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Is Yemen New Front in War on Terror?; Should Airports Profile?

Aired December 29, 2009 - 15:00   ET



RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Making news right now on your national conversation, to those who know him, his behavior on Flight 253 is unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a peaceful person, friendly person. He was a devoted religious person.

SANCHEZ: Now we are learning more about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from his own writings.

Why is Yemen a new front in America's fight against terrorists?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have the pressure, the U.S. pressure, in the tribal areas in Pakistan forcing al Qaeda to send some of its assets to Yemen.

SANCHEZ: New case, old debate. Should airports profile passengers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking for weapons is not the way you do this. Looking for terrorists is the way you do this.

SANCHEZ: And one of college football's most respected and winningest coaches benched for what he did to a player.

My access becomes your access with tweets from movers and shakers. This truly national conversation for Tuesday, December 29, 2009, starts right now.


SANCHEZ: And hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez with the next generation of news. This is a conversation. It's not a speech and as always it is your turn to get involved.

If you are like most people, you have asked yourself why somebody would choose to literally blow themselves up with a bomb in their underwear while they are sitting on an airplane. Now, let me tell you what I have been learning about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: lonely, confused, unsure about his faith, anxious about school, not a lot of friends.

What I have been telling you about is part of a self-portrait. It's painted by this young man now locked up for allegedly trying to blow up a passenger jet on Christmas Day.

We have been going through a stack of e-mails and forum postings that have been written about Abdulmutallab, some dating back to when he was just 18 years old. I have got one for you. Here, listen to this.

"I have no one to speak to. I feel depressed and I feel lonely. I think this loneliness leads me to other problems."

Now, many of the quotes, many of these e-mails were obtained by "The Washington Post." And then there is this. This is an intimate description of this would-be mass killer from somebody who knew him.

CNN's Mary Snow spent much of the day looking for somebody who really could tell us about Abdulmutallab, somebody who really knew him. And, as you are about to see in this report, she found him.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Efemena Mokedi is having a hard time making sense of how his former schoolmate, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, could now be a suspected terrorist. Mokedi, who's from Nigeria, is seen here as a student. He went to the same school as Abdulmutallab in the West African nation of Togo.

(on camera): When you heard this news, what's your reaction?

EFEMENA MOKEDI, FORMER CLASSMATE OF ABDULMUTALLAB: I was shocked and I was surprised and I didn't believe it at first, until I saw Umar Farouk's images which showed that this was the student I went to -- this was the student I went to school with.

So, once I saw that, I, you know, I was, like, man, this is unbelievable. This is out of this world. You know, we have never guessed, you know?

SNOW: What was he like?

MOKEDI: He was a peaceful person. You know, he was a friendly person, sociable and someone -- if you had a problem, you can always go and talk to, you know? And he was always willing to help students and a lot of teachers in the school also liked him because he was just an intelligent kid.

SNOW: Was he a religious kid?

MOKEDI: He was a very -- he was a devoted, religious person. He -- you know, he worshipped -- religion was one of -- a key aspect of his life, and he -- he was someone that, you know, always prayed and, you know, followed the traditions of his religion.

SNOW: Was there anything that he ever talked about that made you think that he was somewhat of a radical at all?

MOKEDI: Nope. Never. SNOW (voice-over): Mokedi, who's 20, says he last saw Abdulmutallab in 2007 when Mokedi left Nigeria to come to the US. He describes the boarding school he attended with Abdulmutallab in Togo as a small, elite school. He says while the two mostly talked about basketball, they sometimes did discuss religion.

Mokedi is a Christian and says he did ask Abdulmutallab questions about negative perceptions about Islam.

MOKEDI: What we saw on TV was people like portraying him as bad people. And that's what led me to the curiosity even to talk to him and ask him, is it true? And he said, no. Do I -- do I -- have you ever seen me come to school in a, you know, with a bomb or something?

No. It's always peace, you know? That's what the main philosophy or general is about Islam.

SNOW: Mokedi says in the last few days he's been keeping in touch with former schoolmates on Facebook.

MOKEDI: They are all shocked. Some of them are terrified. Some of them don't want to talk about it. Some of them are like, I can't believe it. Some of them are, like, wow, this is -- this is unbelievable. Some of them said, you know, at first some of them don't even want to believe that it's him.

SNOW (on camera): Mokedi says he last saw Abdulmutallab in 2007 and never kept in touch with him after that.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't allow fear and paranoia to cause us to engage in bad policing. And that is exactly what racial profiling is.


SANCHEZ: Profiling, is it time that we begin using it as a viable way of catching terrorists? What is the threshold, by the way?

