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CNN NEWSROOM

Teen Dating Abuse; Rape Suspect Arrest; Marine on Trial

Aired February 8, 2007 - 13:59   ET

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


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

What kind of messages are your teens getting that you don't know about? A new study raised red flags about high-tech abuse.

LEMON: Choppers down in Iraq. A wave of deadly crashes has pilots on edge. Can technology and training help avoid more casualties?

WHITFIELD: We're also at "Mound Zero." Oswego, New York, under aerial assault from snow that is just not stopping.

Hunker down. You're in NEWSROOM.

Cell phone, computers, most teens can't imagine life without them. But what happens when they become tools for abuse? It's happening across the country.

Our Brianna Keilar joins us now from Washington to explain -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Fred.

I know if you're the parent of a teenager, this is certainly not a new sight you to, your teen always on the phone, always text messaging, the constant e-mails. Well, what you may not know is that it's one sign your teen could be in danger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHAINA WEISBROT, VICTIM OF ABUSE: There was a lot of shaking. There was a lot of covering my mouth. There was -- he pulled my hair, and pushing me.

KEILAR (voice over): Shaina Weisbrot started dating her high school boyfriend when she was 15. At first things were great, but over the next four-and-a-half years he became more and more controlling, and she felt forced to tell him her every move.

WEISBROT: Where I was at all times. I always had to answer my cell phone.

KEILAR: Eventually the relationship turned violent.

WEISBROT: He kept calling me over and over. He must have called me 100 times that night, and I would not answer the phone. And finally I answered the phone, and I said are you going to be nice to me now? And he said, I know where your classes are, and I'm going to kill you.

KEILAR: Her story is terrifying but it's not unique. In a new survey, one in four teens in a relationship say their boyfriend or girlfriend has text messaged them at least hourly between midnight and 5:00 a.m. Even more say a partner who has text messaged them 10, 20, up to 30 times per hour to find out where they are and who they're with. The scariest part, almost half say their cell phones or computers make abuse easier to hide from her parents.

WEISBROT: I'd be in my room, I'd pretend to be sleeping, I'd shut the lights, and I'd be quiet, and no one would know the difference, because all you have to do is hide your cell phone.

KEILAR: Last year, Shaina severed all ties with her ex- boyfriend. She's now 20, and a sophomore at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and is a founding member of a non-profit organization called Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships. Shaina tries to help other teens recognize the signs of teen-dating abuse so they, too, can escape it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Aside from the constant communication with their boyfriend or girlfriend, experts say a teenager in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship will often isolate themselves from friends and family, and also follow their partner's every word when it comes to choice of friends, even clothes and makeup -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So Brianna, what would do parents look for? How can they help?

KEILAR: Well, one expert, a psychologist who specializes in teen dating violence, suggested actually having their teen turn over their cell phone to you when they go to bed, or also putting a password lock on their computer when they are supposed to be sleeping. And, of course, it is at the parents' discretion how far they want to go to monitor their child's cell phone behavior, but on a cell phone bill you can look it up online and certainly you can see a breakdown, who they are calling, how long they are talking to those people, and what time they are making those calls.

WHITFIELD: And so is a direct correlation being made between technology, the access that young people have to technology, and an increase in emotional or even physical abuse in teens?

KEILAR: Well, that same psychologist with those tips that I just shared with you says she thinks that's the case, but certainly what these numbers, this new research, suggests is that this is more pervasive, at least, than maybe we would have thought that it would be. And something that's interesting, more than half of parents in this survey, they said that they thought that this controlling behavior would happen more often because of technology, but even so, only about one in four said they were placing any restrictions on the technology, the cell phones and the computers.

WHITFIELD: Brianna Keilar, thanks so much, from Washington.

LEMON: After months of investigating a rare series of male-on male rapes, police in Texas have made an arrest. Nineteen-year-old Keith Chesterfield Hill is charged with the sexual assault of one man and is suspected in four other rapes.

Reporter Wendell Edwards of CNN affiliate KHOU reports from Baytown, Texas, right outside of Houston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WENDELL EDWARDS, REPORTER, KHOU (voice over): Lieutenant David Alford is nowhere near a blogger, but he did spend every night and every morning checking the "Baytown Talk" blog, a blog police are crediting with keeping the search for a serial rapist in the spotlight.

