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American Morning

Mosque Explosion; Safe Harbor?; Mudslide Search; Execution Postponed; Torino 2006

Aired February 22, 2006 - 06:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody, I'm Soledad O'Brien.
Miles is on his final day of vacation. Rob is helping us out once again.

A big thank you to you.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: He only gets three, you get two weeks is it?

O'BRIEN: Life is very, very unfair, Rob, that's the way it is.

MARCIANO: That's just the way it is.

O'BRIEN: Our top story this morning is this powerful explosion happened overnight and it's damaged one of Iraq's most sacred sites. Live pictures now as angry Shiites are taking to the streets over this blast. We're live in Baghdad this morning.

Also ahead, outrage.


MACK WINCHELL, VICTIM'S FATHER: I just think the whole judicial system has went to hell in my book.


O'BRIEN: That's the father of a murder victim. A death row inmate has escaped execution once again. And this one case could now change the face of executions in this country. We've got that story.

MARCIANO: A flawless performance by American figure skater Sasha Cohen in Torino. We're live with highlights of last night's competition.

And two corporate titans fight over their time on TV. It's the domestic diva versus The Donald in an escalating war of words.

O'BRIEN: And it's getting ugly. Get to that in a moment.

Our first story, though, comes out of Iraq. One of the country's most sacred Shiite shrines has been seriously damaged in an explosion. It happened in Samarra. That's about 70 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Aneesh Raman is live for us in Baghdad this morning.

Aneesh, good morning. What do we know about this?


Security officials tell us that shortly before 7:00 a.m. local, about seven hours ago, men dressed as Iraqi police commandos stormed the Askariya Mosque north of the capital in the city of Samarra. They bound the few guards that were there, although we've been given no specifics as to how many guards were present at the time. They then detonated bombs inside the mosque, destroying the golden dome that sits atop this mosque.

This is one of the most revered Shi'a mosques in the entire world and definitely within Iraq. And it has sparked immediate outrage and protests throughout the country in the Shi'a community in Baghdad. In Katamia (ph), that borders Sadr City, thousands have already poured to the streets. In Sadr City itself, we understand the Mehdi Militia has taken up arms. They are checking cars. They are being told by officials to remain calm at this point.

Iraqi security officials say they think this is a work of al Qaeda in Iraq. They have provided no details yet as to why they have also said that 10 men are currently being detained. All of that while they try to bring security to Samarra right now where hundreds have poured to the streets, as well, in protest -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Comes certainly at a very tense time for the Shiites and the Sunnis. What are the Shiite leaders saying, in fact, about this bombing -- Aneesh?

RAMAN: It does, as you say, come at a tense time. This is the third major attack on Shiites in as many days. Swift response from the government. Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari calling for a three-day period of mourning. That in an address on Iraqiya state- run television that is now airing a black flag in mourning, as well, over the top left of the screen.

The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most revered Shi'a cleric, as well, has called for a period of mourning for protests, but saying that they should remain calm. And also Muqtada al-Sadr, that fire banned (ph) cleric that, of course, battled the U.S. before but is now essentially a part of this government, he has cut short his trip abroad. He's en route back to Baghdad and is set to make a statement later today -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad for us this morning following this story.

Aneesh, thank you very much -- Rob.

MARCIANO: Soledad, new tactics and new equipment in the search for survivors in the Philippines. U.S. Marines brought in a heavy drill in an attempt to finally find the spot where a school was swallowed up by tons of mud. CNN's Hugh Riminton joins us from -- by videophone now about the search there from the command center.

Hugh, they making any progress? What's going on with this big drill the Marines brought in?

We have lost contact with Hugh. We're going to try to get back to him in just a little bit, again, on that mudslide in the Philippines.

O'BRIEN: Gosh, at least some good news that they are bringing in heavy equipment there, because of course that has just been devastating that mud covering the school.


O'BRIEN: And any hope for survivors, obviously, dimming as the days pass.

Let's move on and talk about a CNN "Security Watch" this morning. President Bush is threatening to veto any efforts that would kill a deal that would put an Arab company in charge of six U.S. ports. The issue is causing a political firestorm in Washington, D.C.

