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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Pat Robertson Calls for Assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Aired August 23, 2005 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, HOST: Pat Robertson, as you know, Larry, has made a handsome living and a controversial reputation preaching the evangelical gospel and saying outrageous things, saying the United States government should kill, some might say murder, an elected head of state, even one who's a pain in the side of the Bush administration is just another example.
But words, even wacky words, have consequences, and evangelical leaders worried out loud today whether Mr. Robertson's words may put missionaries around the world at risk. Political leaders worried it makes the so-called Christian right seem neither Christian nor right.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why the Venezuelan president has become more dangerous to the U.S. than Fidel Castro ever was.

BROWN (voice-over): It was the lead story on "The 700 Club" last night. Pat Robertson getting right to it.

PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTER: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has a new ally in South America. His name, Hugo Chavez. And he's the president of oil-rich Venezuela.

KRISTI WATTS, HOST, "THE 700 CLUB": Chavez has decided that America is his enemy, and he's threatening to cut off oil deliveries to the United States.

BROWN: The set-up piece about Chavez came complete with a cavorting devil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But this devil that Hugo Chavez fights does not reside in Hell. Chavez believes the devil resides in Washington.

BROWN: If outrageous comments are sacred, Robertson is often divinely inspired. But he hit a new high, or perhaps a new low, depending on your point of view, in calling for the assassination, the murder, of Hugo Chavez.

PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTER: We have the ability to take him out. And I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with. BROWN: But the Reverend Robertson courts controversy. The feminist agenda, he once said, can lead to witchcraft and become lesbianism.

And on gays, he said this: "When lawlessness is abroad in the land, the same thing will happen here that happened in Nazi Germany. Many of those involved in Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many of them were homosexuals. The two," he said, "seem to go together."

Robertson, who is now 75, is still prominent among the nation's 60 million Christian evangelicals. "The 700 Club" is his public pulpit. He used it, for example, to say that he hopes God will intervene with the U.S. Supreme Court.

ROBERTSON: We ask, my God, that you would take control of this court, that you would take control of the confirmation process for Judge Roberts, that you would bring about other vacancies on that court, that we might see a change, that somehow or other the rights that belong to God and to the people might be restored, as they were intended when this nation was founded.

BROWN: And while many social conservatives share that view, few conservatives of any stripe signed on to a suggestion of state- sponsored murder. On that one, the Reverend Robertson seems to stand alone.

ROBERTSON: You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.


BROWN: Today, President Chavez said he didn't know who Robertson is and couldn't care less about what he said. Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, on the hand, demanded the White House condemn Rev. Robertson's remarks. The White House did not, though the U.S. State Department was quick to say the minister's comments do not represent the views of the United States.

In truth, the U.S. has a very complicated relationship with Venezuela. It is no fan of President Chavez. The feeling is mutual. From the State Department tonight, CNN's Andrea Koppel.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hugo Chavez put President Bush on trial this month, a mock trial. Chavez says the U.S. president was guilty of imperialism.

It's become a familiar refrain from the Venezuelan president, like his close ally, Fidel Castro, a charismatic strong man with a flair for the dramatic, eager to portray himself as Latin America's David to the United States' Goliath.

MICHAEL SHIFTER, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: He has a vision of what he calls a Bolivarian revolution, which is named after the independence hero, Simon Bolivar, in Latin America, to try to create a unified Latin America in solidarity to oppose the United States.

KOPPEL: And Chavez is broadcasting that message throughout the region on a new Venezuela satellite TV network dedicated to promoting anti-U.S. propaganda.

Chavez told CNN last year he blamed the Bush administration for a failed coup attempt in 2002. And while the U.S. denied any involvement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not mince words during her confirmation hearing.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that we have to view at this point the government of Venezuela as a negative force in the region.

KOPPEL: That sparked a war of words between the U.S. and Chavez, the Venezuelan leader hitting below the belt with a sexual slur against Rice.

SHIFTER: He knows that's what most irritates U.S. officials, what also draws out a response, which he thrives on.

