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Deal in Syria?; Slain Teen's Parents on Capitol Hill

Aired March 27, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

We begin tonight with the latest on the Trayvon Martin case, including reports the lead investigator wanted to file manslaughter case against the shooter, George Zimmerman.

Also "Keeping Them Honest" there's an increasingly bitter divide over the facts of this case, two competing views of what happened that Sunday evening, with each side accusing the other of cherry-picking the evidence.

It starts with these pictures of a younger Trayvon Martin, the first pictures the public saw of him released by his family's attorney and this picture of George Zimmerman, a 2005 mug shot from his assault arrest.

Now, Zimmerman supporters say these pictures unfairly makes Trayvon Martin look angelic and George Zimmerman appear menacing. Newer photos of both have since to light, an older, larger Trayvon Martin and a better dressed Zimmerman, which some Martin supporters say are being used to suggest that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor.

Now, also in dispute the relevancy of George Zimmerman's arrest record. His supporters say that it has no bearing on the case, though in previous weeks it was often cited by the Martin family.

Now details about Trayvon Martin's life are emerging as well, problems at school primarily and his family is saying they have no bearing on what happened the night their son was killed. "The Miami Herald" reporting today the teen had been suspended three times from school, including once fore writing graffiti on a door.

"The Herald" says school police found jewelry and a screwdriver in Trayvon Martin's bag at the time. The officer called it a burglary tool. Martin said the jewelry belonged to someone else. The paper reports the Miami-Dade police investigated, uncovered no evidence that the jewelry was stolen. There were no charges. He wasn't arrested.

Well, today at a House Democratic forum on the case attended by Trayvon Martin's parents, family attorney Daryl Parks said that Trayvon's past has no bearing on his encounter the night of February 26.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DARYL PARKS, ATTORNEY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN'S FAMILY: Whether or not Trayvon Martin was a perfect student is irrelevant to whether Zimmerman's conduct that night was justified. Trayvon was a kid.

He was another unarmed black boy whose life was lost because of unfounded stereotypes, suspicions and fears.


COOPER: We're also now learning there are competing narratives from others including the Sanford police. There's a leaked account of George Zimmerman's statement to the police suggesting that Trayvon confronted him and punched him in the face and slammed his head into the ground.

At least two eyewitnesses apparently confirming that account of Trayvon Martin as the aggressor and one eyewitness saying that it was George Zimmerman actually who cried out for help. But another person who heard the scuffle, but only saw the aftermath, seems to contradict it.


MARY CUTCHER, WITNESS: Zimmerman was standing over the body with basically straddling the body with his hands on Trayvon's back. And it didn't seem to me that he was trying to help him in any way. It didn't seem to me -- I didn't hear any struggle prior to the gunshot. And I feel like it was Trayvon Martin that was crying out because the minute that the gunshot went off, the whining stopped.


COOPER: She didn't actually see any confrontation or see who it was who yelled out.

There's also Martin's girlfriend whose account of her phone call provided by the family attorney suggests he was being followed by George Zimmerman.

Again, aggressor or victim? Two competing accounts, two views of the same incident and it doesn't stop there. The Sanford Police Department's Chief Bill Lee, who's temporarily stepped aside, says he stands behind the investigation which resulted in no charges against George Zimmerman. Yet, at the same time, both ABC News and a local affiliate WFTV report that Sanford police didn't buy Zimmerman's account and wanted to press manslaughter charges against him.

In addition, ABC also citing multiple sources reports the lead homicide investigator, Chris Serino, filed an affidavit pushing for charges the night of the killing. He was overruled according to ABC sources by the state's attorney's office.

Also today, the Martin family released this new photo of their late son taken this year of him and his dad, Tracy Martin.

I spoke to Trayvon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, and one of their attorneys, Ben Crump, and Tracy Martin a short time ago.


COOPER: Sybrina, ABC News is reporting based on multiple sources that the night your son was killed the lead investigator recommended that George Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter. Why do you think he was never charged?

SYBRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: I don't think he was charged because they were trying to protect him. They -- they didn't understand how serious this was. They didn't understand the value of my son's life.

COOPER: Tracy, when you heard that the lead investigator wanted charges to be brought that night, what did you think? What does that make you feel?

TRACY MARTIN, FATHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: It certainly confirmed all of my thoughts that this investigation had been botched from the beginning and that people other than me knew that there was supposed to be an arrest made.

COOPER: Ben, why do you think charges weren't brought that night if the lead investigator thought they should be?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF TRAYVON MARTIN: You know, Anderson, I think for whatever reason Zimmerman profiled him and then even worse I think the police profiled Trayvon Martin.

