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American Morning

Saddam Hussein on Trial; New Terror Message Purportedly From Osama bin Laden; Crazy Cat

Aired May 24, 2006 - 06:29   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening this morning, the Senate will hold a test vote on its immigration bill today. Yesterday, senators added an amendment that would fine employers up to $20,000 for each undocumented worker they hire.
Health officials investigating the possibility bird flu might be spreading person to person in Indonesia. That's a significant development if true. This comes after at least seven people in one family became infected. There was no sign of any infected birds nearby.

And today is day two of New Orleans' hurricane drill. The city will test first responders with mock power outages, downed phone lines, and fallen trees.

Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien.

but there was no sign of any infected birds nearby.


Let's talk about the Saddam Hussein trial, because we saw Tariq Aziz taking on a pretty familiar role, defending Saddam Hussein. Aziz, you'll recall, was foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Saddam Hussein regime.

CNN's Arwa Damon joins us by phone from Baghdad.

Good morning, Arwa.

Let me ask you a question. I know the conversation was about Dujail back in 1982. What did Tariq Aziz have to say?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tariq Aziz, who actually is the senior most official to take the witness stand in this trial, was testifying to the fact that the Dujail case, the Dujail assassination attempt, was merely a link in a chain of assassination attempts that he says took place at that time, citing an assassination attempt against his own life that happened in 1980 at a university in Baghdad, and maintaining that those attempts were carry out by Iran or by parties that were supported by the Iranian regime.

Now, he himself was not in Dujail. He says that he was not involved in the Dujail case. But he was also trying to establish that Barzan Ibrahim and Taha Yassin Ramadan also had nothing to do with the crackdown in Dujail, stating that he and Barzan were close friends. And now Barzan is the former director of intelligence, saying at one point, "If Barzan was busy torturing people, I would know about it" -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: An interesting development. Arwa Damon for us this morning, joining us by phone as she monitors what's happening in the Saddam Hussein trial.

Another tape from Osama bin Laden is out this morning. Bin Laden says Zacarias Moussaoui had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Moussaoui is now serving life in prison for his connection to the attacks.

Let's get right to Sumi Das. She's in Washington this morning.

Hey, Sumi. Good morning.

SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Well, unlike previous messages from bin Laden, this tape makes no direct threat of attacks. But it is highly critical of the Bush administration, accusing it of injustice and oppression.


DAS (voice over): A new audiotaped Web message thought to be from Osama bin Laden directly addresses the American people, telling them admitted al Qaeda follower Zacarias Moussaoui played no part in 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers -- Allah, have mercy upon them -- with those raids. And I did not assign brother Zacarias to be with them on that mission.

DAS: Moussaoui was convicted for his connection to the September 11th attacks and sentenced earlier this month to life in prison. If from bin Laden, the message marks the first time the al Qaeda leader has acknowledged personally assigning roles for September 11th.

FORIA YOUNIS, FMR. FBI AGENT: He clearly is showing that he's still out there, he wants to be in the news. He wants to comment on the Moussaoui investigation.

DAS: The tape offers arguments to support his claim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The brother Moussaoui was arrested two weeks before the event. And had he known anything, however little, about the September 11th group, we would have told the brother's commander, Mohamed Atta and his brothers -- Allah, have mercy upon them -- to leave America immediately before their affair was exposed.

DAS: The message does say that two men held at Guantanamo Bay had some connection to 9/11, but that all others at the U.S. prison knew nothing of the attacks.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DAS: According to a U.S. intelligence official, the authenticity of the recording is being verified. One U.S. counterterrorism official says there is no reason to doubt the speaker is bin Laden -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Sumi, what are analysts saying is the significance of this tape now?

DAS: Well, some are saying that this is a chance for Osama bin Laden to sort of grab the media spotlight, show that he can be relevant. Others are saying that this really shows how quickly he can respond to current events.

Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced on May 4th. This tape was released just under three weeks later. That's a fairly quick turnaround -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Sumi Das for us this morning in Washington.

Sumi, thanks.

Of course, you'll want to stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening "In America," a driver is behind bars after plowing his car into three small children and two adults at a McDonald's parking lot in Georgia. Witnesses say he had a smile on his face.