Look, this is a heated debate, and I'm going to want you to join in on this one. You will hear it.

Also, a very popular football coach, one of the winningest in all of the NCAA, he is suspended after one of his players is accusing him of forcing -- of being forced to stand in a dark room after having a concussion. This is a bizarre story. I'm going to explain the details to you. And I am going to talk to several guests who are going to help us get through this story, because, as you know, there is always two, if not more sides to every story.

Also, don't forget, you can join us in this national conversation by calling here in the United States this number, 1-877-742-5751. And give me a hey, Rick.


CALLER: Hey, Rick. This is Terrell (ph) from Whitehouse, Tennessee.

I think we should do profiling in airports, because if you have got a passenger with a foreign name, that right there tells me that, hey, we have got to watch these guys. So, I think we should profile them by their name.




CALLER: Hey, Rick. This is Diane (ph) from California.

I wanted to point out that unless they're going to start doing strip searches, there is always going to be a place to hide that kind of powder, and have time for someone to go to the bathroom and create an explosion.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back -- I'm Rick Sanchez -- to your national conversation.

I am now keeping a list, which I am going to divulge each and every single day of what newsmakers and relevant personalities are tweeting and what you are tweeting as well. See, my access will become your access every single day. And we are really going to be kicking this up a notch on January 18.

First up, I want you to listen to what an airline blogger is saying on this day. This is somebody who specializes in watching just these developments. And they have tweeted this within the last half- hour to me.

"Rick Sanchez," he says, "passengers are demanding smarter security, not more restrictions. And racial profiling goes against the spirit of freedom in the United States."

Now, let me see what you are saying as well. Let's go back to our favorites list and see what the regular tweets are from you. Here is one from Trav South Bay L.A. (ph): "Every time TSA makes it more difficult for Americans to travel, the terrorists win another victory. Next, cavity searches."

And let's go to the one right under that. And it says: "Racial profiling does not work, but the ways the checks are done today is ridiculous and sure as hell does not work either."

There you have it.


MIKE LEACH, TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL COACH: To make our coaching points and our points more compelling than their fat little girlfriends. Now, their fat little girlfriends have some obvious advantages. For one thing, their fat little girlfriends are telling them what they want to hear.


SANCHEZ: Yes, he says what he thinks. He is also one of the winningest football coaches. He has been benched before a big bowl game. And it is an ESPN analyst that is calling him out for what he, this coach, allegedly did to his son, the ESPN analyst's son.

Look, this is not your typical sports story. It is kind of bizarre. We are going to take you through it with several source, and then later, what Michael Leach has to say about this through his attorney, who is going to join me here live. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: What a story this is. Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez.

One of college football's most successful coaches is suspended and will not be able to coach his team in the Alamo Bowl.


LEACH: As coaches, we failed to make our coaching points and our points more compelling than their fat little girlfriends. Now, their fat little girlfriends have some obvious advantages. For one thing, their fat little girlfriends are telling them what they want to hear, which is how great you are.


SANCHEZ: That is Mike Leach, the unconventional coach of the Texas Red Raiders. And that is not the reason that the he is suspended. He didn't get suspended for calling his players' girlfriends fat. The reason he is suspended today -- and this is bizarre -- is for allegedly putting one of his players in some solitary confinement.

Based on an unidentified source, the Associated Press is reporting that sophomore Adam James had a concussion and could not practice. So, coach said, fine, go stand by yourself in the dark part of that equipment shed. Don't sit down. Don't lean up against the wall and don't come out, or you are off the team.

He was reportedly kept there for several hours. And for the team's next practice, James was sent to stand in, reportedly, a darkened electrical closet. That's according to an unidentified source as well that has been talking to several periodicals, including the Associated Press.

Now, have college coaches often treated players this way? Probably. Is it possible that Leach messed with the wrong player in this case? Well, let me give you some more information that you may not know about. It turns out that Adam James is the son of former NFL player and ESPN analyst Craig James.

In fact, the James family filed a formal complaint with the school.

Mercury Morris was a member of the only undefeated team in NFL history. He is now a motivational speaker, among other things, and quite successful at just about everything he dabbles with. On the phone, we have Eddie George. He is, as you know, Heisman Trophy winner, a feared NFL running back and now a successful broadcaster with Westwood One Radio.

My thanks to both of you gentlemen for being with us.

Hey, Merc, let me begin with you.

Hey, man.

SANCHEZ: ESPN is now reporting that, really, all he had to do was to apologize and this thing could have been over with. Can you give us a sense of why this coach with these, mind you, accusations hurled against him would not have been willing to come forward, call the James family and said, I apologize, and put this behind him?