LT. DAVID ALFORD, BAYTOWN, TEXAS, POLICE: I think it's very huge. And it's another -- yet another example of how a well-informed public can work in tandem with the police department. And the bad guys don't stand a chance.

EDWARDS: Police arrested this man, 19-year-old Keith Chester Hill, and charged him with aggravated sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping in the rape of a young teen back in May of '06. Detectives tell 11 News DNA given voluntarily by Hill matched the evidence taken from the victim.

CAPT. ROGER CLIFFORD, BAYTOWN, TEXAS, POLICE: We did not actually make him a suspect until recently, but he has certainly been a person of interest that we have been looking forward to finding more out about him. And when we were able to get a sample of DNA evidence, we were able to link the case in that way.

EDWARDS: And police believe Hill may be responsible for several other similar attacks on young men dating back to April of '06.

News of Hill's arrest came as a relief to Baytown residents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Personally, I'd like to castrate him myself, but I think it's great that they caught him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was -- I'm blown away. That's great. I'm so happy that they did that, because we actually -- we know one of the victims. So -- that's really good news. I'm glad to hear that.

EDWARDS: But it's the bloggers who kept this subject alive in cyberspace that police say truly deserve credit.

CLIFFORD: It showed the concern in the city of Baytown. And in our community, here locally, people were -- were in fear, and they were in fear nor their children, for their -- for their sons. And I appreciate the focus that they had.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And that report from Wendell Edwards of CNN affiliate KHOU. WHITFIELD: The prosecution is getting ready to rest in the perjury trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. The former vice presidential aide is accused of lying to a grand jury about a leak that blew the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

NBC's Tim Russert is the final prosecution witness. Russert denies telling Libby that Plame, the wife of U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA. That contradicts Libby's testimony to the grand jury which was played for his trial jury over two and a half days.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: What's your best recollection of the words Russert used concerning Wilson's wife, what he said?

LEWIS "SCOOTER" LIBBY, FMR. CHENEY AIDE: "Did you know that his wife" -- or Ambassador Wilson's wife, whatever he said -- "Did you know that his wife works at the CIA?"

FITZGERALD: And you said?

LIBBY: "No, I don't know that."

FITZGERALD: And his response?

LIBBY: "Yeah, all the" -- something like, yes, yeah, "all the reporters know it."

FITZGERALD: And your response?

LIBBY: "No, I don't know that. I wanted to be clear that I wasn't confirming anything."

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Russert confirms the July 2003 phone conversation with Libby, but says he didn't know about Plame until several days later. Libby's lawyers are expected to start presenting their case later on today.

LEMON: Arrested in Baghdad by American and Iraqi troops, a senior government official, the deputy minister of health. Troops raided ministry offices and took Hakem Abbas al-Zamili into custody. He's accused of corruption and funneling millions of dollars to Shiite militias. Al-Zamili's boss, the Iraqi health minister, is angry he wasn't told what was happening.

Across Iraq today, at least 50 people killed in bombings, ambushes and grenade attacks. This is Azziziyah (ph), 00 miles south of Baghdad. A bomb went off in a crowded market, killing at least 20 people.

In the capital, a bomb exploded outside a mosque, killing seven people and wounding more than twice that many. We also hear that U.S. troops launched an air strike near Falluja that killed 13 insurgent fighters.

WHITFIELD: Four-star General George Casey won Senate approval today as chief of staff of the Army, but it was not unanimous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I want to tell my friends that people in the military, particularly our young officers, are watching what we do here. We teach them -- we teach them in our service schools and we teach our noncommissioned officers and our junior officers, it's -- you're responsible, you're responsible for success or failure. That's why we -- why we appoint you as leaders.

And in this case, this leader, despite his honorable character and his dedication to this country, has not led and has not -- and his responsibility has not been carried out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The count was 83-4 -- 14 against. Casey commanded coalition forces in Iraq since 2004. His successor, General David Petraeus, has just arrived in Baghdad.

He pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping and a list of other serious charges last month. Now a U.S. Marine accused in the killing of an unarmed Iraqi civilian is changing course.

The latest on the court-martial of Corporal Trent Thomas from CNN's Jason Carroll.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Trent Thomas, 25-year-old Marine corporal, he's one of eight men charged in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a 52-year-old Iraqi, Hashim Ibraham Awad. The allegation, the men were looking for an insurgent. They couldn't find that person. They were frustrated, they were angry, they found Awad instead.

