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American Morning

General Richard Myers Retiring; Raging Wildfires in California; Two Hospitals Open In New Orleans; William Bennett Bombshell Comment; Minding Your Business

Aired September 30, 2005 - 07:30   ET


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Patients this morning for the first time. This and an Army hospital are the only two fully functional hospitals in this city.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We'll be back with you in just a little bit. Elizabeth, thank you very much.

General Richard Myers is stepping down today as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after nearly four years in the military's top post and 40 years of service. General Myers joins me now from the Pentagon.

General, congratulations on retirement, first of all.

GEN RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Miles. It's a good day, I guess.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. And, of course, you've had a long career. Dates back to the Vietnam era. And, of course, as you leave, the focus is on Iraq. And as you leave, I think the American people are becoming very restless with what is going on in Iraq. I'm sure you would agree with that. You've seen the poll numbers. Think it's now close to 60 percent, 59 percent of the people expressing great reservations about the war. What can you tell us today as you depart that would give us any indication that there is some sort of strategy, some sort of end game?

MYERS: Well, first of all, I think the people have to realize, the people of this country and the international community, realize that we're a nation at war. And we have two pieces of this war I'm going to have to get rid of this. Excuse me.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, that's all right.

MYERS: Two pieces of this war. And one is the long war. The struggle against al Qaeda and their view of their religion, their very extremist review, where they really are at war with this country and want to do away with our way of life. And we saw the results of that the most recently in this country, 9/11, but, of course, it happened way before then.

And then we have battle fronts and battles on that war, in that war, and Iraq is one of them. And as I told the Senate Committee yesterday and the House Armed Services Committee, we are trying to do something in Iraq that has never been done before, and that is to create a peaceful stable, democratic country in the middle of the Middle East. And what that means for us, of course, since this Iraq is a central battleground for the al Qaeda, is that we make ourselves more secure, we certainly make the region more secure and we give millions of people hope that there is a better future than being either under Saddam or under the al Qaeda the yokes of al Qaeda, who have nothing to hold out for hope for the people other than their form of Islam, which is, of course, a violent extremist form of Islam.

MILES O'BRIEN: But General, didn't the U.S. presence there is it wasn't it the U.S. presence that really made it a battleground for al Qaeda? Al Qaeda wasn't there before.

MYERS: Al Qaeda has been at war with us since at least the mid '80s. If we weren't there, they'd be at war with us somewhere else. So and Zarqawi

MILES O'BRIEN: But, General, do you really buy that logic, that if we fight them there that we don't have to fight them here? That doesn't seem very logical to me. They're going to get us wherever they can.

MYERS: Miles, I absolutely believe that. And if we were, for instance, to say, OK, Iraq is not worth the cost. If we were to make that my judgment, that terrible mistake, the next 9/11, they would be emboldened to the point that the next 9/11 in my view would be right around the corner. I mean they are at war with us. This network called al Qaeda is at war with us. It is virtually a worldwide network. They are counting on beating us not through military force, but through defeating our patience, our resolve and our will. This is a test of will. And that's what they're working on. That's why you see the car bombs. That's why you . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: But haven't we stirred up a hornet's nest there? Haven't we just provoked more trouble for us?

MYERS: Oh, absolutely not. I mean do you call do we call the national elections that the Iraqis just went through stirring up a hornet's nest when you give 25 million people a chance to vote, elect their own national assembly? They're going to have a constitutional referendum here in October. They're going to have national elections in December. That's not stirring up trouble. The people stirring up trouble are the same people that perpetrated 9/11, that bombed the Cole, that bombed our two embassies in East Africa.

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, no, but you could make a case, though, that what we're talking about here are years and years of factualisms (ph), sectarian conflict Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds and a country that was sort of artificially drawn in the first place and we're trying to patch it all together with no real end in sight.

Let me I just want to share with you quickly . . .

MYERS: That is a . . . MILES O'BRIEN: Well, go ahead. You can comment to that and then I want to share with you something.

MYERS: Well, no, I think your comment, you know, you just described how hard this is because if there are artificial boundaries there that have put groups together. This was the so called Sunni- Shia fault line that was designed by another country a long time ago. And so if we're successful in this very difficult, as you pointed out, very difficult task, and I would say we are being successful. That if we're successful in this, it's going to make such a difference, not just in that region, but in the world. I mean it's going to give hope to millions.

MILES O'BRIEN: You know, General, I've got to say, I'm having a hard time seeing the signs of success. We don't have much evidence that the Iraqis are stepping up to the plate. The U.S. is having to provide whatever security there is. We're approaching now 2,000 fatalities, lost U.S. men and women, and I see what I see are an increase spade of violence and I see a country on the cusp of civil war. How is that success?

