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Iraqi Armed Forces to Lead Security for Election; Syrian Critic Murdered; Death and Drama in New York; Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?; The Life and Death of Richard Pryor

Aired December 12, 2005 - 13:59   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Almost top of the hour now. We're talking about security tight in Iraq today as election week begins. Early voting is under way for a national assembly that's to lead Iraq in a democracy. On Thursday, election day, the U.S.-trained Iraqi armed forces are to cover polling stations as the country tests its ability to stand on its own two feet.
CNN's Nic Robertson reports from the insurgents stronghold of Ramadi.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iraqi T-55 tanks rumble into Ramadi, reconditioned relics of Saddam Hussein's old army sent in by Iraq's new government to help bring calm before elections later this week.

(on camera): It's a show of strength the Iraqi army hopes will teach the insurgents that they intend to be here, and they intend to stay. They want people, they say, to come out and vote in the elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If someone has a wound where it isn't cut off, we put a bandage on it.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But bringing a more lasting peace to the country's most violent city means training its army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tie the knot on top of the wound.

ROBERTSON: For this Iraqi army platoon about, to go out on their first patrol without U.S. Marines, perhaps their most important lesson of all.

ROBERT ASZTALOS, SENIOR CHIEF PETTY OFFICER: To have an aggressive fighting force, you have to know that if you're hit, if you're injured, that there's going to be somebody there who can take care of you.

ROBERTSON: Before the trainee soldiers leave the safety their base, one last chance to practice the tactics that could save their lives.

CAPT. TWAIN HICKMAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: They've been training for probably two full months now with us integrated. And most of the time, up until this point, we've been integrated with them, moving along the streets. This time, this will be their first time that they've gone completely by themselves under our over-watch and our security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dropped those off slightly in the wrong spot, but ROP (ph) is right now here.

ROBERTSON: Out on the streets with the marines training Iraqi troops, things are not going quite according to plan. They're supposed to secure a house and oversee the Iraqis' first solo patrol, but both the Marines and the Iraqis get dropped off in the wrong place.

LT. JOHN REED, U.S. MARINE CORPS: It's difficult. It's difficult. Everybody is getting to know the area pretty well, though, so it's getting a lot of easier.

Hey, Corporal Vega (ph), we're going to break it down. They got dropped off one street to the East.

ROBERTSON: They move off to another house. The training session continues. The marines are waiting in the building here. The plan is for the Iraqi army to come down the street. It's hands-off training, and it's happening in the middle of a war zone. A few minutes later, the Iraqi troops arrive, patrolling, just as they did on base.

REED: I'd rate them -- if you're going to go like A to D average, I'd say that they are probably B-plus, because they communicated well, they patrolled well.

ROBERTSON: Already one Iraqi battalion has taken control of the city, with good results, according to U.S. commanders. How long before they can run the rest of Ramadi depends a large part on training.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES WILLIAMS, U.S. MARINE CORPS: So that could take some time. That could be done in a year, could be done in two years, might take three years.

ROBERTSON: For this Iraqi army platoon, training seems almost complete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush, very good. Good, very good.

ROBERTSON: Nic Robertson, CNN, Ramadi, Iraq.


PHILLIPS: Well, as Iraqis head to the polls we thought we'd take a look at the Iraqi election process. How is it different from American elections, and how is it the same?


PHILLIPS (voice over): Under Iraq's new constitution, despite being in prison, Saddam Hussein is eligible to vote. So are any suspected insurgents held in U.S. or Iraqi detention. Just like the United States, their right to vote isn't officially revoked until they're convicted.

About 1.5 million Iraqis living outside the country are allowed to cast absentee ballots. And the voting age is 18, just like in the U.S.

So what's different? Well, how about the fact that there are more than 7,600 candidates vying for 275 parliament seats? And the political parties are designated by numbers -- 555 is the designation for one of the most popular Shia political parties. They've even worked it into their campaign, sending text messages to mobile phone users saying five pillars of Islam, five venerated members of the prophet Mohammed's family, and five times a day a devout Muslim is supposed to pray.

Another fun fact you may not know: ironically, Iraqi voter rolls are drawn up primarily from lists left over from Saddam Hussein's government, the old registers from monthly food rations.


PHILLIPS: Well, another Iraqi holding pen is being held up to scrutiny for allegedly mistreating detainees. A team of government inspectors bolstered by U.S. troops says it found a number of problems when it visited the site last Thursday. Among them, overcrowding and lack of proper medical care.