They allegedly bound his hands and feet and shot him multiple times in a roadside ditch. This happening on April 26th last year in Hamdaniya, Iraq, which is northwest of Baghdad.

Trent Thomas initially pleaded guilty to several charges, including murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and making false official statements. Now his attorney tells me he has asked the judge to withdraw that plea, instead entering a plea of not guilty, saying he acted with lawful authority.

Thomas' family told me they believe he was ordered to shoot Awad that day. In an exclusive interview with Thomas, I asked him whether his commanding officer did, in fact, order him and the other men in his battalion to murder Awad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Do you still feel as though you personally did what you had to do that day? CPL. TRENT THOMAS, U.S. MARINE CORPS.: At the time, I felt that I was doing what I had to do. Now, you know, that I'm back here, I know that it was wrong -- of what we did. And for that I'm truly sorry.

CARROLL: Were you ordered to do what you did?

THOMAS: I -- I really can't say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Camp Pendleton had no comment on this recent development. Thomas' attorney tells me he will, in fact, argue that Thomas was following orders.

Thomas was the fifth of eight men from the Camp Pendleton base 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment to plea guilty in connection with the Awad slaying. He was the only one to date how had pled guilty to murder. The others pled guilty to lesser charges.

We'll of course have Thomas' exclusive interview tonight on "AC 360."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right. We're getting this just in. This is just crossing the wires now, the latest on the Palestinian talks.

It appears that some sort of agreement has been reached. Fatah officials -- from Fatah officials, Hamas decided today -- Fatah decided on dividing cabinet posts in a potential unity government. And that is what is happening now from the Middle East.

We're going to try to get our Atika Shubert, who is now in Gaza, to give us the update on this story. Th is breaking news coming out of the Middle East.

There's been some sort of agreement about how they are going to do a final agreement on dividing cabinet posts in a potential unity government. More coming up right here on the CNN NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: And it still just might be the best way to get around in Iraq, but it's more dangerous than ever. Retired Air Force general Don Shepperd joins us straight ahead in the NEWSROOM with his take on a spike in helicopter crashes.

LEMON: And take a look at this. Just unbelievable. More live pictures from the spacewalk under way.

It is another record just broken. We'll tell you about it.

This is just amazing to me. I don't know about you guys.

Coming up next, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A pretty big day in space. What an understatement. Today marks the third spacewalk in nine days for the crew of the International Space Station. That's a record for space station spacewalks in the absence of a shuttle crew.

Right in the middle of it all, astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria set a new U.S. record for most time walking in space, more than 58 hours. Fellow astronaut Sunita Williams has now logged about 29 hours, more than any other woman.

LEMON: And back here on Earth, 40-below wind-chills in some places. Man oh man. Six feet of snow in others.

What in the world is going on? That's a good way of putting it. What in the world, inside, not in space, is going on?

Bonnie Schneider joining us from the CNN severe weather center to tell us all about it.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WHITFIELD: All right. More now on the power-sharing government in the Middle East.

Atika Shubert is in Gaza with more on that -- Atika.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the signing ceremony is taking place right now as we speak. Both the Hamas and Fatah leaders -- those are the two Palestinian factions -- have been given papers. Apparently, that is the coalition agreement that they have agreed to and are now -- will be signing.

They have decided to split up the ministerial positions between them; however, we still don't know at this point what will happen to the crucial Interior Ministry. This is the one that controls the Palestinian security forces, and those security forces will be crucial to ending the stop -- to stopping the violence here, particularly in Gaza.

We don't know yet who has been appointed. We know that Hamas has the right to nominate that candidate, but that Fatah has the right to approve or reject.

We also don't know whether or not Hamas has -- has -- will go ahead and actually recognize the state of Israel, whether or not it has promised to abide by previously signed peace agreements. These -- these are crucial points in order to lift the international embargo on the Palestinian Authority.

So these are still things we need to look for -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And remarkably, we're looking at live pictures of the signing in, and now presumably the announcement of this agreement.

Were there any particular sticking points or perhaps even concessions made in order to bring these parties to the table in agreement?

SHUBERT: That's right. Those sticking points in particular are that position of the Interior Ministry and whether or not Hamas will actually abide by these previous peace agreements. We understand that up until the last minute, they were actually arguing about the wording, whether it should be that Hamas will respect those previous peace agreements or abide by that. It's a very fine point with them, but it's something they feel is very important.