So it really comes down to this here, Anderson, and you have to ask yourself why are they doing this and what do they say? Not only did the lead investigator say he recommended manslaughter, he didn't buy Zimmerman's story. It didn't add up to him. And all the world knows it just don't add up when you listen to the tape.

COOPER: Zimmerman's account now which was leaked from police reports, claims that Zimmerman was heading back to his vehicle to await police, was attacked, Sybrina, by your son. Zimmerman claims your son punched him, banged his head against the sidewalk and tried to take his gun. Do you believe any of that?

FULTON: I believe if there was an altercation. I believe my son was defending himself.

COOPER: Tracy, when you hear that George Zimmerman says he was walking back to his vehicle, does that -- and that it was your son who attacked him, does that ring at all possible to you, ring true?

T. MARTIN: It really don't, Anderson.

And that's the police accounts, but what the police told me was certainly totally different than that. So I'm sure that Trayvon didn't attack Zimmerman.

COOPER: Ben, information about that night is not the only the information that's now leaked out to the public. Trayvon's school records have also been leaked. Why do you think these leaks are now appearing? Is this an attempt to basically impugn his reputation?

CRUMP: Anderson, I think you absolutely hit it on the nail. What relevance does it have to anything that happened on February 26? You have the whole hoodie thing. And as you told us you wear a hoodie, and you have never been stopped for being suspicious. Anybody who's ever been suspended, I guess you hear the Sanford police say that's a death sentence. And that's not relevant. That has no bearing.

The only relevance is Zimmerman disobeyed the police, and got out of the car and had this violent altercation with Trayvon. And Trayvon is dead and can't tell us his version of it. Zimmerman's version just doesn't add up when you look at where Trayvon was killed at. His car was nowhere near where his body was found.

COOPER: Tracy, you said George Zimmerman's account differs from what the police told you that night. What did the police tell you when they talked to you?

FULTON: I was told that Trayvon approached Zimmerman, asked Zimmerman did he have a problem. And Zimmerman said no. And Trayvon supposedly said, now you do, homey.

And Zimmerman supposedly was reaching into the pocket for his cell phone. At that point, Trayvon punched him, and the scuffle ensued, which, again, knowing Trayvon, Trayvon, those are not the words of Trayvon. Trayvon is not confrontational. He would only be trying to get home.

CRUMP: Anderson, I have to say this.

The 911 tapes say it all. Those 911 tapes say it all. Anderson, we heard what the people say. Then we know he was on the phone with his girlfriend from 7:12 to 7:16. Where's this stuff that Zimmerman says, where does that come into play where they have this exchange of words and stuff?

If you listen to that tape, for about 40 seconds, Trayvon is crying for help. There is no self-defense here. And the self-defense everybody would tell you stops, it does not last 40 seconds with him crying for help.

COOPER: You know, some of these questions I hate to ask you, Sybrina. I hate to put you in this position. But I know you have been asked and I know you have talked about this a lot.

When you and I talked before, you said without a doubt that is Trayvon's voice on the 911 call crying out for help. There's now an eyewitness who says that -- who's been interviewed who says that he saw George Zimmerman crying out for help.

FULTON: People can say anything they want to. I just personally don't believe it. I know that it was my son that was crying out for help. So right now, we're hearing a lot of speculations and people just want to say whatever they want. COOPER: Sybrina, in the weeks after the shooting, a lot of people were looking at George Zimmerman's prior run-in with police from several years ago. Now that information is being leaked out about your son, about his school records, about things he may have said or done in the past, do you think that's fair, or do you think that's inappropriate?

FULTON: I think it's inappropriate, number one, because he was a minor, number two, because he was a victim.

And I don't think that has any relevance to the case. My son was not doing anything that particular day. Whatever he had dealings with school, it was not criminal. It was not violent. He's never been arrested.

COOPER: Ben Crump, Sybrina Fulton, Tracy Martin, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you. And again, I'm so sorry for your loss.

FULTON: Thank you.



COOPER: Let's talk about, legally, what bearing if any Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman's past could or should have in the case.

Joining us now, attorney Areva Martin, who is no relation to the martin family, and Mark Geragos.

Areva, you're outraged by the leak of Trayvon Martin's school records. Why?

AREVA MARTIN, ATTORNEY: Anderson, when I first heard of it, it was last night, it just made my blood boil, because we're talking about a minor, we're talking about records that are protected by both federal and state law.