KOPPEL: But these days, Chavez is using more than rhetoric. He's spending Venezuela's vast oil wealth to support other leftist leaders in the hemisphere, like in Bolivia, undermining U.S. efforts to spread democracy. He's courting oil-hungry countries like China and sworn U.S. enemies like Iran. And just this month, he suspended cooperation on counter-narcotics with the U.S.

But far more troubling for the Bush administration, Chavez's latest threat to cut off Venezuelan oil exports, which account for about 10 to 15 percent of U.S. oil imports, hitting the U.S. where he knows it would hurt most.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, at the State Department.


BROWN: Well, it's one thing for a private citizen to call for the assassination of a foreign leader. Another altogether for the U.S. government to do so. And today, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said pointblank to reporters, "Our department doesn't do that kind of thing," which isn't to say the U.S. government has never tried.

Here's CNN's Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three Cold War enemies of the U.S. in the 1960s and '70s, Cuba's Fidel Castro, the Belgian Congo's Patrice Lumumba, Chile's Salvador Allende. The U.S. game plan, and experts debate how far it went, "Get rid of them."

PROF. BRUCE BAGLEY, UM INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: We're one of the largest, most powerful countries in the world. Who's going to stop us?

CANDIOTTI: On a sweltering day in Florida, University of Miami Professor Bruce Bagley says the U.S. has paid a high price for its alleged role in political assassinations.

BAGLEY: They're counterproductive, and ultimately they don't serve American purposes.

CANDIOTTI: In 1961, a U.S. government committee found that two CIA officials were instructed to take out the Congo's first prime minister, socialist Patrice Lumumba. They planned to use poison, but before they could, Lumumba was killed by a Congolese firing squad.

BAGLEY: We've also attempted to use bombs and poison, with Fidel Castro exploding cigars, shoe polish, and a variety of other techniques.

CANDIOTTI: In the early '70s, Chile's socialist President Salvador Allende was killed during a coup. America denied involvement, but it's widely believed to have played a role. The consequences: Blowback.

In Castro's case...

BAGLEY: Efforts at assassinating Fidel Castro simply strengthened him internally and justified his further repression, in order to protect himself from the United States.

CANDIOTTI: For decades, chaos followed Lumumba's death in the Congo. In Chile, Augusto Pinochet followed Allende and led a repressive regime for nearly two decades. He's now charged with corruption.

After congressional hearings in the mid-'70s, President Ford, then President Reagan, issued executive orders banning political killings saying, "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in assassination."

A former deputy national security adviser says it's a rule that cuts both ways.

JAMES STEINBERG, FMR. DEP. NAT. SEC. ADVISER: Imagine if people thought that international said, whenever you disagree with the country, you doesn't like the United States Iraq policy, so you're entitled to do something about the leader of the United States, clearly that would be unacceptable.

CANDIOTTI: But as U.S. campaigned to capture or kill Osama bin Laden indicates, for a non-head of state, there are exceptions to the rule.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.


BROWN: Noel Koch joins us from Washington now. He's a former director of special planning at the Department of Defense.

Nice to see you. Let's start with the bin Laden example, because it may be the case where the 100 percent all-the-time rule doesn't apply. In a case like bin Laden, is assassination appropriate?

NOEL KOCH, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: The president can issue a finding that it is appropriate, but the general ruling is the Executive Order 1233, that began with President Ford, which forbade us to indulge in these kinds of activities.

In the past, I got involved in some of this, in which we tried to go after some of the terrorist leaders in Europe during the '60s, when that was part of my watch.


KOCH: And we didn't directly -- we developed notional scenarios. And we did this in collaboration -- I did this personally -- in collaboration with some of my counterparts in Europe. And when we finally took this -- or I took directly to the secretary of defense, he happened to be away at the time. Frank Carlucci was acting secretary.

He came to my office. He slid this memo across the table to me. He didn't want anybody else in the room while we had the discussion. And he said, "Don't ever put anything like this on paper." I said, "How can we plan to deal with these problems if we can't put it on paper?" He said, "We can't."

And he went on to say that the fact that we're having this conversation, we could be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit murder.

BROWN: So let's set -- if it's possible, let's set aside for a second the legal arguments and talk about it at a practical level and, to the extent that such things apply in such matters, a moral level. Would it be -- I mean, the president said, "We're going after bin Laden, dead or alive."

