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American Airlines Scrubs More Than 500 Flights Today; Fugitive Marine Accused of Killing Pregnant Marine Captured in Mexico

Aired April 11, 2008 - 10:00   ET


KIM GEBBIA, REPORTER, WECT NEWS: Glitch by one of the station employees allowed this woman to fill up her Chevy for under $5.

GEBBIA: For a full tank of gas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE For a full tank of gas.

GEBBIA: As fast as the good news traveled so does the bad. Employees here at the 17th Street Kangaroo actually just had to turn off the pump. They tell me they already lost $1,500. An employee told us the problem. It started at one each hour bringing more people lining up to fill up for next to nothing.


GEBBIA: Police arrived and the pumps closed down disappointing many that came to see the urban gas legend in person. For those who made it to pump four in time, they got the cheapest tank full in Wilmington since 1969.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE This is a blessing from the man above.

GEBBIA: In Wilmington, Kim Gebbia, WECT News.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN, ANCHOR: Now, that's a story for you. Good morning, everybody.

TONY HARRIS, CNN, ANCHOR: No matter how you squeeze a dime, you would drive up to North Carolina.

NGUYEN: I sure would have.

HARRIS: I worked with you long enough to know.

NGUYEN: Just to fill up with $35 cents a gallon. OK. Good morning, everybody on this Friday. I'm Betty Nguyen.

HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris. Stay informed all day in the CNN NEWSROOM. Here is what's on the rundown. American Airlines scrubs more than 500 flights today. Patience wearing thin at the airport.

NGUYEN: A fugitive Marine accused of killing a pregnant Marine finally captured in Mexico. The victim's mother is speaking out in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Shorter combat tours in Iraq means coming home sooner. We will talk to military families today, Friday, April 11th. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: All right. Don't want to start your day off like this but there are more troubles in the skies. Flier anger growing worse today as American Airlines takes another 570 flights off the board. So you add up the week's chaos and you get thousands of flights canceled. A quarter million passengers stranded. And one more U.S. airliner files for bankruptcy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's frustrating. You know, I - I understand that they are trying to do the best they can do. But, you know it is very inconvenient.

It was horrible. They -- considering the organization, they could have very easily -- at least put in place in their call centers a report that would give us direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We spent most of the day on the phone and on the computer. Because our flight was canceled. It was kind of a nightmare trying to get through to them and find out what was going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't answer their phones. Everything is busy. You cap get through to anybody.

HARRIS: So, most of Americans struggle. The results of FAA mandated inspections of wiring on MD-80 jets. Our Miles O'Brien in New York. Miles, great to see you. All right. I'm sitting at an airport now, La Guardia, Midway, I don't know, Chicago O'Hare. I want to know what the problem is here. My flight has been canceled. I've been trying to get a flight on American for days now. I have given up on that and I'm going to go a different route. But what is the problem here?



O'BRIEN: You have you plenty of time. Wherever you are in those airports because it's going to be a little while before things are back to normal. Let's take a look. Let's go to the location on this md-80 series aircraft and talk about this. We're talking about the wheel well. Now, remember, Tony, where do they put the fuel in the airplanes? In the wing.


O'BRIEN: The fuel up there. And so, there's wires in close proximity, you want to be very carefully about them.

HARRIS: Makes sense.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back and think TWA 800 back in '96 for a moment now. Here's where it all began, the concern was over this wiring bundle in general. Could it chaff? Could it cause a spark? You don't want a spark near the fuel tank. So, the FAA came out with a series of requirements to make sure that bundle would not have any sort of chafing. One of the key ones was that the ties in this case be exactly one inch apart. One inch. Not an inch and a quarter. As American Airlines mechanics did in many cases. So, it went, when the FAA did their audit, they went in. And they saw that those wire ties were an inch and a quarter apart. Now, you know, does this really affect safe? You have to ask yourself. Technically, they violated the air worthiness directive. Just the fact that those ties are an inch and a quarter apart and not an inch, you and I would agree is not a fundamental safety issue. But then they focused so much on those ties, when the FAA came and took a second look they realized the clamps were actually put in backwards.