To get someone's school records typically there has to be written consent from the parents if we're dealing with the minor. Now, some would argue that your rights to privacy might die when the person dies. But in this case in particular, the sensitive information, you know, there's precedents in other cases where information that is as sensitive as this, as personal as this, there's an effort to protect that information and not disclose it.

We don't know when these records were sought by the police. But we do know that they have been leaked in order to -- we can't imagine that anything was intended by the records except to malign this young man's character and to now paint a picture he's not the good kid we have been hearing about for the last 30 days or so.

That really troubles me. Kids have a right to privacy. Their records are protected by law. I think in this case in particular the police department should have acted with more integrity. COOPER: Mark, what do you make about the leaks coming out of the police department and also now we're learning about the school records?

MARK GERAGOS, ATTORNEY: Well, I couldn't agree more.

First of all, none of these records would ever come in to any case. They're just completely irrelevant. It's nothing more than a smear campaign. I hesitate to lay the blame at the police department. I don't know if somebody got bought off over at the school and released them.

But, boy, if you track this down to the police department, I can't imagine anything worse than in the middle of this firestorm that they're releasing records that they know for a fact beyond any fact, any lawyer is going to tell you this is never coming in. It's nothing more than to try to demonize or dirty up the victim in this case.

COOPER: Well, Mark, would George Zimmerman's past run-in with police in which he was arrested, would that be something that could come into the trial?

GERAGOS: Actually, interestingly enough, it conceivably could. The prosecution if they decided to go forward, they may be able to use depending on what the records were and depending on how they frame it to the judge as to how they want to use it or for what purpose, it might come in.

As an aside, I will tell you, you know, everybody's first reaction to this case is why didn't they arrest, why didn't they arrest? I think the state's attorney actually -- and I rarely agree with any prosecutor, but I think the state's attorney when you hear a lot of the evidence that is coming out now and the differing witnesses' accounts I think they probably had some pause here. They want to investigate it.

They want to make sure that before they file charges they didn't want to jump the gun, because one of the problems you have got is if you file charges immediately and you don't have enough evidence then maybe they have to get dismissed until you do a further investigation. Some of the stuff that has come out has given a different perspective to all of this. I think they should be applauded for doing a thorough investigation first.

COOPER: Areva...


A. MARTIN: I have an issue with that though, Mark. I just want to say I agree with you that a thorough investigation is appropriate in every case and we want all of the facts to be gathered.

But what we're not hearing about is that investigation. We're not hearing that an investigation was under way by this police department, you know, since the time of the young man's death. What we are hearing is that Trayvon was tested for drugs and that Trayvon's records were requested. We are not hearing about an investigation to get to the truth. That's what's puzzling here. This was troubling.


GERAGOS: Right. Don't misunderstand me. I don't disagree with you about the police investigation, but my understanding of how they operate down there is that the police will take a file over to the state's attorney and then the state's attorney can do their own investigation.

So I think that the police, you know, they're the ones -- hopefully not, but it appears that they're the ones who are leaking this information to dirty up Trayvon.


COOPER: How common is it for police to leak out -- to leak out information because they have been criticized now for weeks?

GERAGOS: Yes, and I think that's a fairly common practice. I see it happen all the time in my practice when we're representing the victims in a shooting, that the next thing you hear about is all kinds of irrelevant stuff to try to demonize the victim to basically say he had it coming. That's what's so offensive about this.

COOPER: Let me ask, Areva, though, is there a double standard? If it's not OK to look at Trayvon Martin's record, if you think that is -- and wouldn't end up court, why is it OK to look at George Zimmerman's past arrest?

A. MARTIN: Totally different, Anderson.

Trayvon is the victim here. Trayvon didn't commit any crimes. When you look at the records, this young man was suspended from school. Zimmerman didn't know anything about that, so there can't even be a claim that this information may have caused him to believe that Trayvon was dangerous or give him cause to act in the way that he acted. These are totally unrelated matters happening at school.

As the mom has already told us in numerous interviews, Trayvon has no criminal record. He's never been arrested. There's nothing in his school records to suggest that this information is even relevant. I wonder, Anderson, if Trayvon was an honor student, if he was a straight-A student, if he was on his way to Harvard, would we see these records being released by the police department? I don't think so.

COOPER: Interesting.

Look, we will leave it there. Areva Martin, Mark Geragos, always good to have you on. Thank you.

As always, more on this at Let us know what you think and we're on Facebook and Google+. We're talking about this on Twitter right now and I have been tweeting about it. A lot of folks are responding. It's @AndersonCooper is the address and let me know what you think. Should this matter, should any of their backgrounds matter?