I want to school in Texas and I went to school at West Texas State, which is right on Route 105, about 100 miles from Texas Tech. And I can tell you that Texas football is different than any football that I know of and particularly in the '60s, when I played. Our coaches were brutal.

And there are such memories of this guy that you either left there with a profound respect for what he gave you, which I did, or you left there totally shattered and never want to see the guy again.

But once again, what I am hearing from this guy Leach is the exact same thing that I used to hear from the old-school football coaches back there with Coach Joe Kerbel from West Texas. He would not hesitate in a minute to take his foot and stick it up your butt if he thought that you made a wrong play. Or, as he used to say, I will send you to wheeling, and I don't mean West Virginia.

And there was these constant threats about to do if you didn't do things right.


SANCHEZ: Well, the unofficiated (sic) out there, folks who have not played football perhaps, and people who would look at this from the outside would look at this at least as far as the accusations go and wonder if his behavior was not beyond the pale in this case.

Let me ask Eddie. Let me ask you this question that a lot of folks out there are talking about as well. Would he be suspended if James' dad was not a famous NFL football player and an ESPN analyst?

EDDIE GEORGE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I don't know it has anything to do with the young man's father is. I think it has a lot to do with the relationship he has with Texas Tech, the front office.

You have to think about this as well. He -- his contract, they went through a bitter dispute this past off-season about his contract. They never got that settled, so there is bad blood between Mike Leach and the university. So, this could be the perfect storm for the university to say, well, hey, we don't really like Mike Leach. Here is an opportunity for us to get rid of him on these grounds.

We don't know the -- all the particulars within the story of the son being locked up in the room, in the dark room, whatever it was, but here is an opportunity for the university to really hash out and say, listen, you have to apologize. They know he's not going to apologize. They know that he is the unconventional coach who makes outlandish statements. He has done so many crazy things in the past, you just don't know. He is very unpredictable.


SANCHEZ: I should tell you, his lawyer is going to be joining us in a little bit.

And, Merc, his lawyer says he expects that he will coach in the Alamo Bowl. He thinks that he's going to somehow win this thing. Again, he is going to join me a little bit and we are going to ask him directly how is he going to do that. But do you think this thing is settled or not, Merc?

MORRIS: I think this clearly old-school and political correctness, and they are finally clashing here.

I think what people need to remember is, is that Bobby Knight coached there. And if Bobby Knight throwing chairs across the thing, jacking people up as a rule, rather than the exception, to say that something that could be explained as a time-out, I don't know if you want to call it punishment, because we don't know. We weren't there. We don't know what the extent of it is.

But I know one thing. Football is a very tough game and you have got to be tough to play in it.


GEORGE: Mercury, this is Eddie. So, you are condoning his behavior as far as allowing -- throwing this kid into an electrical shed because of a concussion that he may have -- that is not...


GEORGE: ... protocol for that. GEORGE: No, I am not condoning that whatsoever.

I am saying I don't know what happened, period, so I can't make any pre-judgmental conclusions about what I think I should condone or not condone. I am simply saying that...


SANCHEZ: What if we were to go with what he is being accused of doing -- which, by the way, for the record, he is not saying he didn't do it. He is saying it is being put in the wrong perspective.

In other words, it sounds like what he is saying -- and he may be completely right in saying this, by the way, which happens as we all know -- things have a tendency to be exaggerated. But what is on the record is that the kid had a concussion and that he decided to put the kid in some form of isolation. There is a story about a shed. There is a story about a part of the training room. There is a story about him not letting him sit down. And there is a story about him having a trainer watch over him while he was doing that.

That, in and of itself, Merc, is that to much? Does that pass the threshold?

MORRIS: I think, once again, it is conflicting information that you don't know whether or not any of it is fact. You have to put the facts on the table. And when they're on the table, then you make an evaluation based on those facts as to what happened.

Innuendo about describing where he was, on the one end, it sounds like he was treating him fine. On the other end, it sounds like he was punishing him. And once again, that is the old-school view of how you view things in the new political correct way.


GEORGE: Here is the thing. If -- if the allegations are true and that did happen, that does not follow the protocol for someone having a concussion.

If you want to send a statement to somebody, you don't have to put them into a room to make a statement to your team. You send them home or you just leave him back into the training room so he can get treatment. I don't -- I am from the old school, too. I played in the '90s and I played under...


MORRIS: That is not old school, man -- '90s is not old school -- '60s is old school.