HARRIS: Oh, boy.

O'BRIEN: Not good. OK. And on top of that, some of the sheathing, which is important, was not the right sheathing. They had another list of chores to do on these airplanes. American yesterday, we talked to the CEO and he said yes, we should have looked at the whole air worthiness directive, not just the twisty tie issue. And it would have saved a lot of aggravation and there wouldn't have been a second round of work right now. But that's what we are talking about. One important point through all of this.


O'BRIEN: All of the work and the rework and the redos and the inspections, not a single mechanic, not a single inspector found a bit of chafing in these wires. And that was the concern in the first place. So, this is a protective measure for a potential problem that hasn't happened.

HARRIS: Yes, yes. You know, a couple of questions come to mind. I mean, we are trying to fix this problem that seems to be -- second -- maybe the third time here. So what's at the root of this? We are talking about mechanics that are inept? Are we talking about the FAA? Not having enough people? I mean, seems to me there's enough blame to go around in this problem.

O'BRIEN: The answer to all that is yes. No. As far as the mechanics being in that we won't say that.


O'BRIEN: Here's the situation. The air worthiness directive that came out was kind of vague. And I read it and it was hard to understand. And I think that it got -- by the time it got down to the mechanics there was some confusion at the American Airlines on precisely what to do. The FAA in this case, and the -- it is -- coming on the heels of this Southwest Airlines incident where there was serious lapses in inspections and maintenance on Southwest Airlines airplanes. And there was, there were allegations that the FAA kind of looked the other way. So when a lot of people are saying is that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, the audits came out and subsequent to this because the FAA was embarrassed by this episode, they lowered the boom on American Airlines. And go after them on a real picky you technicality. That's what we are seeing right now.

HARRIS: Very good, Miles. Great to see you.

O'BRIEN: Good to see you.

HARRIS: All right. Another airliner in trouble. Frontier Airlines filing for bankruptcy saying it has a cash flow problem. The Denver-based carrier promising business as usual while it shores up its finances. Frontier says passengers will still fly and employees still have jobs. It has been a rough month so far for the airlines industry. Frontier Airlines this week. Last week, three other U.S., Skybus, ATA, and Aloha, all went belly-up and shut down. Champion is gone, too, Betty. Higher fuel costs taking a toll. Southwest, Delta, and Midwest Airlines have also been dealing with headaches caused by the same state inspections now plaguing American.

NGUYEN: Well, let's take you to the war zone now, because the Pentagon is releasing video of what it calls an air strike on armed criminals in Iraq. Live the CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, how did this go down?

BARBARA STARR, CNN, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, let me set up for you a minute, the video that you are about to see. It really is quite extraordinary. We have been talking so much about the rocket and mortar strikes into Baghdad's international zone, the secure area, the launch site for the attacks that have been the Shia stronghold of Sadr city where the U.S. believes the insurgents are launching these rockets and mortars from and believe they have a lot of backing from Iran.

These strikes have been very precise. These are people who know what they are doing. So, what we are about to see now is video released by the Pentagon of an unmanned drone. Yesterday flying over Sadr city, looking for insurgents and indeed, as you look at the video, they found their target with the military says, U.S. military says, if these are six insurgents walking through Sadr City carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers, carrying mortar tubes that they think these people are just right now about to set up to launch another attack against Iraqi civilians and the U.S. military. The drone, of course, is piloted from a remote location. It is unmanned. But it has missiles onboard. Very precise. And as you can see they are lining up their target right there. And in a minute you will see a black flash. That will be the hell fire missile hitting its target. It is really an extraordinary piece of video. Showing what U.S. troops are up against. They don't go into Sadr City because it is really truly a Shia strong hold and can create more problems by going into the neighborhoods. Some of the ways that they are getting to the insurgents, launching these attacks. There you see it, it is to fly these drones overhead and look for the insurgents and look for them setting up their weapons and then hit them with precision missiles when they find them. Betty?

NGUYEN: Right. Precision is right. Barbara, you are going to be hearing from the Defense Secretary Gates shortly. What do you expect to be at the top of his agenda today?