Other news tonight, the terrifying moments caught on tape as an airline captain wanders apparently ranting through the cabin, then a confrontation, emergency landing, passengers wrestling the captain to the ground. But the pilot, that's not even half the story. We have the terrifying details of how a clever co-pilot may have averted the disaster, next.


COOPER: "Raw Politics" now and open mikes. President Obama's remarks to Russia's president the other day about arms negotiations setting off a campaign trail firestorm. Here's that moment again in case you missed it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.


COOPER: Well, Republicans quickly pounced on a president they painted as ready to give away the store if reelected and for underestimating they say the Russian threat.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is without question our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors. The idea that he has some more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.


COOPER: Well, that remark and others drew some return fire and campaign advice from Russia's president.


DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I would advise two things to all U.S. presidential candidates, including the person you just mentioned.

My first advice is to listen to reason when they formulate their positions. Reason never harmed a presidential candidate. My other advice is to check their clocks from time to time. It's 2012, not the mid-1970s.


COOPER: Well, remains to be seen whether President Obama welcomes the assist. But he did seem OK with joking about the incident today.


OBAMA: First of all, are the mikes on?


OBAMA: Look, what I said yesterday is I think something that everybody in this room understands.


COOPER: Joining us now, former George W. Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Stephanie Cutter, Obama 2012 deputy campaign manager.

Stephanie, a lot of Republican critics are going to say, look, the president will be virtually a different person if he's reelected. That this flexibility he referred to means he will make a beeline for the hard left or change his policies. What's your response?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA 2012 DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think that that is -- just doesn't hold true. Look at his record. It's one of the toughest foreign policy records of any administration. You know, we have got Gadhafi, we put an end to the war in Iraq, we're drawing down in Afghanistan. We have the toughest ever sanctions against Iran and for the first time ever Russia is joining us in the sanctions.

So I don't think the record...


CUTTER: ... true. Well, the president explained it. You aired a little bit of the tape, that we are in the last eight months of an election year. It's very unlikely that a Republican Congress is even going to give us funding for a missile defense system, but it doesn't mean we're not committed to implementing it.

In fact, we're already implementing it for more than a year now. So the facts speak for themselves. There's no, you know, secret messaging in here. It's all out in the open. The president spoke to it today.

COOPER: Ari, House Speaker John Boehner said he didn't think the president should be criticized when he's overseas on a foreign policy trip like this. A, do you agree with that and, B, what did you think of what President Obama said?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he's just off Marine One, so he's one so let me get into it.


COOPER: OK. FLEISCHER: Anderson, I think this one of the worst displays I have ever seen of a president on foreign soil or domestic. What He's essentially saying is give me space because I have to act one way before the election and then after the election I have the flexibility to actually do what I really want to do.

In the case of missile defense, what the president is saying to the Russians, there's no negotiation, we're the only ones we have it. The president is saying after the election he said I will yield to you on missile defense. If that is what the president thinks, why can't he say it now? Why does he have to lean in and whisper it so nobody can hear what he is saying?

COOPER: Stephanie?

CUTTER: That's just not true.

The president spoke just this week in South Korea to the entire world about missile defense. We have taken the steps necessary to implement missile defense.

So, Ari, you think this is all a ruse? You know it doesn't work that way.

FLEISCHER: Well, actually, it's a pattern with President Obama.

All you have to do is look at his race against Hillary Clinton interestingly. If you remember, right before the Ohio primary, President Clinton (sic), then Senator Clinton (sic), advocated pulling out of NAFTA if we don't renegotiate NAFTA. And later we found out that just three weeks before he said that, he sent his top economic aide, Austan Goolsbee, to meet with the Canadians and Austan he said to them basically give the president space.

What Austan reportedly said was this is politically maneuvering. It's not President Obama, Senator Obama's policy. It's a pattern with President Obama. I would love to hear from Stephanie, can she assure us that the president has made no other statements like that to say Arab leaders or Palestinian leaders, give me space and after the election I will have more flexibility to deal with Israel?

Can you assure us he's not done that?

CUTTER: Well, if we're going to bring up an attack which is slightly ridiculous that is four years old about NAFTA treaty and Austan Goolsbee going to Canada, why don't you look at the trade agreements that we have gotten through that are balanced to protect American workers and protect our environment and have greater impact than -- just the Korea trade agreement that we got through, have a greater impact on American jobs of the last nine treaties combined?

