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American Morning

Vice President Finally Unloads About Hunting Accident; Troubling Pictures of Abuse at Abu Ghraib

Aired February 16, 2006 - 08:00   ET


I'm Miles O'Brien.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Zain Verjee in for Soledad.

O'BRIEN: The vice president finally unloads about his hunting accident. But who does he say is to blame? We're live at the White House.

VERJEE: Troubling pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib. Will the new pictures fuel more anti-American violence? we're going to take you live to Baghdad for the latest.

A change of tune on an inside job. A suspected conspirator has a new story. But, is a guard's involvement all that unusual in a jail break?

O'BRIEN: FEMA trailer fallout -- more criticism over FEMA's failure to get temporary housing untangled from red tape.

And aging and eyesight -- if you act early, you could prolong your peepers. A little eye calisthenics in our "30, 40, 50" series ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

We begin with tension in the West Wing in the wake of the vice president's shooting accident. Mr. Cheney finally spoke yesterday, taking aim at his critics. But as the dust begins to clear on this whole thing, what are the long range political implications?

Suzanne Malveaux live now at the White House with more on that -- good morning, Suzanne.


Of course, the White House, this was a big distraction for them for the last four days or so. But Cheney finally came out, telling his side of the story, giving some details. There were many unanswered questions. The White House certainly hoping that this squashes this and puts this all behind them.

Cheney coming out in his interview saying that, taking full responsibility: "Ultimately, I am the guy who pulled the trigger and fired the round that hit Harry. You can talk about all the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. It's not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend and you can say that it is a day that I will never forget."

Very interesting, Miles, this interview, Cheney going full force, saying he is taking responsibility. At the same time, completely unapologetic about how this was handled in the media. He has simply said that he believes that it was best, that it was appear, that Katharine Armstrong, the ranch owner, the eyewitness to this accident, be the one to break the news the following morning -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne, the whole issue, though, that really got a lot of people upset was the delay, though, in releasing that information, as well as the way it was released.

What does the vice president say about that?

MALVEAUX: The way he explains the delay, at least in this first 20 to 22 hours before the public was notified, was that he was simply caring for his friend. The were a lot of conflicting reports about the conditions. He wanted to make sure that Harry Whittington's relatives were notified before they found out in the press.

There was actually a statement that was being prepared that evening. Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove at the White House doing that. That idea, that report was put on hold when Cheney said I'm going to go interview with the deputy sheriffs, the next day, the following morning, and then we'll break the news with Katharine Armstrong.

Very frustrating for some at the White House, who were pushing to get this information out as quickly as possible. But the vice president felt like it was the right call.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Thank you -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, we're seeing more disturbing images surface of apparent abuse by American soldiers at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib Prison. The images originally aired on Australian television. The network there says the photos and the video were taken back in 2003.

Let's get some reaction from Baghdad now.

Joining us live is CNN's Aneesh Raman -- Aneesh, how are these pictures already playing into what is already a tense environment?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is in Iraq. These pictures likely to add to this tense environment, Zain. These pictures are graphic, extremely disturbing. One of them shows two naked detainees chained to the prison bars. Another one shows a hooded detainee, similar to what we saw when the first round of pictures came out in 2004.

Included in the Australian report is also really disturbing video.

Iraqis, as you say, already sort of -- there's a tense environment between Iraqis and Western forces that are here, especially in the southern city of Basra. That is where both the Danish and British troops are based. There's been sustained protests there after the Prophet Muhammad was put in a cartoon in a Danish newspaper and after a video just surfaced of British troops beating up Iraqi youths in Basra back in 2004.

Today, we went out onto the streets, talked to some Iraqis. The biggest call we heard was for the Iraqi government to come out quickly and condemn these latest abuses.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In fact, the images published yesterday have been repeated more than once. But the strange thing in this matter is the sheer silence by the government. We call on the government to intervene. Each detainee has rights, whatsoever his crime was.


