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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

President Bush Visits Iraq; Prosecution Over Schoolyard Beating Fuels Racial Tension; Hurricane Felix Heads Towards Nicaragua; Senator Larry Craig Announces Resignation

Aired September 03, 2007 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Good Labor Day.
And surprise. President Bush drops into Iraq today, surprising nearly everyone at a crucial moment, less than two weeks before his top commander gives Congress a make-or-break progress report. We will show you what he had to say about the mission, and our own reporters will give us a reality check, from Iraq, Michael Ware, and, from Washington, Candy Crowley.

We are also tracking Hurricane Felix this hour, the second such storm of the season, and, like Dean before it, a monster of a storm. We will tell you where it is heading right now.

And Senator Larry Craig busted for allegedly seeking sex in a men's room. He resigned over the weekend, still insisting he is not gay. We will talk with the wife of another famous politician who resigned in disgrace, but who also used the occasion to come out of the closet.

We begin, though, with the president's visit, which came, almost literally, out of the blue. After slipping out of Washington last night in a fog of cloak-and-dagger secrecy, Air Force One landed this morning at Al-Assad Air Base in Iraq's Anbar Province. It was a well- timed photo-op, no doubt about it, Mr. Bush greeting troops.

He listened as a Marine described the strain of being away from home for such long tours of duty. When asked by the president, the Marine said morale was still very high.

On the business side, Mr. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates sat down with their Iraqi counterparts, the president later telling reporters that the mission was succeeding in Al Anbar.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The level of violence is down. Local governments are meeting again. Police are more in control of the city streets, and normal life is returning.

The people of this province are seeing that standing up to the extremists is the path to a better life, that success is possible.

America does not abandon our friends. And America will not abandon the Iraqi people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Mr. Bush did hint at a troop cut, but only if the generals say so.

And, as for progress throughout Iraq, the picture is certainly mixed.

CNN's Michael Ware joins me now from Baghdad, where the president did not visit.

Michael, thanks for being with us. This -- this was just the third visit by the president, clearly time for the run-up to General Petraeus' trip to Washington. What was the reaction in Iraq to the surprise trip?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has been muted at this stage, Anderson.

Obviously, there's been very little that we have heard from the Iraqi senior political leadership. Indeed, in a few hours, the Iraqi national security adviser, Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, is due to unveil Iraq's new strategy of its own. So, we are eagerly awaiting that, although we have heard from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that he rejects U.S. criticisms and that he's hardening his government. He is buttressing it, saying that he can deliver as his government sees fit.

So, they remain defiant -- Anderson.

COOPER: The president flew to Al Anbar Province. We have talked about it a lot. He touted the security progress that has been made there, undeniable. Things are getting better.

What is working in Al Anbar? And how -- and -- and, really, quite frankly, can it translate into the rest of Iraq?

WARE: Well, certainly one of the -- one of the president's war council -- I believe it was Secretary Gates himself -- said that, really, the success of Al Anbar Province predates the surge. It is really an Iraqi initiative.

And what that is, is that the Sunni Baathist insurgency turned on al Qaeda and it offered America the same terms of negotiation that it first offered four years ago, in 2003, in that it was willing to work with America, but not with the Iraqi government. And America, after four years of bloodshed, was finally ready to accept those terms.

So, it is the Sunni insurgency that has turned all Anbar around and made it safe. And, having just returned from that province ourselves, having been with those insurgents, we watched with our own eyes as the insurgents go in one door of a training camp and emerge as the so-called Iraqi police that are keeping those streets safe that President Bush referred to -- Anderson.

COOPER: A lot of people probably didn't cover this today, but a really important event did happen in Iraq elsewhere where President Bush was, and British forces handed over control of Basra, which is Iraq's second largest city. It's down in the south. They handed over control to the Iraqi forces. It is a big test.

WARE: Absolutely.

And, I mean, in terms of a test, we already know the outcome. The Brits have, by and large, been irrelevant to the security situation in southern Iraq for almost a couple of years now. Anderson, they just haven't had control. They never had enough forces in the beginning. They never had the mandate to confront the real problem down there, which is the Shia militia's stranglehold on power and oil revenues, and Iran's backing of those Shia militias, according to Western intelligence.

So, all the Brits have been trying to do down there is stay alive, while they have been getting hammered by rockets and missiles. So, the significance, militarily, is minimal, at best -- Anderson.

COOPER: Michael Ware reporting from Iraq -- Michael, thanks.

A lot is riding on the report General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will deliver in about a week, militarily and, of course, politically.

Let's bring in Candy Crowley now for the president.

Candy, the president's rare visit to Iraq, how well orchestrated an effort is this White House now making to set the stage positively for General Petraeus' appearance and the upcoming status report?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are doing everything they can to make sure that the atmospherics are positive. And, certainly, this trip was part of it.