So I think that the facts speak for themselves rather than the political innuendo and talking points that are being thrown at us. The facts speak for themselves. This is a sitting president with a strong foreign policy record, with a proven foreign policy record. Al Qaeda decimated. Iraq, ended a war, a war that even President Obama back in 2002 said that we shouldn't have fought. We're drawing down Afghanistan.

We got bin Laden and we're potentially running against -- let's not forget the important piece of this conversation. We're likely running against someone who says that Russia is our greatest geopolitical foe, but in his famous foreign policy white paper didn't even bring up Russia until page 31 of a 42-page document. And then it was only platitudes. So this kind of a ridiculous debate that we're having.


FLEISCHER: You notice Stephanie didn't answer either question.

Search didn't address the fundamental process fact here. Not President Obama's conduct of foreign policy and treaties, but that he says one thing before a crucial election and then acts totally differently after the election has passed. In other words, what's most important to President Obama is maneuvering, political maneuver to get through what I guess he views as flexibility day, which the rest of us call Election Day.

Once flexibility day is over for President Obama, then he's going to be free to take other positions and that's what's so troublesome about what he said on this issue. It's a window into how he operated. I think it's a window into what he might do as far as taxes. After the election he's going to be free to raise taxes on people, free to have more debt piled on the country.

I think he's going to change his position on gay marriage as well and he will probably come out for it after the election. These are the troublesome things about a candidate who says one thing before the election and then so badly and publicly says give me space after the election and I will have more flexibility to be who I really am and do what I really want.

COOPER: Stephanie, just got to briefly give you the final thought.

CUTTER: Well, my final thought is that this is, you know, a conversation that's based on political talking points, not based on facts.

The president has the strongest foreign policy record of a sitting president in generations. And those are the facts that remain true. If there's one thing that voters don't doubt in this election is the ability of this president to keep this country safe and make the right foreign policy decisions based on sound judgment.

He's not going back and forth, unlike some potential opponents of ours. He's not checking with his lawyers before he holds Iran accountable. And this is no window into his thinking. His thinking is out there for everybody to see. He has a proven record for three- and-a-half years.


FLEISCHER: If you can hear whispers, it sure is.

COOPER: We have got to leave it there.

Stephanie Cutter, I appreciate you being on.

CUTTER: Well, as you...

COOPER: Sorry, go ahead.

CUTTER: OK. Thank you, Anderson. No, I was just going to talk about some of President Bush's whispers, but that's OK.


Stephanie Cutter, Ari Fleischer, I appreciate it, both.

The Syrian government is making yet another promise. The regime has now agreed to a United Nations peace plan, but what we're seeing and hearing from eyewitnesses in Syria tell another story. A Syrian activist said this is just the latest lie from Assad. That's next.


COOPER: Another "Keeping Them Honest" report tonight. The Syrian regime is again telling western leaders what they want to hear while it continues to kill its people, including children. Syria today accepted a United Nations peace plan that includes a government cease-fire. U.N. Arab League envoy Kofi Annan called it an important first step, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was less generous.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Given Assad's history of overpromising and under-delivering, that commitment must now be matched by immediate actions. We will judge Assad's sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says.


COOPER: Well, "Keeping Them Honest," words are cheap, and we have heard so many lies from the Assad regime in the last year.

In November, the Arab League said the Syrian government agreed to stop killing its people and to withdraw its troops from cities. That very same week videos like this revealed that promise was a lie.





COOPER: The video reportedly shows government forces firing on protesters. Again, we can't independently verify the video or the others we're about to show you, because Syria severely restricts reporters' access.

In February, three months after its promise to the Arab League government, Bashar al-Assad's forces, well, they did this.





COOPER: Assad's forces shown here on a rooftop, launching a big assault on the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs. Much of it was reduced to rubble. Witnesses, including western reporters, described it as a massacre, a slaughterhouse. Again, we can't vouch for the voracity of this video.

Today President al-Assad toured Baba Amr for the first time since the siege. Syrian state television broadcast this footage of him. While he was posing for the cameras, opposition groups said at least 57 people were killed across Syria today, some of them in that city.

This video shows injured kids at a field hospital in the Ayadi (ph) neighborhood of Homs. The hospital, of course, was not part of Assad's tour today.

In another neighborhood in Homs, shelling left this house in flames. Again, we can't vouch for the video or this next one shot yesterday, we're told, in Homs.





COOPER: The question is, does this look like a commitment to peace? Does this next video sound like peace is coming any time soon?