STARR: Well, you know, we had this long week in Washington. Several days of testimony from General Petraeus, yesterday Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Both Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen will be out in just about 20 minutes to talk to the Pentagon Press Corps. I suspect one of the top questions right off the bat will be what Mr. Gates had to say yesterday when he said that he was on a bit of a different page than General Petraeus about the pause, 45-day pause, after, what happens on day 46.

NGUYEN: Right.

STARR: And that's going to be, I suspect, the first question right off the top, Betty.

NGUYEN: And there has been a lot of discussion about that. Barbara Starr joining us live from the Pentagon. Thank you, Barbara.

STARR: Sure.

HARRIS: A manhunt ends south of the border. Mexican police arrest U.S. Marine corporal Cesar Laurean. He is accused of killing a fellow Marine who was eight months pregnant. CNN's Harris Whitbeck is in Jacksonville, North Carolina. That's where authorities have begun efforts to bring him back for trial. Harris, good to see you. Has the extradition question here been resolved?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: No, Tony, it hasn't. Corporal Laurean is currently in the custody of federal law enforcement officials in Mexico City. He was transferred to Mexico City after having been detained in Morelia state, about three hours from the Mexican capital. However, officials here in Jacksonville do say that they expect to see Corporal Laurean spend some time in the county jail here before he faces trial on those murder charges. They also say that his detention was the result of a lot of joint work between U.S. law enforcement and their Mexican counterparts.


CAPT. RICK SUTHERLAND, ONSLOW COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: A couple weeks ago we developed some information that allowed us to generate some new leads and the FBI began closing in geographically on where they thought that he might be, and just this week we were able to really focus our resources on one specific area of the country, and then earlier yesterday evening authorities were able to take him into custody.


WHITBECK: Now, what might happen with that extradition proceeding is anyone's guess at this time, Tony. It all depends on whether Laurean will try to fight the extradition. If he does some lawyers say he could spend up to a couple of years in Mexico before being brought back up here to the states. One important point, though, Mexico does not extradite people to countries where the death penalty is applied. For that extradition process to be valid and to proceed, if you will, the United States had to guarantee to the Mexican government that it would not apply the death penalty in this case.

HARRIS: All right. Harris Whitbeck for us in Jacksonville, Florida. Harris, thank you.

A fugitive Marine accused of murder. The death penalty apparently ruled out even before the suspect is brought home. A legal expert explains why.

NGUYEN: Well, a raid on a polygamous compound in Texas and authorities explain why it took four years.


NGUYEN: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Hello, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. And doggone it, it is a household chore that nobody likes. So, how about this for an alternative. Bull massive trash removal service.


NGUYEN: Texas authorities, they are defending their handling of a raid on a polygamous compound and providing more details on how it went down. They say the most tense moment came when they entered the group's temple. Dozens of men lined the walls and again praying, crying. Authorities say this they had been in contact with the leaders of the compound for four years but they had no grounds to act until they received a complaint. They raided the property and removed 460 children after a call from a 16-year-old girl. She told social workers that she had been beaten and sexually assaulted by a 50-year-old man after their spiritual marriage.

HARRIS: In Mexico, a U.S. Marine is in custody. Cesar Laurean is accused of murdering a pregnant comrade but he won't face the death penalty if or when he is to return to the United States. To walk us through the legal issues Attorney Douglas Burns. He joins us from our New York bureau. Good to see your, sir. Thanks for your time this morning.


HARRIS: Yes, do you expect Corporal Laurean to fight extradition?

BURNS: It's hard to say. But I mean, as the people have said, there are two choices if you keep it simple, Tony.


BURNS: One is you waive extradition and you're brought back relatively quickly. Two, you fight it and then if you lose in the first instance, you know, you waive it there and you don't appeal. So, it could take anywhere between just a couple of months or a month, or up to two years if he saw it tall way through.

HARRIS: OK. Let's say he chooses to fight, you went through that pretty quickly there. Break that progress down. If he chooses to fight.

BURNS: Sure.

HARRIS: What happens?

BURNS: I'd be glad to. Basically when a country asks for an extradition, the requesting country, in this case the United States.