GEORGE: To my point, I understand that, yes, you had coaches that pout their hands on you. But nowadays, universities, parents, they're not going to deal with that. That's my son, I want to be up there in front of Mike Leach's face.


MORRIS: Right. And I agree with you. That part, I agree with you.

But, nevertheless, you still have to take into consideration that this is a very physical concept of the game, and sometimes people overdo it. And I think it sounds to me like this coach has overdone it. But, nevertheless, you still have to look at the facts and see what they are, as opposed to contributing to a conversation that we really don't know what the facts are.

SANCHEZ: Well, I will tell you what else comes into this. And I guess we have to end the conversation, but let me end it with this, and something maybe we haven't spent enough time talking about. As the three of us know, one of the biggest concerns that sports is dealing with this days and especially the NFL are concussions.

It's something that has not really been researched much in the past, but now we are learning new information about it. And because the concussion may have been the thing that spurred this, we got just this comment, and I will read it to you. This is coming to me right now from the James family.

This is what they write to me to complete this story: "Over the past year, there has been some greatly enhanced recognition of the dangers of concussions and the potential for long-term physical damage to players. At virtually every level of football coaching, cases where children and young men have sustained concussions have increased serious discussion of the importance of correct treatment and diagnosis."

They go on to say, "The entire James family is supportive of the university now and looks forward to a resolution of this matter."

So, you really have three parts to this story. You have the player. You have the player's family. You have the university really and you have the coach. And we are waiting for all of this to flesh out.

Hey, listen, guys...


MORRIS: Well, I hope the guy -- I hope the kid is OK and that is the most important thing, and that they can resolve this issue, so that everybody understands what went on and then move on from there.

SANCHEZ: Eddie George, what game are you doing tonight, by the way? I understand you are calling a game tonight?

GEORGE: Yes. I'm in Orlando. I'm doing the Champs Sports Bowl, Miami vs. University of Wisconsin. So, it should be a fun game.

(CROSSTALK) SANCHEZ: Merc, who are you and I pulling for on this one?


GEORGE: I am neutral. I am right down the middle.

MORRIS: Oh, come on. Miami. Old school.

GEORGE: My job has to be professional, so I am going to give my perfect analysis of a great game. And I hope that a Big 10 team can pull it out, though.

SANCHEZ: Go, Canes. Go, Canes.

MORRIS: Hey, Rick, Rick...


MORRIS: ... follow me on Twitter, all right, at Mercury_Morris, so we can continue this conversation.

SANCHEZ: We will go right there. Thanks, Merc. Appreciate it. My thanks to both of you

MORRIS: All right, man.

As I mentioned, we have just reached out to the attorney representing Mike Leach. I have asked him to join me here on the show live. He has accepted. And that is coming your way in just a couple of minutes.

We will be right back.



CALLER: Hey, Rick. This is Josh from Florida. How are you?

Listen, it is not a perfect world, and before I say what I am about to say, I am Latin, so I am one of those minorities. I say whatever it takes to keep us safe. So, if they have to do a little profiling, if the lines need to be long, you are right. It is an age- old debate, but we have got to keep ourselves safe, so we have got to do what we have got to do until we figure out a way to make those crazy people disappear.

Thanks very much. Keep up the good work. Bye-bye.


SANCHEZ: Boy, we have got a lot of folks talking about that today.

If you are ready to fly home after the holidays, you are probably wondering what to expect. Well, we can't tell you, at least not exactly. This is kind of a changing picture right now. This, though, is a live picture you're looking at. It's from Dulles Airport outside Washington.

The Transportation Security Administration is still telling travelers they need to allow extra time to get through security. But some of the in-flight instructions imposed over the weekend have already been lifted or -- well, here, let me continue.

Sources say the TSA has changed rules shutting down in-flight entertainment systems and barring passengers from leaving their seats in the final hour of international flights. That is now up to the discretion of the flight crew, which means it may or may not happen on your flight if you're coming into the United States from another country.

On the other hand, Canada has announced a new restriction banning most carry-on luggage from flights bound for the United States. If all this leaves you a little bit confused as it does us about what to expect on your next trip, that may be on purpose. One expert is telling us that if passengers don't know much about the security restrictions, neither then will potential terrorists.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will they be Muslim? Yes, because al Qaeda doesn't recruit many Catholics, Lutherans, or Jews.


SANCHEZ: Many Americans during times like these will say, not all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim. Fair or unfair, that is what many people are saying right now.

Profiling is a hot debate. We get into it. I invite you. It is next.

And then we have the 911 audio from Mrs. Charlie Sheen on Christmas morning when most people are watching their kids open their gifts. Theirs -- their exchange is downright violent and very ugly. You are going to hear it for yourself.

