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Battle In Najaf; Iran In Iraq; Royal Watching; Gerri's Top Tips; Italian Kidnapping Case; Katrina-related Field Hearing

Aired January 29, 2007 - 10:00   ET


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Both as an ensemble, as well as individually, with Chandra Wilson taking home the statue for her work.
CHANDRA WILSON, ACTRESS: It's about those 10 cast members sitting over there and the other one in rehab. I mean y'all just hold me together.

VARGAS: Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen in for Heidi Collins today.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Spend a second hour in the NEWSROOM this morning and stay informed. Here's what's on the rundown.

American troops the target of weapons from Iran. New questions about Iran's involvement in the fighting inside Iraq.

NGUYEN: Breaking the rules of war. Did Israel violate a U.S. pact by using cluster bombs in civilian areas?

HARRIS: And our joint is jumpin' this morning! Harry Connick Jr. joins us to talk about his new album. His new CD, isn't it?

NGUYEN: Two of them.



HARRIS: And New Orleans recovery.

It is Monday, January 29th. You are in the NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: First up, let's get you to Iraq. The violent fault line over religion grow wider and more perilous. We begin with a ferocious street battle in Najaf. Iraqi officials say those militants were planning to attack Shiite pilgrims and kill their top leaders. Iraq says at least 200 insurgents were killed, including the leader of their cult. Let's get the latest now from CNN's Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

Arwa, would the situation have been any different had insurgents succeeded in this plan? It seems like it definitely would have.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Betty. I mean, should this group that is calling itself the Soldiers of Heaven, had succeed in their plan to attack Najaf, the holy Shia city, to kill clerics and pilgrims, even to attempt to assassinate Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the impact on this country would have been unimaginable. I cannot put into words the outcome of it. In fact we have heard time and time again from our Iraqi colleagues that that is their number one fear, that an attack like this one would have been successful.

But, for the time being, that specific plot has been averted. We are hearing from senior Iraqi officials in Najaf that they are currently conducting interrogations on detainees, as well as wounded gunmen. They are saying that they have done a final sweep throughout the area. It does remains cordoned off. And Iraqi and U.S. officials do remain on the lookout for other plots to attempts to attack Najaf and other Shia pilgrims and clerics during this time.


NGUYEN: Well, what does this say about the Iraqi capabilities?

DAMON: Well, Betty, it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, some people will be looking at this incident, saying that the Iraqi security forces reacted to the intelligence, found that they were outgunned and then called in U.S. air and ground support. And they will use this as an example of how they would like other Iraqi forces to operate in the future when they do have control of their own battle space.

Those individuals, though, other people that believe that perhaps this handing over of control to the Iraqi security force is happening a bit too fast, will point to this incident, this 24-hour firefight, as being an example of just how much the Iraqis still need U.S. air power, ground support, as well as command and control. We do know from the Iraqi police down there that U.S. forces did end up taking the lead in this operation.


NGUYEN: CNN's Arwa Damon joining us live from Baghdad.

Arwa, we appreciate it.

HARRIS: A tug-of-war in Iraq, just days after the White House announced a tougher stance on Iran's so-called meddling. Tehran responds. Its ambassador to Baghdad tells "The New York Times" that Iran will begin forging even deeper ties with Iraq, both economic and military. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr takes a closer look.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: If you're in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should consider yourself a target. BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): That blunt warning from the new defense secretary, singling out Iran's growing involvement in the fighting inside Iraq. The State Department says it wants to unveil classified evidence that proves just that.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Where we are in the process is taking a look at the mountain of evidence that we do have.

STARR: But much of that information is already out there if you know where to look. Earlier this month, CIA director, General Michael Hayden, said Iran is shipping weapons into Iraq that are killing U.S. troops.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, DIRECTOR, CIA: The EFPs are coming from Iran. They are being used against our forces. They are capable of defeating some of our heaviest armor and, incident for incident, cause significantly more casualties than any other improvised explosive devices do, and they are provided to Shia militia.

