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Outrage Over Syria; Interview With Alberto Gonzales

Aired May 30, 2012 - 22:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with newly discovered atrocities in Syria, the regime's ongoing and outright lies about what is happening and the two super powers protecting dictator Bashar al- Assad's hold on power.

The backdrop today, another massacre, this time in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. This is a scene more than about 100 miles from the massacre that took place in Houla, 13 bodies in this one discovered last night, all with their hands tied behind their backs, all of them shot to death -- Syrian dissidents telling "The New York Times" that they were electrical workers who refused to end their protest strike against the government.

If that is true, along with the manner of killing, it strongly suggests that either government forces or pro-government militias were responsible.

There, of course, is no such thing as absolute proof of that or who was responsible for the slaughter of dozens and dozens of children that took place in Houla, which was on Friday. But both fit a pattern.

And, today, British correspondent Alex Thomson finally, bravely, managed to get into Houla to speak with the survivors of that atrocity. He's going to join us shortly.

But we said this last night, and it definitely bears repeating, that the regime not only denies involvement in the Houla murders. It also denies any violation of the nearly two-month-old cease-fire at all.


FAISAL MIQDAD, SYRIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): During this time, Syria has not done a single violation of Annan's plan or the initial understanding between Syria and the United Nations.


O'BRIEN: So, "Keeping Them Honest," that is simply just not true.

As 360 first reported, Government forces were shelling Homs on day one of the cease-fire, just hours after Bashar al-Assad toured that city. And about Houla, even U.N. diplomats speak pretty bluntly.


RUPERT COLVILLE, SPOKESPERSON, U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE: What is clear is government forces were involved. They were shelling using tanks and artillery. And appears to be Shabiha militia entering the houses and slaughtering people in what is really an abominable crime that took place throughout the day on Friday.


O'BRIEN: So, the Assad regime is flat-out lying about the cease- fire and there's more and more evidence of its likely complicity in the Houla massacre and so many others.

Yet, the regime is protected diplomatically by a pair of superpowers. That would be Russia and China. They are blocking tougher measures in the U.N. Security Council. The Chinese Foreign Ministry today saying: "China opposes military intervention and does not support forced regime change."

A senior Russian diplomat saying decisions on military operations in Syria cannot be guided only by emotions.

Now, recall that his boss this week tried to spread the blame around by equating the carnage in Syria to a night at a disco.


SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): It takes two to dance. It takes two to tango. Even though -- in the current situation in Syria, what we have is not the -- really tango. We're having a disco party, where many players are dancing. And they should all dance in the same way.


O'BRIEN: Yes, that translation is correct.

He's comparing the massacre to a disco party just days after it happened. Well, since then, there has been another, with the regime again strongly implicated in both and as many as 12,000 people killed over the last 15 months.

Whatever you think about how it is going to end and what is going on in Syria, absolutely nobody is there dancing.

As we mentioned, Alex Thomson of Britain's Channel 4 was in Houla talking to survivors of that massacre. He joins us now by phone from Damascus.

Alex, in your visit, I know you spoke to one man in particular who described in great detail what happened on that day. What did he tell you?

ALEX THOMSON, ITN REPORTER: He told me what a number of different people, and in fact scores of different people in different times and different places around the town, all said, so I rather used him to really characterize what everybody in the town is saying.

They say that after the initial shelling on Friday at mid- afternoon, around 3:00 p.m. onwards, a group of around 100 men came from different villages that surround this area. These are Alawite villages that surround the town of Houla, which is itself Sunni.

Anyway, about 100 of these men came in. He says -- and everybody else -- that they were wearing basically military-style uniforms, but were civilians, were Shabiha, as they call them, civilian militia. They had a well-known local Shia slogan written in pen on their forehead or written on bandanas tied around their forehead. And that is how they were identified as Shia killers, if you like, and they went literally from house to house and building to building slaughtering people.

O'BRIEN: Alex, tell me more about the Shabiha, the civilian militia, as you describe them. How are they connected to the military and what did the slogans that were penned on their foreheads say?

THOMSON: A number of people identified to me the villages they came from, both from the east and from the west of the town.

And it's incredibly close. You can see these villages quite clearly. They are at a maximum of five miles away from Houla itself. And everybody in the town is absolutely convinced that these people came from these villages and that this was -- they were, if you like, using underlying sectarian tensions as a method of settling scores in this civil war.