A 2-year-old is in critical condition. It happened in Covington, Georgia, south of Atlanta. The other children and adults are also hospitalized. No word on their condition.

The mother of the driver says the driver suffers from depression.

Raleigh, North Carolina, now. A court appearance for a 44-year- old teacher charged with having sex with a 16-year-old male student. Janet Clat (ph), arrested Monday, was released after posting bond. Police say the sexual encounter took place during an overnight school trip.

A swarm of bees in Frisco, Texas, just north of Dallas, presented some real trouble for one household. Bob and Robin Smith say they noticed just a few bees outside their backdoor and then suddenly, well, it's a bee convention.


ROBIN SMITH, FRISCO HOMEOWNER: It's like a highway of bees just flying at us. And then they were pelting our windows. It sounded like hail.


M. O'BRIEN: Honey, come quick. The bees. The couple moved to a hotel while a bee removal expert came in and did what bee removal experts do.

In Arizona, you could become a millionaire just for voting. An activist is trying to get a plan on the ballot that would pay a million bucks to one voter each year, and all you have to do to be eligible is to go out and vote. Not a bad idea.

In Bartlesville, Oklahoma, north of Tulsa, a mother is serving 30 days in jail because she couldn't get her daughter to go to school. It's all part of the city's crackdown on truancy. Anna Marie Haley (ph) was warned, along with 38 other parents of overly absent children. Her daughter now in state custody and is going to school every day, we're told -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: An update now on Lewis the cat. Remember this story that the feline may just have one month to live? That's when his owner is due back in court on a reckless endangerment charge.

We've been laughing about this story, but It could have a really serious ending. A guilty verdict in court could mean the pet cemetery for Lewis, or maybe just permanently a move out of Fairfield, Connecticut.

Jim Altman has our story. He's with our affiliate WTIC.


JIM ALTMAN, REPORTER, WTIC (voice over): This is Lewis, the feline villain whose attacks on about a half-dozen of his Fairfield neighbors have earned him the name "The Terrorist of Sunset Circle".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He will bite and he will scratch. You will get attacked right away.

ALTMAN: He scratched and clawed his way to national news. The cat even has his own dog pound of sorts.

With Lewis under house arrest, his owner, Ruth Cicero, appeared in a Bridgeport court. She faces charges of reckless endangerment and is trying to spare her cat's life. That's right, Lewis could be put to sleep.

GENE RICCIO, RUTH CICERO'S ATTORNEY: She's on pins and needs because the animal is important to her. It's a member of her family, and, you know, it's real -- it's real hard for her.

ALTMAN: Today the case was continued until next month. That's when Cicero will see if she'll be granted accelerated rehabilitation and find out Lewis' fate.

RICCIO: I don't think that this situation remotely justified having Lewis put down.

ALTMAN: Cicero told us back in March, Lewis was provoked by some neighbors.

RUTH CICERO, LEWIS' OWNER: They poured glue on him. People have openly admitted to me that they've squirted him with a wide-open nozzle hose.

ALTMAN: Neighbor Janet Kettman was attacked twice, but the cat didn't get her tongue.

JANET KETTMAN, NEIGHBOR: Ship him up to a farm in Vermont. He would be happy as a clam up there. He would have plenty of mice, lots of birds, and everything else.

ALTMAN: But if Lewis stays in the neighborhood, Janet says he must be kept confined.

KETTMAN: If he gets loose again from restraint, total restraint, no recourse, put him down.


S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it could happen. That was Jim Altman from our affiliate WTIC reporting.

Lewis' owner, as we mentioned, back in court on June 20th. Believe it or not, Lewis has his own MySpace page, and he's already logged more than 2,200 friends, who must all be in a tizzy concerned about his future.

M. O'BRIEN: It reminds me of that old cartoon, on the Internet, no one knows you're a cat, right?

Let's check the forecast now. Chad Myers at the CNN Center.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: They didn't say that he's already destroyed 72 keyboards though. You know?

Good morning, everybody.


S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Chad.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the Senate's attempting to toughen up an immigration bill. It could mean trouble for business owners. We'll explain just ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: Then a laboratory that is on the frontlines in the battle against the bird flu. We'll take you inside a highly secure site.

And the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. We'll be talking to U.S. commanders on the ground for their take on the growing violence there.

