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The Killings in Syria Continues; Republican Presidential Hopefuls Blame President Obama for Gas Price Increase

Aired February 24, 2012 - 20:00   ET



Good evening everyone. We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with major late developments in the Syrian crisis.

Also we have tonight the best look yet. The clearest picture possible in what life in the city of Homs is really like. How ordinary people live with the daily unreality that their own government is trying to kill them and is succeeding.

First let's give you the very latest, sharp statements tonight from the Obama administration as American. More than 60 other countries, the so-called friends of Syria, met today in Tunisia. That's footage from the meeting. They called on the Assad regime to immediately end the violence which claims at least 91 lives today according to activists.

Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who attended that conference had a warning for the Assad regime.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Assad can still make the choice to end the violation, save lives, and spare his country from descending further into ruin. But if he continues to reject that choice, we and the Syrian people will keep pressure on him until his deadly regime cracks and collapses, because it will. I'm absolutely confident of that.


COOPER: Earlier today President Obama called for greater pressure on Assad to go.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us who've been seeing the terrible pictures out of Syria and Homs recently recognize it are absolutely imperative for the international community to rally and send a clear message to President Assad that it is time for a transition. It is time for that regime to move on. And it is time to stop the killing of Syrian citizens by their own government.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Despite the words, the killing goes on. As we said, at least 91 live today, more than 100 yesterday according to activists and the shelling. This was the 21st day of the bombardment for people living in Baba Amr section of Homs.

Now, in the middle of this, crews from the Red Cross managed to evacuate a small number of women and children. However, this we know the two wounded western journalists remain in Homs in that neighborhood of Baba Amr, so to the bodies and (inaudible). And so do tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians men, women, and children, cold, starving, and still under the gun.

Now, what you're about to see is the work of a French photo journalist, Mani, working with correspondent Jonathan Miller from Britain's channel 4. Mani went into Homs and bore witness to things nobody should have to see. Bombed out homes, starving people, wounded children.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Little girl and her brother both badly wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE KID (through text): After crossing the road the sell hits us. I fell down on the ground. But my cousin was still awake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE KID (through text): After that I don't know what happened. When I woke up I was here. That's all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one can bear to tell her that her father and youngest brother are dead.


COOPER: Her father is dead. Children being orphaned, kids being killed, we see it every single day. The carnage caught mostly by cell phone cameras. The people making these videos stand on the front line using perhaps the best weapon, the only weapon they have against the regime, the simple truth. And they are risking everything to do this. As a little boy explains in a home so cold you can actually see his breath.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): Who is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE KID (through text): Uncle Salah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): Where is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE KID (through text): He is a martyr.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): How did he die? UNIDENTIFIED MALE KID (through text): He was filming the demonstrations.


COOPER: He died filming demonstrations. That child, so many others face more than just tanks and artillery and rocket fire. They face hunger every single day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down the street is a long cue for bread with parts of the city besiege. You can no longer get to shops and neighboring districts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): The citizens are hungry for bread.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): This is the only bakery on the area because of the snipers people are taking more than they need. This is why it's crowded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A couple of blocks away, and you are in Sabil district where many belong to the president's sect.


COOPER: The picture is grim. Cold, hungry people being shelled, in the words of the late, Marie Colvin. But Mani's camera also caught another view of pictures of people who are killed but not yet defeated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Friday is protest day. It's almost a carnival atmosphere. But it's a carnival after defiance as the people of Homs tell their president what they think of him. Mothers, children, fathers, and fighters, this mass of humanity dances for its freedom.


COOPER: These are really some of the clearest pictures yet that we have seen out of Homs. That defiance is finding an outlet, a limited one so far in the home of the free Syrian army which is made up of army defectors and civilians going up against tanks and troops to small arms and rocket propeller grenades. They are outgunned and outmanned. And Mani captured that fighting as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're attacking the government security building across the road, headquarters of the hated in the cover up secret police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Manny, the film maker, finds himself at the heart of the fire fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Urban guerrilla warfare like this is relentless and terrifying. The fighters appear fearless and take crazy risks. But they still find time to look out for Mani.