STARR: Hayden is talking about explosively formed projectiles, sophisticated manufactured explosives capable of penetrating even a battle tank. Back in November, Hayden bluntly warned that Tehran was stepping up its supply chain to Shia militias inside Iraq.

HAYDEN: The provision of them to them of capabilities that have been used against the coalition . . .


HAYDEN: Has been quite striking.

STARR: There is more. U.S. officials say in recent raids in Iraq, they detained suspected Iranian operatives and found IEDs, rifles, mortar launchers, weapons with Iranian markings, maps and shipping documents. They also say two suspects were senior members of the Iranian revolutionary guard. And there's further evidence still.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It's clear that money is coming in through their intelligence services, training is probably being conducted inside Iran through various surrogates and proxies.


HARRIS: Barbara Starr joins us now from the Pentagon.

Barbara, good morning to you.

Are there concerns -- sounds like there must be -- of this growing sophistication in the kinds of attacks that we're seeing from the insurgents? And then, what about this notion of money and training. Where is this coming from?

STARR: You know, Tony, this is what military commanders increasingly are beginning to worry about. We've been through the whole era of, you know, initially four years ago almost the dead enders (ph), then the insurgents, then al Qaeda in Iraq. But look at what's happened just in the last week. The possibility now three U.S. helicopters brought down by hostile fire in one week, this huge battle in Najaf and this growing mountain of evidence that Iran is financing training and shipping weapons in. Three separate threats, but they all have one undercurrent that commanders worry about.

What is really happening here? Is there a growing network? Is there growing training? Money? Is the insurgency now becoming an institutional force, if you will? Is it becoming something that commanders and troops really have to contend with? Something more and something different perhaps than just disaffected young Iraqi men.

HARRIS: And one quick follow-up based on "The New York Times" reporting. Is there any indication -- these two points kind of dovetail actually -- any indication that the Iraqi government is actually seeking out this kind of assistance, the kind of assistance being described by the Iranian ambassador in Iraq, is there any indication that Iraq is seeking this out?

STARR: Well, perhaps seeking the economic assistance and that type of assistance from Iran. The U.S. has made it very clear to the Maliki government in Baghdad that there can be no military ties with Iran. That is off the table in terms of the U.S. view.

But in terms of economic assistance, just consider this. If Iran really follows through on what it's telling "The New York Times," that it will open a bank in Baghdad, that may be a financial tie that is extremely significant and may really formalized some sort of relationship between Baghdad and Tehran.

HARRIS: CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for us this morning.

Barbara, thank you.

NGUYEN: Back here in the U.S., recovering from Hurricane Katrina still agonizingly slow in much of New Orleans and parts of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The storm struck a year and a half ago and this morning a Senate committee is holding a field hearing in New Orleans. As you can see, plenty of people standing outside with signs saying many things, one saying no more money for Iraq, America first, and another saying that Gulf Coast small business must have help.

But inside is where we're seeing the topic being this, the government's response to that storm and Hurricane Rita. Now, as part of this visit, committee members will be touring storm-devastated neighborhoods and CNN's Susan Roesgen is attending this hearing that you see live pictures of right now. So we're going to find out just how hot it gets in a live report. That's next hour.

In the meantime, some serious new concerns now being raised about scores of levees all across the United States. According to "USA Today," the Army Corps of Engineers has identified almost 150 levees, it says, could fail in a major flood. Much of the problem? Poor maintenance. Now communities are having to spend millions on repairs. The report says if the levees are not fixed, FEMA could decide that they are no longer adequate and property owners who live near those structures would have to buy costly flood insurance.

HARRIS: What do you say we get a check of weather conditions now? Chad Myers is in the Weather Center for us.

Chad, good morning to you.


NGUYEN: Well, a casual walk in the woods, almost the last one for this hiker.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His life was in jeopardy and we were fighting for his life.


NGUYEN: Yes, they were. Attacked by a mountain lion. There he is. He was actually saved by his wife. We have that story ahead in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: A prince. I tell you, a prince in the city!


PRINCE CHARLES, PRINCE OF WHALES: I find it rather strange after all of these years of being at the end of a certain amount of abuse, and all I can say is, fame at last!