And the question you have to ask is, how was it that 100 or so armed militia were able to come in and slaughter family after family in an area which was an intensive shelling zone prior to them arriving, and yet when they came into this area, no shells fell on them.

O'BRIEN: Last night, you were saying that we may never know exactly what happened in Houla. And today it sounds as if you feel almost certain of what happened in Houla.

Is that -- and you use the words collaboration and coordination. Do you feel this is the accurate, valid story from this particular witness and others in the town?

THOMSON: I feel, having got into the place, at last being able to conduct my own, albeit brief investigation -- I cannot convey to you what it's like there.

You are simply cast from family to family to family, from street to street, from building to building. Everybody has a story. People will be presented to you with gunshot wounds, with shrapnel wounds endlessly, an endless procession of human stories and human tragedy, it has to be said.

But through that comes a common thread, and what I did today was I wanted to concentrate on exactly what people were saying about where they believe these people came from. I think now we have a clear idea.

O'BRIEN: Alex Thomson joining us this evening, thank you.

Let's turn now to former CIA officer, intelligence columnist and CNN contributor Bob Baer, also the multi-titled Fareed Zakaria, "TIME" magazine editor at large, CNN world affairs analyst, and host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

It's nice to have both of you.

Fareed, I'm going to start with you.

China could not be more clear. Here what is they have said. China opposes military intervention, does not support forced regime change. Russia could not be more clear, said this. "The Russian position is not formed on the basis of emotions."

Now, that is the Russian first deputy foreign minister.

What is the diplomatic solution here?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: The diplomatic solution is not going through the U.N. for precisely the reason you just described, though the Russians, interestingly, Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, did say that he understood that there was a possibility of regime -- of a transition, and so he did leave the door open to some kind of change.

But, look, I think it's not going to happen through the U.N., but we do want it to happen with as many allies as we can find, with as much multilateral cover as we do. Whatever it is we're going to do in Syria, we need to follow the principles we have been following with Libya, with other countries, because there is still enormous hostility to the idea of the United States unilaterally getting involved in another Muslim country, particularly if there is some kind of military or covert angle to this.

O'BRIEN: Part of the pressure has to be putting -- part of the strategy has to be putting pressure on Russia.

And the deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, said this. "We don't believe it's in Russia's interest to be associated with the Assad regime."

What exactly was he trying to say? What did he mean by that?

ZAKARIA: I think what they are hoping, the Obama administration is hoping that the Russians will at some point see that the Assad regime is doomed, that it makes sense for them to begin repositioning themselves toward a post-Assad regime.

There is no question that Russia is not going to cooperate in this venture. All Russia is going to do is be dragged along kicking and screaming, if it believes this transition is going to happen anyway. So the hope here is to create a kind of dynamic in which the Russians realize, all right, since this is going to happen in a year or so, or maybe even sooner, we might as well stop being the principal obstacle to a post-Assad Syria.

O'BRIEN: Bob, do you think that the transition is going to happen anyway? When you -- really, you have said that, if everybody, and hypothetically Russia were to say OK, and China were to say OK, actually, the international community would be stuck. They wouldn't really know what to do. What do you mean by that?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Syria is a mess. There is no simple solution. There is no decapitating the regime, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad and coming to a solution.

We are looking at a community, the Alawites, who think that they are -- edge of survival, that their lives are at stake, that will fight to the very end. And so we can decapitate the regime. It's not going to make any difference. And I think the Russians and the Chinese are being very pragmatic about it.

And, frankly, I think the White House is saying, hold me back, hold me back, because we don't really want to go into Syria. There is no easy solution. We can't separate these communities. We could use some force against their armor from the air, but what is that going to get us? It could get us a worst civil war.

O'BRIEN: So then, Fareed -- if, as Bob says, if you decapitate the leadership, it really doesn't make a difference, is it time to seriously look at military intervention? Is there a stomach for military intervention. The people who push for military interventions -- others who say no -- is that even doable?

ZAKARIA: I think it's very tough.

And I think what Bob really meant is, even if you were to militarily intervene to decapitate the regime, it would be difficult, because the Alawites, which is 10 percent of the country, realize that in a post-Assad Syria, they will be massacred. So they are going to hold on for dear life.