BURNS: Mexico is the requested country. First of all, people have been saying and it's important to understand that Mexico has the discretion not to extradite unless assurances are given by the United States government that they won't impose the death penalty. That's where people are getting a little confused. Not necessarily that they won't seek it. I know that's an academic distinction but the fact of the matter is that's what the treaty said. As a practical matter, Tony, basically we have to assure Mexico that the death penalty is off the table. Then they will be amenable to extraditing him. Now, if he fights it, back to your original question, basically there are a whole host of legal issues in an extradition, starting most fundamentally with your identity and that's, you know, ordinarily kind of hard to fight. Also, is the crime listed on the extradition treaty. In a murder case, that's often also not much to talk about.

HARRIS: Right.

BURNS: But if you are in a tax case or a securities case --

HARRIS: What part of, Douglas, just to move it ahead a little bit. What's the part of this that could take a year or two?

BURNS: Well, no. It is really just procedural mechanics. In other words, you do an extradition hearing which can take some time.

HARRIS: Right.

BURNS: And it won't necessarily happen tomorrow, Tony. So, let's say that happens in a couple of months. then, there may be a bit of lag time before the court decides it. And then, of course, you can appeal that decision which adds additional time. And that's why...

HARRIS: Is this a case where the corporal will be mounting clearly a vigorous defense but is the corporal allowed to bring in an attorney, does it feel like a real trial?

BURNS: That's an excellent question. And I'm glad you asked that because it's two different things. Apples and oranges. HARRIS: OK.

BURNS: On extradition, it is simply, you know, are you the person, is it listed on the treaty? And is there probable cause? OK, which is a must lower standard, Tony, to believe that the crime was committed. Once that is done, then you have a full-blown trial back in the United States. But not there. And that's a very good point that you made.

HARRIS: Beautiful. OK. Let's leave it there.

BURNS: Sure.

HARRIS:. All right. Atty. Douglas Burns for us from our New York bureau. Douglas, have a great weekend. Thanks.

BURNS: You too. Thanks.

NGUYEN: Well, you don't want to miss this because coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM, we are going to hear from Maria Lauterbach's mother. Does this arrest help ease her heartbreak?


NGUYEN: A mother's anguish. Can this arrest help ease the grief for Maria Lauterbach's mom? Well, in one horrible day she lost both her daughter and unborn grandson. Mary Lauterbach joins us now from Dayton, Ohio. It is her first television interview since the arrest of her daughter's accused killer. And Mary, I do want to thank you for being with us today.


NGUYEN: All right. So, let's get right to it. You heard of the arrest and when you did what's your reaction to it?

LAUTERBACH: I am still in a state of shock. It all happened so quickly. I'm amazed how quickly the process of apprehending him went.

NGUYEN: But you have been waiting for months. I must admit, though, as I am learning this as well, if he decides -- if Cesar Laurean decides to fight extradition, it could take up to two years before he is returned to North Carolina. Does that frustrate you?

MERLE WELBERDING, ATTORNEY: Well, I don't think it is going to frustrate this because I think the judicial process has to go forward, and Mary and I and the family are prepared to cooperate in any way. And we just have been impressed and it has been a real tribute to the enforcement system of the Marshal's office and the FBI to apprehend him and we plan on cooperating in the future to hopefully extradite him and continue the prosecution.

NGUYEN: And I want to let our viewers know that's Merle Welberding, Marie's attorney. Mary, let me get back to you because when Laurean was arrested he did say that he loved Maria. Do you believe that he is your daughter's killer? LAUTERBACH: Yes, I do. Of course, I'm a great believer, too, in the American system of justice where you have a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But in my heart of hearts, I do believe he probably is.

NGUYEN: And what about her unborn child, we are still waiting for results of a paternity test. Do you think he is the father?


NGUYEN: All right. And I know that you have been seeking justice. You have waiting for this moment for many months, been through a lot of grief. In fact, you've even sent a list of questions to the Marine corps. What answers are you hoping to get out of this?