Here's correspondent Dana Bash for us this morning.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It's hard to overstate the drama here at the White House. The president is now under attack by leaders from his own party over what has been a defining issue for him, homeland security. This all because of the outcry over the administration's decision to allow an Arab country to take control, operational control, over six major U.S. ports.

Now the White House was taken by surprise by what amounted to be a GOP revolt. And they decided that the president personally needed to fire back, so he had a rare session with reporters aboard Air Force One. And there he even threatened, for the first time since he's been in office, to actually use his veto pen to stop legislation that would be coming at him from leaders, Republican leaders in Congress, to stop this deal from going through.

Now later today, what we expect is for White House officials to continue to go out and make the case for why this deal is safe, that this process made sure that there are no national security risks. And as the president himself said, they are going to make the case that stopping this deal now would alienate a crucial Arab ally.

Dana Bash, CNN, the White House.


O'BRIEN: You want to stay tuned to CNN day and night for the very latest news about your security. And coming up at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time, we're going to talk to White House Counselor Dan Bartlett about this very issue. Find out why the president is so adamant about this deal -- Rob.

MARCIANO: Soledad, we're going to try to go back to the Philippines now, where days ago a mudslide swallowed a village. The Marines have brought in a heavy drill to help look for survivors.

Hugh Riminton joins us from video -- by videophone now in the southern province of Leyte.

Hugh, what can you tell us this morning?

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the drill they had hoped to get up tonight. There has just been a big rainstorm go through and the searchers have had to give it up for the time being. All the focus is on the school, which had about 250 children and teachers. No one of the children that went to the school that day have been recovered alive or dead.

This remains the focus. This is why they have commissioned this drill that can go down 60 meters, 200 feet or so, trying to find some evidence. They've also brought in some penetrating radar equipment, which was in action in the last few hours. They're looking for things that might give a clue, they don't pick up bodies, but they might pick up things like school desks, help them identify where they should be looking.

They have had various experts across this vast site in the last few days and they have identified no fewer than 40 places, sorry, 4 places they think this school might be. Gives you some idea of just how difficult the thing is.

In the meantime, they have geologists on the site now. They are saying that right across that escarpment, which involves other villages as well, there are going to be more landslides, they say. They could be tomorrow, they may not be for years, but the place is dangerous and needs to be evacuated -- Rob.

MARCIANO: Hugh, we're getting word that, AP reports, that the rescue search has been called off, at least for now, due to heavy rains. I assume it's raining now. What other -- what kind of obstacles does that present, besides the obvious, the rains that have been falling?

RIMINTON: Yes. You know this has just been the frustration. The rains came through. It was soaking down here a few minutes ago. It has suddenly stopped again. But it does make it dangerous, particularly at night. This still is a shifting area.

It's very heavy with mud. You can lose your footing and sink in very easily at any time. It also makes the searching fairly pointless. The Marines have said they got tired at various times digging holes just to see them fill up with water again. It makes the search itself almost a waste of time. They'll be at it again, though, presumably later tonight, they have got generators up there, or certainly first thing in the morning.

MARCIANO: Hugh Riminton live for us in the Philippines.

La Nina not helping the cause there, as far as the rains are concerned. And we'll hope for at least a stop, temporarily, of the rainy conditions -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A battle of medical ethics versus the death penalty in California. Right now medical ethics and the issue of cruel and unusual punishment are keeping one convicted murderer alive.

CNN's Peter Viles has our story this morning.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 23 years on death row, convicted murderer Michael Morales dodged death, not once, but twice in a single day. The state of California postponing his execution indefinitely, saying it could not meet a judge's order to have a medical professional administer the fatal drug.

VERNELL CRITTENDEN, PRISON SPOKESMAN: At this time, what we were -- we were not able to find any licensed medical professionals that were willing to inject medication intravenously ending the life of a human being.

VILES: Morales was convicted in the 1981 rape and murder of 17- year-old Terri Winchell. Her family has waited 25 years for justice, only to see the execution postponed twice.

WINCHELL: I just think the whole judicial system has went to hell in my book. I can't understand it.