WHITFIELD: Atika Shubert in Gaza.

Thanks so much for that update -- Don.

LEMON: They're armed, angry and audacious. Ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM, more on the Nigerian militants out to seize control of the oil-rich Delta. Part two of Jeff Koinange's unnerving journey.

You won't want to miss this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. A developing story.

Much is being made about Nancy Pelosi's plane and how she is going to get from Washington back home to San Francisco. Some had said that she wanted a larger plane, she wanted to fly nonstop.

Tony Snow is saying -- he defended her, saying that the criticism was unfair. And then the speaker today saying that it was taken out of context.

Just moments ago, the speaker spoke out about this controversy, and here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Once and for all...

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Appreciate that.

KOPPEL: ... what you've said, what the Pentagon has said to you about the plane, and whether or not you feel that you're being treated differently than former Speaker Hastert because you are a woman?

PELOSI: Well, first of all, let me say that all of this springs from the Sergeant-at-Arms Office, who are in charge of security for the members of Congress and the speaker of the House. For matters of security, the speaker has said that he wanted the practice to continue. That was applied to Mr. Hastert, speaker of the House, since 9/11, to have transportation to and from home be provided. It helped him with his security, the security that has to be at home for me.

I have never asked for any larger plane. I have said I'm happy to ride commercial, and if the plane they have doesn't go coast to coast, I'm happy to ride commercial coast to coast that way.

We've never asked for a larger plane. This is a myth that they are talking about on the floor. They have nothing to say to the American people about the war, about the economy, about global warming and the rest. So they have this -- this game they are playing.

The questions that you asked, though, springs from my concern that, why would the Department of Defense be putting forth any of this information, which is misinformation and a mischaracterization of a request by the Sergeant-at-Arms for security? I know it is not coming from the president of the United States, because he has really been insistent that I have the security that I need.

And I, myself, would rather not have security. So, no, we haven't asked for any larger plane.

B, this is not my -- this is not my -- B, this is not my request. It's a request of the Sergeant-at Arms.

C, I don't know why they would say this was necessary for the previous speaker, but it's not necessary for you. And that's what the Department of Defense seems to be saying.

So, if you want to take it to a place, I'm not saying they're -- I'm being discriminated against because I'm a woman, I'm just saying, as the first woman speaker, I have no intention of having any less respect for the office I hold than all of the other speakers who have gone before me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right. And that was Nancy Pelosi talking there to CNN congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel, talking about this plane controversy.

It had been said that the speaker had asked for a larger plane to take she and her family, or at least herself, back to San Francisco after working in Washington all week, saying that she had asked for a larger plane, that she wanted to fly nonstop. She is saying that is not so, and she'd be happy fly commercial if it was available.

And again, just to say, after September 11th, the attacks, the Pentagon agreed to provide the speaker with -- whoever the speaker was with a military plane for added security during trips back home. And the former speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, used a smaller commuter-size plane, but again, Dennis Hastert doesn't have to refuel to get back to Illinois. Nancy Pelosi would have to refuel on the smaller plane to get to San Francisco.

That's her explaining the controversy -- Fredicka.

WHITFIELD: Are political parties part of the nation's problems? And is the Internet the answer? Actor Sam Waterston says it is. His ideas, straight ahead here in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon live at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Kyra Phillips. New weapons, new tactics or both? U.S. chopper pilots are under fire in Iraq like never before. Retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd joins us to talk about tactics and technology.

You're in the NEWSROOM.

Six downed helicopters in less than three weeks; still no definitive word on what caused a Marine Corps chopper to crash and burn yesterday northwest of Baghdad, only witness accounts and an online claim of responsibility that we can't confirm or verify. We do know that five Marines and two sailors on board the Sea Knight transport helicopter are dead. Military leaders are looking for a pattern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: To my knowledge, each of those was shot down by small arms, not by missiles. And it's -- at this point in time, I do not know whether or not it is the law of averages that caught up with us or if there had been a change in tactics, techniques and procedures on the part of the enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Well, let's talk about the unique role of choppers in Iraq and the challenges faced every day by their crews and now this, as well.

Military analyst, retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd is here.

General, good to see you.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good to see you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, we heard General Pace say they don't believe it's anything like ground-to-air missiles, but leaning more towards small- arms fire. Does this speak to the level of sophistication of the insurgency or enemy fire that now U.S. military personnel, and even contractors, are dealing with when they're in the air?