Syria, remember, is about 10 percent the size of Libya, three times as many people, so, geographically, a very different situation. In Libya, you had vast swathes of the country where the rebels could run, they could hide. They could set up an exile government in Benghazi. None of that is possible in Syria.

And notice that the rebels don't control a single town. So, I think Bob is right that this is a very tough case.

O'BRIEN: All right, Bob, let's talk for a moment about chemical weapons. I know you're an expert on that. Tell me a little about the chemical weapons that exist there and who controls them and just how deadly they are.

BAER: The military controls them. They have V.X. There are binary chemical agents. They have got sarin as well. The Syrians are the most advanced military in the Middle East with sophisticated weaponization of biochemicals, barring none. I think that the Alawites, with their back to the wall, would use these, if it were an invasion, if intervention, or if the regime were going to collapse.

I think that Fareed hit the nail on the head. This is a very serious position, and we just don't know what the Alawites are going to do. And, again, this goes back to the White House's reluctance to get involved or press the Russians or the Chinese.


O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you that. Is there a sense that it's all these chemical weapons that are really underscoring this sense of reluctance to jump in?


BAER: Oh, absolutely. I don't know where -- yes. No, I don't know where they are now, but I would imagine they are dispersed. We can't hit these things. We can't contain them. We have to assume that they are going to use them.

And so every day when the White House wakes up, they're balancing the dangers of going into Syria -- and also -- and let's don't forget this could spread into other places. I keep on hearing about problems in Jordan. There has been fighting in Lebanon. The Turks are involved. And this could effect Iraq as well. It could send that back into a civil war. So I think we're very much on a tightrope here, and it's tough.

ZAKARIA: Remember, the Lebanese civil war, which in some ways looks a lot like this, lasted for 10 years; 150,000 to 250,000 people died. One million people were displaced. So this could turn in a very high-stakes game.

O'BRIEN: It's a terrible thing to compare it to, isn't it?

Fareed Zakaria and Bob Baer, thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

Want to know what you think. We're on Facebook and on Twitter @Soledad_OBrien or @AC360.

Coming up next, a rising young star in the Republican Party talks about what it will take to win over the Latino vote. The question tonight, would making him Mitt Romney's running mate make a difference? That is "Raw Politics."


O'BRIEN: "Raw Politics" now, part of our special in-depth reporting this week on the power of the Latino vote -- tonight, how Republicans are trying to close the more than 2-1 advantage that President Obama had in the last election. The Obama campaign is trying to maintain its advantage, rolling out a new set of Spanish-language ads today, according to "The National Journal," outspending the Romney side 76-to-1 in Latino ads in the last five weeks.

Now, on the Republican side, there is growing talk of a potential game-changer, Mitt Romney picking a Latino running mate. Several names have been mentioned, and one is getting lots of attention. It's senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

He's a Cuban-American, just got back from inspecting from the facilities at Guantanamo Bay. And he will speak tomorrow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Are these signs that he's polishing his foreign policy credentials? And who is he?

Here is Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just as Barack Obama emerged nearly a decade ago as a young Democratic darling, 41- year-old Marco Rubio is a rising star of the Republican Party, in part because he is more than willing to take on the president.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Barack Obama is a reality. And for millions of Americans today, life is worse than it was three years ago because he doesn't know what he's doing.

FOREMAN: The son of Cuban parents, Rubio has the resume of a serious player who could connect the GOP to increasingly valuable Latino voters. He's from Miami. He's Roman Catholic. After high school, he went to college on a one-year sports scholarship, eventually becoming a lawyer.

He is married to a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and has four children. He has served in local and state government and is currently the junior U.S. senator from Florida who never misses a chance to explain how his party needs to build strong, lasting ties to the Latino vote.

RUBIO: One of the mistakes we make is we view it through the lens of the next election. And I think this has to be a longer-term commitment than that.

FOREMAN: Yet, simultaneously, he has shown conservative stripes that have enchanted the Tea Party, even while threading the needle on potentially explosive matters like the Arizona immigration law.

RUBIO: I believe that Arizona and states like Arizona have a constitutional right to do what they did.

FOREMAN (on camera): It all makes Rubio a near perfect amalgam of what many political analysts say the Republicans need, a fresh face that inspires young voters and minorities to give the party a second look, and yet a staunch defender of many basic Republican values. (voice-over): Fidel Castro is, oddly enough, at the center of the single biggest dispute about Rubio's record. Rubio has long suggested his parents came to America to escape Castro. But last year, it was revealed that they left more than two years before Castro took power, leaving Rubio to explain his claims.