RAMAN: Now, there are some calls from Sunni politicians we've spoken to for the Human Rights Ministry to essentially takeover all prisoners to prevent further abuses such as this. The government has come out with a statement denouncing these alleged abuses, a paper statement. Nothing yet in terms of a press conference from Iraq's prime minister -- Zain.

VERJEE: There are some Iraqi newspapers, Aneesh, that, as I understand it, aren't covering the story at all.

Why is that?

RAMAN: It's very interesting. In the papers today, none of the government-backed or party-backed newspapers even touched the story. The only papers that talked about it were the independent newspapers.

In Iraq, the media either had monetary backing from the government or from parties. There are very few and isolated independent newspapers. So a lot of Iraqis getting a cue from that in terms of the government's response. The government, because of the tense environment we talked about, keen not to spark more outrage like we saw back in 2004 -- Zain.

VERJEE: Has the Abu Ghraib Prison, Aneesh, improved since 2003?

RAMAN: Well, the U.S. military is saying that the pictures do not reflect what is taking place in Abu Ghraib today. They rarely bring the press in to see the conditions there. Immediately after that first round of pictures was released, they did bring in the press to show new facilities.

A big issue has been overcrowding. We've seen a number of detainee releases because of that. But we don't really have a huge sense as to what exactly is taking place there. We're not brought in on an -- often at all -- Zain.

VERJEE: Aneesh Raman reporting to us from Baghdad.

Thanks, Aneesh.

Let's check in with Carol Costello and get a check of the headlines -- Carol, hi.


Good morning to all of you.

Neil Entwistle is expected to plead not guilty to the number of -- to the murders, rather -- of his wife and baby daughter. He was returned to the United States on Wednesday after waiving extradition in his native Britain.

His wife and nine-month-old baby were found shot to death in their home last month. Prosecutors say Entwistle has money problems and was planning a murder/suicide.

There is word this morning Janet Jones will not face criminal charges in connection with an illegally gambling ring. According to, Jones, who is Wayne Gretzky's wife, likely won't be charged. But she could be a witness. She could testify against Phoenix Coyotes' Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet. He's believed to have bankrolled the gambling ring.

After 50 days of silence, Randy McCloy is talking. Relatives say he is responding to family members and therapists. He's still in the hospital some six weeks after the Sago Mine accident.

CNN has learned that McCloy is eating some of his favorite foods, like Taco Bell, but he still has to use a feeding tube.

A setback for Michael Jackson. Ex-wife Debbie Rowe is trying to get back custody of their two children and a California appeals court agrees with her. The case dates back to 2001, when Rowe gave up her parental rights, saying: "Michael is a wonderful man, a brilliant father." It seems she's changed her mind.

And even though you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning three days in a row when it's not even stormy outside, perhaps you should consider playing the Powerball lottery this weekend. Nobody matched the winning numbers in Wednesday's drawing, so Saturday's jackpot is up to a record of about, oh, $365 million. The old record, just in case you're wondering, $363 million, paid out in May of 2000 for the big game, now called Mega Millions.

So, good luck -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right.

I guess you've got to play to win, as they say, Carol.

I might have to buy a few tickets, I guess, this time around.

And if you don't see us -- is the drawing tonight? Is it tonight?

COSTELLO: The drawing is at 11:59 or something like that.

O'BRIEN: All right.

So if it's bars and tone tomorrow, we all won, right, folks?

COSTELLO: No, it's 10:59 Eastern, I think.


Thank you, Carol.


O'BRIEN: Let's check the weather.

Bonnie Schneider is in the Weather Center -- good morning, Bonnie.



O'BRIEN: Lassie come home, or, I guess in this case, Vivi. Vivi come home. Vivi is on the lam, maybe sniffing around for lamb. The wayward whippet may be a little upset over her loss at the Westminster Dog Show. She was being boarded on the plane. She was in the cage, the sky kennel thing. And she jumped ship, or whatever, got out somehow, did a Houdini thing. And off into the swamp beside JFK she went.

