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CNN NEWSROOM

Bhutto Assassination; Iowa Countdown; New bin Laden Video

Aired December 29, 2007 - 14:00   ET

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


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Isha Sesay in for Fredricka Whitfield this weekend and you're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Right now chaos, conspiracy and accusations of a cover up, surrounding the death of Benazir Bhutto. What really happened? We'll take you live to Pakistan to dig for some answers.
Also, crunch time in Iowa. Just five days to go until the all- important caucuses, all the presidential hopefuls are out on the stump and we're live on the campaign trail.

First, to Pakistan. Anger, denial and bitter accusations erupt on this third day of mourning for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The streets of Karachi are cooling down after rioting left about 40 people dead. But the political arena is heating up. There are conflicting reports about how Bhutto died and who's behind the assassination. Bhutto's former aide tells CNN it's beginning to look like a government cover up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF SHERR REHMAN, PPP INFORMATION SECRETARY: This is an offense to a grieving nation and family and friends because she was shot. I have seen the bullet wound at the back of her head where it went in and where it came out. To say that she was concussed from the sunroof is dangerous nonsense because they're absolving themselves of responsibility for providing her better security when we kept asking her to do so.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: One big question being asked in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination is, where was the security? CNN's David Mattingly has been looking into that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In her last minutes of life, the images we see are of a classic Benazir Bhutto, standing in an open sunroof, smiling, waving. Her legendary charisma delighting supporters crowding around her car. And then chaos. This video released by the Pakistani interior ministry captures only glimpses of the fatal attack. But CNN security expert Mike Brooks tells me there's a lot here for the trained eye to see.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY EXPERT: With all the threats she's had and the attempts against her life, she should not have been out of that vehicle at all. MATTINGLY: At normal speed, a gun appears above the crowd for less than two seconds. You can hear three shots fired. But when we slow the video down --

BROOKS: Watch for it. There's the gun right there.

MATTINGLY: We see how unprotected Bhutto truly was.

Watching that, what does that tell you?

BROOKS: I tell you, it's very, very close. Someone should not have even been able to get that close to her theoretically.

MATTINGLY: When the shots were fired, men who appeared to be working for Bhutto were just a few feet from the gunman.

BROOKS: You see the two security guys in the back, when the shots go off, you see them duck down. If they're security guys, they're supposed to be going toward the threat.

MATTINGLY: And watching how the gunman lifted his handgun above the crowd and fired tells us something about him as well.

BROOKS: You know it's hard to say what kind of training this person has had, but they definitely knew where their target was and how to use that weapon.

MATTINGLY: That close to the vehicle, what is the likelihood that he would be hitting his target?

BROOKS: Well from the way the angle of the gun towards where Ms. Bhutto was, it looked like this person knew what they were doing, had a mission, and was carrying out that mission with that handgun.

MATTINGLY: But strangely, Pakistani officials contradicted their own earlier reports that said Bhutto's fatal injury was caused by either bullets or shrapnel from the suicide bomb that followed. Instead, they now say her skull was fractured when it struck a lever for the sunroof as she ducked or fell during the attack.

BRIG. GEN. JAVED IQBAL CHEEMA, PAKISTANI INTERIOR MINISTRY: This is the lever that is open that is bloodstained. So there is every possibility that this is the lever, unfortunately, which caused the fracture in her skull and became the cause of her main death.

MATTINGLY: But when you search for confirmation of a cause of death on the video, there is none to be found. At the critical moment, the photographer seems to reel from the bomb blast and the camera turns away. Bhutto's fate goes unrecorded.

BROOKS: There's nothing in this video that would conclusively say she was hit with shrapnel, she was shot in the neck or her death was caused by her head hitting the lever to the sunroof as she either was going back down in or fell against that lever.

MATTINGLY (on camera): There are other theories as well. Some Bhutto supporters say there was a sniper firing from above on a roof top. But it's just one more thing the video cannot confirm. One more question in this tragedy that may go unanswered. David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, Pakistan is linking an al Qaeda leader to the Bhutto assassination. It released a transcript of what it called a conversation between Baitullah Mehsud and another Islamic militant. Mehsud is quoted as calling the assassination a spectacular job. But a spokesman for Mehsud dismissed that transcript as government propaganda. Bhutto's political party also voiced skepticism. A party spokesman accused the government of trying to frame Mehsud in order to divert attention.