Let's talk about dead. At a practical level, ought the United States of America do that?

KOCH: I don't see a point in doing it. The fact is, we don't know whether he's dead or alive. But I think there's a consensus now that, if he is dead, that it's not going to change the movement that he started.

So the real issue is, do you have a practical benefit, putting aside for a moment -- and I don't think we should put it too far aside, the moral issues involved in this thing -- but do you gain anything by killing the leader of a group?

Oddly enough, our interest in going after them in Europe was based on an assumption that we could have a benefit, that, if cut the head off the problem, that the rest of the problem would wither.

BROWN: I think the Israelis, Mr. Koch, would argue that their program of targeted assassinations served their interests. Perhaps others would argue otherwise. But I think the Israelis would certainly make that argument.

KOCH: Well, not all of them do. We've been tutored in the Israeli approach for some time. And some people think it's efficacious. In fact, the Israelis have had to build a wall to secure themselves. They were pushed out of southern Lebanon. They've been pushed out of Gaza. Eventually, they'll have to leave the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

Most Israelis will tell you that they are not secure, they're not going to be secure until they solve this problem, and it's not going to be solved by force.

BROWN: Go back to that -- just a final point on the bin Laden question. I know this honestly makes me look small. But at some level, I just think I, and I think the country, would feel better if some drone missile popped him in the mountains of Afghanistan.

KOCH: Well, if your policy is to make yourself feel better, then you can do it. But advocating these things -- look, I want to make one point here.

As a result of what Mr. Robertson has done -- my company, Transecure, is a private intelligence organization. We collect and analyze information around the globe to help our corporate clients understand the source and the gravity of the risk that confronts their travelers and their in-country operations.

Now, within hours after this unfortunate statement by Mr. Robertson, we began to see the indicators flutter. And there's no question in my mind that we are going to have Americans hurt and probably killed, not just in Caracas, or just in Venezuela, but throughout the southern hemisphere.

The threat level against Americans is rising very rapidly as a result of what one of them referred to me -- when he was talking to me -- as the ignorance of arrogance. And there's a tremendous amount of resentment toward this sort of thing.

BROWN: Mr. Koch, that is a great good exclamation point on this whole discussion. We said at the beginning words have consequences. And you just pointed them out. Thank you. It's good to talk to you.

KOCH: Thank you.

BROWN: Terrific guest. Thank you.

In a moment, trouble in paradise, where committing the crime can mean doing a lot of time.

But first, about a quarter past the hour. Time for some of the other headlines of the day. Ms. Hill has joined us again tonight from Atlanta.

Welcome back. ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Thanks. I thought I'd pop in for the evening.

BROWN: Thank you.

HILL: Thank you for having me.

Aaron, we start off with actually some plans for tomorrow's news. President Bush is going to spend two hours tomorrow meeting with the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. That meeting, however, will not include Cindy Sheehan. She returns tomorrow to Crawford from visiting her mother who is ill. The president said Ms. Sheehan, quote, "doesn't represent the view of a lot of the families I have met with."

Lance Armstrong facing some new accusations now. Despite a record seven victories in the Tour de France, he just can't seem to win with some people. The French sports daily, "Le Equipe," published a four-page article, headlined, "The Armstrong Lie."

The article suggests urine samples from 1999, the year of his first victory, tested positive last year for the red-cell booster known as EPO. As always, Lance Armstrong denies taking performance- enhancing drugs.

And more trouble for the mother of the teenage boy who accused Michael Jackson of molestation. She now faces five felony charges for fraudulently obtaining welfare benefits. A complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court charged the mother with illegally collecting $18,000 in welfare payments -- Aaron?

BROWN: Erica, thank you. We'll check back with you in a half- hour. It's nice to have you back.

More to come on the program tonight, starting with the price at the pump and what people are doing about it.


BROWN (voice-over): There is this way....

JEFF LENARD, NATIONAL ASSN. OF CONVENIENCE STORES: It's gone from a teen which might be doing it for the thrill as much as the $5 or $10 stolen, to all demographics.

BROWN: ... people stealing it.