An Iraqi police source goes further, telling CNN that some of the more -- some more or some of the more than a dozen detainees hospitalized showed signs of torture, including being beaten with cables and receiving electric shock. Now, Iraq's prime minister ordered the inspections after last month's discovery of apparently- abused detainees at a government compound in Baghdad.

It seems to happen all too often these days in Lebanon. And it's happened yet again. A massive car bomb attack has claimed the life of another prominent critic of Syria.

And as Ben Wedeman reports, the shock waves are being felt across the Middle East and all the way to the United Nations.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN BEIRUT CAIRO CHIEF (voice over): Grief and shock in Beirut over a high-profile killing that has shaken Lebanon. The blast killed Lebanese parliament member and newspaper publisher Gebran Tueni as he drove to work. His car thrown over the railings to the valley below.

Tueni was one of the country's most outspoken opponents of Syrian involvement in Lebanon. In an interview just last week, Tueni told me assassination and murder are the Syrian modus operandi in Lebanon.

GEBRAN TUENI, OPPOSITION FIGURE: This is the way they deal with you, you know? This is not the first time they killed a lot of Lebanese leaders and personalities in Lebanon. They assassinated them, they kidnapped them, they imposed by force a lot of things.

WEDEMAN: Syria has condemned Tueni's assassination.

(on camera): This is the latest in a series of mysterious attacks against Lebanese critics of Syria. The Syrians, of course, deny any involvement in those attacks, but there is a lesson here: criticize Syria too much and you may pay a very high price.

(voice over): The list of attacks in this year alone is long. In February, a huge bomb killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and more than 20 others.

George Hawi, former leader of the Lebanese communist party, was assassinated in May. The following month, a bomb took the life of journalist Samir Kassir.

In September, a bomb severely wounded television journalist May Chidiac. They and Tueni were all opponents of Syria.

At the scene of the blast, one government minister, himself the target of a failed assassination attempt, said he knows who did it.

MARWAN HAMADE, GEBRAN TUENI'S UNCLE: Nobody has any doubt that Bashar Assad and his band of organized crime, criminals, are behind all this list of crimes.

WEDEMAN: This attack coincides with the latest report from the United Nations' investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri. So far the investigation has found indications that the killing was organized by senior Syrian security officials in concert with Lebanese allies.

Following Tueni's assassination, some here are now calling for a broad international investigation into a long and growing list of Lebanese leaders killed under mysterious circumstances going back decades.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


PHILLIPS: Well, we're learning new and provocative details from U.N. investigators today. They've released a second report on the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. That report comes on the heels of an all-too-similar killing, and once again the focus is on Syria.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Brent Sadler, who is joining us now live from New York.

Let's talk about this investigation. Does it give us any more information about who was involved in this assassination?

BRENT SADLER, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it doesn't, Kyra. What it does is reinforce what came out in a report, first report from the U.N.-led murder probe that Syria is the prime suspect.

It also really points out that Syria is not cooperating with the U.N. in that investigation into the Rafik Hariri assassination. Hariri killed last February, as Ben Wedeman was saying. It doesn't take the report much further in terms of incriminating Syria, but it does put even more pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's talk more about why the Syrians are not cooperating as much as the U.S. wants them to do. I mean, this all comes down to terrorism, among other things. And why aren't they cooperating more?

SADLER: Well, this really is, as far as Bashar al-Assad's Damascus regime is concerned, a fight to the death. The Syrians see themselves under pressure from the United States from border infiltrations by insurgents into Iraq, Damascus accused of being a money center for the insurgency in Iraq. Also, Syria seen as a very close ally of Iran, also in the sights of U.S. strategic international policy. And also, there's the issue of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that has recently launched attacks against Israel, on occupied territory at the foot of the Golan Heights.

There's a big picture involved here of which the ongoing, the unfolding assassinations in Lebanon of key political leaders and journalists, very vociferous, anti-Syrian journalists, really is just part of that bigger picture.

Gebran Tueni was in the engine room -- engine room of the Cedar Revolution in the Beirut spring of this year and was really seen as one of the most severe and unrestrained critics of Syria. He lived a life, he said, as a marked man. He said he was very high, he believed, on a list of assassination attempts by Syria, and had been for months swapping cars, moving in and out of Beirut, between Beirut and Paris, where he was in self-exile. And really, it will come as no surprise to those who used Gebran Tueni well that this assassination has taken place on the outskirts of Beirut earlier this day -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, Brent, you knew him, too, didn't you?