And you can join us for the national conversation whenever you visit Atlanta. Just call 1-877-4CNN-TOUR and you will be a part of the show in studio.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Rick. This is Mitchell from Kentucky.

As far as profiling goes, I don't think it should not be done. And the reason is, if you start profiling in airports, then they are going to justify it on the streets. And we both know what that has led to. It is not a good thing. I don't think it should be done. I do believe we do need security, but I think we can do it without profiling.

Thanks. You have a good day.



CALLER: Hey, Rick, this is Mike (ph) from Houston. Hey, I just wanted to say, thanks for playing that -- I heard a comment earlier today from another caller on CNN who said we should keep out anyone with a name like Ahmed or, you know, any other kind of Arab-sounding name. And I just want to say thanks for pointing out that that is an interesting argument, because I think that that's the key right there, you know, if we just make sure we keep out people with certain names or certain ethnicities, then we can keep our country safe. So roll with it, continue with it.


SANCHEZ: And my thanks Jay Kerness (ph), who got us started on that discussion yesterday. I have rarely seen something pick up so much steam all over the country. You would be surprised how many comments and how many reactions we have gotten to this debate about profiling all of a sudden. Let me ask you this question, I mean, let's just start right from jump street, all right? Should a person's religion be taken into account when they are being screened before they fly? How about their country of origin? How about their race?

I mean, look, I could go on and on with each category included as we narrow down to a very controversial issue, profiling, what is it and when is it right? As all of us as Americans tussle with this, I ask two very thoughtful guests, different perspectives on this, to join me in a debate last night, which has got a lot of attention.

So here now, Edina Lekovic, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and Clay -- Cliff May, he is with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


EDINA LEKOVIC, MUSLIM PUBLIC AFFAIRS COUNCIL: I think it is understandable that people are jittery in these times, but we can't allow fear and paranoia to cause us to engage in bad policing, and that is exactly what racial profiling is. It does not work, it is unconstitutional, and it is discriminatory.

And on top of that, it has got two fatal flaws. The first is that it actually undermines our security, because it lulls us into a false sense of confidence. That because we have profiled people based on name that we think that we have got our bases covered.

Well, Richard Reid, Timothy McVeigh, Jose Padilla, they wouldn't -- that wouldn't have worked for any of them. Two...

SANCHEZ: Let me bring Cliff into the conversation... LEKOVIC: ... it undermines -- hold on, let me bring up the second point, which is that the second fatal flaw is that it undermines the trust in law enforcement by the very people who we need most, which is those communities that are being profiled or that are potentially being targeted.

SANCHEZ: OK. Fair enough.

Cliff, your shot.

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Yes, nobody who is serious is saying what that caller is saying. Racial profiling, I totally disagree with. What I do think we have to do, it is only practical, is terrorist profiling. In other words, if you look at terrorists, you will find they have certain characteristics in common and that should raise alarm bells. Take...

SANCHEZ: OK. Like what? OK, like what kind of characteristics? Name some for me.

MAY: Well, OK, for one thing, they are going to be young. For another thing, they are mostly going to be male. For another thing, they are going to have spent time in countries where Islamist terrorism is being preached and practiced, places like Yemen where Farouk Abdulmutallab had spent from August I believe it was until December. That should have been a big sign.

Will they be Muslim? Yes, because al Qaeda doesn't recruit many Catholics, Lutherans, or Jews for obvious reasons.

SANCHEZ: OK. Well, you just -- all right, well, you just named religion, you named ethnicity, and you named geography.

MAY: And let me add this, and behavior as well. When you take the whole mix, you can find out certain things about terrorists and how they act.

SANCHEZ: So let's be clear -- let's be clear in this conversation, because I think that is what we owe to our viewers. You are saying that someone who arrives at an airport and is from a certain country and is from a certain religion should be screened extra based on the fact that...

MAY: Well, you have got to add a few things. For example, in this particular case, you had somebody who bought his ticket with cash. That should have been a sign. Who had no luggage. That should have been a sign. By the way, in this case, his father said he had been radicalized. In other words, you've got to put all of this into the mix.


LEKOVIC: Yes, let's go back to the original sign.

MAY: Look, we are not -- look, no one is saying we should racially profile and no one is saying that it should only be about religion. But let me tell you what a friend of mine who is a Muslim who I travel with said. His name happens to be Talibani (ph). He says, with my name like mine, they should ask me a few questions because it does not take a Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.

SANCHEZ: Well, what do you make, Edina, of what Cliff just said? And you know, he is not saying just go after people ad infinitum, but he said there are certain classifications that we should check, and people should be OK with that. You say what?