Here's another way of coping: Cutting back.

BETH GIOFFI, DISCOUNT SHOPPER: It's killing me, killing me and my family. I don't know what we're going to do.

BROWN: And will economizing also damage the economy?

Also tonight, a governor, a phone, and a tape recorder.

FREDRIC DICKER, "NEW YORK POST": My jaw almost hit the floor. BROWN: What did the governor say, and how about his wife?

Plus, it began as holiday in paradise. It could end with a decade and a half in Hell, for just two pills.

And later, for him it was simple.

LUKE STRICKLIN, COUNTRY MUSICIAN: I've always played music. And I've always played army.

BROWN: Now both are burned into his soul.

STRICKLIN (singing): The bottom of my boots sure are getting worn...

BROWN: Burning into his soul and burning up the charts. His song, his story, because this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Central Park South on a cooler summer night. If this story sounds familiar, it's because it is. It's virtually a carbon copy of the story that grabbed headlines here and around the world last spring.

A young, attractive, Australian woman busted in Indonesia on drug charges, facing a long sentence if convicted. In truth, not just pretty young women get busted in Bali, but they do seem to get the headlines.

Here's CNN's Zain Verjee.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She makes her living posing for cameras, but Michelle Leslie, who models under the name Michelle Lee, did not want to show her face this time, now that she may be facing drug charges.

Leslie was on the resort island of Bali on Saturday night after a modeling gig in Singapore, enjoying the cheap and easy to get to paradise, like so many Australian tourists. On her way to a disco, along with three local friends, Leslie was stopped and searched.

Officials say they found two ecstasy tablets in her Gucci bag. If charged and convicted, the 24-year-old Australian could face a maximum of 15 years in jail.

SYDNEY ROSS HILL, LAWYER: I've spoken to Ms. Leslie directly. And she's holding up as best she can in the intended circumstances.

VERJEE: At last word, Leslie's parents had not been able to speak to their distraught daughter. One of her friends, another model, rushed from Australia to offer moral support.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) I don't know anything. I'm just off and on my way.

VERJEE: With surprise raids and on-the-spot drug tests, one after another, young Australians traveling in Indonesia have been nabbed by police and accused of drug possession.

Twenty-one-year-old teacher Graham Payne was arrested on Saturday for allegedly having more than 2,000 ecstasy pills on him. He could be sentenced to death by firing squad if he's convicted.

Eight Australian men and one woman, known as the Bali Nine, is set to go on trial next month for allegedly trying to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.

In a case that got enormous attention, Australian Schapelle Corby was sentenced to 20 years in prison in May for smuggling marijuana into Bali. Indonesian authorities insist they are not targeting Australians in their drug raids, saying instead we're going after the big bosses, locals and foreigners.

Australian officials acknowledge the tough Indonesian drug laws and are warning their citizens.

PERTH ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER: Going into Asia with drugs, and being in possession of drugs in Asia, or trafficking drugs in and out of Asia or between countries in Asia is an enormously serious criminal offense.

VERJEE: Zain Verjee, CNN, Atlanta.


BROWN: Other news tonight, tabloids write good headlines. And today, the "New York Post" had a good one: "Bugged: Angry Governor Asks Feds to Probe Recordings." The gov is George Pataki, who might one day want to be president. The recordings feature him, his wife and others. No great scandal here, just a pretty fair story of what people say in their candid moments, that is, when they think no one's rolling tape.

Here's CNN's Mary Snow.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was simply labeled a Pandora's Box, a single cassette mailed to veteran political reporter Fred Dicker at the "New York Post."

FREDRIC DICKER, "NEW YORK POST": My jaw almost hit the floor because...

SNOW: Dicker says the tape contains a series of private conversations involving New York Governor George Pataki and some of those around him. The governor's office is not challenging the authenticity of the tapes.

At one point, Pataki's wife, Libby, is heard complaining to a political aide about her duties as first lady.

LIBBY PATAKI, WIFE OF GOV. GEORGE PATAKI: ... I said, "George, you know, I'm running around like an idiot. I'd rather be doing things that -- you know, major, big events and not all this stupid bull---- crap, so that when I do have to go out six nights in a row, let them get something out of it."