VILES: In a statement, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said -- quote -- "The federal court has interjected itself into the details of the state's execution process. I am confident that the conviction and sentence were appropriate in this case."

The key legal issue is whether California's method of execution, three drugs given one after the other, causes pain and suffering.

DAVID SENIOR, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL MORALES: They use three drugs. The second drug that they use paralyzes the inmate, which doesn't allow the person administering the drugs to know whether the sedative, which is the first drug, is actually working. The third drug is excruciatingly painful that they pump into the inmates.

VILES: Morales was said to be relieved at hearing the news.

The family of the murdered girl, according to prison officials, is -- quote -- "taking it very hard."

(on camera): Michael Morales spent the past 24 hours in a death watch cell just 15 feet from the death chamber. He won't be back there for quite a while, because the hearing on his claim of cruel and unusual punishment isn't even scheduled until May. Peter Viles for CNN at San Quentin Prison in California.


MARCIANO: Time now for a check of the weather forecast. Chad Myers is off, Bonnie Schneider in down in Atlanta in the CNN Weather Center.

Bonnie, good morning.



As you know, Rob, Soledad, the weather changes very quickly. Especially for the month of February, we've really seen topsy-turvy weather.

O'BRIEN: Meteorologists always say that.


O'BRIEN: You know that -- you know weather changes, it's not our fault.

MARCIANO: That's the first thing you learn in weather school is cover your rear end.

O'BRIEN: Blame something else. Yes, I realize that.

Coming up this morning, feud between the two members of the U.S. Olympic team flares up after kind of the post race handshake. It's like it's all fine and then they start feuding again.

MARCIANO: It's all right.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take you back to Torino live for that ahead this morning.

MARCIANO: We built it up, at least it didn't disappoint.

Also, health officials recommend a new vaccine for babies. We'll tell you what new parents need to know.

O'BRIEN: And then kind of another feud, a war of words between The Donald and Martha Stewart. The business titans kind of go at it in the press.

Stay with us, you're watching AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Let's get right to Kelly Wallace. She's in for Carol this morning. She's in our newsroom for top stories.

Hello. Good morning.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Soledad, good to see you. And good morning, everyone.

We're beginning with some new developments coming out of the Philippines, heavy rain putting rescue efforts on hold for now nearly one week after that devastating landslide. Philippine President Arroyo meeting with relief workers today. U.S. Marines brought in a two-ton drill to try to find an elementary school buried by up to 100 feet of mud and rock. Officials fear more than 1,000 people are dead.

President Bush threatening what would be the first veto of his administration, pledging to veto any bill that tries to block a port security agreement. Some Republicans have come out against the deal, which would allow a Dubai-based company to run six strategic U.S. ports.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her first visit to the Middle East since Hamas' landslide victory in the Palestinian elections. That issue topping the agenda as Secretary Rice meets with officials in Egypt today. Rice is hoping to nudge Mid East leaders to put pressure on Hamas to work with Israel in the peace process.

Parents may soon have another childhood vaccine to remember for their babies. A panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended vaccinating children against Rotavirus. It's a virus that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever and dehydration, and in some cases it can even be fatal. The recommendation comes about seven years after an earlier Rotavirus vaccine was pulled from the market for causing complications.

And in Malibu, California, authorities are looking for a driver who totaled this million-dollar car and then ran away. Police say the Ferrari Enzo was traveling more than 100 miles per hour Tuesday when it smashed into a power pole, cutting the car in half. A man claiming to be a passenger in the car suffered minor injuries. He says the driver ran off into the nearby hills.

It's time to get a check of the forecast, Bonnie Schneider in for Chad Myers today.

Good morning, Bonnie. What are you focusing in on?


O'BRIEN: Yes, if you're in Miami, looks great.

Thanks, Bonnie, appreciate it.

Business news now, Microsoft kind of lets the cat out of the bag. Also, a talent shortage may, so to speak, in the business world.

Carrie Lee has got that this morning.

Good morning.

MARCIANO: Hi -- Carrie.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Soledad. Good morning to both of you.