Back at headquarters, the battle is raging. Free Syrian forces have detonated a bomb below the rooftop position where government snipers are trapped. After more than 12 hours, the snipers are still putting up a fight.

Casualties are mounting. A minibus ambulance then a break neck race to a make shift hospital. Free Syrian fighters have entered the government security building.

It's room-to-room fighting now, stairwell-to-stairwell.

It's a humiliation for President Assad. With bullets still flying, fighters make off with boxes of much-needed ammo.


COOPER: Really gives you a sense of the intimate nature of the fighting, room to room, street by street. It paints a picture of a situation for which there may not be any easy answers or simple solutions.

I talked about it a few moments ago with former CI officer Robert Baer. He's currently intelligence columnist, also Princeton University's Anne-Marie Slaughter. She served early in the Obama administration as director of policy planning at the state department.


COOPER: Anne-Marie, you wrote an op-ed for The New York Times today in which you argue for foreign military intervention. In fact, you call for a basically no kill zone. Explain that.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, FORMER DIRECTOR , POLICY PLANNING, SATE DEPARTMENT: What I'm proposing is that the countries of the region, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, essentially provide what's necessary for the free Syrian army to create zones close to borders that would be no kill zones, would be close enough for humanitarian quarters. To enable them to do that, you'd have to give them very good intelligence, communications, Special Forces on the ground, and some weapons. But not the kind of flooding weapons in that is being proposed and that I think most of us are afraid would result in a long civil war.

COOPER: Bob, you've actually suggested now for kill zones. What does that mean?

ROBERT BAER, INTELLIGENCE COLUMNIST, TIME.COM: Well, it doesn't sound good. But the Syrians right now are considering sending their heavy armor into these cities and using heavy artillery --

COOPER: Against the people. BAER: Against the people in a last ditch effort to take these cities. And there'll be no limits to the violence. Hama -- about 10,000 people were killed. We don't know. If they do that, I don't see how the international community can't react and hit this armor. This Syrian free army can't do it. We should consider that possibility if it really does get that bad.

COOPER: So for when you call, say, a kill zone, you're saying above a certain line you send tanks, the Syrian regime, those will be destroyed.

BAER: Once the tanks cross into Hama or Homs or any other city that's rising and they're turning against the population, you have to hit them from the air. And only we can do that.

COOPER: Anne-Marie, how does this not escalate? How does this not become a situation where countries all around Syria start to send in weapons to the forces that they support? The various different ethnic groups, religious groups they support, political groups. How does it not escalate?

SLAUGHTER: Well, I'm not sure that any of us have proposals that don't have a risk of escalation. I'll just say. I probably would support Bob Baer's recommendation. But I don't see any chance right now the international community is going to accept it.

I think the point of the no kill zones is that you actually could get areas at least to protect the cities that are not now under a siege. And the other assumption is that many, many, many of the Syrian army soldiers actually would defect if given the chance and given a safe place to go. So it's a partial solution. It doesn't save Homs. But I think it's better than doing nothing.

COOPER: Bottom line, Anne-Marie, do you think it's possible to really stop the slaughter in Homs or do you think it's just a matter of time before the regime has succeeded there?

SLAUGHTER: I have to say, I am not optimistic for Homs. The time to have started trying to save Homs was probably a month ago. I mean, there's one encouraging sign. Secretary Clinton said today that the U.S. government was in touch with a number of people or there were reports of many around Assad who were really getting very nervous that they hadn't signed up for this kind of slaughter. So, it is still possible we would see some kind of implosion from the inside. But other than that, my concern is to make sure there no more Homs or as few as we possibly can manage.

BAER: I think it's going to get a lot worse. I think this is a long haul with Syria. The sectarian divisions are dividing this country. And there's no easy solution. And it's not just a matter of regime decapitation. It's a long, long haul.

COOPER: Because there are Christians inside Syria who say, you know, if Assad goes and the Sunnis take over, we're going to be slaughtered. How do you alleviate that concern? BAER: Absolutely. Well, you know, I talk to the Muslim brotherhood a lot. And I ask - and they ask me. They say why doesn't the United States do something? And I said, they're worried about the sectarian problems. And I said for instance, what are you going to do about the -- and the Syrian brothers say we're going to kill them. What do you think? And I said, well, what do you expect?