SNOW: Dicker says there are also discussions of patronage. At one point, the then-appointment secretary to the governor, Thomas Doherty, complains to former Republican Senator Alphonse D'Amato that commissioners weren't hiring his picks quickly enough.

THOMAS DOHERTY, APPOINTMENT SECRETARY TO THE GOVERNOR: ... and I said to her, "You know, you've got a f---ing Democrat as your number- two person and you're telling me that I can't get my f---ing people hired?"

SNOW: In statements, both D'Amato and Doherty say they were appalled that the private conversations were recorded. Dicker says, while no bombshells are dropped in the tapes, believed to be recorded in 1996 and '97, the key question is, who recorded them?

DICKER: Was there a federal or a state criminal investigation that was going on at the time that maybe intercepted these calls? Was there a spy within the administration keeping these records?

SNOW: Governor Pataki has asked the U.S. attorney to investigate.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: I have no reason to believe it was done in any way other than illegally by a third party.

SNOW: And he's angry that the conversations were made public by the media.

PATAKI: We don't believe that it's legal to publish them, according to the advice we've gotten from our lawyers. And an appropriate investigation is under way as it should be.

SNOW: In New York, it's illegal to tape phone recordings unless there's a court order or one of the party's knows the conversations are being taped.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


BROWN: Ah, but the question of publishing is something else.

Just ahead tonight, a quarter of a billion dollars to protect the subways and buses in New York. But can it protect them? A serious question about a new plan.

Also tonight, two stories from the pumps. How high prices may be choking the economy and fueling, at some level at least, crime. We take a break first from New York. This is NEWSNIGHT. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In the new normal, there are few, if any, easy answers. The questions are too big, including this: What will it take to keep the country's largest mass transit system safe from terrorism? The question has been on the table for nearly four years now and took on new urgency, of course, after the London subway and bus bombings.

Today, New York transit officials gave their answer. Here's CNN's Deborah Feyerick.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It moves more people underground, over water, and through the streets of New York than any other transit system in the country. It's the largest and the most vulnerable.

Half a billion dollars set aside after 9/11 just waiting to be spent. Now the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA, is unveiling a sweeping security upgrade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I have here is a subterranean view of this particular station. The more information is available to me, the more that I zoom into the systems.

FEYERICK: The plan? Install 1,00 closed-circuit surveillance cameras and 3,000 motion sensors in subways, bus stops, and commuter rails. The question is: Can it really prevent an attack or just detect when something's not quite right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This object has been left. And it's flashing red. That's what issued our alert.

FEYERICK: Here is how it works. If someone leave packages or enters a restricted zone, alarms are triggered right away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The system is designed to find the closest officer to that particular incident and dispatch them immediately.

FEYERICK: There are drawbacks. The cameras cannot detect anything out of frame or hidden in garbage cans.

MARK BONATUCCI, LOCKHEED MARTIN PROGRAM DIRECTOR: It has to be pixels that are visible to the camera. So once that object goes into the garbage it's occluded by what's already in the background.

FEYERICK: Also, it will take up to three years to build and install. No cameras would be located inside subway cars or buses, the very areas where terrorists detonated bombings in London and Madrid. Still the head of the transit agency feels it's the right way to go.

KATHERINE LAPP, MTA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: We were working very hard. Very expeditiously. We wanted to make sure that we did it right.

FEYERICK: Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor known for building planes, will be building the $212 million system.

LAPP: It's one that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world in any other transit agency in the world. And we will be on the cutting edge of this technology in order to protect our system against terrorist attack.

FEYERICK: Protect. Though it's any one's guess as to just how well. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


BROWN: A picture for you now and not a nice one at that. It's a makeshift memorial to a gas station owner in Alabama and perhaps a sign of the times. Surprisingly, virtually nobody -- or surprising virtually nobody rather, gasoline prices keep rising. Now averaging $2.61 a gallon for unleaded. That's a record in one respect but not in another. In today's money adjusting it for inflation, you'd have to pay $3.12 back in 1981. So in some respects gas is a bargain. Still gas prices have gone up 73 cents in the last year. Today the administration laid out plans for imposing gas mileage standards on SUVs. They have to average 22 miles a gallon, which isn't a lot by 2007. Getting there will cost money. Filling up already does. And at that gas station in Alabama, some of the bill has already come due only not in dollars. Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The high price of stealing gas, $52 and one death.

JOHN KITCHEN, TEXACO CUSTOMER: I was really shocked. He was such a friendly guy. Nice guy.

LOTHIAN: It happened in Fort Payne, Alabama. Police say the driver of an SUV had taken off from this Texaco without paying for $52 worth of fuel. That's when station owner, Husain "Tony" Caddi grabbed on to the vehicle, fell, and was allegedly run over by the fleeing suspect.

CLEVE PRICE, TEXACO CUSTOMER: Gas is not worth driving off. Whatever happens. It's just not worth it.

LOTHIAN: Especially here, where customers say Caddi was always willing to give them a break.

KITCHEN: I'd even had left my wallet at home. And I come here and out of gas. He would let me put gas in. I would go home and bring the money back.

LOTHIAN: A deadly turn in a crime often referred to as pump and run, or gas and dash. This Tiger Mart in Salisbury, Maryland, targeted. As was this BP Amoco Station in Steven's Point, Wisconsin. And this Mobil Station in Brookline, Massachusetts.

ELIAS AUDY, MOBIL STATION OWNER: A customer took off with $36 of gasoline. Once the light turned green, flew out of here like you wouldn't believe.

LOTHIAN: Some gas retailers are losing as much as $800 a month. Experts sat when gas prices spike, so do thefts out of frustration or desperation.

JEFF LENARD, NATIONAL ASSN. OF CONVENIENCE STORES: It's gone from a teen who might be doing it for the thrill as much as the five or ten dollars stolen, to all demographics including, late model SUV's pulling out with upwards of $50 or even $60 worth of gas.

LOTHIAN: In surveillance tape obtained by CNN from the Maryland Mart, a driver pulls in, fills up, replaces the gas cap while appearing to look around. Makes an odd maneuver, then according to management drives off without paying a dime. The same they allege for this woman who casually cleans her windshield before taking off. And one more flies an American flag while pumping and running.

(on camera): If this is such a big problem then why don't all retailers require everyone to prepay? Experts say that's because given the option some customers will go to a station that allows them to pump first and pay later.

(voice over): And because paying at the pump could impact the bottom line.

LENARD: They also are less likely to go inside the store and buy other items where margins are much healthier.

LOTHIAN: So surveillance cameras like this one in Wisconsin help retailers track the license plate numbers of offenders. In addition to prosecution, punishment in some 25 states could include the temporary loss of a driver's license. In Brookline, Elias Audy hopes to install security cameras at his station, so the next time someone drives off with his gas, he'll have the evidence on tape. No security cameras in Alabama, where a small community is still reeling from the gas station owner's death. As police search for the suspect a sign urges repent, then turn yourself in.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.


BROWN: Most people, of course, do pay and because they do, they now have less to spend on everything else. This is how recessions begin. In fact, every major recession since 1973 has been associated with a large spike in fuel prices. Will the same hold true this time? This might surprise you. Experts disagree. We'll find out soon enough I suppose. Until then, here's CNN's Allan Chernoff.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Beth Gioffi spent $64 to fill up her SUV this week.

BETH GIOFFI, DISCOUNT SHOPPER: It's killing me, killing me and my family. I don't know what we're going to do. CHERNOFF: What Gioffi is doing is economizing elsewhere, buying only necessities and telling her 6-year-old twins no.

GIOFFI: No more toys. Thank god my kids don't need toys so much, but where they used to get things that they didn't need they're not -- you know, they used to get it, but now they will have to do without it.

CHERNOFF: That's why Gioffi is shopping alone.

GIOFFI: Because if I brought them to the store, they would be asking for every three seconds, can I get this, can I get that, and usually I'd say sure, sure, sure. But, you know, that's why I come here alone. Because I just can't afford to say yes anymore.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Retailers that cater to value conscious consumers are feeling their customers pain even here at Dollar Tree where everything is a dollar, shoppers are cutting back.

(voice over): Americans with moderate incomes are taking fewer trips to the store and buying less.

MARIE PHAYER, DISCOUNT SHOPPER: Not buying so many things for my grandchildren. That's worth things and things and things just to give them.

CHERNOFF: Retailing experts say prices at the pump are squeezing the country's deepest discounters. Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and Dollar General. Not only are their core customers tightening up but they also have to pay more to get their products delivered.

ERIC BEDER, RETAIL ANALYST, BREAN MURRAY: If you're a dollar store you pretty much have to be a dollar. You can't really raise your prices to make up for these higher gas prices. So they're being hurt the most.

CHERNOFF: Wal-Mart, the world's number one retailer, says gas prices are slowing its sales growth. Shoppers still buying plenty of food there, but fewer high profit items.

GINO BRANDONISIO, DISCOUNT SHOPPER: I have to buy the things that I need, but as far as things that I want I have to cut down on that, because of the gas prices.

CHERNOFF: If gas prices keep rising, American economizing may have only just begun. While Beth Gioffi is buying less at the store, she's still spending plenty at the gas pump to keep driving her 2005 GMC Denali. Alan Chernoff, CNN, Garden City, New York.


BROWN: Still to come tonight, investigating the investigation of Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan again. Is the truth still out there.

And later, a singer, a songwriter a soldier reliving Iraq and climbing the charts. Break first, Around the World. This is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Since it was learned that former pro football star Pat Tillman died not from enemy guns in Afghanistan but friendly fire, the Army has denied it ever tried to mislead anyone, the country or Mr. Tillman's family. And from where we sit, no matter the circumstances of his death, the fact that Mr. Tillman gave up millions to join the Army after 9/11 made him a hero by any measure. There was no reason to guild the lily, which is exactly what the Army is suspected of doing by Mr. Tillman's family. They just want the truth. And they want anyone who tried to hide the truth punished. So another investigation has been launched. Here's CNN's David Ensor.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Pentagon's inspector general is reviewing the Army investigations into last year's friendly fire killing of former football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, officials say. The move comes in response to bitter complaints from Tillman's parents.

His father, Patrick Tillman, told "The San Francisco Chronicle" that quote, "the other investigations were frauds."

Tillman, who gave up a high-paying career with the National Football League to join Army Rangers was killed in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan, and the Army first said he died in combat against Taliban guerrillas. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, lauded at his funeral by Senator John McCain, and praised as a role model by President Bush. Six weeks later, the Army said he had been killed by mistake by members of his own company.

As a result of earlier Army investigations, seven soldiers received reprimands, but none of them were high-ranking officers.

The Tillmans claim that one report they were shown indicated that top Pentagon brass, including General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, knew soon after Tillman's death that it was friendly fire. "Hopefully something will come out of this," Pat Tillman's mother Mary told "The San Francisco Chronicles." "Many crucial things that happened did not come out in the earlier reports. People above should have been punished."

(on camera): The Army said in a statement some months ago that, quote, "procedural misjudgments and mistakes" led to an air of suspicion, and it said that no one intended to deceive the Tillman family or the public as to the cause of his death.

David Ensor, CNN, the Pentagon.


BROWN: In a moment, a place where the water refuses to give ground. A break first. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: In a moment, a little country music. The country is Iraq. But first, at about a quarter until the hour, time once again to check on the headlines of the day. Erica Hill again, in Atlanta.

HILL: Hello again, Mr. Brown. Alpine mountain villages in Austria, Germany and Switzerland look like Venice as floodwaters ran wild there. Just an amazing scene. In the Austrian state of Corinthia, one woman was actually trapped in her car for more than two hours.

Back in this country, shooting in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Glendale, Arizona, that's just outside Phoenix. That shooting left two people dead. The two Wal-Mart employees were killed as they were rounding up shopping carts in a parking lot. Police have arrested a suspect. One customer told "The Arizona Republic" the store was filled with screaming people trying to get out.

And if America seems to be getting fatter -- and it is -- the South is getting fattest. Glad to say that I live here. According to a new report, five states ranked highest in obesity -- Tennessee, Louisiana, West Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi -- the fattest, where nearly one in three adults is now overweight, Aaron.