RUBIO: They always had hoped they could return to their country. They tried. For obvious reasons, they couldn't and didn't.

FOREMAN: But so far, that has been little more than a bump on Rubio's fast track to political power.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


O'BRIEN: "Digging Deeper" now into the Republican search for Latino support and where Marco Rubio fits into all of that is Alberto Gonzales. He served as attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, also CNN en Espanol's Juan Carlos Lopez.

Gentlemen, nice to have both of you with me this evening.

Mr. Gonzales, I'm going to start with you.

You have said you don't think in fact that Senator Rubio would be a good vice presidential candidate. You have said basically you think his resume is a little on the thin side.

So, what do you make of the fact of this trip to Cuba and also that he will be talking at the Council on Foreign Relations tomorrow? Is it all about bolstering his cred to be potentially a vice presidential candidate?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it would certainly do that.

It would also certainly make him a stronger senator, as far as I'm concerned. Senator Rubio, his story is remarkable. He's a very talented man. And, obviously, I honor his service.

But I think when you look at a vice presidential pick -- and, by the way, obviously, Governor Romney is going to make the decision based on what he thinks is right. But from my perspective, the number one criteria whether or not someone is eligible and ready to step in as president on day one.

Secondly, I think you want to choose someone who will help you govern. After all, it is often the vice president who is the last person in the Oval Office with the president. The president hears last from the vice president on very controversial issues.

And only after a potential nominee satisfies those two criteria, I think then you look as to whether or not it -- can this person help me win an election in November? O'BRIEN: So, Juan Carlos Lopez, we know that, of course, the name of Senator Rubio has been coming up because he's very strong potentially in the state of Florida, but what about outside of the state of Florida? Does he have sort of that national appeal that you might need?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: He's working on it and he is out there and he's getting those credentials.

Now, does he have that national recognition? Not yet. He's working on it. And to be completely honest, there isn't a name right now that you can throw out and say, well, this is a Latino that will resonate in every state.

But Latinos aren't one group. We're not one homogeneous, solid group. There are different groups amongst the Latino community. Six or seven out of every 10 Hispanics are Mexican or Mexican descent. There's not one issue. But Senator Rubio is one of 100 in a country of 311 million.

He's one of two Hispanic senators. And he gets a lot of coverage in the media, so he is working his way up there.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Gonzales, you have said that the Republican Party needs to do a better job in outreach to Latinos.

When you look at a candidate like Mitt Romney and you think of some of the things that he has said on the campaign trail, for example, about Latinos, certainly saying, listen, I'm going to veto the DREAM Act, talking about self-deportation for illegal immigrants, isn't that going to be a challenge as he tries to appeal to Latinos and steal them, frankly, from President Obama?

GONZALES: I think it is going to be a challenge.

And Governor Romney has some work to do. He and his campaign have a lot of work to do in terms of making inroads in the Hispanic community. But the good news is, is that we have time. And he's also running against an imperfect candidate in the eyes of the Hispanic community, as far as I'm concerned, someone who has not delivered on promises with respect to immigration, with respect to a better economy.

And so there is an opportunity for Governor Romney to make a personal connection, but, at the end of the day, I think Hispanics, like most Americans, are not going to decide who they are going to vote for president based upon who the vice presidential nominee is. They are going to make their decision based on what is best for them, based on the policies that Governor Romney is championing.

O'BRIEN: Well, Juan Carlos, let's pick up on that. Mr. Gonzales talked about the imperfect candidate, because, of course, there are many issues that Latinos felt might be covered in the first years of the president's administration that were not. And many are bitterly disappointed about that.

President Obama is trying to bolster that support. How big of a challenge does he have on his side?

LOPEZ: Well, he has a challenge, but it's not as great as the challenge for Mitt Romney.

If you look at the polls, you see that it's basically a 65-27, 70-30, more or less. Mr. Romney has about 27 percent, according to the most recent polls, amongst the Hispanics. Republicans need at least 40 percent to win. And he has a real great challenge.

The president is facing criticism for immigration reform that didn't take place. And he's blaming the Republicans for not coming on board. And Republicans are blaming the Democrats. But so far, it seems the message they are hearing from the Democrats is something they like better than what they have heard during this campaign from the Republicans, especially from Mr. Romney.