But first, a look at what else is making news on this Wednesday morning. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: The Taliban suddenly back in bigger numbers and engaged in heavy fighting in Afghanistan. That story tops our look at the stories that CNN correspondents are covering around the world today.



We'll be traveling with the U.S. military into Afghanistan to get a firsthand look at the resurgence of the Taliban. This comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for an investigation into a U.S. air strike that killed apparently not just scores of Taliban, but also a number of Afghan civilians. The Taliban appeared determined to challenge both U.S. and NATO forces.



STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Stan Grant if Beijing.

China coping with yet another mining tragedy. Fifty-seven men entombed into a flooded mine seven days ago. The rescue mission now turning to a death watch.

More victims of China's mine, the deadliest in the world. As many as 6,000 people killed each year. Once again, the finger is being pointed at lax safety standards, bosses putting profit ahead of lives.


S. O'BRIEN: For more on these stories or any of our top stories, you can go right to our Web site, -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, President Bush says he's ready to talk about the possibility of pulling troops out of Iraq. We're live from the White House.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us inside a laboratory fighting to keep us safe from the bird flu. An inside look at a place where no cameras have been before.

Stay with us for an exclusive report on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Here's what is happening this morning.

The Senate will hold a test vote on its tougher immigration bill today. Yesterday, senators added an amendment to that bill that would fine businesses up to $20,000 for each undocumented worker they hire. A familiar face at the trial of Saddam Hussein. That's former foreign minister Tariq Aziz. He's testifying to help Hussein fend off charges he slaughtered residents in the town of Dujail in 1982.

And health officials now say the bird flu could possibly be spreading from person to person in Indonesia. They're at least looking into that possibility. This after at least seven people in the same family became infected and there were no infected poultry nearby.

The first line of defense for the bird flu here in the U.S. is in Ames, Iowa, of all places. A special lab there tests chickens and the virus. It's part of a plan to protect the nation's food supply and safety.

Our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, got an inside look at the lab.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We've been talking about bird flu for a long time now. People seem to agree on this point, that it's no longer a question of if bird flu comes to this country, it's a question of when. And when you talk about bird flu in confirming its presence in this country, you have to visit this particular laboratory, the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

You cannot confirm a case of bird flu in this country unless it comes from this particular laboratory. We got a firsthand look. It's the first time cameras were allowed inside some of these very assuming buildings to see, yes, the chickens that will be infected with bird flu, and yes, the eggs, where that bird flu will be isolated as well.

The lab workers are hurriedly preparing. You almost get the sense that they're waiting. They've been waiting for almost 10 years now with a collective breath to see if bird flu comes to this country and how best they're going to handle it.

While they can confirm it here, I can -- I can tell you this as well, it's going to require collaborative effort around the country, good public surveillance to be able to determine if there is a dead bird somewhere in America, whether or not that dead bird, in fact, represents bird flu. We'll give you lots of looks inside the laboratory here in Ames, Iowa. Again, the only place in the country where you can actually confirm whether or not bird flu has happened.

Why are they doing that? So that we can try and do that very important thing of keeping bird flu from going to birds to humans.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Ames, Iowa.


S. O'BRIEN: A big job.

Business news is up next. Andy is "Minding Your Business".

What do you have for us?


Fed chief Ben Bernanke acknowledges that talking to reporters is a big no-no -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Not a shocker there.

SERWER: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Andy.

Also ahead this morning, CNN "Security Watch". A major anti- terror sweep going down this morning. We've got some details for you. That's ahead.

We're back in just a moment.


M. O'BRIEN: That's Carrie Underwood. You know, last year's "Idol" winner. She's the one with a real bona fide big-time career, if you think about it.

S. O'BRIEN: No, what's her face. You know...

SERWER: Kelly Clarkson.

S. O'BRIEN: Kelly Clarkson has a big career.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, that's the other one. I got it mixed up. I always get them mixed up. Yes, you're right.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, she's got a big...


M. O'BRIEN: Is Kelly Clarkson bigger than Carrie Underwood?


M. O'BRIEN: That's right. I get them mixed up.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, not in the country music set. But yes, she...


SERWER: Well, all right.

S. O'BRIEN: That's two careers. And Clay.


SERWER: Clay Aiken. M. O'BRIEN: I don't know.