WELBERDING: Well, I think we are trying to get the answers from the Marines as to what really happened and it's really part of a process we are hoping the Marines adopt more proactive programs in the future that protect other Marines that are similarly situated.

NGUYEN: Specifically what do you want to know?

WELBERDING: Well, specifically, we are trying to understand a number of the facts relating to the harassments that she had received, what the true facts are. We would like to look at personnel records and medical records. And have a better understanding of some of the discussions that took place between her and her compatriots, with her and her civilian victim advocate and her with military victim advocate.

NGUYEN: Mary, as a mother, do you believe enough was done to protect your daughter?

LAUTERBACH: No, do I not. Absolutely.

NGUYEN: What do you think should have been done?

LAUTERBACH: At the point of which Maria obviously had several threatening actions against her, actions of harassment and that those particular actions should have been taken much more seriously because the Marines were aware of them.

NGUYEN: Why do you think they weren't taken seriously? Was there a question of credibility?

LAUTERBACH: That's part of what we are trying to discover. Though they did know they happened. Particularly when her car was keyed. It wasn't just a small keying. It had the look of a screwdriver and yet, that was just dismissed. And also when she was punched in the face they did believe her at the time. It was just because she couldn't recognize the voice of the person who did it. It was dismissed.

NGUYEN: Did Maria ever talk to you about Cesar Laurean?

LAUTERBACH: Not as a specific person. She made vague references to him, yes.

NGUYEN: And now that he has been arrested, we've been watching some video coming out of Mexico, you are seeing his face. You are seeing the man who is accused of killing your daughter and your unborn grandchild. What do you want to say to him?

LAUTERBACH: I would say to him, I pray for you and I pray for your family and I hope at this point you can begin to be honest about what actually happened on December 14.

NGUYEN: Do you want to know the exact details of what happened?

LAUTERBACH: Yes, I do. To have true justice, people need to know honestly what really happened on that day.

NGUYEN: And there was supposedly a note that she had left, that Maria had left with her roommate saying that she couldn't take it anymore and she had to leave. Is that something your daughter would have written? Do you believe that being a real note, that she would have left?

LAUTERBACH: There was a note there. I have -- that's part of the thing I do not understand. I don't know if that was written under duress. Some of the language is awkward for her. I don't know what the real story about that is. I do know that I spoke to her that afternoon, just a couple of hours before that note was found. And in no way did she indicate to me she was getting ready to leave. As a matter of fact, that afternoon, we discussed at length a visit we were going to have the following weekend.

NGUYEN: We were just looking at some video of Maria as she was playing soccer back in her younger years. And she had talked about she wanted to be in the Marines for many, many years and how excited she was about that. Obviously, things have changed tremendously since that day. And as you look at the road ahead, Mary, what kind of justice do you want to see served here?

LAUTERBACH: I want the truth to come out. And the American legal system to work as it always has.

NGUYEN: Are you also hoping that this case will somehow help other military women worried about their own safety?

LAUTERBACH: Absolutely. This case really needs to highlight the need to protect other military women, especially the young girls who don't understand the situation that they are being placed in. They absolutely need to be protected more thoroughly.

NGUYEN: And how do you want Maria remembered?

LAUTERBACH: I want her to be remembered for her bravery and for her courage in the face of all kinds of threats, nothing would stop her. She is relentless.

NGUYEN: Mary Lauterbach and her attorney, Merle Welberding. We do thank you both for being with us today. WELBERDING: Thank you.

LAUTERBACH: Thank you.


HARRIS: All right. Still to come in the NEWSROOM this morning, your bottom line. Your most baffling financial questions. Gerry Willis is here to answer your e-mails next in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Less time in battle, more time with loved ones. That is the promise from President Bush. We will talk live to some military moms in minutes in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Just past the half hour. Welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.

NGUYEN: Yes, hello, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen.

Let's take a look at the numbers today on the big boards. The Dow, oh, not so good at this hour.

HARRIS: No way.

NGUYEN: Down 150 points, the NASDAQ also in negative territory, down 30. And a lot of this has to do with poor first-quarter earnings dealing with GE and the guidance that there could be other poor earnings reports to come throughout the year. So, the Dow struggling as well as the NASDAQ. We'll keep following it for you.