COOPER: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bob Baer. Appreciate it. Thank you.


COOPER: Let us know what you think about the images we showed you tonight. We are on facebook, Google plus. Add us to your circles. Follow me on twitter @andersoncooper. I'm twitting about it right now.

Up next, foreign crisis in the pump and the candidates trying to make political hay out of it, not just Republican in deed and we are "Keeping Them Honest" hearing the latest in the race with Rich Galen and Hilary Rosen.

And later, something strange is happening again to those young girls in upstate New York town. First it was a mysterious twitching. Now just as mysteriously some of them seem to be returning to normal. Was it all just mass hysteria to begin with? We got a "360" follow- up.


COOPER: Well tonight, high prices at the pump. And the presidential candidates are trying to cash in politically. Candidates as you'll see in both parties and sitting politicians as well, just about everyone who wants to turn pain at the pump into gain at the polls.

We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

First, the facts. Nationwide, the average price of a gallon gas now sells at $3.65. That's up 12 cents on the week and up 11 percent for the year. That's almost double in fact since President Obama took office.

Now, Republican candidates are pointing that out trying to turn it against the president. They're also making a lot of vague promises. Here's Newt Gingrich at Wednesday's CNN debate.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I developed a program for American energy so new future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again. And so every American can look forward to $2.50 a gallon gasoline.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Speaker Gingrich like Rick Santorum blame high prices and what they considered President Obama's failed Middle East policies as well his decision to put the Keystone Excel oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico on hold.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Think about what this president is doing. Here we are now facing coming up into summertime when if we had a pipeline being built right now and it could be being built right now. Right now the president could sign an order to build that pipeline. We'd have the construction jobs and the knowledge of the industry that this would be coming online.


COOPER: Well, Senator Santorum has gone on further recently saying about the Obama administration, quote, "they want higher energy prices. They want to push their radical agenda on the public."

Speaker Gingrich recently put a petition up on his Web site entitled "drill here, drill now, pay less." Suggestion being that the White House is anti-drilling.

As the suggestion, it's not just the candidates. House speaker John Boehner recently held a closed door strategy session with Republican members. According to "The New York Times," he told them quote, "this is a debate we want to have."

But "Keeping Them Honest," there are whole lots of factual problems on the case for blaming this president or frankly any president for prices at the pump. Prices nearly doubled under President Obama. But economists both liberal and conservative point out a key reason why the prices were low when the president took office, the recession. People drove less, flew less, bought fewer products that needed shipping. So demand for oil and gas plummeted and prices were low.

As for the suggestion, that President Obama opposes domestic drilling for gas and oil, "Keeping Them Honest," the pictures not so clear. "Business Week" crunching numbers from the U.S. energy information agency, reports that domestic oil production is actually at its highest level in eight years. However, some of that production was approved before Mr. Obama took office. It's important to note that. Oil imports are down as well. Critics, including the American petroleum institute claims, it is slow in new drilling leases and permits which can impact future production.

In any case, experts we've spoken to from both ends in the political spectrum say there's not much this president or any president can do to effect gasoline prices. The price of gasoline depends on price of crude which depends on global demand. The price also spikes up when rogue nations like Iran make threatening noises and the Middle East erupts. It rises because the American economy is growing again. Just yesterday, President Obama tried to call out his critics. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There are no silver bullets short-term when it comes to gas prices. And anybody who says otherwise isn't telling the truth. Anybody who tells you that we can drill our way out of this problem doesn't know what they're talking about.


COOPER: That may or may not be, but just in case you only think we're keeping Republicans honest. Keeping the president honest, didn't exactly stop Senator Obama from campaigning against high gasoline prices when he was running for president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On gas prices, John McCain's part of the problem. McCain and Bush support a drilling plan that won't produce a drop of oil for seven years. McCain will give more tax breaks to big oil. He's voted with Bush 95 percent of the time.

Barack Obama will make energy independence an urgent priority.