And so far, it seems that, with that investment you were talking about and with the message that is coming from the White House, Latinos are hearing something they like more with Mr. Obama and the White House than they are from the Republicans.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Gonzales, I will give the last question to you.

Your boss, of course, was President Bush, and he did very well among Latinos. What did he have that Mitt Romney lacks?

GONZALES: Well, I don't know whether or not it's a question of Governor Romney lacking.

But President Bush had a way of making a very personal connection with the Hispanic community. I believe that they felt that he believed in them. And maybe that stems from the fact that he had experience as a border governor. But...


O'BRIEN: I guess I should have said outside of the state of Texas in his corner.

GONZALES: Exactly.

What we need to see is whether or not Governor Romney has a capability to make that personal connection with the Hispanic community, so that they believe that -- they believe that he believes in them.

O'BRIEN: Alberto Gonzales and Juan Carlos Lopez, thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

GONZALES: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this evening: Donald Trump refusing to back down on his claim that President Obama was not born in Hawaii -- what Mitt Romney supporters are saying today after Mr. Trump hosted a Romney fund-raiser last night.

Plus, a look back at what Gary Tuchman found when he went to Hawaii in search of evidence about that birth certificate.


O'BRIEN: A new twist in the fight to stop a mosque from being built in one Southern town -- when 360 continues.


O'BRIEN: A "360 Follow" tonight.

It's been more than a year since 360 went to Hawaii and found proof that President Obama was born there. We're going to show you that report in just a moment.

It's also been more than a year since President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, which should have settled the issue once and for all. And, for many people, it did.

But in oh so many ways, Donald Trump is not most people.

And now, the day after Trump hosted a fund-raiser for Mitt Romney in Las Vegas, the Republican Party is insisting that no one in the Romney campaign is buying what Trump is selling. Here is what Newt Gingrich had to say outside of that fund-raiser in Vegas.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney is not distracted. The Republican Party is not distracted. We believe that this is an American-born job-killing president. Other people may believe that he was born somewhere else and still kills jobs but that's an argument over background.

The key fact is for any American who's worried about the economy, Obama is a job-killing president. I'm happy to say I believe he was born in Hawaii, doesn't change the fact he's killing jobs. And therefore, I think that will be the central issue of the campaign.


O'BRIEN: Gingrich says the Republican Party is not distracted by Trump's latest rant about the president's birth certificate. Just as a reminder, here's a little bit of what he said on "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- that's Trump, that is -- with Wolf Blitzer yesterday.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Donald, have you seen the actual newspaper announcements within days of his birth in Honolulu? For example, "The Honolulu Star-Bulletin." We'll put it up there. You see the birth announcement back in 1961.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL-ESTATE MOGUL: Yes, many people did that.

BLITZER: Listen to me, Donald.

TRUMP: Wolf...

BLITZER: Can I ask?

TRUMP: Can I talk?

BLITZER: Can I ask the question? Donald, you're beginning to sound a little ridiculous. I have to tell you.

TRUMP: I think you are, Wolf. And let me tell you something. I think you sound ridiculous.


O'BRIEN: What Mr. Trump wouldn't do is give any evidence at all to back up his claims -- that is kind of not new. But what the Romney campaign doesn't seem to want to do is to dump Mr. Trump because of those unfounded claims. I pressed Romney supporter John Sununu on that on "STARTING POINT" this morning.



O'BRIEN: You don't think anyone -- you don't think...

SUNUNU: There is nobody in the Romney campaign that believes that the president was not born in the United States.

O'BRIEN: So then how come someone doesn't say, "Donald Trump is wrong! And we're going to tell"...

SUNUNU: Donald Trump is wrong. The president was born in the United States.


O'BRIEN: So, as I mentioned it has been more than a year since these questions should have stopped. President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, April last year. He released it to settle the issue once and for all. He released it because people like Donald Trump are going on and on and on, making unfounded claims about the president's birth place.

As all of that was swirling, just before Mr. Obama released his birth certificate, we sent Gary Tuchman all the way to Hawaii to look at the facts. Imagine that -- the facts, behind the whole entire manufactured controversy. Here's what he found.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "The Honolulu Star-Bulletin" newspaper in August, 1961, declares Mr. And Mrs. Barack H. Obama had given birth to a son. A simple birth announcement that has become part of a complex web of conspiracy theories, with one question looming above all others.