MYERS: Well I think there's nobody that thinks they're on the cusp of civil war.


MYERS: The Shia community no, of course not, Miles. The Shia community is not at war. The violent Sunni extremists. There are four provinces in Iraq and the city of Baghdad, a very important place, obviously, where the violence occurs. It does not occur in the rest of the country. There has been we've had elections. That is progress. We're going to have a we have a draft constitution. That is progress. We have a constitutional referendum coming up. Even the Sunnis I mean, we're talking about 80 or 90 percent of the Iraqi population, according to polls, say they're going to vote in the constitutional referendum and then they'll vote in the national elections that follow in a couple of months. That is progress. Iraqi security forces are in the fight. They're losing twice . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: Are they really, though? Are they really there?

MYERS: Absolutely. I mean all you have to do is look at the casualty figures for Iraqi security forces. You'll see that they're twice the rate or three times the rate of coalition forces. They're absolutely . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, that's an odd way of measuring the success of their ability to fight.

MYERS: It what it measures is their courage and their willingness to stand up and fight for their country. Just like our troops did in 1776. I hope you've read the book. This is not easy building countries. It's not easy building democracies. In 1776, George Washington was down at one point to 3,000 rag tag troops. And, yes, they were dying. And if people had lost hope then, this country that we call America wouldn't be. And so our men and women know that. They're the ones over there. I just visited about a month ago, August, I visited the troops in Iraq. Let me tell you, they know the stakes are high. They know that what they're doing is securing this country, as well as that region. They know they can win. They know they can win. And I know they can win and they will win.

MILES O'BRIEN: General Richard Myers, we wish you well in your retirement. Tomorrow it's going to be a civilian life, which you haven't had in quite sometime.

MYERS: You bet. It's going to be a change. I don't have a little white card in my pocket telling me what to do but I've got a wife and three children that will probably giving me some hints.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Well, enjoy it. And I hope you make good use of your time. I'm sure you will.

General Myers, thanks for your time.

MYERS: Thanks, Miles.

Let's get a check on the other headlines now. Kelly Wallace here with that.

Good morning, Kelly.


And good morning, everyone.

Here are some of the stories "Now in the News."

Vowing to do the best job that he possibly can, John Roberts was sworn in Thursday as the 17th chief justice of the United States. A formal Supreme Court ceremony is set for Monday at the start of the court's new term. By then, all expectations are that President Bush will have announced his pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"New York Times" reporter Judith Miller is set to name her source before a federal grand jury today in the leak of a CIA officer's identity. Miller was released from jail Thursday after serving 85 days. She says she has received permission from the confidential source to testify. That sort is apparently Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Turning overseas now to Iraq.

At least seven people have been killed in a car bomb at a vegetable market in Hilla. More than 40 others are wounded. Women and children were among the casualties. The bombing coming a day after insurgents in Balad, north of Baghdad, launched a string of car bombings. An Iraqi hospital official telling CNN at least 80 people were killed, some 120 others wounded. At least 12 officers from the New Orleans Police Department may face charges for looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The acting superintendent says following a preliminary probe, four officers have been suspended and one reassigned. The department is also looking into reports that nearly 250 officers left their post without permission during the storm.

And an American scientist and businessman, Gregory Olsen, is preparing to become the third tourist to visit the International Space Station. Olsen will spend eight days aboard the station. The price tag for his out of this world adventure reportedly $20 million. Olsen is set to blast off from Kazakhstan tomorrow.

Miles, apparently he doesn't like the term space tourist. He prefers space participant, saying he spent about two years preparing for this big mission.

MILES O'BRIEN: I guess when you're spending $20 million, you don't want to think of that as somebody with shorts and knee socks and a camera.

WALLACE: Exactly.

MILES O'BRIEN: But it's not quite that.

WALLACE: He wanted to think it's the real deal.

MILES O'BRIEN: It's the real deal. Space participant. OK. For $20 million, sure, Mr. Olsen . . .

WALLACE: We'll call him that.

MILES O'BRIEN: We're going to go with it for you, all right?

Some 3,000 firefighters continue to battle a massive wildfire in Southern California this morning. The fire is raging along the Los Angeles/Ventura County line, northwest of Downtown L.A. About 17,000 acres near the town of Chatsworth scorched already. Captain Carlos Calvillo is of the L.A. Fire Department and he joins us now from near the scene.

First of all, where are you this morning, sir?

CAPT. CARLOS CALVILLO, LOS ANGELES CITY FIRE DEPT.: Right now we're at Fire Station 106, which is one of the branch locations that Los Angeles City Fire Department has set up for the incident.