LEKOVIC: Right. The minute that you nail down race, religion, ethnicity, country of origin as factors that lead to profiling is the minute that you spell out exactly what the violent extremists need to avoid in order to plan their next terror attack.

SANCHEZ: But if...

LEKOVIC: First we started -- hold on, first we started...


SANCHEZ: Well, no, no, you hold on. I want to ask you a question -- I want to ask you a question, very direct, and I think people will understand this. If a preponderance of people on a terrorist watch list are from country X, is it not smart to check people from country X a little more carefully?

LEKOVIC: But there is no preponderance. That's the -- that's precisely the point. Look at the list of people who we -- who have been engaged, Richard Reid from the U.K. One after another they're...


SANCHEZ: You don't think people from the watch -- on the terrorist watch lists tend to be from the parts -- countries in the Middle East, for example?

LEKOVIC: No, that is precisely what the violent extremists want us to buy into. The reality is if we had paid attention to the parents in this case, and this is the pattern that we've seen in these last three cases, the case of the five men out of Virginia, the case of the Somalis in Minnesota, and this case, you have parents who were reporting suspicious activities and suspicious thoughts of their children.

SANCHEZ: But we're not talking about parents...

LEKOVIC: They are stepping forward and we are ignoring them. And that is a problem.

SANCHEZ: We should have followed up. But that's not the question. Cliff, you get the last word.

MAY: Well, here is the main point, Rick. Right now what we are doing at airports, everybody knows, is we are looking for weapons. And if they are sewn into underwear, it is going to be pretty hard to find them. Looking for weapons is not the way you do this, looking for terrorists is the way you do this. And so you have to know as much as you can about terrorists. And if you have got a lot of behavioral, background, geographic, and other signs that somebody may need more questioning and more screening, then you give them a little more questioning and screening.

And no reasonable person...

LEKOVIC: Right. So focus on behavior, not...

MAY: ... Muslim or otherwise, will mind that.

LEKOVIC: ... on race or religion.

SANCHEZ: We'll leave it at that. But there is obviously a lot of gray area here, and that is why I am glad we had you guys here to take us through this. I really enjoyed the discussion, I think a lot of people did as well. Good points made on both sides. My thanks to you both.


BROOKE MUELLER, WIFE OF CHARLIE SHEEN: My husband had me with a knife, and I'm scared for my life and he threatened me.


SANCHEZ: More insight into how Charlie Sheen and his wife spent their Christmas Day. The 911 audio is released, and it is painful to listen to, especially considering it is Christmas Day. That is next.

Also, don't forget the other way that you can participate in this "National Conversation," you can call us here in the United States, and the number is 1-877-742-5751.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez.

And this Charlie Sheen story has gotten dark. Yesterday I told you about the Christmas Day fight with his wife, Brooke Mueller, and Sheen's arrest by police in Aspen, Colorado. The charge is second degree assault, menacing, and criminal mischief.

I also told you that there was a weapon involved, but police weren't saying what it was. Well, today, in fact, now they are, a knife, they say. Here is part of the call to 911 Christmas Day placed by the wife of actor Charlie Sheen. This clip clocks in at about a minute 15 seconds. Here it is.


911: Tell me exactly what happened.

MUELLER: My husband had me (INAUDIBLE) -- with a knife. And I'm scared for my life and he threatened me.

911: OK. Are you guys separated right now?

MUELLER: Yes. Right now we have people that are separating us, but I have to file the report or else...

911: Are there other people there? Does he still have the knife?

MUELLER: Yes, he still does. But there are other people here.

911: Who are the other people that are there?

MUELLER: I have people here. My family is here, but right now if I don't file this -- I need to file it right now.

911: OK. Where is he with the knife?

MUELLER: He is in the other room.

911: OK. Is someone in the room with him?


911: Who is he with?

MUELLER: He is with somebody packing to leave. But if I don't file the report, he...

911: OK. I understand, and I'm sending officers to help you, I just need some more information. Does he have any other weapons?


911: OK. Which room is he in? When the officers enter the house, which room will he be in?

MUELLER: In the bathroom.

911: And in which room are you in?

MUELLER: In the kitchen. I thought I was going to die for one hour.

911: OK. What your name?

MUELLER: Brooke.

911: And what is your husband's name.

MUELLER: It's Charlie Sheen. I have got to file this report.