NGUYEN: At last! The royal couple in America. That's ahead right here in the NEWSROOM.

And a mystery from above. Did you see this?


NGUYEN: Slammed. What happened here? The cold culprit. That's coming up in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: So we've been telling you throughout the morning that the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was holding a field hearing on Hurricane Katrina and Rita recovery in New Orleans. And we suggested that this had the potential to get a little heated. It has. Protesters from outside that you see there on the left side of your screen there with signs, made it inside the hearing room. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Victims of Hurricane Katrina, why you won't probe the White House.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (ID) CONNECTICUT: I'll be glad to . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my hand I have 100 signatures of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Why don't you tell them why you won't probe the White House.

LIEBERMAN: We will -- thank you/

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probe the White House. Stand up for justice. Stand up for justice.

LIEBERMAN: We will be happy to . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want somebody to stand up for justice! Probe the White House.

LIEBERMAN: We will be happy . . .


HARRIS: Could you make that out, Betty?

NGUYEN: I was trying to read that sign.

HARRIS: I was trying to make out the sign.

NGUYEN: Something the White House.


NGUYEN: "Probe the White House" is says.

HARRIS: "Probe the White House." Senator Lieberman trying to do the best, well, to keep some order. But, you know, he had an opportunity there to talk to a representative and that's what that young man did, he took the opportunity to speak directly to that committee. So we will continue to follow this story. Susan Roesgen is actually inside that hearing room and we will talk to her a little bit later to get her bird's eye view of exactly what happened.

NGUYEN: In the meantime, a California man's quiet walk on a mountain trail turns into a fight for his life. Check him out. Seventy-year-old Jim Hamm was attacked by a mountain lion. He says his wife was able to fight off the animal.


JIM HAMM, ATTACKED BY MOUNTAIN LION: I told her to get my pen from my pocket, because I had one in my pants pocket, and jam it in his eye. So she jammed it in his eye and it crumbled. So it wouldn't work. So she got the club and started to club it again. She did that and it backed off and laid its ears back. And she was yelling and screaming at it and it just turned around and went off into the ferns and left.


NGUYEN: That is one lucky man. Hamm was flown to a hospital in San Francisco Sunday for more specialized treatment.

HARRIS: Rolling out the red carpet for the so-called green prince. Britain's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, on a whirlwind visit to America. A trip that raised some questions across the pond. Our Alina Cho has details.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To come forward and to accept this award as the Tenth Anniversary Global Environmental Citizen.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Former Vice President Al Gore presented Prince Charles with a special honor for his efforts to protect the environment.

PRINCE CHARLES, PRINCE OF WHALES: I can't tell you how touched and grateful I am for all these extraordinary flattering words that are being said about me. I find it rather strange, after all of these years, of being at the end of a certain amount of abuse. And all I can say is, fame at last! It's rather encouraging.

CHO: It capped a whirlwind weekend for Charles and his wife Camilla. Earlier Sunday, they visited a charter school in Harlem, where they watched a group of middle school students pick stocks and perform a scene from Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream." The prince decided to join the kids for basketball practice. He threw up a royal brick before banking one in.

Their trip has focused on education, urban renewal and the environment. While Charles has won praise from environmentalists, he's been criticized at home. There was a royal roe over the so- called green prince flying to the U.S. in a private jet. In response, the couple flew commercial to Philadelphia. It was their first ever trip to the city where Americans declared their independence from British rule. And their presence excited even some of the littlest royal watchers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know he's the son of Queen Elizabeth II and he's the oldest of them all. I think he might be king one day.

Alina Cho, CNN, New York.


HARRIS: Royal buck there. Most of us are rolling in a little bit of debt here.

Gerri Willis, I tell you what, I love what we're going to do today because you're going to help us cut down on some of these fees that we pay on the money that we owe. GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Tony. Good to see you.

Getting out of debt by trimming the fat from your budget. We'll tell you how. That's coming up next on "Top Tips."


NGUYEN: We've got a live look now that really shows you the two sides of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. On the right-hand side you see this congressional field hearing, which is taking place right now in New Orleans, to really find out what's been done and why the situation hasn't been fully completed there in New Orleans, picking up the pieces and rebuilding. And then on the left, you have some really frustrated Gulf Coast residents holding signs. Some saying "probe the White House." Others say, "no more money for Iraq, fix America first."

The frustration has spilled over into this Senate hearing there in New Orleans. It got really heated. Our Susan Roesgen is there and she's coming up at the top of the hour with the latest on how things are heating up and the frustration is spilling over in New Orleans today.

And for those of you watching. Those big investors out there. Check it out. Looking at Wall Street today we see that the Dow is up 24 points right now. The Nasdaq not doing as great, up just less than a point but it's still early in the day. We'll keep a watch.

HARRIS: From your cell phone to your stock holdings, those nagging little fees can really add up. But they don't have to. Oh, really? CNN personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, joins us with some tips on how to trim those hidden costs.

Oh, I'm all ears here.

WILLIS: Yes, hi, Tony. Good to see you. Happy Monday.

HARRIS: Where do you want to start with this one? Happy Monday.

WILLIS: Well, you know, aren't these annoying? It seems like you're running into fees everywhere. The best place to start, cut the mutual fund fees. They're eating into your returns big time. We're talking hundreds or even thousands of dollars here. So to figure out what you're paying, look at the fund's expense ratio. You'll find this number in the annual prospectus. The ratio tells you what percentage of your account is being siphoned out for expenses each year. And as a general rule, you should keep those fees below 1 percent for a stock fund and below 0.75 percent for a bond fund.

And if you're paying more, move your funds to low cost companies. Here are some examples of companies that have cut their fees the most. Fidelity, Vanguard, Dodge & Cox, T. Rowe Price, Janus. All of these companies make it a priority to keep those fees low.

HARRIS: Well, Gerri, we have talked about this next one a bunch here in the NEWSROOM. We probably touched on it a big last week, ways so reduce those bank fees.

WILLIS: It was so good we brought it back, Tony.

HARRIS: Yes. It's a great event.

WILLIS: Yes. Well, you've got to cut your bank fees. Bank fees are on the rise from overdraft charges to ATM fees. To beat those overdraft fees, make sure you opt out of courtesy overdraft protection. Now if you don't, you'll be hit with a $20 to $35 charge each time you overdraw. Instead, ask for an overdraft line of credit. It's cheaper. This line of credit will charge you interest only on the amount and the days you were overdrawn. And while there's not a lot you can do about ATM fees, right, those are set in stone, consider a bank that has a large ATM network. Keep your eyes open. More and more banks are waiting fees to attract customers and you can always ask if you can get a fee waived.

HARRIS: That's a good point.

What about those -- can you help us with credit card fees?

WILLIS: Oh, yes. Well late fees are over $30 and penalty interest rates can be up to 30 percent in some cases, which is ridiculous. So here's what you can do to avoid these fees. First off, automate your payments online. And if you know your payment is going to be late, call the credit card company ahead of time. You may be able to avoid a late payment fee just by asking.

HARRIS: Hey, you know, I wasn't even aware of this one. You're really surprised by this one. Cell phones have extras in there are fees attached to extras? I had no clue on this.

WILLIS: Fees, fees and more fees. Look, you may be paying extra fees on your cell phone bill for things like roadside assistance. We spoke to someone who was unknowingly paying an extra $3 a month on his cell phone bill for a service that would rescue him in case he gets a flat tire. Later it was found this extra was added on when he upgraded his cell phone handset. He didn't know about it. Bottom line here, whenever you're upgrading your handset or your service, make sure you look at that bill even more carefully, Tony.

And as always, if you have a question for us, send us an e-mail to We answer those questions right here every Friday and we love to hear from you.

HARRIS: There she is, CNN personal finance editor, Gerri Willis.

WILLIS: Thank you, Tony.

HARRIS: Gerri, good Monday to you. Have a great day.

WILLIS: Good Monday to you, too.

NGUYEN: Well, churchgoers in Ohio shocked by what happened during Sunday services. You won't believe this. That's ahead in the NEWSROOM. And American-made weapons, plus the conflict in the Middle East. Did Israel violate U.S. rules? The issue ahead in the NEWSROOM.


ANNOUNCER: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, everybody. You're in the NEWSROOM on this Monday. I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Heidi Collins.

TONY HARRIS, NEWSROOM: And I'm Tony Harris. Good morning, everyone.

We're talking about New Orleans, we're talk being recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, still agonizingly slow in much of New Orleans and parts of the Mississippi Gulf coast. This morning, a Senate committee is holding a field hearing on the government's response to the storm.

Our Gulf coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, is with us now from New Orleans and Susan, we saw just a couple of moments ago, someone walked into the hearing room, clearly frustrated, and made his voice heard -- not necessarily a bad thing for the members of this committee to hear the frustrations of people in that region.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: That's very true, Tony. But also, what this committee is going to be hearing from the witnesses, from the representatives of the federal agencies, may also be some frustration. This particular gentleman who was inside, I followed him out as soon as the state police hustled him out of there. I heard one of the state police officers say, Get the handcuffs, but the truth was they just pushed him out of there, shoved him into an elevator.

I grabbed him, I said, Who are you, who are you with, and he wound up on the street out here. They did not arrest him. His name is Happy Johnson. He says he represents a new organization called He says that he was angry. What he was trying to say there was -- to Senator Lieberman, Why won't you probe the White House in the same way that the 9/11 commission probed the administration's actions before and after 9/11?

This was a gentleman who says that his group -- I have no idea how big it is, it may be just himself and a few friends -- but he says that he wants Senator Lieberman and others on this Senate Homeland Security Committee to do more to find out how the administration has failed in its Katrina response.

And in fact, Tony, that's exactly what this group is here to do today. They want to hold federal agencies accountable. They want to find out about taxpayer money, how has it been spent and has it been spent wisely and efficiently.

This hearing is so packed that, if you look behind me, there's a whole line of people waiting to get in. They are not going to be allowed in unless more people come out. It's in the Louisiana Supreme Court courtroom, and it's just packed. And then you see just a handful of people with signs over there, a few protesters, a pretty mellow gathering. Those signs say things like, Get out of Iraq, No more money for Iraq, Spend the money at home. That's the general tenor of the protests over there.

But again, in the hearing inside, we may hear some fireworks, because, as the senators -- that would be possible presidential candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and again, the new chairman of this Homeland Security Committee, Senator Lieberman of Connecticut -- they're going to be grilling the regional head of FEMA, Tony, they're going to be grilling Donald Powell, the Bush administration's man in charge of the federal Gulf coast recovery effort, and others.

So it should be a pretty interesting give-and-take inside that hearing, without any more protesters.

HARRIS: Suzie, will we get to the bottom of what is holding up the money in the pipeline, as described by Governor Blanco on this program last week -- $10 billion in housing money jammed up in the pipeline -- will we get to the bottom of this, and maybe figure out the fingerpointing that's going on here and maybe stop it?

ROESGEN: Well, you know, I think there's going to be more fingerpointing today, Tony, and whether they'll really get to the bottom of it or not, I don't know. But they are here to talk to the people in charge and they say they really want to talk to these federal officials.

There's going to be some local and state officials here: Governor Blanco may be here, Mayor Nagin will be here. But I have been told that these senators really want to talk to the federal people in charge, because again, Tony, as I mentioned earlier this morning, this is the first Katrina-related field hearing for this committee since the Democrats took control of Congress. And so there's going to be an entirely different tone here.

Senator Lieberman is the new chairman of this committee. This is the first time that Senator Obama and Senator Landrieu have been on this committee, so certainly they're going to be looking for tough answers from many of these people, who arrived in the Bush administration.

HARRIS: Very good.

ROESGEN: It could be a pretty testy exchange in there.

HARRIS: Very good. That's very good. Susan Roesgen for us in New Orleans. Suzie, thank you.

NGUYEN: In Iraq, the death toll grows, and the religious divisions, they deepen. We begin now with the bloody battle in Najaf. Iraqi officials say militants were planning to attack Shiite pilgrims and kill their top leaders. Iraq says at least 200 insurgents were killed, including the leader of their cult. Now, a U.S. military official says machine gun fire is most likely to blame for Sunday's crash of a U.S. military helicopter in Najaf. You can see the black smoke there. This is cell phone video showing smoke rising from that crash. Both U.S. soldiers aboard the helicopter were killed.

Civilians also among the insurgent targets as a wave of bombings erupted across Baghdad. At least 12 people are dead, another 56 wounded.

HARRIS: Two Palestinian groups now claiming responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing in Israel. Israeli police say at least three people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a bakery in a resort town on the Red Sea. Israel is still investigating the attack. It is the first such incident in Israel since April, when a suicide bomber killed 11 people in Tel Aviv.

The White House is condemning today's attack, calling it a terrorist bombing.

More Palestinian infighting this weekend, with violence spreading from Gaza into the West Bank. In Nablus, a brazen abduction in broad daylight -- look at these picture pictures, right in front of the media. A local Hamas leader hauled away by a squad of gunmen allied with the Fatah movement Sunday.

Saudi King Abdullah implored Hamas and Fatah officials to travel to Mecca for peace talks. Both sides accepted the offer, but they have not set a date for any talks.

NGUYEN: Well, the weapons of war and Israel's battle against Hezbollah: did Israel violate U.S. rules by using American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon? That's the question. The State Department is sending a preliminary report to Congress this morning, and our Ben Wedeman joins us now live in Israel -- or, Jerusalem, I should say.

What have you learned so far about this alleged violation, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN, JERUSALEM: Well, what we've heard from Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, is that it is likely Israel did violate these arms agreements with the United States, these arms agreements stipulating that Israel would not use these cluster weapons against civilian areas. And according to the report, it would seem that, as far as the State Department is concerned, Israel did use these cluster weapons against civilian areas in Lebanon.

Of course, the Israelis claim that they have not violated international law in using the cluster weapons. It says that they were used in an attempt to try and stop the rain of Katyusha rockets onto northern Israel.

But what's significant is, the Israeli army itself has announced it is launching an investigation into the use of cluster weapons. So this report in the United States, it appears, is going to be mirrored by a similar investigation, Betty, here in Israel.

NGUYEN: So when this investigation or investigations are finished, what would it mean -- a possible suspension of delivery of any weapons to Israel?

WEDEMAN: It wouldn't be first time, if that is the case. In 1982, the United States suspended for six years the provision of cluster weapons to Israel, under similar conditions. What is significant is that, in those six years, Israel began to manufacture and even export its own cluster weapons, and now, is doing quite a booming business in these weapons. In fact, they also sell those weapons to the United States. So even if the Americans were to suspend the provision of cluster weapons to Israel, the impact would be, at best, symbolic. Betty?

NGUYEN: CNN's Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem for us today. Ben, we thank you.

HARRIS: Making music and making a difference.



HARRIS: Funky backbeat on that, Betty.

NGUYEN: I like it.

HARRIS: All right. Harry Connick, Jr.'s latest effort to aid his hometown's home sounds. He joins us in the NEWSROOM.


NGUYEN: And talk about being one lucky duck: you have to see this. Given up for dead, not once, but twice. It's a duck with a cat's nine lives. That's ahead, here in the NEWSROOM.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, NYSE: I'm Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange. You might not be interested in Microsoft's new operating system, but you won't be able to escape its marketing blitz. I'll have details about the $500 million launch for Vista. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


HARRIS: After more than five years and several delays -- that's for sure! -- Microsoft's newest operating system will hit store shelves at the stroke of midnight. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with details.

Hi, Susan.

LISOVICZ: Hi, Tony. The latest version of Windows is called Vista. There will be several variations, but Microsoft expects the home premium version to be the mainstream for most consumers. That will sell out of the box for 239, but -- that is dollars, of course -- but can be upgraded from Windows XP for $159.

After spending $6 billion to develop Vista, Microsoft is planning one of the biggest marketing blitzes of all-time -- Ad Age says $500 million worth of ad launch. The rollout of Vista already being likened to the release of video game consoles: CompUSA, Best Buy and Circuit City are opening some stores late tonight. Many retailers will offer door buster deals and will have NFL players on hand to sign autographs. Basketball star Lebron James is also lending his celebrity to the advertisement.

Tomorrow the company's CEO, Steve Balmer, will greet customers at Best Buy, here in New York. According to Ad Age, Microsoft says it is its biggest launch ever. And it has the money to do a $500 million ad launch.

HARRIS: To be sure. That's all well and good, but what about the system? What are the experts saying about this system? Is it worth it?

LISOVICZ: What are the geeks saying, in other words, Tony?


LISOVICZ: The people who can understand these things? Most agree that Vista is going to take the world by storm. You can't escape this launch. In fact, Bill Gates is going to be on the Daily Show tonight, with Jon Stewart.

But actually getting the system on to your computer could be difficult. One big hurdle is that you'll need serious hardware to take advantage of Vista's best features. Only the most expensive versions offer the new graphics and arrow interface, so you may have to install more memory or a bigger hard drive. And even if you have a new PC that's labeled Vista-ready, it still may not be capable of running on the premium version.

Any PC that's more than a year or two old is probably not compatible with Vista. So why buy it? Well, a lot of experts agree that Vista offers greater security and reliability, as well as better search capabilities. And for serious gamers like Tony, it has more realistic graphics.

HARRIS: You know, as you're saying that, I'm saying, boy, Susan, I can hear my son and my daughter now -- Daddy, I want!

LISOVICZ: Get your plastic ready.

Microsoft shares, in the meantime, well, they're just down about .3 percent.


HARRIS: Susan, see you next hour.

NGUYEN: All right, listen -- the phrase "lucky duck" certainly comes up with this story. Check him out: this is about this duck, named Perky, of all things. Two weeks ago he was shot by a hunter near Tallahassee, Florida, and stuffed in the refrigerator. Well, two days later, the hunter's wife looks in the fridge and, voila! -- the duck raises its head. HARRIS: Come on!

NGUYEN: Mind you, this duck was shot. She rushed the duck to the vet and a wildlife volunteer, he picks up the story from there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They could not get her to breathe again. They were doing oxygen. They took her off, he's patting her chest, trying to get her going, and nothing worked. And he just turned to me, and he said, I'm so sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just picks his head up, and revives again, so for the second time in history, this bird was pronounced dead and rose from the dead.


NGUYEN: So, because Perky's recovery is expected to take months, a decision on returning the duck to the wild is being postponed for now. I imagine someone will want to adopt that little duck. It keeps on kicking.

HARRIS: That's the AFLAC duck. That's really what that is.

NGUYEN: If it's not, they may want to invest in that one.


Still to come this morning in the NEWSROOM: a radical Muslim cleric snatched off on an Italian street. Italian prosecutors say he was taken by the CIA. The agency's rendition program ahead in the NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: And levees across the United States could be in danger of failing a major flood -- that claim by federal officials in a new report. We have those details coming up in the NEWSROOM.


NGUYEN: Tony, you know this. When you go to church, you expect to hear the words, Let us pray.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

NGUYEN: But some Ohio worshipers heard, This is a robbery.

HARRIS: Then they took matters into their own hands, and how! With a leap of faith, Lindsey Seavert of affiliate station WBNS has more.


PATTY SCHLAGER, CHURCH WORSHIPER: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

LINDSEY SEAVERT, WBNS (voice-over): Patty Schlager demonstrates her daily ritual.

SCHLAGER: Hail Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now at the hour of death, amen.

I think the blessed Mother will protect me.

SEAVERT: But she's never prayed for protection more, than in Christ the King's 8:00 mass.

SCHLAGER: It was right before communion. I was saying my rosary.

SEAVERT: With the same beads clutched in her hand, a man and woman burst in. They demanded money, wallets and Schlager's purse, all at gunpoint.