Perhaps some champion bloodhounds from the show could be used to help out. I do know this, the whippet, running 25 miles an hour, goes a lot faster than that guy in orange who was looking for her.

In any case, she is from California, so if she is trying to make her way home, it will, indeed, be a long, long journey.

VERJEE: Whippets are lovely dogs.

O'BRIEN: They are beautiful.

VERJEE: Yes, they are.

O'BRIEN: They're wonderful, sweet animals.

VERJEE: I know a whippet called Woody (ph).

O'BRIEN: Woody the whippet.


O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, some folks call it NASCAR on ice. We go live to Torino, or Turin, if you prefer, for a preview of the hottest new event at the Winter Olympics.

VERJEE: And, also, do you need a magnifying glass just to read a restaurant menu -- Miles?



O'BRIEN: I do.

I do.

VERJEE: You know, you can...

O'BRIEN: A microscope is what I'm thinking about upgrading to.

VERJEE: Well, ahead, we've got some tips for you -- Miles included -- on keeping up your vision in your 30s and beyond.

O'BRIEN: Well, some day you'll have to deal with this, you know.

And FEMA's trailer troubles -- a Homeland Security official says thousands may have to be trashed. Look at that picture just rotting there in the field.

FEMA says he's wrong, though.

Who's right? What's the deal with these trailers?

We'll try to get to the bottom of it, next.


O'BRIEN: You know, you can talk all day long about the foibles and folly of FEMA or you could just look at that picture there. It speaks volumes. It's a huge sea of trailers that we taxpayers bought for Katrina victims sitting at the airport in Hope, Arkansas. We all hope they're just not rotting away.

CNN's Susan Roesgen with the story.


SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: So we're going to see about how many of these 10,777 mobile homes today on this walking tour?

JOHN MCDERMOTT, FEMA SPOKESMAN: As many as you want to see. This whole site is open to you today. We're going to take you all out and you can look at each one of them or all of them or just a few of them. As many as you want to see. ROESGEN (voice-over): FEMA rep John McDermott walked us into what had been off limits to CNN -- the FEMA lot where nearly 11,000 mobile homes sit empty near the Hope Municipal Airport. This week, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, reported that the mobile homes have been damaged by sinking in the soft Arkansas soil and might have to be trashed.

GEN. RICHARD SKINNER, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY INSPECTOR GENERAL: Insofar as many of these homes fail to meet FEMA specification requirements or FEMA has no qualified, pre-arranged site location to place them, they may have to be disposed of.

ROESGEN (on camera): Since the inspector general for Homeland Security is the one who has made these criticisms, shouldn't u be showing the folks from Homeland Security again what you're showing the media today? We et me just report what they report.

MCDERMOTT: Well, maybe they'll see it today.

ROESGEN (voice-over): This is what FEMA says it now wants everyone to see. Here are the mobile homes they showed us.

(on camera): In your opinion, are these so badly damaged that they might have to be destroyed?

JERRY HALL, FEMA SITE MANAGER: There are no damaged trailers here. None.

ROESGEN (voice-over): FEMA site manager Jerry Hall says the Homeland Security inspectors spent half an hour on the 300-acre site and then went back to Washington with the news that the mobile homes were in terrible shape. Hall says they're not in terrible shape, but this group of 1,600 is a concern -- they're sagging, if not sinking, under their own weight. They're the largest mobile homes and FEMA is trying to prop them up. They brought in 6,500 jacks to do just that.

But critics say why not just move them to the Gulf, their intended destination in the first place?

(on camera): When might we see some of these mobile homes moving out?

MCDERMOTT: I don't know. I don't know. It largely depends on when we can find sites to put them.

ROESGEN: Susan Roesgen, CNN, Hope, Arkansas.


O'BRIEN: All right, let's try to get to the bottom of this.

Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner -- you saw him briefly in that piece. He testified in front of the Senate committee on Monday and he joins us now from Washington.