HARRIS: All right, home buying, mortgages and retirement savings, you have questions. And CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis has answers for you. She is fielding your e-mails.


HARRIS: She's in New York as usual.

WILLIS: Hey, Tony.

HARRIS: Good to see you. Good Friday to you, Gerri.

WILLIS: Happy Friday.

HARRIS: Ready to dive in?

WILLIS: Let's dive.

HARRIS: Let's do it. Akisha from Colorado writes, oh Gerri, "I will be traveling and plan to rent a car. Should I use my credit card's car rental coverage on my rental car?"

WILLIS: Great question. I get this all the time. You know, it's hard to keep track of. Yes, you may already be covered by your own car insurance or your credit cards, for that matter. Platinum, gold credit cards, they often offer collision damage waiver coverage for free. Yes, I said free.


WILLIS: Most credit cards don't provide liability coverage, though. But rental car companies normally give it at no additional charge. So, be sure to ask. And before you go with the rental coverage, check with your credit card company to make sure you understand the terms.

HARRIS: Just to make sure, OK.

WILLIS: Yes, yes, yes.

HARRIS: DeeDee (ph) in Massachusetts has a question for you, Gerri. "My husband and I are in the process of buying a home. We finally worked out a satisfactory purchase and sale agreement with the sellers. However, at the closing the sellers refused to sign because they still hadn't found any housing of their own. Would it be better to just cut our losses and run?"

WILLIS: Oh, wow. You know what, sellers just can't back out of a deal once they sign an agreement.

HARRIS: Deal's a deal.

WILLIS: They are bound by the purchase agreement, as long as you fulfilled your terms and conditions. Hey, unless there's a clause that stated that the sale was contingent upon the sellers finding their place to live, you're in the right. Make sure you have your real estate broker or your lawyer review the terms of the contract.

But I have to say, you could sue the sellers for breach of contract here. And you probably have a pretty good chance of winning. You know, if they sign the agreement, they've got to abide by the terms.

HARRIS: Yes, yes. A deal is a deal, right?

WILLIS: Deal's a deal.

HARRIS: OK, Claudia has a question for you, Gerri. "For the first time since I started my 401(k), my balance decreased. Should I change the allocation of my assets to conservative investments until the economic situation improves? My estimated retirement is in 2035.

WILLIS: Claudia, Claudia, Claudia. 2035, you still have 27 years 'til retirement. OK, you can't worry about the daily fluctuations of the stock market. Of course, it's nerve-wracking to watch your 401 (k) lose money, but you do much better in the long run if you concentrate on making sure your portfolio is diversified, keep investing, realize it's all about asset allocation.

Don't try to time the market. If you pull out your money now, you probably buy when stocks are more expensive. HARRIS: Yes.

WILLIS: You feel like your portfolio is too aggressive for comfort, begin to pare down your stock holdings over time. But that should be independent of what the market is doing.

HARRIS: I love that. You're so consistent with this. Don't try to time the market, it's insane, you'll never win.

WILLIS: You know, it's the only advantage you have as an individual ...

HARRIS: Right.

WILLIS: ...investor is that you don't have to yank it out when stocks are going down.

HARRIS: Good point.

Another question for you here, Gerri. "I am in the middle of a seven-year ARM, and I am interested in refinancing into a 30-year loan, should I do it now or should I wait for something in the near future? Should I contact my current mortgage holder or should I shop around?"

WILLIS: Great question. You know, if you think you're going to be living in your home for at least another two years, it makes sense to look into refinancing. Look, 30-year fixed rates, they're pretty attractive right now. In fact, rates are about 5.75 percent.

But remember, the re-fi is not cheap. It can cost as much as two to three percent of your mortgage. So, make sure you're as good a credit as possible and start with your current mortgage lender. If you don't like the terms they're giving you and you think you can find a better deal somewhere else, shop around.

And if you have any questions, any money questions, send them to us at "Top Tips" at We love to hear from you.

HARRIS: You're so good at this.

Hey look, "ISSUE #1" today at noon Eastern time, would you give us a bit of a preview.