SHEPPERD: Yes, Fredricka, I'll give you my take and my guess on this because we're all still at the early stages of assessing this. You are going to have increased American casualties on the ground and in the air as our operations increase over there. We've backed off for a while of offensive operations, trying to get the Iraqis in the lead. We're now deploying more troops, we're involved in more and more combat and tough situations, and therefore you're going to see losses. I think that's what this is about, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, hadn't there always been a fear for helicopters or planes in the air running missions across Iraq? What makes it difference now? Why does it seem that they are more so a target? SHEPPERD: That's hard to say. But you want to be careful jumping to conclusions. The thing you got to realize is -- the thing that you want to ask yourself is what caused each one of these to go down? Let's investigate each aircraft accident and see if was it pilot error, was it mechanical error, was it small arms that shot it down or was it a missile? Because if it's missiles, there are different types of flares, different types of electronic countermeasures that works on the missiles, so you have to find out what went on in each accident.

And, again, I think the losses are due to the increased levels of activity.

WHITFIELD: And another thing that comes with that is that would mean those who are targeting these helicopters would have to be perfectly located. They would have to know something about the pattern of the flight and watch and wait.

SHEPPERD: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Isn't that what's at issue here?

SHEPPERD: Yes. Let me show you a couple things about helicopters here. I brought a prop. And I spent the afternoon with Captain David Sail (ph), who is a National Guard helicopter pilot of this Apache. And he's also been in Afghanistan, flying the CH-47 aircraft, and he also works for Boeing. So I've learned a lot about helicopter operations from him.

A lot of people describe helicopters as fragile. They're anything but fragile. They'll take a lot of damage. And where the areas of vulnerability are, first of all, the rotors are the wings, just like the wing of an airplane. If you lose a wing, the aircraft is going to go down. In a helicopter, same thing. So the rotor is a vulnerable area. But they're very, very tough and will take a lot of damage.

The tail back here, the tail gives the helicopter directional stability, so if you damage the tail, such as we saw on "Black Hawk Down" in Mogadishu, if somebody's shooting from right underneath against the tail and damaging this rotor, you can lose directional stability while the helicopter's in a hover.

The other thing is the engines themselves. If you taken a infrared heat-seeking missile right up the engine, the engine can explode and throw pieces through the rotors, through other systems. And so the fact that helicopters may still be rugged, they operate down low and slow, where the fighting's going on.

WHITFIELD: So, then, knowing those vulnerabilities, let's talk about what the pilot of a chopper may be keeping in mind, something that you experienced when in -- when in Afghanistan and flying on one of these military helicopters, getting an idea of the kind of maneuverability because of the vulnerabilities of this kind of aircraft. SHEPPERD: Yes, here's basically what you think about when you're flying in a helicopter. And I spent a lot of time in Army helicopters and Marine helicopters, flying with them, never checked out in a helicopter. But basically, when you're low, you're vulnerable to ground fire from small arms and from automatic weapons. You're also vulnerable to missiles, because you fly fairly slow. If you're hit, you don't have a lot of time to react. So you watch where you fly. You can fly at night, for instance, protect yourself from heat-seeking missiles, because they don't know where to aim the heat-seeking missiles. But anytime you're flying low, you're vulnerable to ground fire, so you watch where you fly, what track you fly over repeatedly, what time of day you fly, and you be careful not to hover, if at all possible, in the area of people right underneath you that are shooting at you.

WHITFIELD: And, again, the video that we are seeing was part of the mission that you were on in Afghanistan.

So, meantime, now moving forward after knowing about these six choppers down in Iraq that are still under investigation, do you think that this will have a severe impact on the air duties or mission there in Iraq? Might this mean, you know, cutting those missions back?

SHEPPERD: Absolutely not, not the mission itself. They will examine the tactics that they use. And they will decide, again, what have we done wrong? If we've done anything wrong, what can we alter that will confuse the enemy?

But let me make this point: any time an enemy, an insurgent sees helicopters flying overhead, they are reluctant to shoot at our troops on the ground. So the fact that helicopters are there very often saves people on the ground just because they're there. So you're going to see helicopters continue to operate. We're going to lose some. If we increase activities, the numbers of flights, the numbers of people, you're going to lose people. It's a fact of life. But the helicopters are going to be part of it, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: General Don Shepperd, thanks so much. Always good to see you.