SADLER: Yes, I did. I saw Gebran Tueni in Paris not long after he was elected to the Lebanese parliament. And Gebran Tueni had said that, while he was in Beirut, along with other politicians, they claimed that their telephone calls were monitored, that the Syrian intelligence services that were still operating they say in Lebanon were involved in monitoring politicians.

They believe that all of those that were part and policy of the Cedar Revolution, be they journalists, in the communications sector, or in the political, main political arena, felt that they were at risk. And Saad Hariri just a few days ago -- I spoke to Saad Hariri earlier this day; he's the son and political heir of his assassinated father -- had advised Tueni not to return to Beirut for any permanent period of time because Hariri feel that all of those that effectively still control parliament because they won a parliamentary majority in the June elections, are all at risk. And you're going to see, and certain, a hardening of attitudes by the Saad Hariri camp towards Syria, towards the regime of Bashar al- Assad. And you're going to see a hardening of attitudes, also, I think, from the pro-Syrians who are still part of the Lebanese government.

So the political crisis that's been going on there for months now, I think, according to international observers and others on the ground, is set to escalate in the wake of this assassination of Gebran Tueni -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Brent Sadler.

Thank you.

Well, a murder investigation is a case of life imitating art. An actor known for portraying a thug is caught up in real life drama. That story when LIVE FROM returns.


PHILLIPS: Well, the hours are counting down for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. He's hoping that a federal appeals court or a clemency decision by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will stop his execution now.

Barring either, Williams is scheduled to die by lethal injection at midnight, Pacific Time. That's 3:00 a.m. Eastern.

Schwarzenegger has been considering the clemency issue all weekend. And a federal appeals court is considering a witness who says Williams was framed.

The Crips gang founder was sentenced to death for the murders of four people in 1979. Supporters say that Williams, who denounced gang violence in prison, is worth saving. But victims' families say he must pay for his crimes.

A hail of gunfire in the middle of the night. Now a man who's played a bad guy on TV finds himself facing real-life murder charges in the death of an off-duty cop.

CNN's Chris Huntington has the story now from New York.


CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That man in the blue shirt shooting at Tony Soprano's nephew is actor Lillo Brancato. Brancato's character didn't fare to well after that. He was rubbed out mob style. But that was TV drama.

Cut to real life, and Brancato is in real trouble. He is now one of two murder suspects in the slaying of New York City Policeman Daniel Enchautegui.

According to the police, before dawn on Saturday, Enchautegui, who had only been home and asleep a few hours after working a late shift, woke up to the sound of breaking glass. He grabbed his gun, police badge and his cell phone and went outside to investigate. When he saw a broken basement window next door, he suspected a burglary and called in for backup. But before help arrived, a gun battle broke out.

Officer Enchautegui encountered two men rushing out of a building, 29-year-old actor Lillo Brancato and 48-year-old Steven Armento, who has a history of prior convictions and arrests related to drugs and weapons. Enchautegui told them to stop and that he was a cop. But police say Armento, armed with a 357 Smith & Wesson revolver shot and hit Enchautegui right near his heart.

Mortally wounded, Enchautegui shot back, hitting Brancato twice and Armento four times. When other police finally got there, their fellow cop was on his back, barely breathing. Brancato was up the street, slumped over an SUV. Armento still up and armed surrendered. All three were taken to a nearby hospital but 28-year-old officer Daniel Enchautegui did not survive.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: He did everything he could, just as he was trained to do. This is a devastating example of the bravery and dedication of this police officer who had just finished a shift a few hours earlier. Sadly, this is the second police officer to be murdered in the last two weeks.

HUNTINGTON: That officer, Dillon Stewart, died under similar circumstances. Shot while investigating a suspicious driver, he still chased down the suspect. Like Stewart, Enchautegui is considered to have died in the line of duty. Brancato, who built his career playing street thugs, now finds himself in more serious trouble than he ever encountered as an actor.

CNN was unable to contact any representatives for Brancato or Armento. And the spokesman for the Bronx district attorney said he did not know if the suspects had attorneys at this point.

Chris Huntington, CNN, New York.


PHILLIPS: Well, a nightmare for dozens of nursing home residents in northern Michigan. Two people are dead after a fire broke out at the Mather Nursing Center near Marquette early this morning. At least 70 others went to the hospital.

Investigators say it's too early to nail down the cause of that blaze. And residents were taken to a high school gym in other spots to stay they night. They are evacuated amid 14 degree temperatures and falling snow.