Remember what the president has to do now. He needs to hold on to Republicans. So, if he feels that, the White House feels, if they can show enough progress, they can keep the Democrats from peeling off Republicans to do something, such as cut off funding or mandate troop withdrawal. So, there are some heavy stakes here.

And the -- the president, in this trip to Iraq, as well as in other ways, his administration has been talking for weeks about progress in Iraq. So, this has been very well orchestrated.

COOPER: Candy, today is the unofficial kickoff to 2008 election race, as Labor Day is traditionally that. How much does Iraq come up on the campaign trail?

CROWLEY: You know, it comes up a lot. It comes up in almost every speech.

But, more than how often it comes up, it is the response. It's always the biggest applause line when Democrats say, when I become president, if the troops are not already out, I will take them out on my first day. So, this is a huge, huge issue in the Democratic Party. The Republicans don't bring it up as much. John McCain obviously does, he being a -- a supporter, at this point, of the U.S. staying in Iraq. So, it does come up. But, you know, today, it came up in a speech that we went to listening to Barack, but there was a lot of other things in between. Today, Labor Day, obviously the traditional -- the traditional kickoff of the campaign, lots of parades.


CROWLEY (voice-over): It is Labor Day. And you know what that means: full-throttle politics.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing, sir?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Wow, what a great Labor Day crowd.

CROWLEY: From Iowa, to New Hampshire, to Pennsylvania, much of the '08 presidential field was out holiday shopping for votes and putting a little punch in the rhetoric.

OBAMA: There are those who tout their experience working the system in Washington. But the problem is that the system in Washington isn't working for us, and it hasn't been for a very long time.

CROWLEY: He's talking about Hillary Clinton.

(on camera): You think she's old hat, basically?

OBAMA: No. What I think is, is that we have got a message that speaks to the American future.

CROWLEY (voice-over): It is the fall version of summer's story. He paints her as status quo. She frames him as not ready for the job -- change versus experience.

CLINTON: From my time in the White House and in the Senate, I have learned that you bring change by working the system established by our Constitution, not by pretending the system doesn't exist.

CROWLEY: Also in the fray, camp Edwards, where aides say they're delighted Clinton is defending a system that's failed to do anything about things like health care and global warming.

Edwards spent the most traditional of Labor Days in Pittsburgh, picking up some big-ticket endorsements, the United Mine Workers and United Steel Workers.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America wasn't built on Wall Street. America was built by men and women who were steelworkers, who were mine workers.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Welcome to a wonderful Labor Day parade.

CROWLEY: Facing their most hostile political environment in decades, Republicans also did the Labor Day rounds, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback looking for traction, Arizona's John McCain searching for mojo, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney chasing poll numbers to match his bulging campaign covers.

Things get more complicated this week with the arrival of Fred Thompson, who will join the race nine months later than most of the others, not that anyone resents the buzz he has generated without breaking a sweat.

ROMNEY: Well, I guess the only comment I would make to Fred Thompson is, why the hurry? Why not take -- why not take a little longer to think this over?

CROWLEY (on camera): Let me ask you a question. You're here at the parade, lots of politicians here. Who has made up their mind about who they're going to vote for in January?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not me. I haven't made up my mind yet.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's been an incredible amount of hype that comes with a presidential campaign that you can't trust.

CROWLEY: Sixteen weeks until the voting begins -- not long, but there is time.


COOPER: Definitely good advice. Don't trust the hype.

How does Thompson's entry change the mix?

CROWLEY: Well, that's the question. Does he come in? Does he live up to the expectations? Remember, we have been waiting for several months for Thompson to enter the presidential race.

He gave clear signals that he was going to do so, but waited an awfully long time. And now that he is going to come into this race on Thursday, a lot of people think he has to have almost a pitch-perfect campaign. The speeches have to be good. The structure has to be good. The fund-raising has to be good.

Otherwise, he looks like he doesn't live up to the hype. So, expectations at this point are very high. The question is, can he meet those expectations? We will begin to know that in the next couple of weeks.

COOPER: It is like buying a new car. It starts depreciated as soon as it enters -- as it leaves the lot, I guess.


CROWLEY: Exactly.

COOPER: Candy, we will be watching. Thanks.


COOPER: Why is New Hampshire's primary the first in nation, you might wonder? Well, because they really, really want it to be. Here is the "Raw Data."

In 1977, New Hampshire's legislature passed a law stating that its primary should be the first in the nation. And, to keep that it way, the state has had to move its primary earlier and earlier. Originally, it was in -- in March. In 1996, it moved to February 20, to January 27 in the 2004. Next year's primary is set for January 22.