SANCHEZ: It was a little garbled and you see what I mean by almost tough to listen to. Draws you in. Sheen's wife, Brooke Mueller, told that operator, quote, I thought I was going to die. Sheen has denied using a knife to make any type of threat. He is due in court in February. His attorney has told us after we reached out to him repeatedly, quote: "It would benefit everyone not to jump to any conclusion."

A crime reporter is murdered in Mexico after his appointed body guards are taken away, and he is not the only one. Also, we have heard of that type of story before. So, here is why this story out of Mexico is making news.

This question, was the government involved in that case? Rafael Romo is going to join me to examine this in just a little bit. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: We have got some information I want to share with you. We at CNN have received this -- this bulletin. The president is soon to make a statement about the terror incident on board that flight on Christmas Day. We understand this is going to be coming up right here at the top of the hour in about 15 minutes or so.

You are going to see it live right here from Marine base in Hawaii. You will see it at the very top of "THE SITUATION ROOM" today. So expect that, again, in about 15 minutes or so.

It is time to bring to your attention a very disturbing and chilling trend that is happening right across our border in Mexico. We already know is it a dangerous place, obviously, to be a citizen or a police officer, but it is downright deadly for journalists as well.

Reporters there are getting killed left and right and some of the murders appear to be sanctioned by local government officials. This is our "Conexion."

Let me give you a number. So far 12 reporters murdered. That's one for each month. These pictures tell the story of the violence there. The latest one to die, a crime reporter. His name was Bladimir Antuna. He was killed last month. He put up with a bunch of death threats saying that he was not afraid to die, but he just did not want to be tortured.

When the police found his body, he had been viciously beaten and then strangled. His killers also left a bloody calling card, a hand- written message. "This happened to me for giving information to soldiers and writing too much," he wrote.

Rafael Romo writes for a living as well. He is our senior Latin American affairs editor.

Rafael, thanks so much for being with us again.


SANCHEZ: You know, you can't help but think that some of these folks are going to be targeted. What bothers me about this story, and I think what bothers anyone else is the suggestion that somehow the government may have been involved. Can you amplify that for us a little bit?

ROMO: What is happening in Durango, Rick, is that drug cartels and the government both know that information is power. So if there is an operation, the government wants that information out, printed or anywhere in the media, if we are talking about a drug cartel, and one of their members have been killed or an operation against them has been successful, they don't want that information out.

And so the journalists in places like Durango are caught in the middle between two conflicting interests between the government and the drug cartels in this war on drugs that President Calderon waged in December of 2006 when he took office.

And so the journalists, sometimes they don't really have a lot of options. And if they publish some information that the other side don't want published, then they get in trouble, and we are seeing the consequences now.

SANCHEZ: I have got to tell you, I mean, obviously, and the reason we wanted you to explain this to us, is the scariest part of the story is we all know there are bad guys. We've got bad guys here. There are bad guys all over the world.

But the idea, as is being inferred here, that the government could somehow inflict harm on someone who is trying to practice something as important to us as freedom of speech, it is bothersome, and it should be alarming to all of us, and I am glad you are keeping an eye on it for us. Rafael Romo, thanks for bringing us up-to-date.

I know it is winter in most places, but isn't climbing into an ice box a little bit extreme? Remember Harry Houdini? All right. This is a different version of that. We will bring it to you.

And then, don't forget to visit me in the studio when you are in Atlanta, I'd be happy to come over, shake your hand, take pictures, and make you a part of our show. Just go to for more details.


SANCHEZ: We keep a list of people who are relevant to the stories that we are talking about. We call it "Rick's List," as you know, where my access becomes your access. And look who wants to get the last word in, well, it's "Mercury" Morris, Eugene "Mercury" Morris making "Rick's List" after being on with us.

He goes on to say: "Rick, you and I both know 'old school,' and it isn't the '90s! I have suits older than Eddie," George, is who he's referring to, "that I still wear!" Leave it to Merc to get in the last word.

Now, me, as a kid, I must have watched the "Harry Houdini Story" at least 100 times. I'm thinking about it again today, and about marriage in Latin America, in "Fotos del Dia." I now pronounce you husband and husband. You're looking at two gentlemen who are now Latin America's first legally married same-sex couple. Their ceremony was yesterday in Argentina, where a law to allow such unions nationwide is stalled in congress. Right now no countries in Latin America fully allow gay or lesbian couples to marry.

Want to live in an ice box for three days? This guy does. He is your grandkids' version of Harry Houdini. Hezi Din is an illusionist. He is trying to break the record for living encased in ice blocks. He went inside this morning in the main square in Tel Aviv after doctors gave him the OK. If his plan works out, he is going to emerge at midnight on New Year's Day 64 hours later as the proud owner of a new world record and desperately in needs of a CNN "Rick's List" Snuggie. Order yours today.