What do we really know about Baitullah Mehsud. Let's bring in our CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Peter, joins us now and, Peter, the Pakistani government pointing the finger at this Taliban leader. How does that sit with what you know of this man?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, (INAUDIBLE) he's somebody who may well have threatened Benazir Bhutto before. There was some discussion of whether or not he actually did but it seems that he may well of (INAUDIBLE) he would be opposed to a secular woman politician in the first place opposed to her party. This is a group that the Pakistani Taliban that has not only attacked Pakistani police officials, it's also attacked members of the Pakistani internal security service, tried to kill the interior minister, militants of Pakistan have also tried to kill General Pervez Musharraf back in 2003. So it seems very plausible that it's a Pakistani militant group, Taliban, al Qaeda or perhaps some of the more extreme militant groups. These groups have been increasingly cooperated over time and Mehsud (INAUDIBLE) an important leader of those kind of factions.

SESAY: Peter, great amount seems to be known by the Pakistani government about Mehsud's operations and that he had reportedly been training suicide bombers and has these camps and the like. Would we know of any efforts to try and take him into custody, to capture him, operations targeting him?

BERGEN: Well, that's a very good question Isha. I think if they can record his conversations, to me, that would imply that they should be able to find his location with triangulation technology that's pretty widely available. Why they haven't found him is a very good question. Of course he is located in (INAUDIBLE), a lawless tribal area on the Afghan, Pakistan border. The Pakistan military has really taken a lot of hits in that area in the past up to 1,000 Pakistani soldiers have died in fighting against militants in that area since 9/11. But the fact that they can transcribe those conversations, according to the government and listen in on him, it does raise the question on why can't find him.

SESAY: What truth is there to some reports that I've read that in fact the Pakistani government has in the past tried to cut a deal with Mehsud that he would actually leave Pakistan and they would withdraw troops from his area in that frontier area. BERGEN: In the 2005 and 2006 time period Pakistani government made these agreements with a number of militants in the tribal areas, including with the Mehsuds, which is one of the largest tribal groups in the (INAUDIBLE) tribal areas. So, the Pakistan government certainly has had dealings with these militants and tried to do peace agreements, those peace agreements obviously didn't work out. The violence actually increased emanating out of the tribal areas now, you know, Pakistani government I think is in a quandary about what to do. Military operations haven't succeeded and peace agreements haven't succeeded. There is talk of reconstruction money and the United States will put in some $750 million into the tribal areas to try and pull the area out of militancy. Who that money would go to is still an open question. The Pakistani government is also talking about reconstruction money going into their tribal areas. But that of course would take a very long time, doesn't deal with the immediate problem of how to deal with the militants. Perhaps Benazir Bhutto's tragic death will actually get the Pakistani government and military (INAUDIBLE) would actually take the required actions, which is really to go after the Taliban headquarters in the tribal areas and also al Qaeda itself.

SESAY: All right, CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, many thanks for joining us there.

Tonight, CNN's Nic Robertson goes beyond the headlines of Benazir Bhutto's assassination to find out if Pakistan has become terror central. That airs tonight at 8:00 eastern only on CNN.

So Cal may be short for southern California but today northern California could be called snow cal. Snow in the Sierra Nevada's isn't unusual, what is rare though is the snow that's falling at lower elevations in the foothills. It certainly looks chilly out there.

(WEATHER REPORT)

SESAY: Countdown to the caucuses. Presidential candidates crisscrossing Iowa hoping to make a lasting impression. We're on the campaign trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: They're in extreme overdrive in Iowa today. The presidential candidates are making a final push. Iowa's caucuses are just five days away now and CNN's Jessica Yellin joins us. She's on the road with the CNN election express in Eldridge, Iowa. Jessica, I understand that Hillary Clinton was addressing reporters a short time ago. What are some of the things she had to say?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, Isha, she is preparing to address reporters, maybe you can see behind me a bunch of people gathered and we are going to run over there afterwards and we'll report back to you what she says. She just wrapped up an event here in Eldridge. She talked to a fairly full audience, about 300 people really driving home this message of hers that she has experience. The experience to deliver the changes America needs. She drove home the point that she, unlike the others, well, unlike some of the others has really traveled the world. Has met with foreign leaders. This has been one of the sticking points. One of the recent fights between her and the Obama campaign as her campaign has emphasized that Senator Clinton has had this international experience. We sat down with Barack Obama on the CNN election express yesterday and he made the point to us that it's not the people you meet with, it's your judgment. It's your judgment when you meet with them that matters. The other big fight that's going on right now is about this question of experience. Yesterday, Senator Chris Dodd, another candidate out here said that Senator Clinton's experience is sort of like Laura Bush's. She's witnessed her husband get experience, but that's not experience of your own. Those are rather stinging words and no doubt that's one of the comments that Senator Clinton is likely to be asked to react to when she does take questions from reporters shortly. But, as you said, a fierce battle with just these remaining days left as all the candidates try to point out their differences and get as many caucus goers to turn out in their favor as they can. Isha?