Well, campaign season may be just getting started, but hurricane season is well under way. We all know that. Hurricane Felix, Category 4 right now, taking aim.

Tracking it, as always, our severe weather expert, Chad Myers. Facing down Felix in Honduras is CNN's Susan Candiotti.

Let's start with Chad.

Where it is going, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is going right over Candy (sic), right over the area there, La Ceiba.

The whole area, as we look at it through -- from Honduras to Nicaragua, this is going to be the -- the Category 4 battleground here. Now, the good news, Anderson, is that a lot of this land here is -- I won't say uninhabited, but small villages, fishing communities, and no really major roadways. This is not major structure through here. So, this land here that is lightly populated will take most of the brunt of this storm, before it moves into La Ceiba, although maybe even into Belize or Guatemala.

The biggest threat right now is not from wind damage or storm surge in this lightly populated area. But for, let's say, Tegucigalpa, the area here in -- in the mountains, when we're going to get this rain in the mountains, we're going to get mudslides, and we're going to get flooding, and this is going to be a flood maker, like Mitch was, and that did a lot of damage, even to Roatan, the islands there just north of Honduras, right up through here, and also to the interior of Honduras.

We will have the latest for you at about five to 10 minutes before 11:00. That is when the latest from the Hurricane Center comes out. That will be a new track and all coming up in less than an hour -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. We will bring that to you live as well. Thanks very much, Chad. (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's turn now to Susan Candiotti on the ground in La Ceiba, Honduras -- Susan.


People here are very, very worried, because they potentially could be in the direct path of Hurricane Felix. And they have good reason to be worried here, a lot of lowlands here.

The Bay Islands, where a lot of tourists go, off the shore of La Ceiba, those islands have been evacuated back here. There are a lot of -- there's a lot of farm country here, banana crops grown here. And there is the potential for a lot of flooding.

Remember what happened when Mitch hit here back in 1998, Honduras simply devastated by the rains, as Chad was talking about, up to a foot of rain, a storm surge potentially hitting here of up to 20 feet.

We are just higher than that in the hotel where we are staying. There are no shelters that are open here yet. The philosophy of the governor and the government here is to open those shelters after the storm, something we are not used to hearing about in the United States. But people here, for now, anyway, are prepared to remain in their homes, see what the damage is, and then seek shelter if they have to afterwards -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Candy Crowley -- thanks, Crowley.

The other side of the story that is still rocking the country tonight, Larry Craig, the senator from Idaho, who says he was not soliciting sex in an airport men's room. What must his wife be going through? We are going to get a unique perspective on that in a moment.


COOPER (voice-over): He resigned after denying the rumors.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I am not gay. I never have been gay.

COOPER: She's been there, but her husband said something very different.


COOPER: One political wife's advise for another, and the surprising details of how her husband revealed his secret life.

Later: nooses hanging from a tree, black teenagers facing life in prison for a schoolhouse fight, all-white juries dispensing justice. Louisiana 1967? Wrong. It is all happening now -- tonight, race and justice in a small Southern town -- ahead on 360. (END VIDEOTAPE)



CRAIG: I am -- I am not gay. I don't do these kinds of things and...


DAVE KARSNIA, INVESTIGATIVE SERGEANT: That doesn't matter. I don't care about sexual preference or anything like that.

Here's your stuff back, sir. I don't care about sexual preference.

CRAIG: I know you don't. You're out to enforce the law.


CRAIG: But you shouldn't be out to entrap people either.

KARSNIA: This isn't entrapment.


COOPER: Those words were from Senator Larry Craig last week, as he tried to work his way out of a bathroom scandal. He could not.

And, this weekend, he announced his resignation. We will have much more on this in a moment.

But, first, tonight's other headlines.

Randi Kaye has a 360 bulletin -- Randi.


North Korea claims the U.S. will take the country off its terror list. But, tonight, an American official says, not so fast. A senior State Department official says North Korea still needs to do several more things before the U.S. could take it off of the list, including key aspects of denuclearization.

This past weekend, the chief U.S. negotiator said that North Korean officials have agreed to disable their nuclear program by the end of this year.

The survivor of a mine shaft accident near Chloride, Arizona, has been upgraded to serious condition. Ten-year-old Casie Hicks was riding an all-terrain vehicle with her 13-year-old sister, when they fell into an abandoned shaft Saturday night. Her sister was found dead the next morning. The mine shaft was hidden by brush and was not marked by any signs or barriers. And beachgoers in east central New Jersey caught a break this Labor Day. Officials reopened up a three-mile stretch of beach where medical waste had washed ashore yesterday. The debris included syringes and gauze. It is not yet known where all of that waste came from.

COOPER: Yikes.

KAYE: Yes.

COOPER: Imagine washing up -- you're laying on the beach and that stuff washing up. Unbelievable.

KAYE: Not exactly what you want to see.

But now, Anderson, our segment "What Were They Thinking?" You are going to like this one.

If you have facial hair, this one is definitely for you. These guys -- check that out -- they were crazy enough to let their mustaches and beards go crazy, as they competed in the world Beard and Mustache Championship this past weekend in Brighton, England.

About 250 contestants took part in that contest. They were barred, of course, from using extensions or hairpins, though wax and hair spray, we were told, was allowed in some of those cases.

Now, Anderson, I understand -- I'm told that you were once involved in, the record shows, in one of these contests?

COOPER: Really? I didn't know that.

KAYE: Yes.


KAYE: So...

COOPER: I forgot about that.

KAYE: ... our researchers went...


COOPER: There it is.

KAYE: ... through the files, and they dug it up. There it is, in fact. Not sure what year that was, that...


KAYE: ... that contest, but lots of folks here, Anderson, asking...


KAYE: ... why you shaved it off. It was a good look for you.

COOPER: Yes. Well, maybe -- maybe, some day, I will grow it back.

KAYE: Yes, it's kind of nice.


COOPER: Randi, thanks.

The latest scandal to rock the Republican Party took the turn that many expected this weekend. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho said he will resign. He's not stepping down immediately, however. He is going to do that at the end of this month, he says.

Take a look at some of his comments.


CRAIG: To Idahoans, I represent, to my staff, my Senate colleagues, but, most importantly, to my wife and my family, I apologize for what I have caused. I am deeply sorry.

It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30.


COOPER: Well, Craig's long career in Congress collapsed last week, you will remember, after his arrest by an undercover police officer in a airport restroom after that story became public.

Craig was accused of making sexual advances and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He insists he is not gay. He also says he pleaded guilty just to make the case go away, and now regrets the decision and plans to try to reverse the conviction.

Craig's wife, Suzanne, and two of their three children stood by him at Saturday's news conference. It could not have been an easy day for any of them, just like it wasn't for Dina Matos McGreevey to stand by her husband's side three years ago, when he announce he was resigning as New Jersey's governor and is gay.

The couple is now divorcing. And she has written a book, "Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage," about that difficult time.

I spoke with her earlier today.


COOPER: So many of us remember that day when -- when you were standing beside your husband when he announced that he was a gay American.

As you saw Suzanne Craig standing by her husband when he resigned this weekend, what -- what went through your mind?

DINA MATOS MCGREEVEY, AUTHOR, "SILENT PARTNER: A MEMOIR OF MY MARRIAGE": Well, the first thing I wanted to do was, you know, put my arms around her and say how sorry I was, and -- and how, you know, difficult I know it is for her, and just to offer her support.

I saw her standing there. And I thought, oh, my gosh, that was me just -- just three years ago. And I know the pain and anguish that, you know, she is experiencing.


COOPER: And, I mean, you wrote about it in your book, but, I mean, describe that -- what is it like to -- I mean, that whole day, and -- and it has got to be surreal, to say the least...


COOPER: ... when you are standing there.

MATOS MCGREEVEY: Well, it's -- many people have asked me, what is it like? How did you feel while you were standing there?

And I was still in shock. I was in a fog. So, you know, it certainly -- you could see the faces, but I was not focused on anyone. And all I kept thinking was, I have to stand here and not fall apart in front of all these -- these people and in front of the cameras.

But I can imagine that, you know, she felt the same way. It is -- it's like an out-of-body experience. You are there physically, but you are really not there in the moment. And you have, you know, a million things going through your mind.

COOPER: What is your advice to her?

MATOS MCGREEVEY: Well, I would just -- hopefully -- you know, I hope that he's been completely honest with them, whatever the truth is. And I don't want to speculate as to, you know, what is true and what is not true.

But, you know, certainly, the fact that he pleaded guilty raises some questions. And it is humiliating for his family.

But I would say, you know, ask -- ask the tough questions, and -- and just be sure that he is honest with you. And then deal with it however you think you -- you need to, or whatever is best for you, not what is politically expedient, or what people want you to do, or your husband wants you to do, because it is really about her and, you know, moving on from -- from this painful experience.


COOPER: We will have more of our interview right after the break, including a surprising answer to this question: How did Governor McGreevey tell his wife that he is gay?

And, later, six young black men face decades in prison for a schoolyard fight with a white student. It is a case which has shocked the nation and divided a small Louisiana town, with many black residents saying the civil rights movement just never came to their community.

That is ahead on 360.


COOPER: Well, for most of us, the career-ending revelations about Senator Larry Craig have played out at a distance, like any other political scandal. But for Dina Matos McGreevey, the story hits uncomfortably close to home.

Three years ago, she stood next to her husband, then Governor Jim McGreevey, when he announced he was stepping down as New Jersey's governor, and announcing he's gay. He dropped the bombshell on her just hours before they faced the television cameras.

And that's where part two of our interview picks up.


COOPER: How did say it to you?

MATOS MCGREEVEY: Well, the first day, we sat down and he told me about being blackmailed. And when I asked him why, he said, well, I had a relationship. And he said it was sexual, but not sexual. So, he was not even admitted it to himself.

The second day, he was trying to figure out, you know, what he would do, whether he was going to -- to pay this guy off or -- and he said to me, well, you know, if I pay him off, we won't be able to put our daughter through college. We will never own a home.

And I was thinking, well, what is the sense of paying him? We don't have a marriage after this. And, then, the third day, he was meeting with his advisers. And he came upstairs with the copy of his speech. And he said, I want you to read what -- what I am going to say during the press conference.

And that is the first time I read the words, "I am a gay American." Actually, the night before, he had said to me, well, I am confused about my sexuality. I think might be gay.

And then the next morning, I am reading a copy of the speech, and I -- I looked up at him and I said, what do you think? Do you think you -- you mean you are confused or where is that -- where is this coming from?

And he says, well -- he just looked at me. And his friend, his -- one of his mentors said, no, that is what he is, and we have to accept -- you know, we have to accept it.

And I thought, well, that is easy for you to say.

COOPER: Wow. MATOS MCGREEVEY: But, you know, this is all new to me.

COOPER: And -- and you had no idea, no...


COOPER: I mean, in hindsight, I'm sure there's a million things which you pick up on.

MATOS MCGREEVEY: Well, there were signs. And, you know, I talk about them in the book.

But, individually, they really didn't mean anything. You know, no relationship, no marriage is perfect. And I never had any suspicions.

COOPER: It is an interesting notion that, you know, the -- the -- whatever it is that has driven -- or, in the case of your husband, whatever it was that drove your husband to not want to, you know, be open...


COOPER: ... really does affect everyone around.

MATOS MCGREEVEY: Absolutely. And, you know, we need to allow people to be who they are.

And had he been, you know, raised in a climate where homosexuality was accepted, perhaps he wouldn't have destroyed the lives that he did.

COOPER: Thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.



COOPER: That was Dina Matos McGreevey, the estranged wife of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey.

As we have just seen, politics can get very personal and painful. But where there is power, there's always going to be people hoping to get elected. We saw that in a big way today, as well.

With more in "Raw Politics," here is CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this Labor Day week marks a milestone in the labors of President Bush. He has just over 500 days left in office.

(voice-over): So, who is working hardest to get his job?

Back in Texas, give the nod to little-noticed Duncan Hunter. He has just padded his resume by winning the Lone Star straw poll. The big GOP names skipped it, but a headline is a headline, especially when you are not getting many.

Working together, the big Democrats are hammering the chaotic primary calendar into shape. The party has threatened sanctions against states moving their votes up earlier in the year. Now, virtually all of the candidates are supporting the party. That will protect, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina as the bellwethers, and it will make Florida and Michigan very angry.

Going to work with the cows. Big Joe Biden says Iowa is the focus of his campaign. He's low enough in the polls and money, if he does not finish in the top three Dems, he'll probably call in sick for the rest of the election.

And Fred Thompson, set to join the race this week, is certainly punching in later than most. So the Newsweek article "Lazy like a Fox" echoes concern among the Republicans that Mr. "Law & Order" just won't work hard enough to win. Thompson's response -- well, let's not wake him.

(on camera) OK. Just kidding. Don't call the D.A.'s office.

Camp Thompson has said all along, look, this guy was a successful senator. He was a star actor. He's serious about the White House. He's hardly a slacker. And as you know, actors and politicians are among the hardest working of all Americans -- Anderson.


COOPER: Tom, thanks.

Don't miss "Raw Politics" and the day's headlines with the new 360 daily podcast. You don't need an iPod. You can watch it on your computer: Or check out the iTunes store, where it's a top download.

Just ahead tonight, six teenagers accused of a violent crime. Was it attempted murder or just a schoolhouse fight? That's one question you'll get to answer, but not the most chilling one, which is as scary as it is simple. Simply put, are the bad old days of the racist south lingering in the town we'll take you to next?


COOPER (voice-over): Nooses hanging from a tree, black teenagers facing life in prison for a schoolhouse fight, all-white juries dispensing justice. Louisiana in 1967? Wrong. It's all happening now.

Later, brace yourself; it's happening again. First Dean and now Felix. Another monster hurricane. We're tracking the storm as people scramble for safety, ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Take a look at that tree. It plays a significant role in the story we're about to tell you. What happened under that tree has triggered a racial battle that is ripping a town apart.