MILES O'BRIEN: Tell us about how you're attacking this one. Whether you have enough people on the line and if you're making any progress right now.

CALVILLO: Well, as you know, like you said, there are 3,000 firefighters on the line right now. Throughout the last few days, we've been attacking it, both from the air with helicopters, fixed wing support. The fire companies have been protecting the homes and we've put them along this eastern border of L.A. city to protect it from the single family dwellings. The other camp crews and hand lines have been established up along around the perimeter into the foothills and up into the rougher terrain also. So it's being attacked from all sides of the fire, both top and the bottom.

MILES O'BRIEN: Now, you've evacuated several houses. How many people are out of their houses this morning?

CALVILLO: We have it estimated to be, you know, at least a thousand or more individuals that have been evacuated. Some of them have been what we call order to evacuate, which is when they leave the area, we're then creating a hard line where we're not letting those people back into their homes. The other type would be called a warning to evacuate, which would mean, you know, be prepared to evacuate on a moment's notice.

MILES O'BRIEN: Tell us about what you expect today. There's some forecasts that we have seen that indicate the wind might die down a little bit. What are you seeing?

CALVILLO: Yes, I can feel it right now. It's noticeably cooler this morning than it has been the last two mornings. The wind is at a still. We do have what I feel a little bit of an onshore. The air is literally heavier, I can feel it right now, than it has been the last two days. So this is all going to be in our favor. Hopefully, the winds will stay down today and we'll be able to get a good handle on this thing.

MILES O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Captain. Captain Carlos Calvillo of the L.A. Fire Department, giving us an update right from near the fire lines there.

Let's check the weather, as a matter of fact. Bonnie Schneider, who has been watching those winds. And you heard the first-person account there. Bonnie, you have all those computers there but the captain said, hey, it feels a little cooler. That's good to know.


MILES O'BRIEN: Let's go back to New Orleans this morning. Elizabeth Cohen in for Soledad. She is on the USNS Comfort this morning.

Good morning, Elizabeth.

Miles, I'm here on the flight deck of the USNS Comfort and I'm with Captain Tom Allingham, who's the anesthesiologist. And you run the hospital on board this ship.


COHEN: And also with Dr. James Moises, who is a civilian doctor who's going to be helping out.

And Dr. Allingham, I first wanted to ask you, usually you're helping in times of war. This is a very different situation. What do you expect? You're getting your first patients this morning. ALLINGHAM: Well, what we expect is to see trauma brought here by local EMS that could be of any variety. Anything from motor vehicle accidents to what we're terming recovery trauma, such as falls from rooftops, use of chain saw injuries. Also, any medical emergencies that may arise. People who are exerting themselves for the first time perhaps in a while with, you know, chest pain, anything like that. We can handle medical emergencies as well.

COHEN: And you've got this big boat here. It has a big red cross on it. There's a lot of people here who haven't seen a doctor regularly in the past month, obviously. Are you a little concerned you're going to become not really a trauma center but sort of a floating doctor's office?

ALLINGHAM: We are concerned about that. Because of the patient flow issue, we're not really designed to be an ambulatory care center. We don't really have the facilities. Issues are the privacy issues of a waiting room and individual exam rooms. We're designed to handle trauma. So what we're going to try to do is have people who have routine medical care problems go to the area, ambulatory care or routine medical care facilities that are opening up around New Orleans.

COHEN: And Dr. Moises, in your real life, you're a doctor at LSU, in the emergency room, right?


COHEN: So what are you doing here on The Comfort?

MOISES: Well, there's no facilities in New Orleans to work at right now. All of the hospitals are closed with the exception of one hospital that has their E.R. open. And so with the city opening up this weekend, we're grateful that the Navy has offered to come in and offer a facility for our local doctors to work in with the Navy doctors side-by-side. So we'll be helping with emergency care and ramp up from there as needed.

COHEN: Now as people trickle back in, do either of you have any kind of an idea of the numbers you're going to be seeing?

ALLINGHAM: I think the numbers will escalate quickly. I don't really have an idea of how many we'll see. But I think that as we repopulate the city, the numbers will escalate accordingly. As you let more people in, there will be more opportunities for injuries, accidents to occur. As I said, motor vehicle accidents with more traffic and especially in light of the fact that there's a lot of the traffic signals are out, so unless people are very, very careful, there's going to be, inevitably, some traffic accidents and trauma associated with that as well. So I think as the repopulation takes place, it's going to the trauma is going to increase.

COHEN: Now, Dr. Moises, you're a local doctor here. Are there a lot of doctors here who don't have a lot to do?