SESAY: Jessica, with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, there really was a turn, certainly on the campaign trail to focus on foreign policy talks, as it were. Each candidate trying to prove just how much they know and how much experience they have, but how does the issue of foreign policy actually sit with the voters? What are they saying on the issue, will it trump issues like the economy, for instance?

YELLIN: When you talk to voters they do raise two questions. Who do they trust and who do they think is most electable? When they say trust, they mean who do they trust to follow through on the issues. And then a lot of these democratic caucus goers are really focused on who can beat the Republicans. So, yes, foreign policy matters, but it's not necessarily the first issue they bring up when you talk to them. They are, again, very focused on which is the democrat that can win in November. Really it comes down to the political calculations here. Isha?

SESAY: All right, Jessica Yellin in Eldridge, Iowa. We'll check back with you a little later on. Many thanks.

Mike Huckabee is in Indianola, Iowa right now. He leads most Iowa polls on the Republican side. He's holding one of his meet Mike get-togethers with supporters. Huckabee's foreign policy credentials have been called into question, however, by his rivals this week. Huckabee stumbled with comments on the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto.

While the rest of the candidates hit Iowa, Republican John McCain has New Hampshire all to himself this weekend. The New Hampshire newspaper that last weekend urged voters to reject Mitt Romney is endorsing McCain. "The Concord Monitor" praised McCain for having quote, "Thumb principles and a profound sense of honor." New Hampshire's primary is January 8th.

Well, on New Year's day catch the game that really matters. The battle of the presidential candidates. It's all the contenders talking about the most important issues, the economy, the war, immigration, in their own words. CNN's ballot bowl beginning 9:00 a.m. eastern New Year's day. You won't want to miss it.

So many voters, so little time. With Iowa caucuses just five days away as we've been saying, the candidates are in heavy courting mode sharing voters with an avalanche of campaign ads. Suzanne Malveaux, part of the best political team on television, takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days away from the Iowa caucuses, voters here are being bombarded. TNS Media Intelligence Consulting company is tracking the traffic and found 1,093 political ads aired in a single day on broadcast TV stations in Iowa alone. The equivalent of more than nine solid hours of commercials in a 24-hour period.

EVAN TRACEY, TNSMI CAMPAIGN MEDIA ANALYSIS GROUP: Every time you turn on your television, get in your car, or open your mailbox, you're seeing a political ad of some sort.

MALVEAUX: Analyst Evan Tracey started TNS over 10 years ago. He's studying whether campaign ads make a difference.

TRACEY: They do. You're hearing basically three things, change, immigration and I'm not George Bush and it's very hard for anything unique to cut through to voters. But if your messages aren't up there, you have no chance of getting through.

MALVEAUX: Getting through is what candidates are banking on and now along with independent groups they are spending nearly $1 million a day in Iowa for network TV advertising. And they've broken all records in pouring $83 million in the race for the White House so far.

She changed the lives of 60 million kids.

MALVEAUX: Tracey says some of the biggest spenders are Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who are each shelling out at least $400,000 a day to run ads in the early voting states. But Tracey adds big bucks for advertising doesn't automatically mean a big payoff in the end.

TRACEY: You look at somebody like Mike Huckabee who spent very little compared to everyone in the race, he's doing extremely well in the polls. If you look at somebody like Mitt Romney, however, his place in the polls is probably directly attributable to his advertising. So each campaign is different, each campaign has been using television differently in this race.

MALVEAUX (on camera): What makes advertising so important to these candidates, this fact from back in 2004 among the democrats, Iowa caucus goers, 20 percent of them reported that they made up their minds within the last three days before the caucus. So, there is still time to sway voters. Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Des Moines, Iowa.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: After the last-minute campaigning it will be the people's turn. CNN special coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins at 8:00 eastern on Thursday night. It's an unpredictable election year. So you don't want to miss a minute of coverage from the CNN election center. The Iowa caucuses for you Thursday night beginning at 8:00 eastern.

Now, we want to bring you some news just reaching us here at CNN. Islamic websites are reporting that Osama bin Laden has released new audio message. It is an audio message and still the al Qaeda leader accompanying it. As we understand, it is entitled the way to fall conspiracies on Iraq and Islamic state. We are just getting word of this now. So, our people are looking closely at the contents of this message. We're hearing that in this new message Osama bin Laden is warning Iraq's Sunni Arabs against joining tribal councils, fighting al Qaeda or participating in any unity government. This word just coming into us here at CNN. Our people are looking at this recording. We will go through it and try and get some more context, some more detail, and of course, we'll bring that to you as soon as we get it.