Mr. Skinner, good to have you with us. SKINNER: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: All right, what -- what is your best take on the condition of these trailers, first of all?

SKINNER: First, let me clear up one point.


SKINNER: And that is these media reports that have said or suggested or implied that I said that thousands of homes were damaged to such an extent that they had to be trashed -- I've never said that and neither has my staff ever reported that to me as being a problem.

We have, in fact -- we are now in the process of reviewing the housing program for the Katrina evacuees. We had the opportunity to visit Hope, Arkansas at least on two occasions, most recently on January 23. When we visited then, our inspectors found that these homes were being parked in rain-soaked fields and, in fact, many of the homes were beginning to sink into the mud -- or, I should say, the trailer hitches or the platforms on which they sat were beginning to sink into the mud.

FEMA has since committed to lay down gravel at an expense of about $6 million to $8 million to mitigate this problem.

We also found trailers that were buckling or warping because they didn't have the proper support. Now, as I understand it, FEMA has addressed this problem by putting in jacks to mitigate, again, this problem.

We also found some homes that were damaged during delivery. The roofs were slightly damaged.

But we never did say that these homes were damaged to such an extent that they had to be trashed.


Well, that's -- I'm glad you got that out there.


O'BRIEN: Thank you for clarifying that point.

I find it ironic and kind of sad that FEMA's reaction is to try to do the best they can to make those trailers sit a little more pretty, if you will, in Hope, Arkansas as opposed to transporting them to a place where they'd be needed.

Six to eight million dollars for gravel? Why don't they hitch them up and take them down to New Orleans?

SKINNER: That is most disturbing, and I agree.

FEMA ordered these homes long before they had plans -- or they did not have plans in place to identify where the homes would go, when they would be deployed or who, in fact, was going to live in these homes.

As a result, we may have bought too many and consequently we are now in the modular home storage business, which, in itself, is very expensive. And our concern is if we're going to continue to store these homes for long periods of time, we need to do it properly.


Lots of issues here.

I want to ask about this one thing, though, which just amazes me.


O'BRIEN: It's kind of -- it's right out of Joseph Heller, "Catch-22."

The particular modular homes, the trailers, whatever you want to call them, are not, by federal law, allowed to be placed in a flood plain.

SKINNER: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: I mean it's -- if it weren't so tragic it would be comical.

Is that true, first of all?

And can't that be changed?

SKINNER: That is true. And possibly that probably could be changed.

But I would caution against doing that.

O'BRIEN: Really?

SKINNER: Putting these homes in a flood plain is putting more families at risk again, particularly in a flood plain that's hurricane prone. The last thing Louisiana or Mississippi needs to see is a bunch of FEMA homes floating down the street on their side causing debris problems as a result of any flooding or hurricanes that may occur.

O'BRIEN: So what you're saying -- what you're implying there is -- that, you know, it's a bad idea to send these homes down there in the first place.

Would you say that?

SKINNER: It -- yes. It's very risky to be putting a home like this, because they have to be planted on a cement or a concrete slab. They can't be removed in the case there would be flooding or hurricanes, unlike a travel trailer, which can be transported out very easily.

O'BRIEN: So, in other words, they over bought, and not just in sheer numbers, but in size, as well. These are big, modular homes as opposed to like an R.V.

Is that where the mistake was made? Should they have been thinking about similar R.V.s as a more temporary solution for people who are out of their homes there?

SKINNER: That's correct. And that's the concern -- that's one of our major concerns. And in the future, FEMA needs to think these issues through before they make decisions, very costly decisions, to procure these modular homes or container style homes.

O'BRIEN: You mentioned the future.

What about the hearing now? What do you think should be done about this mess?

SKINNER: Well, with regards to the homes that we now have in place, FEMA is now taking a very, very close look at this. I know they're working with officials in the states of Mississippi and Louisiana to try to find a home for them outside the flood plain. I know they are also -- they want to maintain these for the upcoming hurricane season, where they may -- where they could be used for future disasters. And they're also considering putting them up for sale, surplusing them so that they can be resold.