TUCHMAN: Was President Obama born in the United States? The answer: yes.

(on camera) Have you seen Barack Obama's original birth certificate?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Doctor Chiyome Fukino was the former director of the Hawaii Department of Health and a devoted Republican. Until now, she had not talked on camera about this topic.

(on camera) As a Republican member of the last Republican governor of Hawaii, member of his cabinet, do you have any doubt that Barack Obama was born in the United States?

FUKINO: Absolutely not. I have no doubt.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The doctor was asked by the governor's press secretary to make a statement about the Obama birth certificate controversy. Under Hawaii law, a public official can look at someone else's certificate if there is a, quote, "direct and tangible interest. She indeed felt she had that interest because of the statement she had to make.

So she found the original birth certificate, stored in a vault in the Department of Health building.

(on camera) What did it tell you? Was it authentic?

FUKINO: Absolutely authentic, he was absolutely born here in the state of Hawaii.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Doctor Fukino says even if she hadn't seen the original certificate here in the health department building, this document, the president's computer-generated certificate, which was made public four years ago, had already proven he was born in Hawaii.

(on camera) There's quite a bit of irony over the original birth certificate debate. And that is, the original documents are no longer even certified by the state. The health department says President Obama or any other Hawaiian could still go through the process of getting one, but either way, they're no longer supposed to be used for official purposes. Only the computer-generated ones will do.

(voice-over) We wanted to see what you get when you ask for your Hawaii birth certificate.

(on camera) Birth and death, marriage.

(voice-over) So we met 49-year-old Stig Vitalic (ph) and told him we'd pay $10 for a new birth certificate.

(on camera) I'm Gary Tuchman with CNN. We're here to get a birth certificate for Stig. (voice-over) We asked Stig, because we also saw his birth announcement in the Honolulu newspaper. In the same article four names down, another newborn, born 13 hours earlier, Barack Obama.

(on camera) Can you give him his original certificate or the electronic copy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a computerized birth certificate.

TUCHMAN: So this is Stig's certificate of live birth. It's the same form Barack Obama has, the very same form every Hawaiian now gets.

It has his name on it, his birth date, August 5, 1961, the date after the president. It was filed August 8, 1961. This is a raised seal to show its authenticity. And on the bottom, perhaps the most important line, "This copy serves as prima facie evidence of a fact of birth in any court proceeding."

(voice-over) Another part of the conspiracy theory is that the birth announcement in the paper is a fake, planted by his family or someone else who wanted to trick the world into believing the future president was born in the U.S.

Dan Nakaso is a longtime newspaper reporter in Honolulu.

(on camera) There are a number of people who believe that Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, that his mother or grandmother called the newspaper and gave false information that he was born in the United States. Is it possible that could have gotten in the newspaper?

DAN NAKASO, "HONOLULU ADVERTISER": No. That's not possible. Under the system that existed back then, there was no avenue for people to submit information that way.

TUCHMAN: So how did the information get in the paper?

NAKASO: Came from the state director from the state department of health.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): We confirmed that fact with the health department, too. All birth announcements printed in the paper came directly from the birth records of the hospital.

Barack Obama not only has the same proof of birth as millions of other Hawaiians, he also has the current governor's memories of him as a baby.

(on camera) You saw him as an infant?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie says he met the future president soon after he was born. Because he was close to both of Barack Obama's parents. He remembers his mother, Ann Dunham, living in Hawaii and pregnant and remembers celebrating the birth with his friends, the Obamas.

ABERCROMBIE: His mom and dad went to school with me here, and with other folks here in Hawaii. And of course, we had no idea at the time that the future president of the United States was that little boy, that little baby, and we were very, very happy, of course, that that took place.

TUCHMAN: The former director of the Hawaii Health Department said she talked to us because she felt it was her duty for the truth to come out.

(on camera) Does it anger you that this has become such a controversy and it's taking attention away from issues that are important to you?

FUKINO: No, I find it a bit amusing, and in the sense that it keeps resurfacing, and -- over and over again, despite whatever I say. And it really tells us that the whole conspiracy notion out there that, if there's an issue that needs to have a following, it will find one.