Ok, a father still looking for answers after his son was mauled to death by a tiger. Plus, new information about what really happened after the tiger attacked.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: San Francisco plans to reopen its zoo late next week. Today new information about that Christmas day tiger attack. Police transcripts reveal zoo security made officers wait outside briefly while they tried to tranquilize the tiger. Here's CNN's Dan Simon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): San Francisco police are still trying to figure out just what happened inside the zoo. The mystery is only deepening. The brother of the two surviving victims declined to provide any details of the attack.

SUNNY DHALIWAL, SURVIVORS' BROTHER: I visited them in the hospital. My brothers are doing fine. They're in stable condition and they'll be released in two to three days and whenever they come out they can make a statement.

SIMON: The brothers had made statements to police but haven't been entirely forthcoming police sources told the "San Francisco Chronicle." The father of Carlos Souza, Jr., the 17-year-old who died, says he wants answers.

CARLOS SOUZA, SR., FATHER OF VICTIM: I want answers. Did you do this? Did you do that? What happened? I've been hearing all this stuff on the media, I mean, I want to know the facts. I simply want to know what's going on.

SIMON: Authorities are investigating whether somebody taunted the tiger that night by jumping over a barrier to keep the public away from the animals. Police say they found a footprint on top of a railing. CHIEF HEATHER FONG, SAN FRANCISCO POLICE: We have obtained photographs of that shoe print and we also have all three pairs of shoes from the victims and our forensic analysis will allow us to determine if any of those shoes match the print that is on there.

SIMON: Even if there was taunting, the tiger still had to escape its enclosure. Zoo officials acknowledge that the enclosure's protective wall is shorter than previously thought. Turns out the wall is just 12 1/2 feet high. Industry standards say it should be about 16 feet high.

(On camera): However, that's just a recommended height, not an official requirement. Each exhibit is looked at in its entirety to determine if it's safe. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums never issued any red flags but it's clear that the shorter wall would have made it considerably easier for the tiger to get out.

MANUEL MOLLINEDO, SAN FRANCISCO ZOO DIRECTOR: I think the tiger, if she grabbed on to something it could have been a ledge, she had to have jumped. How she was able to jump that high is amazing to me, but it's an exotic animal.

SIMON (voice-over): But just why the tiger suddenly lashed out remains unknown. Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Now, a lot of our viewers are telling us what they think about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Joshua Levs is here with a preview. Josh?

JOSHUA LEVS: Hi Isha. This is something the Pakistani government could have seen coming, of course, when they provided different explanations for how Benazir Bhutto died it would trigger conspiracy theories. Now what people all over the world are writing to CNN is becoming a big part of the story. I'll have that coming up right here on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: New just coming in to us here at CNN, there are reports on Islamic Web sites that Osama bin Laden has released a new message. As we understand it, this message comes in the form of a video, a still picture accompanied by audio. Sounds like essentially (ph) it is an audio message.

At this point in time, our people here at CNN are going through this, getting some more detail. What we do know, though, is that it is entitled "The Way to Foil Conspiracies on Iraq and the Islamic State" and a little bit of detail we have at present is that Osama bin Laden and -- it's being attributed to Osama bin Laden is saying that -- is giving a warning, I should say, to Iraq Sunni Arabs against joining tribal councils, fighting al Qaeda or participating in any unity government.

As I said, this is just coming into us here at CNN. We are now going through this message and we'll bring you the developments, bring you details as and when we get them.

OK, today there are conflicting reports about how Benazir Bhutto died. Pakistan's government first said she was shot, then came word she was killed by bomb shrapnel. Now, the Interior Ministry says Bhutto died of a skull fracture after hitting her head on a sunroof lever. It's the kind of information that gives rise to a whole host of conspiracy theories.

Joshua Levs of the Dotcom Desk joins us now and, Josh, what are some of the things you're hearing?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, everybody's weighing in on this. And you know what's happening, really -- whenever there's a big story, we hear from a lot of people, obviously, people love to write us here at CNN.

But today, it has tremendous news value because as I was mentioning just before the break, when the Pakistani government came forward with all these different explanations for how she died, of course it would have this reaction all over the world and everybody would start coming in with conspiracy theories. So right now, this is what Pakistan has to deal with. People all over the world asking questions like this, comments like this.

Let's start with this one we recevied from a man labeling himself C.G. He writes us this, "The Pakistani government can't get its story together about what killed her, but we are supposed to believe the government's claim that al Qaeda was responsible?"