SHEPPERD: Pleasure.

LEMON: Now, last hour we told you about the militants threatening the oil industry in Nigeria, a country mired in poverty despite its vast potential wealth. In part two of this extraordinary report, our Jeff Koinange continues his search for the rebels' mysterious leader, and Jeff's trip into the Niger Delta war zone takes a surprising turn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like Robin Hood and his men hiding in the dense woods, the MEND fighters have found safety in the unmarked islands hidden among the swamps of the delta. So, of course, there is no way to check on their claim. MEND tells us these are but a handful of 200,000 fighters they have throughout these waterways, an area about twice the size of Maryland.

But they could prove their willingness for audacious crimes.

(on camera) Just to show us how confident these MEND militants are, they brought us here deep in the heart of Niger Delta, to show us their latest hostages, 24 Filipino sailors.

(voice-over) It was a brazen raid at sea, The largest number of hostages kidnapped at once. The armed rebels' speed boat surrounded the workers' ship at sea, and they have now been held captive for nearly a month. MEND insists no harm will come to the hostages. This is about intimidation, a demonstration of MEND's power. It's also about ransom.

As for these dazed and confused sailors, imagine what they must be thinking when they see this menacing dance of madness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all OK, but only we want to be free. We want to be released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a family. And we need to communicate with them but our communications is closed.

KOINANGE: But how did it ever come to this? Who is coordinating these attacks?

After much discussion, the rebels did agree to take us to their leader, but only under one condition. Because of his superstitions we could only interview him in the water, out in the middle of the swamps. We wondered were we finally going to meet the mysterious Jomo?

(on camera) I'm here to find out about the movement. Who are you? What do you want? What's your struggle?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is a struggle, a movement for the liberation of the Niger Delta, the most devastated and the most threatened region in the world.

KOINANGE: Is your fight against the oil multinationals or against the Nigerian government or against them all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our fight is against everybody, every institution that don't want the people of the Niger Delta to have their fair share of the Nigerian project. Any person that is either by knowing or unknowingly has connived to deny the people of Niger Delta their fair share of the Nigerian project.

KOINANGE: And how far are you willing to go? How far is MEND willing to go to accomplish your goals?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MEND has come to stay and that there is no force in the universe that will stop MEND in achieving these demands.

KOINANGE: What do you want to tell the oil companies right now? To leave Nigeria?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are telling all expatriates to leave Nigeria. Leave Nigeria. We will take lives. We will destroy lives. We will crumble the economy, mercilessly.

KOINANGE (voice-over): And with that the interview suddenly ends. The general's men feel vulnerable here in the open. We're escorted out and into open waters. But as we're about to take off one of the masked men issues yet another threat to the Nigerian government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they don't listen, well, maybe we don't know how many pieces it will go into, but the federal government will not be in peace except they listen to us.

KOINANGE: As for Jomo, we never did get to meet the man who invited us here. Or perhaps we did and he just wouldn't reveal himself.

But when we got home, we did get another message from the e- mailer calling himself Jomo. In this one, he complained the hostages we saw were not kidnapped by his group MEND and that our report would be misleading.

We have no doubt those kidnappers were MEND militants, and we have no idea why their leader would now distance himself from that. But the delta is full of mystery and magic and bloodshed.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, in the Niger Delta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Now that's a fascinating story. This one, pretty remarkable too, but on a whole different scale. A prescription diet drug? Well soon, just over the counter. But do the side effects outweigh the benefits? Check in with the NEWSROOM for the results of our CNN.com quick vote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You're live right here in the in the CNN NEWSROOM. The story that everyone is talking about today, it is the talk of the day. This new diet pill. It was available only by the doctor, now it's available over the counter now.

We asked your opinion of this. We asked you, would you take this drug? It's on CNN.com on the Health page. We asked you, will you try the new over-the-counter diet pill Alli? Well, more than 18,000 of you voted, that's a lot of people -- 23 percent say no, 77 percent say -- 23 percent say yes, 77 percent say no, you wouldn't try it.

You may be wondering why so many people say no. Well, that's because of the possible side effects with all of this. Common side effects, you can see, discharge of stools when passing gas. It sounds, you know, awful, but it's the truth. Oily spotting and that kind of thing. So a lot of folks said they wouldn't try it. WHITFIELD: And, of course, you know, had the side effects been different, perhaps a more positive outcome, I bet the numbers would be inverted.