ABERCROMBIE: And I would just like to ask people who have this political orientation towards the president, respect us here in Hawaii. Respect his mother and father. Respect the people that I loved, and the people that I knew, and the little boy who grew up here in paradise and became president.

TUCHMAN: Last year the president did release his original long- form birth certificate. But that obviously still hasn't convinced some people that Barack Obama was born in the U.S.

But facts are facts. And it's clear that President Obama was born in Hawaii, just as the Honolulu newspaper announced it in August of 1961.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Honolulu, Hawaii.


O'BRIEN: Tonight, an unexpected turn in the long-running battle over a mosque that is being built in Tennessee. The project has exposed bitter divisions in a city that many residents have long considered welcoming. Now, a new ruling by a county judge could bring construction to a halt. That story is up next.


O'BRIEN: New details about a horrifying incident in Miami that left one man dead, shot by police, and another man with most of his face missing. That and more when "360" continues.


O'BRIEN: Up close tonight, a dramatic turn in the battle over a new mosque that's being built in central Tennessee. The same mosque, the same ugly battle that we reported on last year in our documentary, which was called "Unwelcome, The Muslims Next Door."

Since then the first phase of construction has been nearly completed, but with just weeks to go, a county judge has ruled that local officials violated state law by not giving proper public notice when they granted the building permit back in 2010. We're going to have more on the ruling in a moment.

First though, quick recap of how we got there.

This is all playing out in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a city of 104,000 people, 140 churches, and one mosque, which the city's 250 Muslim families have outgrown. The new mosque is much bigger, just one piece of a sprawling Islamic center on 15 acres of land.

Now, for more than two years, opponents have tried to block construction. A backlash that's included lawsuits, intimidation and even arson. What we found in Murfreesboro last year was a community that was bitterly divided.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We as citizens, we have families and children in this community, and we're trying to look out for our future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thank you for your love.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Kevin Fisher has lived in Murfreesboro for 20 years. He's a corrections officer and a single father. In May of 2010, Kevin was stunned to discover local officials had approved plans for a 53,000-square-foot Islamic center in his hometown.

KEVIN FISHER, MURFREESBORO, TENNESSEE, RESIDENT: Neighbors were outraged that something of this nature was being basically shoved down our throats and we didn't know anything about it.

O'BRIEN: A month later, the typically sleepy county commission meeting was anything but. A few residents complained about the lack of notice of the mosque plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would respectfully ask for expanded public hearing again.

O'BRIEN: Virtually everybody spoke out against the threat of Islam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody knows who's trying to kill us. And it's like we can't say it.

O'BRIEN: Local officials refused to reconsider their unanimous approval of the plan.

FISHER: We decided to hold a march so that America, the whole world, everybody could see these people didn't give notice. So that's what we did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ignore intolerance. O'BRIEN: Many in Murfreesboro supported the mosque plan. The protest march that June day drew hundreds of people of different faiths, rallying in support of religious freedom. Among the mosque supporters, Lema Spinelli (ph), an 18-year-old Muslim in Murfreesboro.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could just see, like, in their eyes, you could see that hate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't say to hate them. I just said we don't need them here.


O'BRIEN: So as we said, the first phase of the mosque is nearly finished. But in his ruling, the county judge said that plans for the mosque are now void. So it's not clear what happens next.

The court told us today the case is still pending. There's been no final order. The leader of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro told us that they're going to continue with construction, until they receive orders to stop.

Joining me by phone this evening, Sally Wall. She's been a vocal critic of the mosque and was in our documentary. Also her attorney, Joe Brandon, joins us, as well.

Nice to see both of you. Sally, I'm going to begin with you, if I can. What do you make of the ruling? How do you feel about it?

SALLY WALL, PROTESTING MOSQUE (via phone): Well, he ruled exactly the way I thought he would, because there was no due process. It simply -- they did it all behind closed doors; it was under the table. There were several meetings with county officials and people, and the Muslims. And they got the whole thing decided.

And nobody knew a thing about it until it was announced in the paper on, I believe, it was May the 28th.

O'BRIEN: So now what the judge has said is that this permit is now revoked except that. of course. this is not the final decision is what he also said.

So Joe, the imam tells us that he's going to continue with construction unless he is told by the county to stop. The building code department has not revoked their permit. The sheriff says he's not going to be tapped to serve any kind of a stop work order. So what do you make of all that?