Now one from Mike. "Does anyone actually believe the Interior Minister?" He's the one that gave two of the explanations yesterday.

Sam, "This has got to be the craziest thing I have heard in a while. The public's intelligence is being ridiculed. I don't believe she died of a fractured skull."

And finally, I want to share this one with you. I had this earlier in the day. I think it's important. This one is from Sijal, and he tells us, "Even to an ordinary man with a minimum of sense it all sounds too mixed up to be true. It is imperative on the government to undertake appropriate measures to investigate this case as we Pakistanis really do not want a another political leader's murder case left in mystery."

So, these are the kind of things we're getting. These were all part of CNN.com's story where we have this sound off section and people were writing us like crazy, thousands of people. Every few minutes, we were getting more and more and more and what happens in a case like this is that it just keeps on building.

And right now, Isha, as we were talking about, it's all questions. It's all -- so we here at CNN would love to have more answers to provide. But in the meantime, all these conspiracy theories, all these people who feel they're not getting the truth are going to continue to feel that way until something big happens to change that. SESAY: Someone was saying earlier on in the NEWSROOM, and I think it's a very good point that for a lot of people, this may end up morphing into kind of JFK assassination and all the theories, they've got a little bit of film, but what really happened?

LEVS: I know, I was looking at dotcom before. I saw at least a dozen people already bringing that up. Some people said Martin Luther King, some people said JFK. I mean, what you have is a lot of powerful people, and she was an opposition figure with plenty of enemies and right now, no one feels that they're getting anything they can count on as really being the truth.

And that's what's so especially disturbing here, that during the time people want to be mourning this woman that they cared a lot about in many cases, they feel like they can't, and they're very angry because they want answers right away so that they can mourn. They don't have that.

SESAY: Joshua Levs, many thanks.

LEVS: Thank you.

SESAY: Always great to have you here. Thanks.

Well, the man once called the Australian Taliban is a free man. Former Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks walks out of an Australian jail yesterday completing a sentence for supporting terrorism. U.S. troops captured Hicks in 2001 in Afghanistan. He was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002 where he was held for five years. Hicks pleaded guilty earlier this year and was transferred to an Australian jail.

Now, building peace one building at a time. It's happening in the small village on the outskirts of Baghdad. CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports on Arab Jabour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They wave their assault rifles in the air as they dance joyously to a trumpet and drums. These Sunni militia men in Arab Jabour south of Baghdad say they have much to celebrate.

Today, it is the opening of a government center in their neighborhood, just six miles from central Baghdad. It is the first tangible sign of the Iraqi government's presence in the area since the fall of Saddam in 2003 turned this normally placid agricultural hamlet into an al Qaeda stronghold.

MUSTAFA KAMIL HAMAD SHABIB AL-JUBURI, FORMER IRAQI ARMY BRIG. GENERAL (through translator): The hardest thing was we didn't know where our enemy was and al Qaeda came in here and gave weapons to everybody and made people fight each other.

WHITBECK: The government building refurbished with American money and by American troops will serve as a link between the community and central authorities. LT. COL. KEN ADGIE, U.S. ARMY: This building is the next step. Hopefully, what they'll be able to do is connect it to the government of Iraq, and continue to improve services, electricity, water, schools, medical for the area.

WHITBECK: The center's opening was attended by local sheikhs and their retinues. Music, ribbon cutting and then a feast, scenes which have become rare in war-ravaged Iraq.

(on camera): But while progress has been made on the political side, few forget that just a few weeks ago, this area was teaming with al Qaeda fighters. The U.S. effort in the region is as much about driving the insurgency out of here as it is about strengthening local government.

(voice-over): Next door to the government center, U.S. soldiers fire mortar rounds on suspected al Qaeda positions a few miles away, an attempt to drive insurgents out of the area.

ADGIE: We're going to continue the relentless pursuit of al Qaeda until we kill them all.

WHITBECK: The U.S. soldiers will stay here for the foreseeable future, the price they say of trying to strengthen the government in Iraq.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Arab Jabour.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Voter unrest in Kenya. These pictures coming to us from Kenya's capital Nairobi. Riots broke out across Kenya after election officials announced a delay in tallying returns in the tight presidential election. Unofficial tally from Thursday's vote shows opposition candidate Raila Odinga leading President Mwai Kibaki by some 300,000 votes out of more than seven million cast. Both sides are claiming victory. Results are expected to be released tomorrow.

Six charity workers convicted in Chad of trying to kidnap 103 children and now back in France. A French court will decide their fate. In Chad, the six were sentenced to eight years of hard labor, but because France doesn't have forced labor, the French justice system will now adapt their sentences.