COOPER: All of this is happening in Homs. The Syrian regime is once again making a promise for peace, promising peace while bodies like this one lie in the streets of Homs, waiting to be recovered.

Earlier, I talked to a Syrian activist, Zaidoun.


COOPER: President Assad, as you know, visited Homs today for the first time since the city was bombarded by his forces. The Syrian news agency says that he inspected destruction caused by armed terrorist groups and that he was greeted by people saying, "We are with you until death." When you hear those reports, what do you say?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via phone): Yes. This was heroic. Wonderful. Declaring victory over his own people. This was -- I should envy myself. I mean, I envy my own people for this. Our government has reached a point where declaring a victory, shelling and bombarding civilians have become a victory. This was wonderful.

I don't know what did he find in Baba? That sure there is no single person right now in Baba. But I mean, this is really fantastic. Why shouldn't he be so happy? Our president has declared victory over his own people. Wonderful.

COOPER: The Syrian government also says they've accepted the U.N.'s six-point peace plan today. Assad has agreed to other reforms in the past, other peace plans in the past. He's failed to implement them. Do you think this is going to be any different?

ZAIDOUN: Along with other activists, I could meet Mr. Kofi Annan who last night visited Syria. And I think there is another (UNINTELLIGIBLE) next week with activists, visiting other cities.

We explained the situation. We said that international communities are silent and may be smiling at us or just mocking at us being killed. But we are just trying our best to see what is next.

Now, what I can say, that the government said yes it is accepting the six-point plan. But believe me, if the government says, "Good morning," I believe it is evening. And this is what exactly I told Mr. Annan. If the government says, "Good evening," I believe it is morning. They lie even if you ask them their names. So they say they accept. I have my doubts. I should keep my hopes. This is true. But this is really hard to believe.

COOPER: We've seen the bombing, the terror in Homs and Baba Amr. We've seen attacks in Idlib and elsewhere. And we've heard the daily death toll now for about a year, for more than a year. Has the regime won? I mean, has the regime effectively crushed the opposition?

ZAIDOUN: No way. There is no way they win. There is here 23 million Syrian people who will win. There is no way we surrender. There is no way we give up. Kill as many as you want. We are here. We will stay forever.

COOPER: Zaidoun, thank you very much for talking to us.

ZAIDOUN: You're welcome. Thank you very much.


COOPER: Talking to us at great risk, I should point out. Is it discipline or violence? Former employees and students of a boarding school say the kids there were being abused. Gary Tuchman went to see and find out for himself in part one of our latest installment of our series, "Ungodly Discipline" investigation.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some of the kids who are now adults tell us that you used to choke them.


TUCHMAN: What is it you did to them?

KENT: I used pressure points to restrain them.

TUCHMAN: What does that mean?

KENT: You have places on your body where nerve endings are real close on your skin.

TUCHMAN: Show me. Where on my body would you...

KENT: Right there.

TUCHMAN: Show me on my body.

KENT: Right there.



COOPER: Welcome back. A new report in our "Ungodly Discipline" series tonight. For more than a year, we've been investigating accusations of child abuse under the guise of religious discipline. We've looked at a man who's written a popular book extolling the virtues of striking children with rods and belts and switches.

We've also looked at some small religious schools where students say they were disciplined in the name of God and virtue is allegedly taught through violence.

Well, tonight, a new report. Another school, this time in western Montana.

Gary Tuchman investigates.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Here in this part of Big Sky Country, disturbing allegations are just over the horizon, in the town of St. Ignatius, Montana, where the religious boarding school Pinehaven Christian Children's Ranch is located. It's been run for nearly four decades by this 82-year-old preacher. (on camera) Is it troubled kids or kids with troubled parents? Who's coming here?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): And Bob Larson is blunt. Any kid who comes here is expected to behave and praise the lord.

(on camera) What do you try to teach these children, first of all, about Christianity?

LARSSON: Well, that God loves them. And God is the answer of everything. He's the ruler of the universe. He made man. He made the world. He made the rules.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But some say there's more to Pinehaven than teachings. They say there's violence. Denise and Dave Bingham were house parents at Pinehaven for five years until 2010, in charge of taking care of children who lived in one of the cabin-style homes on the ranch.

DENISE BINGHAM, FORMER HOUSE PARENT AT PINEHAVEN: Children are hurt at Pinehaven. When kids won't obey, physical pain is used to get them to comply. Whether it's pressure points, sometimes they were drug [SIC] down the hill. Sometimes they were choked. But it was used to get them to comply.

I think God weeps when he thinks about the wrong that's been done. Of course he does.