Let's start with the talent shortage. We're talking about companies having a hard time finding qualified workers, not just in the United States, but around the world. A recent manpower survey for January found 40 percent of nearly 33,000 employers in 23 countries are struggling to find qualified job candidates. The top of the list for talent shortages, sales representatives, and this is followed by engineers and then technicians.

And if you look at different countries around the world, well Mexico tops the list. Seventy-eight percent of companies there reporting talent shortages, followed by Canada and Japan.

I think what's happening here is workers are becoming more specialized, whatever field they are in, and so companies want somebody with, say, a certain sales background, medical, very specific. And they are not going to hire somebody unless they have exactly what they are looking for.

O'BRIEN: Well that's...

MARCIANO: Got to have a niche I suppose.

LEE: Exactly. Exactly.

O'BRIEN: What about Microsoft?

LEE: Microsoft, yes. Now this was not intentional on Microsoft's part, but on a Web site, a Microsoft Web site, a help area, they posted information about a plan to release eight different editions of its Vista Operating System. A lot of people know that this is what a lot of people are waiting for. It's been five years since the XP has come out, so a lot of people waiting for Vista.

What we do know, people who saw the site say there are six primary editions for home, large corporations, home exclusive, a home premium, rather, and then two other editions without the Windows Media Player to comply with E.U. regulations.

Now Microsoft isn't confirming this. They have taken it down. But people who are interested in this, well, a little glimpse of what's to come later this spring.

O'BRIEN: But wait a minute, I mean are you buying this that it was, like, oops?

MARCIANO: Right, right.

O'BRIEN: We have something new called Vista. We're going to accidentally release it.

LEE: Well, people knew the -- people know Vista is coming out, but this gives us some details about how many different versions.

O'BRIEN: Do you think it was really a mistake?

LEE: I do. I do.

O'BRIEN: Really?

LEE: You know it happens. It happens. Somebody...

MARCIANO: Is it going to be easier, please?

LEE: ... and they've taken it down. That, I guess, we'll wait to see. I'll talk about that maybe in June. I'll have a chance to test it out.

O'BRIEN: All right -- Carrie.


O'BRIEN: Thanks a lot.

MARCIANO: Thanks -- Carrie.

LEE: All right.

MARCIANO: A post race handshake opens up old wounds between Olympic teammates. We'll go live to Torino for the latest on the friction between a pair of U.S. speed skaters.

And speaking of feuds, things have gotten downright nasty between Martha Stewart and Donald Trump. That story coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: That's such a fitting song, "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Well, here's the story. Kind of "The Apprentice" wars, I guess you could say Donald versus Martha.

In a "Newsweek" magazine interview, Martha Stewart blames her prime time show's failure on Donald Trump. She says he's unfair. She says he was -- she was supposed to fire Trump, but he wasn't buying it. He wasn't going to go for it.

The Donald responds in turn with some harsh words in an open letter. It's been obtained by "People" magazine. And he says, "essentially, you made this firing up just as you made up the sell of your ImClone. The only difference is that was more obvious." Talking about going for the low blow.

As for the show itself, Trump had this to say, "between your daughter, with her one word statements, and your letter writing and, most importantly, your total unconvincing demeanor, the show never had a chance."

OK. Nasty. Stewart says she was surprised by the letter. She says she's happy, though, with the success of her daytime show. A little P.S. to this whole drama, The Donald says be careful or I'll do a syndicated daytime show and destroy you and the meager ratings you've got.

Back to the "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Wow! That's ugly.

MARCIANO: But you know that's The Donald. That's what he does.

O'BRIEN: Well...

MARCIANO: You know that guy gooses the ratings. You know he's no dummy.

O'BRIEN: No, that's all -- I get it, it's all a marketing ploy for his show at the end of the day.

MARCIANO: Now this Olympic rivalry may be a little more genuine.

O'BRIEN: More drama, yes, really.

MARCIANO: You know this could be very good. We're going to talk about that right now. Another battle, this one on the ice at the Olympics.

After day one of U.S. women's figure skating, the U.S. champion leads the European champion by just three hundredths of a point. We have that battle. Plus, we have a more dramatic battle as far as a war of words is concerned.