SCHLAGER: I thought, Well I'd rather give her my purse than my life. So I gave her the purse.

SEAVERT: Other church members couldn't sit and watch. Schlager says ushers tackled the pair.

SCHLAGER: Kept them down until the police got there, which I think is a hero.

SEAVERT: Then, with the suspect in handcuffs, church somehow went on.

SCHLAGER: And we went up to communion. My hands were shaking so bad when I went to take the host and drink the wine, I thought I was going to drop the wine on the floor.

REV. MICHAEL LUMPE, CHRIST OF KING CHURCH: You don't go into God's house and do these types of things. It's just unheard of, but there again is this a reflection of where we are heading as a society? And if that's the case, God have mercy on all our souls.

SCHLAGER: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

SEAVERT: Schlager believes God heard those prayers. Her purse is back, but her faith renewed.

SCHLAGER: And when it was all over with, there was a serenity. There was something there that, God was saying, I'm with you. I'll take care of you.


HARRIS: And still to come, a congressional committee in New Orleans right now, to get a firsthand look at how the city is recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That story straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: And healing the wounds of war: troops and their families get a new home away from home. We'll show you those details on a special dedication ceremony. That's coming up right here in the NEWSROOM.


NGUYEN: You have to check this out. A casual walk in the woods, almost the last, for one hiker.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His life was in jeopardy, and we were fighting for his life.


NGUYEN: Yes, they were. Attacked by a mountain lion, saved by his wife. We have the story ahead in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: In Italy, an extraordinary case: it touches on the CIA's rendition program, the secret transfer of terror suspects to third countries, where they are questioned. A hearing in Milan today could determine if more than two dozen CIA agents are indicted, along with several Italian intelligence officials.

CNN Rome bureau chief Alessio Vinci has more.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Italian prosecutors say Hassan Mostafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was kidnapped in February, 2003, from this street in Milan, near a mosque where he once preached. He was under police surveillance because investigators say he was not just a cleric, but a recruiter of suicide bombers to be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a totally illegal act that violated gravely Italian sovereignty, one of the prosecutors said in a statement, but it also was a damaging and counterproductive act in the fight against terrorism.

Court documents obtained by CNN revealed that prosecutors believe 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, and nine Italians were among those who planned, authorized and executed the snatch. According to the documents, Abu Omar was first driven to the Aviano airbase in northern Italy, and transferred to Egypt, where prosecutors allege he was interrogated.

An operation, prosecutors say, which was carried out with the knowledge and approval of Italy's intelligence leadership. The list of suspects, court documents show, include the former CIA station chiefs in Milan and Rome, and Italy's former spy boss, Nicolo Pollari.

The CIA did not comment on the alleged kidnapping of Abu Omar, but U.S. officials have acknowledged the secret transfer of terrorism suspects to third countries. However, they denied those individuals have been subject to torture.

If the case goes to trial, prosecutors plan to introduce as evidence an 11-page statement from Abu Omar, allegedly smuggled out of prison, in which the suspect says he was tortured with electrical shocks and threatened with sexual abuse.

None of the Americans are in Italy anymore. They would face arrest, if they returned. After the first hearing, the lawyer for the former CIA station chief in Milan withdrew from the case, saying her client disputed the right of the court to try him, suggesting the matter should be settled among governments.

DARIA PESCE, DEFENSE LAWYER: I'm a lawyer and a defendant, so I can defend just in front of an authority that is judicial (ph). I'm not a political diplomat. That's why I withdraw.

VINCI: Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister at the time of the alleged kidnapping, has denied knowledge of the operation. And the current government, led by Romano Prodi, has yet to decide whether to forward prosecutors' request to extradite the American suspects, and has classified documents related to this case.

(On camera): The U.S. is not expected to hand over its CIA agents, and so if the case goes to trial, they would be tried in absentia.

Meanwhile, the former Italian spy chief says that if he is put on trial, he will call on past and present government officials, including the current and past Italian Prime Ministers, to testify as witnesses.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, Rome.


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