The story is out of Jena, Louisiana. Many of you know about it. You've asked us to report on it. And depending on who you talk to, this is either a case of a town seeking justice for a young white student who was beaten or it's an example of racial injustice in which a town's law enforcement is unfairly going after six black high school students while ignoring the harassment and attacks that some of them have been subjected to.

Here are the facts, and we'll let you be the judge. Our in-depth reporting tonight begins with CNN's Susan Roesgen.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Marcus Jones is outraged and frightened. His son, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, has been found guilty of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, charges that could send him to prison for more than 20 years, and it all stems from a high school fight.

Back in September, black students sat under this tree in the school courtyard, where traditionally only white students sit. The next day, three white students hung nooses from the tree and were suspended. What the nooses meant divided the town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that a couple of the boys made a mistake, you know. But I think that it's all being blown out of proportion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very offended. Because that's a racial slur against us.

ROESGEN: From there things got worse. In November, someone set fire to the school, destroying one of its main buildings, though police don't know if there's a connection to the nooses.

Then in December, a school fight. A white student, Justin Barker, was knocked unconscious and kicked as he lay on the ground. Six black teenagers were accused of beating him.

(on camera) This is a copy of the school handbook here at Jena High School. It says that the punishment for a school fight is three days' suspension.

(voice-over) But in this case, the six black teenagers were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Carwyn Jones, Bryant Purvis, Robert Bailey Jr., Theodore Shaw, and a fifth teenager whose name hasn't been released, because he's only 16, are charged with attempted murder.

Now, the sixth teenager, Mychal Bell, has been found guilty of the lesser felony charge of aggravated battery. But all of the teenagers say they're innocent, and one of them told us he didn't even see what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, like when a fight break out, all of the kids just run to see the fight and that's just how it was. And everybody was in one part, and you really couldn't see nothing.

So when I'm running to -- when I'm running to see what's going on, I got down there to fight, and it was over with. The coaches and the students were breaking up the fight.

ROESGEN: The students' parents say whatever happened the only reason their sons were arrested is because they are black.

KELLI BARKER, MOTHER OF JUSTIN BARKER: Because I had never seen anything like this before in my life, and it is just -- it's mind- blowing. You know, it's heartbreaking, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No previous record of anything. And he's been taking it pretty hard at times, because we visit every Sunday. Sometimes he's OK, and the next minute, he's taking it very hard.

ROESGEN: The parents believe their sons just can't get a fair trial, when they're the minority in a town that's 85 percent white. Even some white residents agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are kids. They are kids. You're fixing to ruin these kids' lives.

ROESGEN: District attorney Reed Walters released a statement after the incident, saying he had never charged anyone based on who they are, but he also addressed the six black students directly, saying, "You will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I will see to it you never again menace the students at any school in this parish."

Since the arrest last December, Jena has seen protests denouncing the criminal charges against at the six black students as racially motivated, but there is another side of this story that's gone unreported.

KELLY BARKER, MOTHER OF VICTIM: He was getting kicked and stomped.

ROESGEN (on camera): Why?

BARKER: I don't know. You tell me.

ROESGEN (voice-over): For the first time, the parents of Justin Barker, the victim, agreed to be interviewed exclusively by CNN.

BARKER: Several lacerations in both sides and both of the ears was kind of damaged and both eyes. His right eye was the worst. It had blood clots in it.

ROESGEN: Kelly and David Barker say Justin has no idea why he was attacked, but his injuries have cost $12,000 in medical bills, and his parents do believe it was a case of attempted murder. BARKER: I wish to goodness it wouldn't have happened. I mean, they have parents and, you know, me and David are parents of Justin, and I hate it for them parents. I mean, I can only imagine, but I also have to think about my child and my family.

ROESGEN: The trial for Theodore Shaw will be next, in a town where fear and suspicion on both sides have made Jena an uncomfortable place to call home.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, Jena, Louisiana.


COOPER: Susan Roesgen joins us now live in Jena.

Just a couple of questions about this case. The young man who was beaten, the young white man, he basically -- his injuries, he was treated for some two hours and went to an event that night. So it's not like he spent weeks and weeks in the hospital. Is that correct?

ROESGEN: That is correct. But his parents like to point out that he did not participate in this fight. He didn't get a punch in. He was, in their opinion, viciously attacked. But he was well enough to go to a school function that very same night.

COOPER: Right. It started, he was punched in the back of the head and not even, you know, in his face. And it was just a sucker punch, basically, in the back of the head. And then he was kind of stomped on, allegedly, according to this report.


COOPER: But one of the young black men had been, in a previous situation, a couple of days and or a week or two before, at a party, predominantly white party, and a white student had broken a bottle over his head and attacked him.