SERWER: You know how I love Clay.

M. O'BRIEN: Be still Andy's beating heart.


M. O'BRIEN: Anyway, she won the new female vocalist and single of the year award at the Country Music Awards last night. She needs a couple more statues, though, to get her up with the ranks of Brooks & Dunn, the mega country duo -- that's not Brooks & Dunn, by the way.

SERWER: That's Dr. Phil.

S. O'BRIEN: That's Dr. Phil.

M. O'BRIEN: That's Dr. Phil. There we go, there's Brooks & Dunn.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.


M. O'BRIEN: They got their 20th and 21st trophy last night. Not all one night. But that's total, right?


M. O'BRIEN: Right? I mean...

SERWER: Cumulative, as they say in the business.

M. O'BRIEN: Cumulative record there. One of their awards was for their tune "Believe". It won song of the year.

S. O'BRIEN: Good for them. I like these guys. And I'm not a gigantic country music fan. But these guys are great.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, clearly, I'm not, because I didn't know Carrie Underwood from...

SERWER: Kelly Clarkson.

M. O'BRIEN: Kelly Clarkson.


S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about business news now. Ben Bernanke...

SERWER: The fed chief. Yes, he was up on Capitol Hill, Soledad, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee. A couple issues came up. First of all, financial literacy. He said how important it is for Americans to have a financial education, particularly as rising debt levels threaten Americans' balance sheets and pocketbooks. But he didn't go on to say how we should get more financially literate.

Then he got into it a little bit with Senator Jim Bunning, who opposed his nomination, you may remember. This over talking to reporters.

Now, you may remember he -- at the White House Correspondents Dinner back in late April, he spoke with a CNBC reporter and suggested that the markets had gotten it wrong, that it wasn't necessarily done rising rates -- raising rates, I should say. And that was reported on the air and caused the markets to crash.

And he said -- the senator said, "I warn you to be careful about what you say, because people are going to listen and follow your words very closely," to which the fed chairman replied, "In the future, my communications with the public and the market will be entirely through regular and former channels," meaning not us directly.

And then...

M. O'BRIEN: But Bunning said don't throw any curveballs.

SERWER: Very well -- the former baseball player, I should say.

And then finally, the fed chief talking about inflation, of course, as always, and suggesting that perhaps there will be more rate hikes to come in June. Saying some additional firming policy might be needed. Translation, firming policy equals higher interest rates.

So there you have it. And you know, he learned his lesson.

M. O'BRIEN: It looks like the Greenspan lexicon there, though.

SERWER: That's the two things, yes. He's learned to make his comments oblique.

S. O'BRIEN: Make it oblique, confusing, convoluted...

SERWER: And not ever talk to us directly again.

S. O'BRIEN: ... and never speak to a journalist.

SERWER: Again, ever.

S. O'BRIEN: How long has he been on the job now?

SERWER: A couple months, right? Since February, right?

M. O'BRIEN: The school of hard knocks.

S. O'BRIEN: It's a good lesson, as they say, right?

SERWER: Yes. That's it. S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: We'll still talk to you, Andy. Don't worry.

SERWER: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Time for Chad and the forecast. Chad Myers still talking to us, right?

MYERS: Of course, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you. Good to see you, Chad.

MYERS: Good morning.


MYERS: That's a look at the forecast for this hour. The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bob Franken at the White House. President Bush is treading very carefully between expectations and realities in Iraq. We'll try and sort it all out in a few minutes.

S. O'BRIEN: Immigration reform could be one step closer today with an important Senate vote scheduled. Majority Leader Bill Frist will join us live with the very latest.

M. O'BRIEN: Are we paying what we should for gas? The results are in from a price gouging investigation, and there's not a lot of good news for the little guy in this one.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello, here in New York. Kids, are you writing an inappropriate blog? If you are, you could be in trouble at school. How does suspension sound? A look at a new plan that could become a model nationwide.

S. O'BRIEN: And hurricane season less than a week away. Is the government ready to react? We'll take a look ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us this morning.

With the midterm election looming and with support for the war in Iraq at an all-time low, President Bush is talking about withdrawing some troops. But Mr. Bush chose his words very carefully and offered a lot of caveats to the promise.