COOPER: Well now, in fairness, Mr. Obama's plan for energy differs sharply from the current GOP talking points. But it's based on the same shaky assumption that presidential policy makes a difference at the pump. And he wasn't the first democratic candidate to do what Republicans are doing now.

2006, the "USA Today" headline reads "Democrats blame Bush for higher gas prices." So, is this just a case of what's gas for the goose is gas for the gander?

Joining us is Rich Galen. He is the associate with the Tea Beacon and Beacon's plan which focuses on America's energy issues, and Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen.

Apologize for the pun there.

Rich, you say the price of gas is absolutely a winning issue for Republicans. You think this is a winning issue for Republicans?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. Well, it's a winning issue for Republicans because there happens to be a democrat in the White House. If the situation were reversed, it would be a winning issue for the Democrats. But to protect the president to this regard, every president since Richard Nixon at least, has said elect me and we'll have energy independence. First of all, we're not going to have energy independence because we have two of the three biggest oil traders are Mexico and Canada. And you want to keep trading with them on oil.

But the other side of this thing is that it is that, that there is no reason for in terms of demand for oil prices to be spiking to $109. It is all as you said in the lead up to this, it is all geopolitical. You have Nigeria. You have Iran. You have all these places where traders say I need to protect myself moving forward and are bidding the prices up, but there's no demand reason for this.

COOPER: Hillary, it is hypocritical for the president to be pushing back on Republicans for using the same kind of rhetoric he used when he was running for president against Bush.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I looked at that ad. And you're right, Anderson. It would have been hypocritical if that's what he said. But what he said was that Republicans are in cahoots with big oil so to the extent that prices do drop, oil companies don't give consumers the benefit of dropped prices. And that really is because the Republicans are being funded by big oil. And you know, when you look at a plan like Mitt Romney's, it's it doesn't take on oil because he's funded - you know, his super PAC is funded by the Koch brothers.

GALEN: I might not even sure what does it means.

ROSEN: Who run, who run big oil. But - but let's talk what actually president can do.

GALEN: The reason, Hilary that Republicans say gasoline prices have risen so far, is because they dropped so far. Oil went down to $35 a barrel at the beginning of the recession.

ROSEN: Right. If you want --

GALEN: Oil companies have not officially brought that up.

ROSEN: If you want it.

GALEN: The price is what the price is.

ROSEN: And what I'm saying is when the prices went down, when the prices go down, consumers can get the benefit. But oil companies have made record profits now. And nobody is dealing with the fact that they're making these record profits as the prices go up. It's not that they're paying it all out.

But wait. Let's just go back to the things that politicians do have control over. If we all agree that presidents can't control the price at the pump. What President Obama has done is he says we're going to depend less on the pump. So he doubled the fuel efficiency standards for cars. And got everybody together, the auto makers and consumers --

GALEN: But that's not going to change anything today.

ROSEN: It does. It changes demand. Rich, I let you talk. Let me talk.

COOPER: Let's not -- guys, let's got talk over each other. Both just stop on this topic. I want to switch gears for a moment. I want to show this event that Mitt Romney held in Michigan today. I want to show images from it. It was attended by about 1200 people in a football stadium. I guess they moved it to the stadium because the other venue was too small. But there were about 65,000 seats in this stadium. Obviously, most of them were empty.

In terms of the optics of this, Rich, was this a big mistake? Because this was an important speech Romney was meant to make. And a lot of folks, you know just the sound of it, just sounded like he was talking to no one out there.

GALEN: Well, of course. I mean, there's got to be something between 700 seats which is where the Detroit economic clog normally has its venue and 65,000 seats. I mean, you'd think somewhere in the city of Detroit there was something in the middle.

But I think - but I was watching this on - I was following this on twitter all day. And you would have thought listening to the national reporters that this was the biggest mistake in the history of American politics. It was not a good optics. And you're showing it right now. It was not a favorable thing.

But I think once people listen to what Romney said in terms of what with he's proposing moving forward, that if anybody cares about it -- I'm not sure many do -- but if they listened to what he said instead of how many empty seats there were, they would be genuinely favorably disposed. And I think Michiganders will show this on Tuesday.