CNN's Larry Smith has been live in Torino for the last I guess a couple of weeks now, Larry. We've got the long program happening tomorrow night and a very tight race for the U.S. or for the women's figure skating. What's going on?

LARRY SMITH, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know what's really exciting is that when Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya take the ice, they're in a virtual dead heat because they are so close, as you mentioned, three one-hundredths of a point, that's all that separates them.

Let's talk about Sasha Cohen for a minute. I got a chance to watch her performance last night and she was simply nearly flawless, as an amateur watching figure skating, but I thought she was just fantastic, really. But so many of the competitors last night, 29 in all, had slips and falls in their performances, but not Cohen. She nailed it. And as a result, she has the slim lead over Irina Slutskaya.

Now she has got a reputation to uphold here because the Russians have really dominated in figure skating. Slutskaya trying to follow up with victories for Russia in men's figure skating, pair's figure skating and Monday night in ice dancing, as well. She's also in very good contention.

Now how about Kimmie Meissner, the 16-year-old from Maryland. We've mentioned before maybe the most athletic of the American figure skaters in this competition. She's the only woman, second woman ever to land a triple axle. And she was phenomenal last night. Good enough for a fifth place showing. And Emily Hughes right now is in seventh place. Again, this after the short program. Free skate coming up tomorrow night, and that's when they'll determine a gold medal winner -- Rob.

MARCIANO: That is always fun to watch, always dramatic.

Speed skating also fun, and there's some drama there, as well. I mean just when you thought Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick had buried the hatchet. I didn't get to see it. Soledad is trying to straighten me out. The paper says one thing; I'm thinking another. Tell us what happened last night with these speed skaters, I guess most importantly, after the race.

SMITH: Yes, well, you know, I mean we haven't heard much from Shani Davis. He's not talking to the media, but I guess actions speak louder than words. Hedrick made a point of making sure that everyone knew he was the world record holder in the 1,500 meters. And then he goes out and gets beaten by Shani Davis. Davis taking silver; Hedrick bronze. Kind of smiling on the podium it seems.

But here is Shani's comments afterwards. We do have this much that he did say this, "it would have been kind of nice after I won the 1,000 if he would have been a good teammate," speaking of Hedrick, "and shook my hand, just like I shook his hand -- or hugged him -- after he won the 5,000. ....Shakes my hand when I lose. Typical Chad." That's Shani Davis.

By the way, both have won gold. And now both have won a second medal. And overall, USA with 18 medals heading into another day of competition, and so it goes.

MARCIANO: So he was unhappy that he got his handshake after he lost, is that the deal? I'm still confused.

SMITH: Well, what he's saying is you know Chad won't shake his hand when he wins. He'll shake it when he loses, when he doesn't succeed, but when he wins, he won't shake his hand. He was very upset because...

O'BRIEN: They hate each other.


SMITH: Yes. He was -- yes, he was asked -- someone asked him are you happy that Shani won gold? He said I'm happy for Joey Cheek who got silver. He refused to acknowledge Shani Davis. So, this is significant...


SMITH: ... because we have not heard from Shani Davis yet in any kind of response to all the things Hedrick's been talking about. It's kind of the first thing that we have heard from him, so there you have it.

MARCIANO: Soledad is sitting here going I'm right, I'm right.

O'BRIEN: Yes, they -- you know what, here's the short answer, they hate each other.


O'BRIEN: Hate.

MARCIANO: Nothing could have happened right it seemed like.

O'BRIEN: Hate, hate, hate. Bury the hatchet, guys. Enough. But you know it's high drama...

MARCIANO: Let's go to the medal count.

O'BRIEN: What have you got?

MARCIANO: Germany has 21, including 9 golds. U.S. has moved into second place with 18 and they're tied with Norway now, followed by Austria and Russia.

O'BRIEN: All right.

A look at the morning's top stories straight ahead this morning, including some very good news for the folks who have been left -- well, we should say some of the folks who have been left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. We'll tell you that.

Also, get ready to start digging even deeper into your pockets for healthcare. We're going to take a look at just how high costs could -- well how high, we should say, the costs could go. They're already high.

Those stories are ahead. Stay with us, everybody.