LEMON: Yes.

WHITFIELD: You know, a lot more folks would be, you know, much more, I guess, amenable to trying out a drug that helps you lose weight, but that's the clincher.

LEMON: But this is an unscientific survey, so we thank you for taking part.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it is a fascinating topic.

LEMON: Well, we are constantly reporting on how to protect yourself from fraud, but, unfortunately, it still happens, a lot. The government took in thousands of calls last year, and Susan Lisovicz is here to tell us what people complained about the most -- Susan?

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LEMON: And straight ahead, entertainment news with A.J. Hammer. A.J., what's on tap?

A.J. HAMMER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hey Don, well I'm going to tell you why Eddie Murphy in drag may actually hurt his Oscar campaign. And just why is Celine Dion going to be debuting a new song on Oscar night? All that's coming up next in the NEWSROOM.

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LEMON: Eddie Murphy in drag. Been there, seen that. Not just me, most people. But some critics say his latest role or roles are below the belt. A.J. Hammer of "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" joins me now with Hollywood's latest controversy. Hi, A.J.

HAMMER: Hey there, Don. Yes, Eddie Murphy's new movie is called "Norbit" and it is raising a few eyebrows. Now of course the concept of putting a man in a fat suit and using a funny voice and acting like a woman, not a new concept, but there is a debate going on as to whether movies like this work to reinforce a negative stereotype of black women.

Now on one side, people are saying that these images of overbearing and overweight black women are demeaning. On the other hand, these actors and writers are saying they're just portraying a slice of life that they grew up with.

Now we all know actor and writer Tyler Perry, he dresses up in a somewhat similar costume in a couple of his movies that we've all seen. Now Don, he says that he just looks at this as a form of flattery. So you can almost see both sides of it.

LEMON: Yes, well, maybe you can or maybe not. But of course as long as they keep setting tickets when you dress up like this, people will keep going and making these kind of movies, don't you think?

HAMMER: Oh, yes, and the studios love to answer to the all mighty dollar. But there may actually be some fallout from the film when it opens up on Friday.

Listen to this theory. Now Murphy is up for best supporting actor for his role in "Dreamgirls." Oscar voters have until the 20th to decide if they're going to give him that little gold statue come Oscar night.

Now the studio behind "Norbit" says that voters should certainly be able to distinguish between the two films and reward Murphy for his part in "Dreamgirls." However, when you see Eddie Murphy in the film "Norbit," the term Oscar winner may not be the first thing that you think of, and that's the problem, because some observers are actually think that Oscar voters will be put off by Murphy's embrace of the stereotype.

We should point out that this release date was set months ago, long before the Oscar nominations were announced. So Don, I guess we're just going to have to wait until Oscar night to find out exactly what voters think. And they can be swayed in many ways.

LEMON: We'll have to see. And of course Oscar night, as you said, is coming up in just a few weeks and I hear Celine Dion is going to make an appearance. Is that true?

HAMMER: Yes, she is. And, of course, she has recorded a couple of Oscar-winning tunes over the course of her career, but she'll be performing a brand new song on Oscar night this year. The song is called "I Knew I Loved You." It has lyrics set to the score of 1984's "Once Upon a Time in America."

Now the reason she's doing it is all part of a tribute to Italian composer Ennio Morricone who is getting an honorary Oscar after having been nominated five times in the best score category.

So if you are looking for a dramatic musical perform come Oscar night, we're going to get one from Celine Dion.

Now coming up tonight on "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT," Britney's bad year. New reports of Britney Spears out on the town. Of course her big divorce and child custody battle. Does Britney Spears actually need a serious life intervention? We'll ask the controversial question tonight on TV's most provocative entertainment news show, which of course is "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT." We'll look forward you to joining us at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on "Headline Prime."

LEMON: Maybe some want just to go, hey, don't do that anymore, do this. We'll see.

A.J., we look forward to that tonight, thank you.

HAMMER: You got it.

WHITFIELD: Well, this turns out to be a slice of comedy. One thief thinks that he is at the top of his trade. Well, maybe he should steal a copy of robberies for dummies, perhaps. The heist turns out to be a head cake. The pain, straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. You don't want to miss that one. It is hilarious.

And several feet of snow already, not so funny. And two more feet by Sunday? Somebody in Oswego, throw the flag already. If this ain't piling on, we don't know what is. More in the NEWSROOM in a moment.

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