WILLIS: Hey, you know, we're always talking about your money, your wallet. You know, is it your house you're worried about ...


WILLIS: it your, you know, debt, jobs. Today, we're talking about taxes. The IRS tax commissioner will be on the show today talking about ...

HARRIS: That's terrific.

WILLIS: know, Tuesday, the big day. Are you ready, Tony? HARRIS: Oh, oh. Look, taxes filled out, check mailed in because I owed a little bit. And yes, I'm in good shape. But I will be watch -- boy, that show of yours at noon, bigger, better, more heft every week. It's good stuff. Gerri, great to see you.

WILLIS: Thank you. Thank you, Tony.

HARRIS: All right, thanks.

NGUYEN: Let's talk about this now. Troop deployments being shortened in the war zone. President Bush promising 12-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of 15. Plus, at least a year home for every year in the field. So, how do military families feel about this?

Well, joining me live now from Chicago, Beverly Perlson, founder of the Band of Mothers. And in Minneapolis, Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out. Ladies, we want to thank you for being with us today.

Let me start with you, Beverly. All right, so you just heard it, President Bush saying instead of 15 months, we're going to reduce that to 12. And if you serve a year in the field, you get a year off. What do you think about that?

BEVERLY PERLSON, THE BAND OF MOTHERS: You know, first of all, can I thank my son and the brave soldiers at Ft. Bragg ...

NGUYEN: Absolutely.

PERLSON: ...that are watching me now? They just returned from a long deployment. So, I love you guys and thank you for your service.

And my answer on that question is if that's what the General is saying, if that's what he's dictating, then that's what we need do. We need to stop listening to Nancy Pelosi and people like Dick Durbin who are trying to run this war when they have no business doing that. They need to take care of their business in the Congress.

NGUYEN: Well, wait a second. Do you feel though ...

PERLSON: This is the lowest approval ratings of any Congress and they need to stop interfering and let the generals make these decisions.

NGUYEN: Let me ask you this. Do you feel that back-to-back deployments are taking a toll not only on those in the field but on the readiness of U.S. troops?

PERLSON: Well, you know what? I would suggest that you talk to the soldiers that are over there and fighting this war. They believe in their mission and we need to start to get behind them. So really, that has been a very good question for me because I'm not fighting this war. My boots aren't on the ground.

NGUYEN: But your son served four deployments. What does he tell you?

PERLSON: My son -- my son believes that this is a patient enemy and a it's a ruthless enemy and we need to stick in this fight and we need to see this mission through to the end. That's what my son tells me.

NGUYEN: Nancy, what do you think about the deployments really reducing it from 15 months to 12 months, and you serve a year, then you get a year off. What do you think about that?

NANCY LESSIN, MILITARY FAMILIES SPEAK OUT: The last poll done of our service members in Iraq said the majority wanted to come home and I think the solution to the strife that's caused by this unjustifiable war in Iraq, a war that's taken more than 4,000 lives of U.S. service members and over a million lives of Iraqi children, women and men, the solution isn't about continuing the war and ordering 12 rather than 15 months deployments for some of the troops. The solution is to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq, bring all of our troops home swiftly and safely, get them the care they need when they get home.

And it is true that 15 and 18-month deployments, repeated deployments, have taken a toll, AND suicide rates in the military are skyrocketing. But suicides are also happening after six-months deployments and 11-month deployments. A study done after World War II by U.S. psychiatrists said 240 days in combat was enough to cause breakage in the staunchest of soldiers. Those of us who are lucky enough to get our loved ones home from this war know that the people we receive home aren't the ones that we kissed goodbye. There are changes that are happening.

And again, the real issue is that military families in this country are suffering because our loved ones were sent off to kill or be killed in a war that should never have happened, and the solution is to end it.

NGUYEN: All right, ladies, I want you both to take a listen to what the president said yesterday about troop reduction. Take a listen to this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: By July 31st, the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will be down by 25 percent from last year. Beyond that General Petraeus says he'll need time to consolidate his forces and assess how this reduced American presence will affect conditions on the ground before making measured recommendations on further reductions. And I have told him he'll have all the time he needs.