And only one thing is cooler than flying a radio-controlled plane, and that's getting a bird's-eye view from the cockpit of the tiny, tiny pilot. How do they do it? Why, with a tiny, tiny on-board mini video camera. As you can see, some of the kids are even shooting fireworks and roman candles at the plane. And it's kind of shooting back with the camera. Hey, I can see Russia from up here.

That's "Fotos." And now this, successful college football coach, maybe one of the best, suspended over allegations that he locked a player in a dark closet who wouldn't attend practice. Allegations, mind you. That is what his lawyer will tell you. He is joining us live when we come back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I rocked back and forth in bed because I was never (INAUDIBLE) -- i would go back like this, in bed to deal with the things I was dealing with.


SANCHEZ: Tomorrow at 3:00 Eastern, you're going to meet a Romanian orphan pulled from poverty who is now sharing her story by helping others. She has a powerful story, a story that I'm going to want you to hear for yourself.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

As we reported, head football coach Mike Leach has been suspended by Texas Tech while the school investigates a complaint that he mistreated one of his players. This player in question is the son of a former NFLer, Craig James, who is now an ESPN football analyst. He alleges, Craig James does, that his son Adam was forced by Leach to stand by himself in pitch dark enclosures not once but twice in a closet because James had a concussion and he couldn't practice.

Now Leach appears to have a different version of events, and he's challenging his suspension. Joining me now from Lubbock, Texas, is his attorney, Ted Liggett.

Mr. Liggett, thank you so much for being with us, sir.

TED LIGGETT, MIKE LEACH'S ATTORNEY: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to be on your show.

SANCHEZ: Listen, does the coach deny these allegations that, as a result of a concussion, sophomore James was disciplined by being put in some type of solitary confinement?

LIGGETT: Of course. First of all, he wasn't put in -- ever in any type of solitary confinement.

SANCHEZ: OK. What was it, then?

LIGGETT: OK. What happened is there were two incidents. After being checked out by a licensed doctor of the State of Texas, he was diagnosed with a simple concussion and returned to the football team.


LIGGETT: Coach Leach, as he always does with his -- with his injured players, keeps them close at practice. He had him watching the practice, doing some walking, and decided it would be better off in a garage, not a shed. It's what the O-line people call -- well, they call it the "O-garage," because offensive linemen sit down in there, because it's nice and cool when they get a break.

SANCHEZ: Was he disciplining him? Was that a form of discipline?


SANCHEZ: It wasn't?


SANCHEZ: Well, so was he trying to help him lose weight? Was he trying -- what was the reasoning for doing that?

LIGGETT: How could he be trying to help him lose weight?

SANCHEZ: Well, no, I'm trying to understand why a coach would take a player who has just come back from a concussion and put him in what you describe as a garage away from the rest of the players, for what purpose?

LIGGETT: He was not away from the players. He was under the supervision of a licensed trainer, a graduate assistant, and an undergraduate assistant. He was given water, and air conditioning, and taken out of the sunlight, because he felt like it would be better for his physical condition to do that, because he wanted to be on the field during the entire practice.

SANCHEZ: So these -- so let's just try and be clear about this. I am reading here on several reports that he was put in a dark shed, and the -- the player's father, who as you know is Craig James, former NFL football player, ESPN analyst...

LIGGETT: Yes, that's why we're...

SANCHEZ: ... has been -- has...


LIGGETT: Sure, that's why we're talking about this.

SANCHEZ: Has filed the complaint saying that this treatment of his son was wrong and unfair. How would you and how would the coach respond to Mr. James' accusation?

LIGGETT: That he is first -- well, with surprise, I'm not one for -- to go overboard, so I won't say shock.

SANCHEZ: Well, let me ask you this, if this was not Craig James's son, do you think your client would be suspended?

LIGGETT: We wouldn't be on the phone.

SANCHEZ: So you think this is being orchestrated by Mr. James?

LIGGETT: No, I don't think it's being orchestrated by Mr. James. I think that...


SANCHEZ: You just think he's that powerful?

LIGGETT: I think Mr. James is using his power to bombard the regents and the administration at the university to take action or he was going to break the story.

SANCHEZ: OK. Mr. Liggett, my thanks to you, sir. This has been a -- I'm glad we reached out to you. I'm glad we were able to get your side on the air. And I understand you're going to be filing some paperwork now to make sure your coach can coach at the Alamo Bowl. We'll be following it. And once again, my thanks for you -- to you for being with us.

Let's go now to Suzanne Malveaux, she is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."