TUCHMAN: The owner of Pinehaven says these allegations are not true.

LARSSON: I'm not saying they lied. I think this is their perception of what happened as they look back on it. And I can't answer their perception.

TUCHMAN: James Mason was a child at Pinehaven, entering at age 13, staying for six years.

JASON MASON, FORMER STUDENT AT PINEHAVEN: First time I was choked was in April of 1995. It was in my bedroom.

TUCHMAN: Mason was then 14 years old when he says he was physically disciplined by one of the house parents after being accused of misbehaving.

MASON: And at that point, he lifted me up by the neck against the door and held me up until I pretty much went limp. And I was subdued, and I was contained. And I was no longer a threat, as much as a 14-year-old can be to a former Army full-grown man.

TUCHMAN: Melissa Stasiuk was also a child at Pinehaven and dealt with the very same house parent. MELISSA STASIUK, FORMER STUDENT AT PINEHAVEN: He picked me up by the -- under my neck. Just like at my trachea. And he's about 6'2", and I'm about 5'0". I'm maybe 4'10". And he picked me up by my throat and slammed me down on the kitchen table.

TUCHMAN: The house parent they're talking about is named Ned Kent, who still works at Pinehaven.

(on camera) Some of the kids who are now adults tell us that you used to choke them.

KENT: That's totally false.

TUCHMAN: What is it that you did to them?

KENT: Used pressure points to restrain them. But...

TUCHMAN: What does that mean?

KENT: You have places on your body where nerve endings are real close...

TUCHMAN: Show me. Where on my body?

KENT: Like right there.

TUCHMAN: Show me.

KENT: Right there.

TUCHMAN: So you do two hands or one?

KENT: Usually just one.

TUCHMAN: So you'd put your hands on pressure points, and what was the purpose of that?

KENT: To stop them from flailing or to stop them from hitting somebody. Or to stop them from whatever behavior they happened to be doing at the time

TUCHMAN: Could that not be interpreted as choking if an adult puts pressure points on a child if he's as much smaller?

KENT: I suppose it could be.

TUCHMAN: Do you still do that?

KENT: No. We've been told we cannot do that. So we don't do that anymore.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Bob Larsson says he was the one that told Ned Kent no more pressure points. But they could be misconstrued. But former student Lauren McClary says she experienced other types of violence, too, with a different house parent. LAUREN MCCLARY, FORMER PINEHAVEN STUDENT: I had my hair in a ponytail, and he grabbed me by the ponytail. And he dragged me up the stairs.

TUCHMAN: Bob Larson disputes that. He introduced us to some former students who say the accusations of abuse are not true.

TROY BAKER, FORMER PINEHAVEN STUDENT: No, there was tough love. But there was nothing cruel or unusual. I mean, tough love means separating people from drugs and alcohol and bad influences that brought them to Pinehaven in the first place.

CURTIS SWANSON, FORMER PINEHAVEN STUDENT: Like if I wouldn't have gone there, I would have had a criminal record. I would have done a whole bunch of stuff that I shouldn't have. And it really kept me, like, on track and gave me a better place to be in, like, ethics and stuff like that. So I'm really thankful for Pinehaven. Pinehaven literally saved my life.

TUCHMAN: But the accusations of abuse are detailed and numerous. To Bob Larsson, there's a reason.

(on camera) Why do you think so many people are saying such bad things?

LARSSON: Ultimately, we only have one enemy who wants to defeat the good that's in the world, and that's Satan. And I really believe that he is a real personality, and he works to try to stop the works of God and cause the evil that keeps going on that will happen. I think that he influences people. The Bible says he's the Father of Lies, and people sometimes believe his lies.

TUCHMAN: So you think that people are saying bad things because they're influenced by Satan?

LARSSON: Underneath it all, that is what's happening. Yes.


COOPER: It's an interesting defense. How many alleged victims did you talk to?

TUCHMAN: We talked to 12 people, former teachers and former students, who all alleged abuse. We also talked with many more people on the telephone and via e-mail.

COOPER: And did the students pay to go to this school?

TUCHMAN: Bob Larson tells us there's no tuition; it's just donations. But the students we talked to said their parents shelled out thousands of dollars a year for them to stay there.

They also tell us something interesting. They say they had to do most of the construction work. The students built the houses on the ranch. And they believe that this ranch could not survive without the student labor. Bob Larson denies that, but he does admit the students build the houses and they do the construction work. He says it's a good life lesson for the students.

COOPER: And part two of your report is tomorrow night.