JOE BRANDON, ATTORNEY: Well, it's pure arrogance, and that's all it can amount to.

We have proceeded in the proper fashion. We went into the courtroom to file our lawsuit. We have been in litigation now for about 18 months. Chancellor Corlew (ph) has declared that all permits that have been issued are void. I mean, don't forget in this particular case, less than a quarter of 1 percent of the residents of Rutherford County received any type of notice, and Chancellor Corlew (ph) has ruled that was insufficient. And as a result of that, they need to stop building.

They're aware of that. There were secret meetings that occurred in the beginning with the mayor and the planning director in this particular case. They knew they'd be in the Islamic center. They knew that they were required to go before the planning commission to get approval.

And now that that's been declared void, they want to say that they don't know anything about it and they are allowed to continue to build and that's unacceptable.

O'BRIEN: Well, in his ruling he doesn't -- in his ruling he actually never says the words "you must stop construction." He does not say that. The ruling is eight pages long, and I've gone through it. He does not -- he does not say that.

And everyone on the side opposing yours says, until someone tells us officially tells us -- even the judge himself says this is not the final ruling. It still has to go through, potentially, the appeals process. The case is still a pending case. This comes from the judge himself. Final order hasn't come down. He's only issued an opinion on this. This is from the clerk in the judge's office.

So it sounds to me like it's not decided that, in fact, the work has to stop.

But I want to ask a question back to Sally. You know, the folks who are on the other side of this issue, Sally, from you -- and you and I have spoken a lot about this -- have said first you guys came up with a traffic problem as an issue, water quality as an issue, and then this process of lack of notice as an issue.

And then I know in court, as we showed in our documentary, that Joe was really arguing that Islam is not a religion. That was sort of another issue to come up and basically just throwing stuff against the wall, trying to make it stick, just because you do not like Muslims in your town. Is that true?

WALL: Well, Soledad, the thing that I said from the very first was that there was no public knowledge until it was a done deal. And that is true.

And it's not a matter of Islamophobia with me. It's that the county government is supposed to operate in a particular way. They are not supposed to meet under the table. They're not supposed to disobey the sunshine law.

People who live in an area where a mosque or anything else is going to be built are supposed to have a right to say something about it. And in this case, there was nothing said until it was in the paper on May the 28th. O'BRIEN: and the judge very much agreed with you in his decision today, but he also said that the people who want to build the mosque can go back to the commission.

WALL: Yes, they can.

O'BRIEN: They can do that on June 11.

WALL: The commission might not pass it.

O'BRIEN: Well, they can re-present their -- their case again. And in fact, there will be no public hearing, that the voices of the people aren't going to be allowed to be heard in that particular hearing.

Joe Brandon, Sally Wall, nice to see both of you, or at least talk to you, Sally. Thank you very much.

Coming up this evening, an update on the story we first covered years ago, the toxic trailers used as emergency housing after Hurricane Katrina. People who lived in them said they were hurt by the high levels of formaldehyde in the units. Now, there's a multimillion dollar settlement to tell you about. Details on that straight ahead.


SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Susan Hendricks with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

We start with a "360" follow. Manufacturers and installers of the trailers used as emergency housing after Hurricane Katrina and other storms have reached a nearly 43-million-dollar settlement with people who say they were hurt by high levels of formaldehyde in the units. CNN discovered high levels of that chemical when we had the trailers tested.

A security video posted by "The Miami Herald" captures the gruesome attack on a homeless man whose face was chewed off by his attacker. Now the video quality is not great, and it's shot from a distance, but it does show the brutal 18-minute attack as it unfolded.

A sharp drop in stocks fueled by growing worries about the health of Spanish banks and the Europe debt crisis. The Dow lost 160 points.

You know, SeaWorld's hallmark killer whale shows may be in for major changes. A judge has ruled that SeaWorld trainers should be protected by physical barriers or similar safety measures while performing with killer whales. The ruling stems from the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau during a performance.

And the youngest person ever to qualify for the national spelling bee, 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison, stumbled a bit today.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is incorrect.



HENDRICKS: Oh, so sad. Not the outcome she wanted, but in our book, Lori Anne, you are still A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. We had to let you know. A big future ahead of you, Lori Anne.

Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Susan. We'll be right back.


O'BRIEN: That does it for this edition of "360." Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.