NGUYEN: All right. So, Beverly, while the president is promising shorter deployments, consider that his term runs out in January, is this promise that he can't really keep?

PERLSON: You know, I don't know where this woman got this poll or who she talks to, but I hear a lot of these polls. But I just got back from Ft. Bragg, and these are fellows that just spent 437 days fighting for all of us to be safe. And I want to take this opportunity just to thank President Bush, the commanders on the ground, and my son and all of those fine and heroic soldiers that kept us all safe since 9/11.

The woman that is on this interview with me I think is a rather ungrateful American, but you need to remember that you've been safe and you're sitting safe as you give this interview because of the bravery of my son and our soldiers.

NGUYEN: All right, Nancy, I'm going to have to let you get the last word here and then we've got to go -- Nancy.

LESSIN: We want to tell the people of this country, the majority of those who oppose the war, that there is a solution. Congress has the power right now to end the funding that allows this war to continue. President Bush says funding the war is funding the troops, and we say funding this war is killing our troops. Bring them home now, take care of them when they get here.

PERLSON: Congress needs to get behind the troops.

LESSIN: Never send them to a war based on lies.

NGUYEN: All right, Beverly Perlson, Nancy Lessin, we do appreciate both of you coming on today, and speaking your minds and sharing your insights. Thank you.

HARRIS: OK, boy, that was interesting.

His holiness, the Dalai Lama, on his way to the United States. Just a skyline shot of Seattle, his first stop. Will be in Seattle. He's here at the same time as the pope. The Pope is here next week as you know as well. His holiness will participate in four days of events. But agian, a skyline shot of Seattle, and when we actually get an opportunity to see the pope -- the Dalai Lama's motorcade, we will bring you those shots as well right here in the NEWSROOM.

Strong storms in the South to tell you about. A blizzard up north. Forget about a serene spring. Extreme weather in the NEWSROOM.




HARRIS: Campus rage, plot to attack a high school halted. Lessons from Virginia Tech, a year after the massacre.


HARRIS: Almost a year after the Virginia Tech massacre, are college campuses any safer? Are officials any better at spotting troubled students. A CNN's Special Investigations Unit documentary tackles those questions.

Correspondent Abbie Boudreau has a preview.


ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sometimes the warning signs are clear.

RICHARD SONNEN, PLANNED SCHOOL ATTACK: I hated myself, I hated them, I hated everybody. I was a sick -- I was a sick man.

BOUDREAU: Richard Sonnen was a would-be teen-aged school shooter from Idaho who was planning to stage another Columbine. He was angry, depressed and bullied.

SONNEN: I wanted to get as much revenge as I could.

BOUDREAU (on-camera): And you were prepared to shoot them?


BOUDREAU: And you were prepared to shoot yourself?


BOUDREAU: And end it all?


BOUDREAU (voice-over): Yet, Richard Sonnen didn't end it all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the scene secure and has the gunman been (INAUDIBLE) ?

BOUDREAU: But that wasn't the case for Steven Kazmierczak, whose girlfriend, Jessica Baty says she saw no signs that he would go on his Valentine's Day shooting spree at Northern Illinois University.

He killed five, injured 16, then turned the gun on himself.

JESSICA BATY, NIU GUNMAN'S GIRLFRIEND: He was not abusive towards anybody or anything. Ever. He didn't -- I didn't think he had a violent or aggressive bone in his body. He was just nice. He was a nice guy.

BOUDREAU (on-camera): Listening to you talk, it's almost like he had a double life.

BATY: I -- I don't know how he could have had a double life. I was in his life all the time.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): So how do colleges deal with the growing number of students with mental illness and what more can be done to stop school shootings before they happen again?

(END VIDEOTAPE) HARRIS: And you can see much more on the CNN SIU special "Campus Rage." The documentary looks at efforts to identify the warning signs and stop campus violence. That's tonight, 8:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

NGUYEN: So, flying American today? Please hold.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to American Airlines. All of our representatives are busy at this time.


NGUYEN: Day four of cancellation chaos, in the NEWSROOM.