COOPER: Where will you go to now?

TUCHMAN: Part two is tomorrow night. We'll show you a clip in a minute, but to set it up, it may surprise you very much to know that Pinehaven is unaccredited, unlicensed, uncertified by the state of Montana. The only people who watch over Pinehaven is Pinehaven. So take a look.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): If teachers and counselors were certified and licensed by the state of Montana, could they have helped to prevent or deal with certain horrifying situations? For example, former student James Mason says he was sodomized by another student.

MASON: I was raped. I never told anybody that. He threatened me with pliers to my throat and testicles if I would ever tell anybody.


TUCHMAN: The stories are sad, Anderson, and there's a lot of point-counterpoint. But it doesn't bode well for Pinehaven that this guy, Ned Kent, has acknowledged to me publicly for the first time that, indeed, apply so-called pressure points.

COOPER: Do we know when -- when they were told they could not do that any longer?

TUCHMAN: Not exactly sure of the timetable. There are some who theorize, some students, that they were told the day we arrived.

COOPER: Really?

TUCHMAN: That's their theory. That being said, Bob Larsson says it was a long time ago, but he can't remember exactly when he told Ned Kent not to do those pressure points.

COOPER: Look forward to tomorrow's report. Stunning stuff. Gary, thanks.

Incredible fighting moments on a flight from New York to Las Vegas to tell you about. Passengers wrestled the plane's pilot to the floor after he apparently started acting erratically, talking about bringing the plane down. Hear what happened next.


SESAY: Hi. I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

Breaking news from Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign. A spokesman said late tonight that Gingrich is laying off about one- third of his campaign staff and cutting back on his schedule. The spokesman calls the move a reorganization and a refocusing of the campaign.

A chaotic scene today aboard a JetBlue flight from New York to Las Vegas. The flight was diverted to Texas because the pilot was acting erratically. One passenger said it was like something just triggered him to go off the wall. Others said he was talking about taking the plane down.

The co-pilot locked the captain out of the cockpit, and flight attendants and passengers wrestled him to the floor. JetBlue describes it as a medical situation involving the captain. He was removed from the plane and taken to treatment.

Lawyers for the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn says today that there's no significant evidence that he knew that the young women at parties he attended were being paid for sex. Strauss-Kahn is under investigation in France, accused of participating in a prostitution ring.

Debris swept away from Japan by last year's tsunami could start reaching North America any time now. That's what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is telling Reuters. It includes this fishing boat that recently popped up near Canada. Officials initially predicted the debris would arrive next year, but it's moving faster than anyone expected -- Anderson.

COOPER: The bat mobile, you think I'm kidding? "the RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList."

And tonight, Gotham City is on the verge of chaos because Batman got pulled over by the police. That's right. In Silver Spring, Maryland, Batman himself was stopped by officers driving southbound Route 29 in his Lamborghini/Batmobile. It wasn't even a dark night. It looks like it's the middle of the day, frankly.

So, was Batman, perhaps, speeding to foil a diabolical plot by the Penguin? Or maybe rushing to rescue Robin from a warehouse that was moments away from exploding? Nope. The caped crusader was pulled over because of improper tags. Wah, wah.

Holy minor traffic infraction, Batman.

Apparently, in the state of Maryland, the Batman symbol alone is not a sufficient license plate. Duly noted.

The Montgomery County police say they told Batman to get the right tags and released him without charges, leaving him free to return, of course, to the bat cave. And the police went off to pull over Spider-Man for not wearing a seat belt.

Turns out the Batman in a Lamborghini guy is actually a real-life superhero. Police say he dresses up to visit sick kids in the hospital. So hopefully, Batman will get the proper tags. If this happens again, a little tip for the Montgomery County Police. Anyone who watched that 1960 TV series knows the best way to get Batman to do anything is to bring on the laughing gas.


BURT WARD, ACTOR: It's the funniest trick anyone's pulled on us.

ADAM WEST, ACTOR: It's even funnier than the Joker. I can't stop laughing. Here, take this. It's a sad pill. To neutralize the laughing gas. It'll clear our minds.


COOPER: Acting!

Luckily, it seemed like a very cordial traffic stop. Because the last thing the police want is to get into fisticuffs with Batman. First the music starts up. Next thing you know you're on a boat. All those graphics start flying around.




COOPER: It's like "Mad Men" music.

So let this be a warning to superheroes everywhere. While you're busy thwarting villains and protecting the public -- and don't get me wrong, everyone appreciates that -- just don't forget the little stuff like putting tags on your car.

That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.