Saggy pants? Well, they play a key role in our next report as our legal guys look at some of the top legal stories of the year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Well, we've been waiting all year for this one. I certainly have. Our legal guys pick the top legal stories of 2007 and they've selected some serious ones and some not so serious ones.

Avery Friedman is a civil rights attorney and law professor and Richard Herman is a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor. Good afternoon to both of you kind gentlemen for making time for us this day.

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Almost tea time, Isha.

SESAY: Almost tea time, gentlemen.

Richard, I want to start with you, one of the biggest legal stories this year was the Michael Vick case. What struck you about how this played out?

HERMAN: Well, this was a travesty. I mean, his conduct was horrible, nobody condones what he did, it was wrong. But he got two years in prison as Avery and I had predicted and I've seen violent criminals against human beings get less time than that.

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Yes.

HERMAN: So, I mean, it really, it was -- we could not find the medium here. I mean, he got irk of the entire country against him, he single-handedly destroyed the Atlanta Falcon organization. He had $130 million contract ...

FRIEDMAN: Great decision, though.

HERMAN: ...I mean, it's just a disaster, a debacle.

FRIEDMAN: It's the right decision.

HERMAN: And look, they made deals with all the people around him to get Michael Vick and now ...

FRIEDMAN: Well, Isha -- let me mention to you, Richard's right on that.

But the most bizarre constitutional case comes right out of where you're sitting right now. In Atlanta, your city council came up with a law proposing a crime for young men or young people wearing their pants below their waist. Now, this gives new meaning to the phrase, say no to crack.

The problem ...

SESAY: Oh, you had to go there, didn't you?

FRIEDMAN: I had to. The problem is that even a young woman wearing a bra, if the strap is out, that's a crime. If they pass this law, Isha, I'm actually flying to Atlanta, getting a hotel right next to the federal courthouse. We're going to get that one held unconstitutional.

SESAY: OK.

HERMAN: Hey Isha, O.J. Simpson, O.J. Simpson, everybody ...

SESAY: Let's talk about that one. I mean, this is -- I get a feeling that this case, you know, as we know in terms of where it's at in the legal process is just getting going. Your thoughts on the circus so far.

FRIEDMAN: Absolutely.

HERMAN: It's just getting going. But I'll tell you something, I've been saying this all along. I think O.J.'s going to get acquitted here. I really do.

FRIEDMAN: Not a chance.

HERMAN: The district attorney was so hell-bent on getting him that they made deals with all the people around O.J., some of them were much more culpable than O.J. And in addition to that, there's evidence that the FBI knew that this was going down in advance.

FRIEDMAN: That's the one. He's going down.

SESAY: Do you think he's ...

HERMAN: That's going to take away the mental state, that's going to remove the mental state required for a conviction.

FRIEDMAN: Going down.

HERMAN: I'm telling you.

SESAY: Let me jump in there, guys, let me jump in there. Do you think he gives the legal profession a bad name when all these deals are being cut left, right and center?

FRIEDMAN: Wait, wait, Isha, the worst thing that hapened to the legal profession isn't O.J. It's a guy in D.C. named Roy Pierson who sued a dry cleaner for $65 million because he claims they lost his pants.

SESAY: We're going to come back to that because I want to take you through -- we will definitely come back to the dry cleaning case because that's too good just to throw out there and not pick up again.

But Richard, I want to pick up on the Natalee Holloway case, which is now being closed. And your thoughts on how that was handled and the rearrest of the three main suspects.

HERMAN: Well, Isha, what we saw here was just how critical the first 24 to 48 hours are in any alleged crime scene here, missing person situation. I mean, they completely bungled this case down there in Aruba. The law enforcement was tragic, it was just tragic.

FRIEDMAN: That's exactly right.

HERMAN: It was abominable. And you know, the thing is this. There are so many missing Americans today. What peaked our fantasy to obsess on this case, I don't know. She was blonde, she was pretty, wealthy family ...

FRIEDMAN: Right. HERMAN: ...but there's a young black woman missing from John Jay where I teach, there are so many people missing across the United States and we need to get the word out there to try to find these people.

SESAY: And Avery, do you think that, you know, with the Natalee Holloway case and in some ways, with the O.J. Simpson case, the O.J. Simpson cases and in some ways the Michael Vick case, that it's the pressure from outside that is influencing what happens in terms of the legal process. Everybody's paying attention. There's a pressure on the legal professionals involved to do something.