COOPER: Hilary, the other thing reporters focused on and whether, I don't know if this is fair or not, was he mentioned his wife drives a couple of Cadillacs.


COOPER: That's the other thing a lot of reporters were talking about. Is that just the media looking for something to attack this guy on?

ROSEN: Well, it's -- he's a little out of touch. I've got a couple cars here. And my wife's got a couple cars there. And yes, over in California we've got a couple Cadillacs. I mean, you know, it's that tone deafness that has followed him along this trail where he doesn't realize that actually most people just has one car.

And when he talks about, I get to have cars from every one of the Detroit automakers, I think that that makes people cringe a bit in terms of the sense that he's out of touch. And he probably doesn't care about the price of gas because he's filling all of those cars with gas.

One quick point on fuel prices, which is this focus on getting away from oil, alternative energies whether it's natural gas, whether it's solar or wind. You know, the Republicans have simply not invested in this, and that is because the oil companies have held them hostage in congress. So there's not the investment to get us away from being so dependent on --

COOPER: OK. I'm short on time. So Rich, I want you to respond to that then we got to go -- Rich.

GALEN: That is correct. We should have other alternative methods of powers our vehicles. And one of those is natural gas. And I think the president has spoken of that. And I am for that. I think that would make -- especially in heavy duty trucks that would make a huge improvement. I absolutely agree with Hilary that we have to look to alternative fuels.

COOPER: Rich Galen, Hilary Rosen. Appreciate it. Thanks very much.

ROSEN: We end in agreement.

COOPER: That's right.

The tragic suicide coming up of Tyler Clementi, the college student killed himself after his roommate allegedly has Web campus spied on him in an intimate encounter with another man. His roommate is on trial now from invasion of privacy and among other charges. We'll tell you what happened during an emotional first day in court. There are cameras in the courtroom.

Also later, no end to the deadly protest in Afghanistan over NATO troops burning Korans in a military base. We'll have the latest.


COOPER: Up close tonight, the trial has started in New Jersey involving the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi. The Rutgers University student who jumped off a bridge just days after his roommate allegedly used a web cam to spy on his encounter with another man.

The roommate, 19-year-old Daren Ravi went on trial today facing 15 counts including invasion of privacy. Now, at the heart of the case is whether Ravi's alleged actions constituted a hate crime.

Whether they constitute bullying motivated by prejudice against gay people. Last year, Ravi turned down a plea deal that would have led him avoid any jail time whatsoever.

Now a jury is going to have to decide. Jason Carroll has more on what happened in day one of the trial.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Rutgers University student Ravi Dharun arrived at a New Jersey courthouse ready to hear both sides argue whether his actions led to the death of his college roommate, Tyler Clementi.

Dharun used a computer web cam to record Clementi having an intimate encounter with another man. Days later, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

The jury heard vastly different views of the case. The defense says Dharun's actions were childish, but not worthy of a conviction.

STEVE ALTMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Just because we do something stupid and make mistakes, especially when we're young, it doesn't mean we're hateful or we're bigoted, or we're criminal.

CARROLL: Prosecutor Julie McClure laying out a starkly different view saying Dharun not only recorded Tyler, but tweeted more would follow.

JULIA MCCLURE, PROSECUTOR: These acts were purposeful. They were intentional and they were planned. And I will suggest to you that beyond that, they were mean spirited, malicious, and they were criminal.

CARROLL: The prosecution called their first witnesses, students who knew Dharun. Some testified Dharun and his friend Molly Wei who is now cooperating with the prosecution had offered to show their video clip taken of Clementi with the man.

MCCLURE: Did there come a time that you saw something on the screen?


MCCLURE: Can you tell us about that?

CICCO: It came up for a split second. It was a quick video. You saw two males leaning up against the bed making out.

MCCLURE: What do you mean by making out?

CICCO: Kissing mouth to mouth.

MCCLURE: OK. What was he telling people?

SCOTT XU, WITNESS: He was telling people how he set up his web cam to view Tyler's actions that night.

CARROLL: But during cross examination, some of those same witnesses say they could not recall Dharun making anti-gay comments?

ALTMAN: During that period of time, did he ever say anything about displeasures that he was having with Tyler?