And that white student only got charged with -- with a simple assault, not this aggravated assault, which is a much higher charge. Is that correct?

ROESGEN: That is true, Anderson. I think that's partly because it was at an off campus party.

In this case, that particular student, Mychal Bell, actually has four prior arrests, misdemeanor arrests. And he is the one tomorrow here at the courthouse, he's got a new lawyer. And his lawyer is going to argue that his conviction on the aggravated battery charge in this case either be thrown out completely or going to be bumped back to juvenile case, since he was only 16 at the time of the attack.

COOPER: All right. We're going to talk more about this. Thank you, Susan. Appreciate the report.

So what do you think of what is going on in Jena? Our in-depth report is going to continue in a moment with a legal panel on the case.

Also ahead tonight, an update on Hurricane Felix is expected within minutes. Where will the second monster storm of the hurricane season strike next? Full details ahead on 360.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very offended. Because that's a racial slur against us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that a couple of boys made a mistake, you know. But I think that it's all being blown out of proportion.


COOPER: Two sides, one story. Before the break we told you about the six black teenagers charged with the attempted murder of a white student in Jena, Louisiana.

One of the defendants was convicted of a lesser charge in June. He could face more than 20 years in prison. There's a hearing tomorrow.

Some say this all began when several black students in Jena High School sat under a tree that was traditionally used by white students. The next day, three nooses hung from that tree. That in itself is a story.

So is this a case about justice or modern day lynching?

Jordan Flaherty is the editor for "Left Turn" magazine, who broke the story. And Lisa Bloom is an anchor of Court TV. And Charles Ogletree is a Harvard Law School professor and advisor for the teenage defendants. I spoke to them earlier.


COOPER: Jordan, you've been covering the story since the beginning. You say it's a clear example of a two-tier system of justice. How so?

JORDAN FLAHERTY, EDITOR, "LEFT TURN" MAGAZINE: I think that we've seen a public defender office that is under resourced. I think that we've seen these kids haven't gotten a proper defense up until this point. And I think, you know, people around the country have been really concerned about what this says about our system.

COOPER: Professor Ogletree, you're working as an advisor in the defense of these African-American young men. Mychal Bell tomorrow has a hearing. He's already been convicted of second degree aggravated battery, as well as conspiracy.

You say the trial was a complete travesty. How so and what are his chances of appeal?

CHARLES OGLETREE, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: Well, let me count the ways. The lawyer didn't call any witnesses. He didn't do any real investigation. The jury was all white. No African-American served on the jury in a community where race is very significant.

The prosecutor played -- had some very threatening remarks. And I hope to God that this judge doesn't let this case go forward to a sentencing yet. There is a lot of post trial work. There needs to be a new hearing and new evidence presented.

More importantly, this is a community that's divided along race lines. White kids had nooses, nooses in the 21st century, hanging from a tree. That's not a joke.

COOPER: I want to talk about the nooses and especially the school in just a moment, but Lisa, just as an outside observer, what do you think the chances of an appeal are? And what do you make of this trial?

LISA BLOOM, ANCHOR, COURT TV: Well, legally, I think it's tough; morally and politically, disgusting what's going on down there.

But to show ineffective assistance of counsel, Anderson, is a very, very high standard. The Supreme Court has said a drunk lawyer, a lawyer who sleeps through the trial, they are effectively assisting their client.

I mean, if the lawyer essentially shows up and stays awake and does most of what we expect done at trial, that's probably going to be effective assistance of counsel.

It is disturbing that it's an all-white jury in a racially charged case, but it's an 85 percent white community. I don't know how many blacks were in the jury pool. You know, so these facts, when they're teased out, may not fly legally, may not help these defendants.

COOPER: Jordan, you've been covering this. This is a school system which basically seems to condone a situation where black students sit on one side of the gymnasium and white students on the other side of the gymnasium.

A school system which condones a tree where white students get to sit and where African-Americans students, you know, the one time they do try to sit there and nooses are hung. And the students, I mean, basically get a slap on the wrist for hanging nooses.

FLAHERTY: That's absolutely right, a slap on the wrist. I believe they got two days of suspension. And meanwhile, there's also, just outside of the school, a black student was beaten up by white students a couple of days before the incident.

COOPER: Right. One of the African-American students was actually accused in this case, one of the African-American students, had a bottle broken over his head. And the white student who did that was charged with simple assault, not -- not the greater charge of aggravated assault.

FLAHERTY: And received probation. And I think that people of Jena are really concerned that their -- that their town is going to become synonymous with racism.

COOPER: Lisa, had the school actually reported the fact that these nooses were hung, an investigation could have been done by outside authorities.