And then that gets back to our point, if we're going to resell these things, they need to be stored correctly so they don't deteriorate.

O'BRIEN: What a mess.

SKINNER: Yes, it is.

O'BRIEN: Richard Skinner, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

You've got your hands full.

We appreciate you being with us.

And a reminder to our viewers, "ANDERSON COOPER 360," which has been following this story closely, as well, airs weeknights, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

We invite you to tune in for that -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, coming up, are your eyes starting to go as you get a little bit older? Are you having trouble reading a menu?

Well, there's still plenty you can do to keep them from getting much worse. We've got some tips in our health series, "30, 40, 50."

Plus, an incredible ending to a high speed chase, all of it caught on tape.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


VERJEE: Good morning to you.

We're taking a look at the newspapers today that are dealing mostly -- at least on the front pages that we have here -- with the vice president's shooting of his friend, Harry Whittington.

COSTELLO: And what a difference a day makes, because all the headlines from a couple of days past had been making fun of the vice president. I mean, you know, the "New York Post" had him dressed up like Elmer Fudd a couple of days ago. Not so today.

Take a look at "USA Today." Everybody seems to be concentrating on the vice president taking responsibility for the shooting. On the front of the "USA Today": "I'm The Guy Who Pulled The Trigger."

Let's take a look at the "Washington Post." Remember the Style section had buckshot all over it, poking fun at...

O'BRIEN: Birdshot.

COSTELLO: Birdshot.

I'm sorry.


COSTELLO: Birdshot.

O'BRIEN: Important.

COSTELLO: You're absolutely right.


COSTELLO: "Cheney Says Shooting Was His Fault."

And the "New York Post," because, as I said, it had the vice president pictured as Elmer Fudd.


COSTELLO: But today: "I Pulled The Trigger. I Shot My Friend."

The other interesting thing the papers are looking into is the forum in which Dick Cheney chose to tell his story. He went on Fox. He talked to Britt Hume. And a lot of papers are kind of reviewing that.

In the "Washington Post": "Britt Hume: Cheney's Choice For A Straight Shooter." And it got kind of complimentary. "Britt Hume asked all the right questions." And then, in "USA Today," CNN's own Jack Cafferty is quoted. And I will read his quote: "Said CNN's Jack Cafferty, 'I would guess it didn't exactly represent a profile in courage for the vice president to wander over to the "F" word network for a sit-down with Britt Hume. That's a little like Bonnie interviewing Clyde, ain't it? When was the news conference?'"

VERJEE: Sharp.

COSTELLO: And, you know, he's asking the question, where was the news conference?

And a lot of people are saying that Dick Cheney was afraid a lot the reporters would grandstand. So he chose a quiet forum and a one- on-one interview to get the word out, knowing that clips of that interview would be shown everywhere.

VERJEE: You know, one of the most interesting things about that interview, I thought one of the most revealing things, was that the vice president didn't actually talk to the president until Monday. And this incident happened on Saturday. So, you know, I think the "L.A. Times" (UNINTELLIGIBLE) speaking to Ron Brownstein raised that, you know, that maybe the president needs to be more aggressive. A lot of questions are being raised about that.

COSTELLO: Well, a lot of questions about whether this vice president is allowed to like kind of work on his own and be an independent force.

VERJEE: Right.

That's an -- that's another great point, the degree of autonomy there.

O'BRIEN: There's a lot of autonomy in that vice presidential office.

All right, interesting stuff.

Thank you, Carol.


O'BRIEN: Coming up, holy terror, Batman!

The caped crusader takes on a villain tougher than The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and even Mr. Freeze combined.

Osama bin Laden?

VERJEE: And later, the Winter Olympics' coolest new event -- NASCAR on ice.

We're going to be live to Torino or...

O'BRIEN: Turin. VERJEE: And we're going to be doing that for a preview, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.