XU: No. He actually told me that Tyler was a nice guy.

CARROLL: Sitting in the packed court, Dharun's family as well as Clementi's. Tyler's parents telling CNN in an earlier interview, each day in court is a painful one.

JANE CLEMENTI, TYLER CLEMENTI'S MOTHER: I also just try to focus on the judge and the prosecutor and what's being said and try not to let my mind go to too many different places.

CARROLL (on camera): In the past when you've thought about Mr. Ravi, is there anger associated with those thoughts, hurt? JOE CLEMENTI, TYLER CLEMENTI'S FATHER: I wouldn't say anger. I would characterize it as I'm heartbroken. I'm heartbroken at what happened and about the loss of my son and how it happened. It breaks my heart.


COOPER: Understandably. Jason Carroll joins me now live. So the defense attorney is saying Ravi never cyber bullied Tyler Clementi. Do we know how the defense is planning to explain the web cam set up to record him?

CARROLL: Well, I think what we're going to hear from the defense, Anderson, is that what you had is the case of a young man who was really worried about this older man that Tyler was bringing into the dorm room and perhaps that's the reason that this web cam had been set up.

But I think from the prosecution, it's very clear. What they're going to argue is that the evidence will show through Twitter, through witness accounts, through the web cam that this was harassment that ultimately ended in a young man's death.

COOPER: Jason, appreciate the reporting.

Still ahead, a 360 follow-up. Has a medical mystery been solved or at least is it over? There's a major update on this teenage girls in upstate New York who developed symptoms similar to tourettes syndrome.

We'll tell you about that, but first Susan Hendricks has a look out at other stories we're following at "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, at least eight people were killed and 27 hurt in Afghanistan as protests continued for a fourth straight day. The fury is over the burning of Korans by NATO troop at Bagram Air Field.

A U.S. military official said the books were confiscated because they had extremist inscriptions on them. President Obama has apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

(Inaudible) tonight about how quickly Iran could produce an atomic bomb. A report by international nuclear inspector says Iran has ramped up efforts to produce enriched uranium while blocking (inaudible) key nuclear sites when inspectors were in Iran last week.

And take a look at this. It may be the world's shortest man. He is 22 inches tall, 72 years old and lives in Nepal. If Guinness World Records verifies his height this weekend, he will take the title. And he's hoping for that -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Susan, thanks.

Still ahead, a 360 follow-up, a major twist in the medical mystery. Many of the teens in upstate New York who were overcome by ticks. They seemed to be getting better. Was it just a case of mass hysteria after all? Dr. Drew Pinsky joins me ahead.

And a very close call for the crew of a rescue helicopter that literally broke into pieces. We'll show you the video.


COOPER: A 360 follow tonight to a medical mystery we've been covering closely. Parents in Leroy, New York were terrified when a dozen teenagers at a local high school mostly girls developed strange ticks resembling Tourette's syndrome.

The symptoms came on suddenly in October. Most of the affected teens were girls as I said. This video was taken last October after Tara Sanchez developed uncontrollable twitching.

She was taken to the hospital. She had epilepsy. Her mom said her seizures got worse after the ticks started. During the interview with Dr. Drew last month, she appeared to have a seizure.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These seizures she's had since she was a kid. Is that we're looking at?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. These are from the ticks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are a different kind of seizure that she develops?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are a different kind of seizure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Do we need to call paramedics?



COOPER: Tara's mom said she was fine after the seizure was over. Some of these teens were diagnosed with something called conversion disorder, a mass hysteria, physical response to stress, kind of mass hysteria.

But many of the girls and their parents were not satisfied with that answer. They didn't believe that even though health and school officials ruled out any environmental cause.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich sent a team to the town to try to collect soil samples. She thought that chemicals spilled back in the '70s near the school may have been linked to the ticks. There was never really able to explain what suddenly appeared in just mostly young teenager girls.

The mystery deepened when a 36-year-old woman who lives in the same town seemed to develop the same type of ticks. She said as a teenager she hanged out near where the chemical spill had happened. She too though was diagnosed with conversion disorder. A diagnose that she accepted.