MOISES: Yes, there's thousands of doctors. Actually, with no hospitals open, there's very few local doctors who are back in the city because there's no place for them to work. We have this facility here on The Comfort and there's one other facility in the convention center. But there's a lot of doctors who are anxious to come back and start working and take care of the population that is going to be re- entering the city over the next few days. The problem is, there's just no facility for them to work at.

COHEN: OK. Well, Dr. Moises, Dr. Allingham, thanks so much.

Miles, back to you.

MILES O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Elizabeth.

Still to come on the program, a big controversy over remarks made by a leading conservative. Find out what Bill Bennett said that has his critics in an uproar. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: One of the country's leading conservatives, William Bennett, is under fire for some racially charged comments. Comments his critics are calling shameful from racist.


WILLIAM BENNETT: Well, I'm not racist and I'll put my record up against theirs.

MILES O'BRIEN, (voice over): Former education secretary, William Bennett, on the defensive after some remarks many are calling offensive. It happened as he respond to do a caller on his syndicated radio show Wednesday.

BENNETT: If you wanted to reduce crime, you could if that were your sole purpose you could abort every black baby in the country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do. But your crime rate would go down.

MILES O'BRIEN: Bennett is a veteran soldier in the culture wars. He served as drug czar in the first Bush administration, pushed the war on drugs. Then later wrote "The Book of Virtues," a handbook of conservative morality. Democrats wasted for time firing back at his latest provocative comment.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: What could possibly have possess Secretary Bennett to say those words, especially at this time? What could he possibly have been thinking? This is what is so alarming about his words.

MILES O'BRIEN: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on President Bush to condemn the comments. And the head of the NAACP said in a statement, "while the entire nation is trying to help survivors, black and white, to recover from the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is unconscionable for Bennett to make such ignorant and insensitive comments." But true to form, Bennett is standing by his words. He says they were taken out of context.

BENNETT: If somebody thought I was advocating that, they ought to be angry. I'd be angry. I was putting forward a hypothetical proposition, put that forward, examine it, and then said about it, that it's morally reprehensible. To recommend abortion of an entire group of people in order to lower your crime rate is morally reprehensible. But this is what happens when you argue that the ends can justify the means.

MILES O'BRIEN: And to his critics Bennett says, he is not the one who owes an apology.

BENNETT: I think people who misrepresented my view owes me an apology.


MILES O'BRIEN: Now Bennett says crime is a particularly serious problem for African-Americans because they're victims of a disproportionate number of crimes in America. And he says the issue must be addressed publicly and candidly.

Still to come on the program, we're "Minding Your Business." In the market for a used car? Andy tells us why you should be extra picky because of Hurricane Katrina. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: OK. So you're in the market for a used car, post-Katrina. You open up the door and out comes six mackerel. Bad sign, right, Andy Serwer? That's the first sign you got a flood car, right?

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that would be your first sign. Your second sign would be a tuna in the back seat.

Current estimates, Miles, put the number of damaged and destroyed cars by Katrina at over 500,000. And that doesn't even include Rita. Some people will want to sell these cars. Some people will want to sell these cars without telling the prospective buyers that they've been in the wa-wa. So you've got a problem here.

Now there is one company that is looking to help out consumers. This is a good thing. We want to highlight it. It's a company called CARFAX, which is a online service that provides you with a car about a car's history. And they'll tell you things about title, registration, mileage, major accidents. And this costs money, of course,$25 a report, for instance.

But what they're doing is they're offering free, a service where if you put the car's vehicle identification number, the vin number, into the system, it will tell you whether this car was last registered in an area that FEMA had designated as a disaster area, i.e. the Gulf Coast region. So if someone was trying to lie and tell you, well, we're really from the Midwest, but actually they're from Gulfport, this system will tell you that.

MILES O'BRIEN: So while it doesn't prove it was a flood car . . .

SERWER: That's right, it doesn't prove it.

MILES O'BRIEN: It would make you a little skeptical and you might want to look a little closer?

SERWER: That's exactly correct.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes. And I guess there are signs you can find with a mechanic. You could probably find the signs of a flood car.

SERWER: Electrical system, for starters.

MILES O'BRIEN: That would be the biggie wouldn't it?


MILES O'BRIEN: Andy Serwer, thank you very much.

SERWER: Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: In a moment, we're going to go live to Southern California. That huge wildfire has now scorched about 17,000 acres. We'll get an update on the race to control it today. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: A massive fire burning along the northern suburbs of Los Angeles. More than a thousand people chased from their homes. Their counting on a shift in the wind to help save everything they own today.

Health risks looming in New Orleans as thousands of people come home. Mold, tainted water, and the potential for injury really at every turn. Is the city really equipped to deal with medical emergencies?

And after nearly three months in jail, "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller is freed this morning and apparently ready to name some names on this AMERICAN MORNING. c TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT