray's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington is dealing with the fallout over his anti-gay slur.

That and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: While folks in Washington fight over whether it's a good idea to send more troops to Iraq, thousands of men and women are getting ready to deploy. Many of them barely out of high school. The harsh realities of war forcing them to grow up quicker than the rest of us, to be sure.

CNN's Michael Holmes live from Baghdad with more on that.

Hello, Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

Yes, of the 140,000 or so U.S. troops here, nearly 10,000 of them are under 19 or even younger. Boys, perhaps when they come here, very much men when they leave.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES (voice-over): Place yourself here if you can here, Haifa Street in Baghdad, earlier this month. Now imagine you're 18, 19 years old. Perhaps just a year or so out of high school. From the heat of battle to routine patrol, from teenager to war veteran.

SPEC. JESUS BECERRA, U.S. ARMY: Going to be dreaming about it a lot, nightmares and stuff. You miss your family a lot. You think about them every day. Especially when you go out on a mission. You don't know what's going to happen. It could be your last mission every day. Kind of messes with your mind a little.

HOLMES: Back on base, boys will be boys.

(on camera): So what's with being in a war zone and playing war games?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't get enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't get enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Private First Class Ben Squires from Michigan, just turned 20, has had to pull the trigger more than once and deals with the unknown every day.

PFC BEN SQUIRES, U.S. ARMY: Yes, sometimes. I mean, you have to know whether a car is, you know, coming up behind you, whether or not they're going to try to blow you up or whether they're just not paying attention.

HOLMES: Sergeant Cody O'Brien signed up at 17. Six months later he was here. Now 21, he's a sergeant on his second tour in Iraq.

SGT. CODY O'BRIEN, U.S. ARMY: You've got to kind of grow up and mature quick, because if you act like a little kid over here it might get someone hurt, you know, pretty bad.

HOLMES: Most of these young men told us they were trained for the realities on the ground here. Some said the toughest thing was not being able to have a legal beer when on leave.

BECERRA: They messed up -- we're going to go to war and we can't even go to a bar and have fun before we come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They talk tough like it's all routine stuff, but their commander says they see things few young men do. He tells of teenage soldiers having to scrub their vehicle of the blood of wounded or dead friends.

LT. COL. AVANULAS SMILEY, U.S. ARMY: The things that the soldiers go through here, your average American at that age, at that kind of wisdom, and experience and education, isn't seeing what these soldiers see here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Miles, I found it amazing how many of these young men are on base, young men, video games, goofing around, teenagers. But once they go. as the military puts it, outside the wire or outside the base, their demeanor changes instantly. They become professional soldiers, literally within a minute.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, a lot of good training. But as you say, they're still teens in many respects. You know, young men have always gone to war. What's kind of a new development is the injection of having more women on the front lines. How does that effect the way they all interact?

HOLMES: Yes, well they interact like teenagers. Yes, there are a lot of women out here. On the base, they intermingle, obviously separate quarters and separate showering facilities, but yes, they do hang out a lot together, and you see women, unlike in previous wars, as you said, Miles, because there's no front line here, everyone here, male, female, teenager or otherwise, is on the front line -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Michael Holmes, thank you very much.

"CNN NEWSROOM" just moments away. Fredricka Whitfield is at the CNN Center with has a look ahead.

Hello, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Miles.

Well we've got these stories in the NEWSROOM: Al Qaeda said to be operating freely on the Pakistani border. A senior U.S. intelligence official tells CNN training camps, quote, "are full." Our Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

And cold case: A Mississippi man in court this morning. He's facing charges related to a civil rights-era double murder.

And ski resorts ask, so where is the snow? So the chamber of commerce taking a rather skimpy approach to New England's skimpy snowfall? Did it work?

Join Tony Harris and me in the NEWSROOM top of the hour -- Miles and Soledad.

M. O'BRIEN: What was that? Was she doing?

WHITFIELD: I know, it doesn't make any sense, does it?

In a bikini, and she's you know, trying to pray and ask the snow gods to bring it on, and see if this request actually works.