BROWN: And it's only folks in Oregon were actually getting thinner in that survey.

HILL: Yeah, they did pretty well in the survey, actually.

BROWN: Yes, they did. It's all that salmon they eat. Thank you, Ms. Hill. We'll talk to you tomorrow.

Country music is all about storytelling, and Luke Strickland always wanted to be a country singer. But it wasn't until he got to Iraq that he found a story to tell.

He wrote a song and e-mailed it to his mom. She gave it to a local deejay. It hit the charts, and recently Luke Stricklin made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry. The story is his, and with a country at war, his story is ours.


LUKE STRICKLIN, COUNTRY ARTIST: I have been involved with music ever since I was an itty-bitty guy. I've always wanted to be soldier. I've always played music, and I've always played army. A young man named Sam, his mother and his sister worked for the coalition, asked me, they said, man, can you find a guitar? I said, yeah. I'm not sure where it was made. I'm sure it was made in maybe Jordan or Syria or somewhere like that, but it played, and I put some (INAUDIBLE) on that thing.

It all started when I looked at the bottom of my boots one day, and I said, oh, they are getting pretty worn. I thought, that's a good line.


Every time I called home and talked to mom, my wife and family, you know, it was, well, what's going on? You know, I've seen you on the news the other day. No, you didn't, you know, and change the subject. The original idea was kind of answer that question for them indirectly, try to give them a peace of mind. I tossed the idea around for about a week, had about a verse and the chorus, and sat down with a good friend of mine, JR Schultz, said, I have a pretty good song there, let's put your two cents on it. About an hour later, you know, we had it wrote.


You patrol this area so much and you get to know it just like a neighborhood at home, so you know the people. It's like being in a different world, compared to America. There's a lot of poverty, obviously.

What I felt the most was, you know, sadness for the children, because I have got a soft heart for little kids. You know, that was sad, to see how some of these children had to grow up, you know, in the slums.


America's wonderful, I tell you. I mean basically, America is kind of something that a lot of people take for granted. They take living in America for granted just like they take being able to jump in the car and drive down to the Quick Stop and get a candy bar, and, you know, come back to the house. And when those little things are took from you, you know, you realize how important they are.

I was sent home and it was maybe two or three weeks after I was sent home I called my mom and took it over to a local station. And they started playing it. And I thought well that's -- you know, neat. Hometown guy, you know, I can understand that. And then it just kind of bounced around.

The first time I heard it was when we came through Kuwait coming home. And there's a little place on Camp Doha called Frosty's and they were playing it, and, you know, I was where'd you all get that song. Some guys brought it through. It is neat.



BROWN: Okey dokey. A minute fifteen to fun through papers tonight but good stories.

International Herald Tribune. Fetal pain challenged in debate on abortion. Study concludes that fetuses don't feel pain in the first six months of gestation, but a doctor concedes it is an unknowable question. There you go.

Dallas Morning News. A very good story and a very dramatic picture. Lifelines and dead ends. Volunteers reach out to save migrants. U.S. says there stoking false hopes. That's a picture of the morgue in Tucson, Arizona, people who tried to get across the border and did not make it.

The Boston Herald leads with security watch story. But this is the headline I like. Goodbye Ruby Tuesday is the headline. Sixty- two-year-old Mick Jagger playing at Fenway Park with the Rolling Stones.

Cincinnati Enquirer, "Huggins out" they lead, sports. That's a basketball coach at Cincinnati. Five pages of coverage on this story. Man that is big.

Stars and Stripes, speaking of sports. Well, I don't know, DOD re-opens probe into Tillman's death. Does anyone believe the army didn't guild the lily on that.

If you're in Chicago tomorrow or thereabouts or just want to know the weather, according to the Sun Times, scrumptious. Seventy-eight degrees. Sounds pretty good. Picture of the day in a moment.


BROWN: OK. Here is your picture of the day. If you said it was going to be Franklin Ames of Saranac, New York, you got it right. He gets the Guinness Book of World Record for the world's longest eyebrow hair. Yikes. Three-and-a-half inches. What skill it took to do that. We'll see you tomorrow at ten o'clock Eastern. Good night, for all of us.