BLOOM: Well, the school actually has an obligation under federal law to take prompt remedial action when there's racial harassment, just like when there's sexual harassment.

And so the school, arguably, completely fell down on its obligations by treating those nooses as though they were, quote, "a silly prank." That's what the school said. And they missed an opportunity to educate. They missed an opportunity to set these kids straight. And this situation spun out of control after they missed that opportunity.

COOPER: And tomorrow, Mychal Bell is in court, and what's going to happen tomorrow?

OGLETREE: I hope what will happen, at the end of the day, is the judge will say, "You know what? There's something wrong with this process. Let the court hear all the evidence in a dispassionate way, and justice begins to be served in Jena."

This will not go away. It's not going to disappear. And this is now having national and international light shed on it. So I applaud the lawyers who are fighting for these young men. I applaud the community coming together. And I applaud the white citizens of Jena who are saying, "You know what? If there's something wrong with our town, let's fix it."

COOPER: Professor Charles Ogletree, we appreciate your time. Jordan Flaherty, as well. And Lisa Bloom, as always. Thank you.

FLAHERTY: Thank you.

OGLETREE: Thank you.


COOPER: Just ahead, he went to bed an accountant, and he woke up a multimillionaire. He also said he had some unusual help winning the lottery. Wait until you hear his explanation.

Also ahead, the latest on the fast moving storm that has many fleeing for safety. Hurricane Felix, next on 360.


COOPER: We continue to keep a close eye on Hurricane Felix, a powerful storm racing toward Central America. It is moving closer to the Nicaragua-Honduras border with winds of 135 miles per hour.

CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers joins us again with an update -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, yes, the very latest coming out. And I'll have the 11 p.m. update coming out. And all the things remain the same: 135 miles per hour, 115 knots, not expected to be a Category 5 before making landfall.

And literally, landfall is only about eight or nine hours away. That eye is very, very close now, about to make landfall south of the Honduras-Nicaragua border and track all the way over toward and just to the south of Tegucigalpa.

This is the area. This is a mountainous region here of Honduras that I'm most concerned about. Where it's going the slam ashore, sparsely populated fishing villages at best. So this is the good news. It's not going to hit a major populated area.

And then it's going to lose a lot of power, but as it loses its power, it's put down a lot of water, a lot of rainfall, maybe a foot of rainfall across the mountains of Honduras, the same type of problem that caused so much damage with Mitch years and years ago.

And we could see the same type of thing here, with mudslides. And the potential for significant flooding is now even greater than it was maybe the last advisory as it's going to stay on the shore, on land longer -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Chad. Thanks for the update.

Randi Kaye joins us now with a quick check of the headlines in a "360 Bulletin" -- Randi.


Take a look at this. An explosion kicked off the biggest ever expansion of the Panama Canal. The 5.2 billion project is expected to double the waterway capacity and lower the price of consumer goods on the East Coast of the U.S. The work should be completed by 2014.

In Kittery, Maine, more than 1,000 people chipped in to build this 32-foot-high sand castle. The intent is to get into "The Guinness Book of World Records and to raise funds for terminally ill children and their families.

The current record is 29.25 feet, which just so happened to be built four years ago by the very same person who created that castle.

And a Maryland accountant who appears to have become an overnight multimillionaire says he owes his good fortune to pagan gods associated with his Wiccan beliefs.

Elwood "Bunky" Bartlett bought two $5 Megamillions lottery tickets Friday on his way to a New Age bookstore where he teaches. He said he asked for the gods to help and promised to continue teaching Wicca if he won.

Well, if his ticket is confirmed, he will share a $330 million jackpot.

If it was only that easy, right?

COOPER: I guess so.

KAYE: Ask the gods, and there you are.

COOPER: There you go.

Just one note before we go tonight. You know, you've just been watching the first ever edition of 360 in hi-definition television, hi-def. And at this point I think only like three or four people can actually see us in hi-definition, but most of them are my bosses, so we think it's important.

But don't ask me how the whole hi-def things work, but the kids on the Internets (sic), they tell me it's the thing to get.

For those of you who have not seen hi-definition images, I want to give you the chance to see what you're missing. See, this is me in the old-fashioned standard TV, but check out what I look like in hi- definition. Do we have that?


COOPER: There you go. That's it me on CNNHD. Not a wrinkle, not a line. Isn't that amazing? This stuff?

See, on the old TV, the regular TV, when I raise my eyebrows, I have all these lines. See, in hi-def, eyebrows raised, no lines. Technology is amazing.

Just ahead, tracking Hurricane Felix. A live report from where the storm is expected to make landfall.

Also, ahead of a pending showdown in Congress, the president touches down in Iraq and hints that more troops may be headed home sooner than expected. We'll take a look at that ahead.