S. O'BRIEN: Why do you have to be in a bikini to do that?

WHITFIELD: Some man came up with the idea, you know.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, there you go.

S. O'BRIEN: And we'll take the opportunity to run the pictures again.

WHITFIELD: You know it's simple as that.

S. O'BRIEN: I think she's doing yoga.

Isn't that like sun salutation.

WHITFIELD: That's right, sun salutation.

M. O'BRIEN: Take me to her. I will ski with her. It works, see?

WHITFIELD: I'm you sure will, yes.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Fred.

A shot likes that makes you want to lose some weight, right.

S. O'BRIEN: Suddenly skiing looks so interesting to you, doesn't it?

M. O'BRIEN: A shot of hot sauce could do the trick for you. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will explain with that. It's a hot topic, I guess you could say.

S. O'BRIEN: Can't even speak after that segment.

M. O'BRIEN: I can't even say it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: In this morning's House Call, the science of hot sauce. No matter how you might feel about the taste of hot sauce, it could, believe it or not, be good for what ails you.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Spiro Antoniades is a runner, but he didn't always have a runner's body. Last year he weighed 265 pounds. He decided to make himself suffer for eating the wrong things. So before every meal, he downed a shot of hot sauce.

DR. SPIRO ANTONIADES, "HOT SAUCE DIET": It kind of slows me down, it shocks me a little bit, and it makes me drink some water, and it calms down my abnormal appetites.

GUPTA: Dr. Antoniades is now 70 pounds lighter. He's an orthopedic surgeon, who shares his hot sauce diet with other doctors. That doesn't really have any science behind it, but some think it works by tricking the mind. If you have a dose of hot sauce every time you eat junk food, you'll avoid the junk food to avoid the pain.

CLIFFORD WOOLF, MGH/HARVARD: One of the major features of pain is to learn to avoid danger. And by taking a swig of tabasco, you are switching on that avoidance mechanism. GUPTA: Researchers say a chemical in hot peppers causing that burning sensation. It's called capsaicin. They already know it can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, even fight some cancers. Now they found that burning sensation of arthritis is like the discomfort you feel after eating chili peppers. Those similarities could help scientists zero in on what really causes arthritic pain, and lead to the development of better painkillers.

WOOLF: The current analgesics in many patients do not actually reduce that pain, and the other is many have excessive side effects.

GUPTA: And scientist are studying more hot sauce, like wasabi and hot mustard, to see how those might also unravel the puzzle of pain. As for Dr. Antonitis, he thinks he's solved his weight problem, a does of hot sauce, a little pain and no weight gain.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: The running is probably helping, too. Sanjay says that capsaisan is already being used in topical creams to ease pain because it causes a heat when it's put on the skin, sort of like putting a heating pad if your arm, or your back or leg is hurting you. Interesting.

Here's a quick look at what "CNN NEWSROOM" is working on for you at the top of the hour.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: See these stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM": New casualties in Baghdad, a motorcycle bomb ripping a busy marketplace.

A new face joining the list of 2008 presidential hopefuls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Our Wolf Blitzer's exclusive interview with the vice president.

Smash and grab, thieves making off with a $263,000 necklace from, of all places, Sam's Club. Here in the NEWSROOM, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: There's a baby boom under way in China. A panda- mania-um, pandemonium, you know, all that stuff. OK, so 18 pandas have been born there in the past year. All right. That's a big deal. You know the custom on pandas. You don't name them...

S. O'BRIEN: A hundred days, right?

M. O'BRIEN: No, a year, actually a year old. And so it is now time to name them. It seems like they named the Atlanta ones sooner than that, didn't they?

S. O'BRIEN: That's the American custom.

M. O'BRIEN: In any case, OK...

S. O'BRIEN: But whatever.

M. O'BRIEN: They're soliciting your thoughts on this, because they're not named one to 18, and that's just not very -- you know, that's not a crowd pleaser exactly. And you can do it. You can go to www.chinadaily.com, and link through a few things.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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