FRIEDMAN: You sound like you went to law school on that one, Isha. I think that's exactly right. It is ridiculous to assume that the law is pure, that it's not influenced. We'd like to think that. But the fact is these external factors, the idea about Natalee Holloway, Michael Vick, even O.J. Simpson which will continue into '08, public pressure clearly is a factor in this.

SESAY: OK, let's -- let's -- Avery, no pun intended here, but your No. 2 involves a famous bathroom stall and a wide stance.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, I mean, if you want to learn how to lose weight, Isha, call Jenny Craig.

SESAY: I'm always looking for that, so yes.

HERMAN: Oh, please.

FRIEDMAN: You call Jenny Craig, you want to learn how to lose a case, you call Larry Craig.

SESAY: Oh.

FRIEDMAN: Larry Craig decides he is going -- because he's a U.S. senator, he knows all about the law and look what happened: disorderly conduct. He promised he was going to resign from the U.S. Senate, well, it was his intent. He changed his mind, tried to appeal, lost again on appeal. It just goes to show legal backup when cases are serious is critical if you're going to protect yourself.

SESAY: Do you have any sympathy at all for him? I mean, I'm just intrigued in terms of Larry Craig. Any sympathy at all that you know, he was in that situation and he decided he didn't need a lawyer, he was just going to proceed ...

FRIEDMAN: Right.

SESAY: ...and plead guilty, but admitting not to what everything that's been alleged in the papers.

HERMAN: Isha, he's not some lay person, I mean, come on. This is the United States senator.

FRIEDMAN: Right. HERMAN: He certainly could read a plea form. He could certainly understood what it was and he acknowledged it and he agreed to it, he wrote it, he agreed to it, he pled guilty to it. As far as I know, he didn't have to allocute to anything.

FRIEDMAN: That's right.

HERMAN: So, I don't know why he's blown this thing out of proportion.

FRIEDMAN: Well, Isha -- Isha's asking what kind of sympathy does he deserve?

SESAY: Uh-huh.

FRIEDMAN: Zero, none.

SESAY: Zero, OK, guys. We're going to pause right there and we're going to keep our viewers with a little bit of suspense a few more minutes. When we come back, our legal guys will sift through thousands of cases to pick their No. 1, No. 1 people, their No. 1 legal story of the year.

HERMAN: No. 1.

SESAY: Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm Reynolds Wolf with a look at today's Cold and Flu Season Report.

And any place on the map behind me where you happen to see green or even yellow, that would indicate that we have no activity or only sporadic cases to report.

However, where we see purple states or even states that are shaded in blue like Montana, parts of Colorado, even into Arizona and Texas, a portion of the eastern seaboard in Florida, well, we've got either local activity or regional cases.

That is a look at today's Cold and Flu Report.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Ladies and gentlemen, a drum roll, please. Our legal guys are back and each will name their No. 1 legal story of the year. Once again, Avery Friedman and Richard Herman are with me.

And Richard, you go first. I know you've selected a story you felt very strongly about. Tell us about it. HERMAN: Well, Isha, if anybody's been watching us through the year, this disaster at Duke University, to me, takes the cake for the entire year. How this level of prosecutorial misconduct could go unchecked for so long. You talked about -- both you and Avery mentioned the pressures, the public pressures for a prosecution. That's what swung this animal Nifong.

He went after these three young boys, he had no case against them, he had no credible evidence against them and yet, he had them indicted, he put them up to ridicule, he ruined their reputations and he was ready to go based on air, on nothing and finally, he was humiliated and thankfully, the system worked.

FRIEDMAN: The system worked, right.

HERMAN: But if you think Nifong is the only prosecutor out there who conducts themselves like this, you are sadly mistaken.

FRIEDMAN: Right as well (ph).

HERMAN: It happens throughout the country. Now more importantly in this case, you know, Isha, look at Duke University. Supposedly a higher learning institution, they immediately based on allegations only, turned their back on these three men, they turned their back on them, they destroyed their lacrosse program, they threw them out of school based on allegations. That's how we perceive people who get arrested in this country. You immediately think they're guilty.

FRIEDMAN: Isha ...

SESAY: And do you see that ...

FRIEDMAN: The system vindicated itself though, what, because he was disbarred. The right thing happened here.

SESAY: I was going to say, do you feel lessons have been learned here? Already, are you seeing changes in how cases proceed after -- what you know, effectively was a travesty of justice.

HERMAN: It was a travesty and you know, I'd like to say that hopefully we learn from this, but I don't think so. The pressures for convictions throughout this country, especially on the state and federal level are just incredible. And the pressure is there. There are win-it-at-all costs prosecutors, there are them. We saw this at Duke, we saw this in the middle of district of Florida in 1999, it hapens and you know, we do the best we can ...