MARGE FITZSIMMONS, DIAGNOSED WITH CONVERSION DISORDER: At this point I have to have faith in my doctors. All the lab work and CAT scans and MRIs that I've had done have come back within range within the normal range limits.

So if it ends up being environmental then does that mean that I don't have hope of getting better? You know, these are thoughts that go through my head.


COOPER: That was Marge Fitzsimmons three weeks ago. Now in that clip, you can see how difficult it was for her to speak at times. Today, we learned that Marge's symptoms have improved so much since that interview that she's returned to work full-time.

The doctor who has treating her has also been treating some of the teens. He told us three of the girls are back to normal. Their symptoms have disappeared and five others are improving significantly.

All of them were diagnosed with conversion disorder. So does that mean the mystery's been solved? Dr. Drew has also been covering this extensively. I talked to him earlier tonight about this new development.


COOPER: So Dr. Drew, the health of these girls seems to be improving. Are you surprised by that?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW": Well, actually I'm not surprise for a couple reasons. One is, we fully anticipated that if this was a conversion reaction or a mass hysteria that it would naturally get better over time even with no treatment.

And they were getting some specific treatment, which can accelerate the recovery. The other issue was whether this was an autoimmune syndrome that can happen after an infection.

And several of the girls got treatment for that as well. They took antibiotics and some corticosteroids. And if it's a pandas, it can accelerate the recovery obviously.

And sometimes the interventions will act as a placebo. If it's strictly conversion can also accelerate the recovery.

COOPER: We talked to one of the doctors treating some of these girls who said a lot of why these girls are improving are based on trust, trust of patience in the doctor and basically trust of the diagnosis because initially, I think a lot of them, the ones I talked to certainly resisted the idea that this was some sort of mass hysteria or conversion disorder. PINSKY: That's right. That's one of the more difficult parts about treating conversion. Anderson, I run a medical department -- department of medicine in a psychiatric hospital for about a decade.

One of my primary responsibilities was to deal with conversion reactions and rule out potential medical causes and deliver that message if I found them to the family and the patient.

And there's a very specific, we call a counter transference. As a doctor, you get a real specific kind of feeling when the family comes at you and they don't like that diagnosis.

And I got tell you some of the moms -- well, I discussed that particular fact with some of the moms. I didn't get that feeling I usually get. That's actually what led me to kind of look around for other causes.

COOPER: For people watching, when they hear it's mass hysteria or conversion disorder, that doesn't mean that they were faking it, right?

PINSKY: It absolutely does not. It's not a subconscious thing. It's not as though they are aware that they're doing these things or that they are thinking about doing it. That's malingering. That's when somebody does something willfully and consciously in order to have secondary gains in order to manipulate the system.

There really at no point have any of the treating team ever said that this is malingering. It's at most conversions and to be fair, you know, when conversions occur and they convert in a mass setting. It's often in an isolated community, a small community. It's often younger women and it's often very dramatic.

COOPER: What about all the attention that the girls have been receiving? Could that have exacerbated their symptoms?

PINSKY: I think it possibly could have. As you know, lately, there hasn't been as much media attention directed to that town. Maybe that has helped this whole thing settle down.

I mean, it's a double edged sword, Anderson. The media attention allowed us to really direct some resources up to them. They got treatment for the pandas. You have Erin Brockovich up there who uncovered that trichloroethylene spill.

I mean, there were things that were discovered as a result of media attention that might benefit this community in this town overall.

COOPER: And you say categorically there maybe -- we may never know exactly just what the cause was.

PINSKY: Yes. It's not as though we'll ever have some smoking gun, some specific test, some specific finding that will tell us absolutely that's what it was. In my mind as I walk away from this or as I watch this thing wind down, I still in my instinct tells me it's some combination that, yes, conversion was here. I always believed that it was part of the story.

But that some of these girls may have had a biological problem to begin with that triggered this and then the conversion ensued in some of the other cases.

So again, it's an important message I want to give out. You never call something a psychiatric diagnosis until you have categorically ruled out other biological problems because psychiatric symptoms could be manifestations of all sorts of biological issues.

COOPER: So you think there may have been a biological issue with one or two of them, but then the others kind of, it was more of a conversion reaction to it.