Well, you probably think of Bambi when you hear the word "deer," right? Well, big brown eyes, kind demeanor, maybe even a touch of innocence, we'll find out why some people are shattering that picture straight ahead on LIVE FROM.


PHILLIPS: So have you ever wished that there was a way to defog the windows in your car without waiting for the heater? Well, listen to this. Scientists say they found a way to use nanotechnology to keep that glass clear. They're using a coating composed of nano particles made of silica, the same material glass is made from. And it looks as smooth as glass, but it really -- it's rough enough to make the tiny droplets of water run right off.

Well, a mistrial has been declared in the latest Vioxx lawsuit. Susan Lisovicz has the details now live from the New York Stock Exchange.



PHILLIPS: There's still no claim of responsibility for a massive blast that shook Athens, Greece, today. That explosion shattered windows and caused heavy damage in one of the city's busiest areas. Two people were wounded.

A senior police source says that investigators are treating the blast as a terrorist attack. They're focusing on a motorbike. The source says that someone appears to have planted a bomb. It exploded shortly after a newspaper received two phone calls warning of such an attack.

Racial tension has exploded into anger and violence in Sydney, Australia. Police say that riders smashed house and store windows today in the city's beachside suburbs. This was the scene yesterday as thousands of white youth Attacked people that they believed were of Middle Eastern descent. That rampage comes after the assault of two volunteer lifeguards allegedly by suspects of Lebanese descent.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard calls that violence sickening.

Well, the fire is still burning a day after a series of explosions rocketed an oil depot just north of London. Police say that there is no sign of foul play so far in their investigation, though the time is chilling.

The blasts comes just days after al Qaeda called for such a disaster. But the immediate concern now is putting out the flames.

CNN's Paula Newton reports.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After burning for a full day, there was no sign this inferno would exhaust itself. At daybreak, the fire was as imposing as ever and still trailed by an endless plume of black smoke. And so firefighters were at the ready with what they dubbed a foam attack, a steady flow of foam and water to blanket the blaze and hopefully smother it. But seasoned firefighters warned they were improvising. The sheer scope of this fire unprecedented, the conditions extreme.

ROY WILSHIRE, CHIEF FIRE OFFICER: What makes it particularly hard, it's the unknown. It's just how hot it is in there, how -- we were told by the weather experts yesterday that the fire had created its own microclimate. It created that much heat.

NEWTON: Firefighters literally shot foam and water as the tankers burned, even using a canon, watching hopefully nervous residents still cleaning up. Paul Street's window frames buckled. The force of the explosion something he'll never forget.

PAUL STREET, RESIDENT: The shaking was just so violent. It was -- it was indescribable, really. You can't really put it into words how it really was.

NEWTON: But these pictures are testament enough. The violence of this explosion revealed by what lay in its path. Now structures are shattered, cars incinerated. Authorities are anxious to douse this blaze and begin dealing with its aftermath.

(on camera): By midday, firefighters confirmed they had extinguished half of this ferocious fire. But still a problem, the black billowing smoke. Residents say it is making them nervous.

One look at the sky and they felt no better. Winds and light drizzle meant the oil soot would come down, leaving some on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Illnesses that might come from it -- you know, you don't know really what these chemicals are in that -- up there, do you?

NEWTON: Hundreds spent the night in hotels, but they were told the smoke poses no real health risk. Some would rather wait and see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As long as it's safe. (INAUDIBLE) smoky conditions, anyway. I'm not going to want the baby to be around the smoke.

NEWTON: The real concern was from groundwater near the site and in the community. Contamination may be a problem.

COLIN CHIVERTON, BRITISH ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCY: If we get this contaminated water going into the underground bits, we could have a legacy here for many years.

NEWTON: That's a legacy no one here can afford and so, despite the risks, authorities are fighting the blaze, hoping to extinguish it instead of the alternative: letting it burn for several days.

Paula Newton, CNN, Hamel Hampstead, England.


PHILLIPS: Great hope and achievement, or civil war, prolonged by the presence of U.S. troops? Fiercely conflicting views of the fight for Iraq from President Bush and Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha, both in Philadelphia, cradle of American democracy.

In third recent speech on the war and his strategy for victory, Mr. Bush said Iraq, like 18th century America, faces challenges, setbacks and false starts as it lurches from tyranny to freedom. But 2005, he said, has been a turning point. And Thursday's elections will be a milestone.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This week's elections won't be perfect, and a successful vote is not the end of the process. Iraqis still have more difficult work ahead and our coalition and the new Iraqi government will face many challenges, including in four critical areas: ensuring Iraqi security, forming an inclusive Iraqi government, encouraging Iraqi reconciliation and maintaining Iraqi democracy in a tough neighborhood.


PHILLIPS: Back now to Murtha, the pro-military ex-marine whose decades in Congress pale alongside his newfound prominence on the war. In a news conference minutes ago, he repeated his insistence on a summary redeployment of U.S. troops, but don't call it a pullout.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: So I believe we need a change in direction. I don't see that change in direction. I've heard estimates. For instance, General Casey said in a hearing part of the problem in this war is the occupation. We're considered an occupier. That's what General Casey said. Now, General Casey's a top guy in the military there.

General Abizaid said part of our plan against the insurgency is to withdraw troops. Now, my plan says redeploy our troops to the periphery. That's a big difference. They've tried to mischaracterize my plan. They even introduced a resolution, which was entirely different. It called for immediate withdrawal. That's not what I said at all.


PHILLIPS: And we're hearing Democratic senators Harry Reid and Carl Levin join us -- or join that debate, rather, at the top of the hour. You'll see it live right here on LIVE FROM.

A plan for victory in Iraq. Since Thanksgiving, the Bush administration has been emphasizing that it has such a strategy. But the president making more speeches on the matter in recent days. So we're wondering how many times the president mentioned victory and in how many different ways.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In the early morning hours of March 20th, 2003, explosions were heard in Baghdad. But on the eve before those first bombs were dropped, the president first spoke the word "victory" in relation to Iraq.

BUSH: Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.

KAGAN: Just 11 days into the war, the initial campaign's success prompted the president to express high expectations for a speedy resolution.

BUSH: Day by day, we are moving closer to Baghdad. Day by day, we are moving closer to victory.

KAGAN: Then only about two months later, the president delivered his mission accomplished speech aboard the USS Lincoln in the Persian Gulf. He proclaimed major combat in Iraq had ended and the campaign was a success.

BUSH: The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose or weaken our resolve or alter their fate. Their cause is lost.

KAGAN: Fast forward a year and a half later to September 2004. With ongoing insurgent attacks and an increasing number of coalition casualties, the president again talked about victory, but this time he suggested the speed of the initial victory may be part of the reason that winning the war was taking so long.

BUSH: We achieved such a rapid victory, more of the Saddam loyalists were around. In other words, we thought we'd whipped more of them going in. I thought we would -- they would stay and fight. But they didn't and now we're fighting them now. It's a -- and it's hard work.

KAGAN: The president's newly released plan, entitled "Victory in Iraq," lays out a detailed outline of what victory means to the administration now.

But in a speech on Monday, the secretary of defense offered his own take on the topic.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To be responsible, it seems to me, one needs to stop defining success in Iraq as the absence of terrorist attacks.

KAGAN: As Congress and the American people demand more accountability on the war the Bush administration continues to define the meaning of victory in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIPS: Well, a Christmas tree or a holiday tree, a merry Christmas or a happy holidays? Which reference is OK, and has Christmas become too commercialized? That debate is in the mix and we're on it, when LIVE FROM continues right after this.


PHILLIPS: Working on a number of stories for you, Tony Harris working on something in the news room, Tony?

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Kyra, just want to give you an update on a story we've been following for most of the afternoon.

We've been watching New York police and New York fire as they've been attempted to locate and resurface a car that went off the 72nd Street Pier and into the Hudson River in New York City.

A bit more information now. Police scuba divers are looking for a cab driver, this is according to the Associated Press who interviewed New York City police. They are looking for a cab driver who they say, police say, drove his car into the Hudson River.

Can't imagine a good outcome on this. After all, it happened about two hours ago, now. Divers have been going into water of the Hudson two at a time for at least the last two hours. It's probably just a matter of time before that car is resurfaced and the recovery operation begins in earnest.

Once again, according to the Associated Press who interviewed police on the scene, scuba divers there are looking for a cab driver there who drove his vehicle into the Hudson River. We'll continue to follow this and bring you additional updates.

PHILLIPS: Alright, Tony. Thanks.

Merry Christmas or happy holidays, a Christmas tree or a holiday tree, Which should it be? It depends on whom you ask. We've seen controversy, most notably prompted by the White House. It sent out cards, this card as a matter of fact, wishing a holiday season of hope and happiness. No mention of Christmas.

Some thoughts now on the subject. Sam Seder hosts the show "Majority Report" on Air America Radio. Bob Knight is the director of the Culture and Family Institute, it's affiliated with the Christian conservative organization, Concerned Women for America.

Gentleman, great to have you with me.

SAM SEDER, HOST, "MAJORITY REPORT": Thanks for having us on.

PHILLIPS: Let's start with the holiday card. What do you think, Sam?

SEDER: Listen, as far as the war on Christmas goes, I feel like we should be waging a war on Christmas. I mean, I believe that Christmas, it's almost proven that Christmas has nuclear weapons, can be an imminent threat to this country, that they have operative ties with terrorists and I believe that we should sacrifice thousands of American lives in pursuit of this war on Christmas. And hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

PHILLIPS: Is it a war on Christmas, a war Christians, a war on over-political correctness or just a lot of people with way too much time on their hands?

SEDER: I would say probably, if I was to be serious about it, too much time on their hands, but I'd like to get back to the operational ties between Santa Claus and al Qaeda.

PHILLIPS: I don't think that exists. Bob? Help me out here.

SEDER: We have intelligence, we have intelligence.

PHILLIPS: You have intel. Where exactly does your intel come from?

SEDER: Well, we have tortured an elf and it's actually how we got the same information from Al Libbi. It's exactly the same way the Bush administration got this info about the operational ties between al Qaeda and Saddam.

PHILLIPS: Okay, Bob Knight, Sam is tying in now the lack of information regarding weapons of mass destruction and somehow moving that into Santa Claus. Help me out here. What's going on? Is this a war on Christians, a war on Christmas? Is this too much political correctness?

BOB KNIGHT, CULTURE AND FAMILY INSTITUTE: Well, first I want to compliment him on his dry humor, but this is actually a very serious subject, because a lot of people are waking up to realize that the war on Christmas is really the culmination of a war on faith and the idea that the public square has to be cleansed of any religious expression, particularly Christian religious expression.

At one time "happy holidays" was a welcome addition to "Merry Christmas," so you wouldn't say the same thing over and over again, but a lot of people now see it as a substitute, and it's very gratuitous at times.

And it's actually insulting when you're talking about Christmas day or a Christmas tree and you can't bring yourself to use the word for fear of offending someone. In the name of diversity we're a less free country when that happens.

PHILLIPS: It's interesting, Sam, because this is a time where, if anything, we want to be even more sensitive to diversity considering everything that's happening with regard to war on terror, we're learning so much more about different religions, different ethnicities and trying to become more of one, versus being segregated.

KNIGHT: Yes, well, Kyra, I mean, listen, I would like Bob to tell me who is the person who has been offended by someone saying Merry Christmas to them? I've never met that person.

I don't celebrate Christmas. But if someone says "Merry Christmas" to me, I either think, well, it's a little bit odd, it's like me saying happy birthday to you on my birthday, but no one cares.

But I will tell you this, as we wage the war on the war on the war on the war on Christmas on our radio show. News Corp., Fox News, those people who have started this entire war on Christmas mean, fake war, they're having a holiday party.

President Bush saying "Happy Holidays." Tokyo Rose, Laura Bush, saying "Happy Holidays" to her dogs in the video, I'm sure you've seen it. I mean, these are the things that we should be talking about when we are waging this war in Iraq, we should be equating it to the war on Christmas.

What else would Bob Knight have an opportunity to do, how else would he get on television if he wasn't pretending to be attacked.

KINGHT: This would be funny except it is serious to a lot of people who have seen their faith cleansed from the public square systemically.

SEDER: Are you suggesting, Bob, that someone can't celebrate Christmas in America? Tell me about the person who can escape the celebration.

KNIGHT: Can I get a word in here?

PHILLIPS: Go ahead, Bob.

KNIGHT: I'm talking about things like in Ridgeway, Wisconsin, where the school children in the public school were told they couldn't sing "Silent Night," so they substituted "Oh, Cold Night." When you take Jesus out of anything it gets pretty cold, so it's apt.

But it's outrageous, they had children actually singing a bastardized version of "Silent Night."


SEDER: This may come as a shock to you, Bob, but I don't consider Jesus the messiah. If you're going to ask me to praise Jesus, I'm going to be a little offended. I don't think the singing of the song, you can find other songs to sing, so what about "Silent Night."

KNIGHT: Because you're offended none of those other kids can celebrate the great heritage of Christmas carols.

SEDER: I'm not the one who said they couldn't do that.

KNIGHT: You're a grinch, sir, that's all you are.

SEDER: Why are you trying to force conversions on people?

KNIGHT: I'm not forcing conversions by singing a Christmas carol.

SEDER: You are, absolutely.

PHILLIPS: Let me ask you guys about the pressure that's been put on stores, for example.

American Family Association called for the boycott of Target stores the weekend after Thanksgiving, accusing the chain of banning the phrase "Merry Christmas" from its stores, a charge that Target denies.

Pressure from conservative groups, looks like it has an impact here. Complaints from the Catholic League, Wal-Mart agreed to create a Christmas page on its Web site, rather than a holiday page. Macy's, which is perhaps more closely associated with Christmas than any other retailers, sent activists a letter touting its use of "Merry Christmas" in ads and store windows after it was the target of a small scale boycott last year.

This is pretty amazing, all these boycotts of pressuring all these stores, these businesses, Bob.

KNIGHT: These businesses are taking millions and millions of dollars in from Christians, in particular, and others who celebrate Christmas, giving gifts in the name of the Christmas season, and yet they're so worried about offending people like my opponent here that they don't want to mention the word Christmas. People are sick and tired.

SEDER: Bob, it's the holiday time, I'm not your opponent.

KNIGHT: Yes, you are. Yes, you are.

SEDER: I do agree with Bob. I think what should happen is companies should calculate how much money they're getting from people who are celebrating Christmas and provide exactly that much amount of Merry Christmas, because that is exactly how I would want any type of religious holiday to be celebrated.

KNIGHT: Can I mention something that puts it in perspective?

PHILLIPS: Would we be having the same argument about Hanukkah, I'm curious?

SEDER: Would we have the same argument about Hanukkah?

KNIGHT: Hanukkah is not the same as Christmas. It's not a major holiday, for one thing.


KNIGHT: This is the Christmas season, that's why billions of dollars are really being spent.

SEDER: It's also the winter solstice, too.

PHILLIPS: People might argue that Hanukkah is just as big as Christmas.

SEDER: I'd have to agree with Bob. I would have to agree with Bob on that.

KNIGHT: I have some Jewish friends and none of them say Hanukkah is as big as Christmas.

SEDER: Hannukah is not a high holiday. Our high holidays are Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, which I'm sure Bob has been protesting why there are not more Yom Kippur sales or Rosh Hashanah sales during those holidays. Why shouldn't there be, right Bob?

KNIGHT: If that was associated with that holiday, then maybe I would join you. But it never has been.

SEDER: Bob, have you ever protested Martin Luther King Day not being celebrated. Do you resent when people don't say "Happy Martin Luther King Day" a month out in advance?

KNIGHT: Let's put this in perspective.

PHILLIPS: Bob, I want you to be able to respond. What's interesting is a CNN U.S.A. Today Gallup poll, the question was "Is it okay for people to say Merry Christmas, 88 percent said yes, 11 percent said no."

KNIGHT: 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. Why would we care about offending the four percent that get offended by it?


PHILLIPS: Why do we care? Why are we making all the changes, Bob?

SEDER: Bob's where is the war, where are the battle lines, you can tell me "Silent Night" can't be sung in one school in Wisconsin.

KNIGHT: That's just one example, that's not the totality, so don't create that straw man.

SEDER: What is the totality?

The totality is -- you brought it up. The totality is 88 percent of the American population has no problem with it.

You don't care about the people who don't celebrate Christmas, fine. But I don't celebrate Christmas and I don't care. So, why are we wasting everybody's time? It's so that you can fund raise, that's why Bob. And I think you know that's true.

PHILLIPS: Bob, I'm going to let you have the final thought.

KNIGHT: OK. You know, when the Nazis moved into Austria in 1936...

SEDER: Oh, that's offensive, Bob, to raise Nazis. KNIGHT: They immediately removed from the schools. You can read about it in...

PHILLIPS: Hold on, Sam. Let Bob make his point. Let Bob make his point. Go ahead, Bob.

KNIGHT: You can't even let me speak. Can you? You're so...

Maria Trapp wrote the story of the Trapp singers that's in "The Sound of Music," and she said she sent her kids to school after the Nazis took over. And they came home and said mama, we can't say the word Christmas anymore. It's now winter holiday.

I think that ought to disturb people...

SEDER: Kyra, that's offensive.

KNIGHT: ...that we're moving toward that kind of attitude in this country.

SEDER: The Puritans also outlawed Christmas. The founding fathers of this country would fine you in Massachusetts if you celebrated Christmas in the beginning. So don't talk about Nazis, Bob. I think that's really inappropriate.

Why do you have to bring hate to this Christmas and holiday season? That's so sad, Bob.

KNIGHT: Well, let's go to the Soviet Union then too. They had grandfather frost.

Well, it's the truth. You ought to read the book yourself, and maybe you'll change your mind.

SEDER: It's just sad that you have to raise Nazis when you're talking about Christmas and the holiday season. And we all know that Christmas actually, Tannenbaum, it's a German holiday. Bob, I'm really, really disappointed in you.

KNIGHT: I'm sorry to disappoint you, but if you can't understand the force of history...

SEDER: To bring up Nazis, Bob.

KNIGHT: I'm not calling you a Nazi.

SEDER: Oh, who you calling Nazi? Who are you calling a Nazi, sir?

KNIGHT: I'm not.

PHILLIPS: Gentlemen, we got to let it there. We could probably...

SEDER: You are, sir.

PHILLIPS: Sam Seder...

SEDER: I'm offended.

PHILLIPS: ..."Majority Report."

SEDER: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Bob Knight director of Culture and Family Institute.

Gentlemen, hey it's a discussion. Everyone is talking about it, that is for sure. A lot of people are talking about it I should say. Now, I'm just curious do I say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, which...

KNIGHT: Well, I'd like to say Merry Christmas if I have the opportunity.

SEDER: Don't cut and run from the war on Christmas.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, gentlemen, talk to you later.

KNIGHT: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, a trailblazer who used humor to shine a beacon of hope tributes about the late Richard Pryor. A look at his life and his double style when LIVE FROM returns.



RICHARD PRYOR, COMEDIAN: We heard about your tooth.

Yes, I don't have a tooth. So I have--I went to a dentist -- I don't know about you, but dentists they can kiss my [bleep].


PHILLIPS: Phenomenal funny man, Richard Pryor, died Saturday of a heart attack. His raw audacious comedy poked fun at his own life, the source, he said for his best material.

Pryor battled addiction, racism and illness and then joked about it all on stage. His courage inspired generations of comedians, many of them mourning his past today.

Our Sibila Vargas looks at Pryor's career.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Late in his life, Richard Pryor found a wealth of new material from the main source of his comedy, his own life.

The comedian was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986, and at an appearance at the Los Angeles Comedy Store in late 1992 he turned his tragedy into comedy.

PRYOR: Because I found out I had it on a movie set. I found out something was wrong. I didn't know what it was because the director said come this way, over here. And my body would go. Cut. Print. Wait, Richard, stop kidding. I'm not kidding.

VARGAS: He was rarely kidding. Pryor became a legend of comedy by tapping his rage and agonies for laughs. He was the biggest name in stand up comedy in the 70's. Won Grammys for his comedy albums and was part of the team that created the script for "Blazing Saddles."

He appeared in nearly 40 films and was nominated for an Academy Award for his dramatic acting in "Lady Sings the Blues."

PRYOR: I will be like Valentino, you be like--we'll be like Valentino and what's her name. You know, me and you, baby. It's going to be all right.

VARGAS: Pryor is also remembered for the incident in which he was horribly burned while free basing cocaine. An incident he later described as a suicide attempt. An incident that also found its way into his comedy.

Pryor directed himself in a semi-autobiographical film, "Jo Jo Dancer, You're Life is Calling" in the mid '80's. A film he says refused to be written as a comedy.

Pryor had long been in fragile health. He suffered a massive heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery in 1990. His colleagues in comedy didn't wait to honor Pryor after his passing. At a Friar's Club roast and a special television tribute to Pryor in 1991 Hollywood told Pryor him they felt about him.

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: To use Chuck Yeager's line, he broke the envelope. He pushed it beyond anything anyone could ever dream of. And it's deep stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very savage kind of humor. And it comes out of a great deal of pain. And it's something, I think, that's remarkable and inspiring.

VARGAS: Also remarkable was Pryor's determination to keep working as his disease progressed. He continued to make appearances doing stand up comedy sitting down.

In late 1995 he performed on an episode of "Chicago Hope." He received an Emmy nomination playing a multiple sclerosis victim fighting off the frustrations of his illness.

PRYOR: Sometimes I lay in bed and thinking about getting up and go, but I can't. My energy won't allow me to. Because I try to get up and my legs say what are you doing? And, you know, they look at me like I'm crazy, say come on buddy, you know you can't do that, just freeze. Smell the roses.

VARGAS: Richard Pryor was 65 years old. (END VIDEOTAPE)