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

HERMAN: ...but we have to uncover these people ...

FRIEDMAN: Right.

HERMAN: ...because this really puts a damper on the legal system.

FRIEDMAN: But justice prevailed, Richard, justice prevailed.

SESAY: It did, justice did prevail.

HERMAN: Yes, it was a close call, Avery. Very close.

SESAY: Avery, your No. 1 legal story of the year. You've selected, shall we say a pressing issue?

FRIEDMAN: Bottom line, if you got -- you have a bad guy in North Carolina and you had a bad guy in the District of Columbia. A guy that served as a judge, Isha ...

HERMAN: Incredible.

FRIEDMAN: ...and the fact is, a $65 million lawsuit against a dry cleaner and he took the stand, Roy Pierson and he broke down in tears reminiscing about the memory of his pants.

SESAY: I never was able to understand what was so special about those trousers, though.

FRIEDMAN: Well, I mena, what's -- what was horrible about this, he got his suit back and then he claimed he gained 20 pounds before he became a judge. The good news is that the Judicial Commission removed him. He still claims he lost his pants and Richard knows what's coming here. Isha, look what I got.

SESAY: What you got?

FRIEDMAN: I got his pants. So, justice prevailed down in North Carolina against Mike Nifong, it also prevailed. He lost the case in front of Judge Judy, also a common plea -- or a superior court judge. Justice prevailed. We're looking forward to 2008.

SESAY: Oh, and I'm so looking forward to getting your picks in 2008. Avery Friedman and Richard Herman, a great pleasure having you with us this afternoon.

HERMAN: Isha, thank you. Happy, healthy New Year.

FRIEDMAN: Happy New Year.

SESAY: Happy New Year.

Well, it was an instant i-Report classic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MEYER, COLLEGE STUDENT: Don't tase me, bro! Ow!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Up next, a look at how i-Reporters just like you helped make this one of the biggest stories of the year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SESAY: Are you ready for 2008? The clock is ticking. Our Anderson Cooper will be in New York's Times Square on New Year's Eve and you can help make the party even better. All you have to do is go to CNN.com/iparty and send us your photos or tell us your memories from 2007. Maybe yours will be shared on New Year's Eve. Our live coverage begins at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. It should be a blast.

As we close out 2007, there are a few new phrases that change the way we talk. Our favorite is i-Report because you helped us bring breaking news to our viewers faster than ever.

And who can forget this one? "Don't tase me, bro!" CNN's Rick Sanchez revisits the shock heard right around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It begins as an ordinary town hall forum at the University of Florida. The guests: Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Then, student Andrew Meyer comes to the mike.

MEYER: How could you concede the election on the day ...

SANCHEZ: He launches into a rambling series of questions, even making a reference to a sex act. Event organizers cut the microphone. That's when things heat up and i-Reporters go to work.

MILES DORAN, CNN I-REPORTER: He started interrupting and the police started moving in, so I flipped it to movie mode and just started rolling.

SANCHEZ: Miles Doran is there to cover Senator Kerry's vizt for the campus news radio station.

DORAN: And once the police brought him up to the back of the auditorium and started holding him, pushing him down to the ground and eventually tasering him ...

MEYER: Don't tase me, bro! Ow!

DORAN: That's when a couple people from the audience got up and you can hear in the video, they started screaming at the police, telling them to stop. Initially, I had thought that the police had -- it looked as though the police had acted well within their rights, but then as it quickly escalated into a freedom of speech issue and a police brutality issue ...

MEYER: Ow, ow!

DORAN: ...it was like, wow, OK, this is a much bigger deal than we thought it was going to be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Sounds painful, let's be honest. We have a ton of great i-Reports from the past year. See them all in our i-Report special "Caught on Camera," watch it again New Year's Eve at 8:00 Eastern and it's not too late to vote on your favorite i-Reports of 2007. Just logon to our fantastic Web site, CNN.com/yearinreview.

Here's what's making news right now. Updating this story just into CNN. There appear to be a new message from Osama bin Laden. It's an audiotape accompanied by a still photo on an Islamist Web site. The title, "The Way to Fall Conspiracies on Iraq and the Islamic State."

Pakistani government officials say about 40 people have died in violence since Thursday's assassination of Benazir Bhutto. More than 100 banks and scors of police stations have been set on fire. At least 368 people have been arrested.

The rumor mill is working over time in Pakistan. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is fueling conspiracy theories that run from the plausible to the ridiculous. We sort through the rumors coming up in the NEWSROOM at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

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