PINSKY: If you ask me to put a bet down that's where my bet would go.

COOPER: Interesting. Dr. Drew, thanks.

PINSKY: Thanks, Anderson.


COOPER: Well, up next tonight, looks like Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach accused of sexually abusing kids could have more legal troubles coming his way. We'll explain that.

And a fortune in silver and gold coins found at the bottom of the ocean finds a permanent home after a legal battle. We'll tell you who gets it.


COOPER: The "Ridiculist" is just ahead something to make you smile before the weekend, but first, Susan Hendricks is back with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Susan.

HENDRICKS: Hi, Anderson. It appears federal prosecutors are now looking into the sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky. Penn State says it has received a federal subpoena seeking information about the former assistant football coach.

Jerry Sandusky as you may know is under house arrest while he awaits trial on dozens of child sex abuse charges brought by state prosecutors.

Take a look at this. A rescue helicopter at an air strip in Northern Brazil took violently as it landed and fell apart literally. First the cockpit broke into two then the tail section came apart. Crew members suffered only minor injuries.

Look at this. Inside these black bins are tons of gold and silver coins that were loaded on to military transports today in Florida and flown to Spain.

The coins were found in a ship that sank in the 19th Century off the coast of Spain. The American company that discovered the treasure shipped it here and fought for ownership. The U.S. courts ruled the treasure belongs to Spain. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Wow. Worth a lot of money. All right, Susan, thanks.

Coming up, a young woman shows up on the news without really meaning to. "The Ridiculist" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding a group of people we're calling newsroom extras. They kind of like extras in movies except they don't know they're on camera and they are not really being paid for it.

Say for instance, the case of a certain live news broadcast from the University of Florida, I encourage you to keep your eye on the background.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Students can register for the lottery starting tomorrow and registration is hope until Friday. The UAA will notify the winners of the lottery by Monday, December 15th and vouchers can then be picked up from Tuesday through Thursday.

Now students with more than 90 credit hours have the best chance of getting tickets. But everyone is welcome to sign up. Live from the newsroom, Kara Maneli, WUFT News.


COOPER: So that was posted online. The young journalist in the background making the copies seems to have a great sense of humor about it.

On her blog, Kristine writes that she had been working for hours in her project in a dark editing room for hours, went to the printer to pick up some papers, didn't realize the bright light she was staring at was on top of a camera.

She calls it one of her most awkward moments, but Kristine, we think it's frankly adorable. I love how frozen you are and then like you disappear. You can take heart in knowing that it could have been a whole lot worse, a whole lot worse as a matter of fact. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Experts say it is also important that you try to keep the bedbugs out of your home, the best way when you stay in a hotel. You may want to use a plastic bag like this one.


COOPER: See the thing that work in the news, you have to pick your stories very carefully and you have to pick your battles.

I love his response. He just leaves. The real fun starts when you leave the newsroom and you go out for live shots. That's when every Tom, Dick, and drunk Harry shows up sometimes dressed like chickens.


COOPER: We have more coverage of Hurricane Ike still coming up. There are a lot of people if you can believe it or not in Houston a couple bars are still open.


COOPER: I have to say, I was actually pretty lucky with that one. At least the guy had some clothes on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been out for a couple hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's cold out here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people are just out of their minds. What are you going to do? It's nuts.


COOPER: It's one thing when the story's light hearted. What happens when someone takes the focus off a reporter who's covering a really serious story like Kim Kardashian's wedding.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As for the wedding, a lot of the details are kept under wraps. We do know the bride, Kim will be wearing Vera Wang. She's going to be marrying her NBA beau, NBA player Kris Humphries.

Kim also spoke out to Ryan Seacrest. He, of course, produces the reality show on E, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" and while she didn't reveal a lot of juicy details, she did say her dress is going to blow everyone away.


COOPER: That was actually Kris Humphries himself, little known fact. That child was showing the right amount on the Kim Kardashian nuptials. Anyway, the point is, in news as in life, sometimes the best parts are happening in the background.

That's it for us. I'll see you again one hour from now, another edition of 360 at 10:00 Eastern. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.