Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Soldiers Charged; Community Guns

Aired June 26, 2006 - 09:34   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. military on Sunday announced it's charged two soldiers in the death of an unarmed Iraqi killed in February near Ramadi. The military says one of the soldiers shot the man and conspired to plant a gun near his body. It's just one of several cases of possible misconduct by U.S. troops. This morning, a soldier's perspective.
Paul Rieckhoff was an Army Lieutenant. He served in Iraq in 2003. He's now in the New York Air National Guard. He's written a book. It's called "Chasing Ghosts."

Also joining this morning is Ilario Pantano. He's us a former Marine lieutenant who was charged, then cleared in the killings of two Iraqi civilians back in 2004. Pantano's also written a book just out. It's called "Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy."

Nice to have you both. Thanks for talking with us.

Let's begin with you, Paul. The latest charges, the most recent ones we're just talking about now, whether you're talking about Asaki (ph), or Hamdaniya or you're talking about Haditha, are you surprised, either of you, when you hear these allegations at this point come up?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN'S VETS OF AMERICA: I don't think I'm necessarily surprised, but I am disappointed and concerns. I think understand, like anyone who's been on the ground, the global impact that these types of incidents will have, no matter how the case turn out.

But I think it's very important we do let the investigations run their course and not jump to conclusions. Don't try these people in the court of public opinion. I know how difficult it is to operate on the ground in Iraq. It's a world of gray. And I think our folks on the ground observe the benefit of the doubt and a thorough investigation.

S. O'BRIEN: Did you feel tried in the court of public opinion?

ILARIO PANTANO, AUTHOR, "WARLORD": I was indeed. In fact, even the way that my case was described, you know, and the suggestion that I shot civilians. These were guys with al Qaeda material that were fleeing a weapons cache and a car that had bomb compartments. So, you know, they certainly weren't civilians; they were terrorists. And candidly, sometimes terrorists need to be killed.

But to the point about surprise with this case, I think one of the things that needs to be kind of remembered and stressed continuously is that as a proportion of our population, the number of cases or allegations of criminal behavior in Iraq, if we consider how many troops have rotated through theater, candidly, are fewer than what happened in some American neighborhoods in one weekend. And I think that that's an important point, that our soldiers are operating at an incredible level of professionalism.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, and obviously they are getting much more attention that you hear about, and sometimes it's the grisly details, frankly. I mean, you look at a case like Haditha, and you say, OK, I can understand maybe it's stress, maybe it's just you're being fired upon and your walking into a situation where the civilians and the insurgents look exactly the same. But the details, like the babies who were reported killed, execution style it seems at this point. Where's the line here?

PANTANO: Well, first of all there's a question, if I may, there's a question of the reportage. Obviously the investigation needs to be borne out, and need to actually look at the forensic evidence, anecdotal evidence on the scene. That's certainly fueled by a lot of things, some of them potentially rage or vendetta motivated on the ground in Iraq, potentially some of the things are true, and they're going to be investigated and, prosecuted they'll be prosecuted if they are true, and that's an important aspect.

But another consideration is, again, in the labeling, the suggestion that somebody is a civilian, or a taxi driver a student, and therefore couldn't be an insurgent. It's an important characterization, remember.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, and I buy that. But then you have sort of the 1-year-old in the crib, and the 90 -- elderly gentleman in the wheelchair, and you say, OK, while I would agree with part of that, there are some exceptions that almost seem like obvious immediate exceptions -- a baby.

PANTANO: I think the investigation is going to bear that out.

RIECKHOFF: And we don't know what happened on the ground there. And ultimately, that's what the investigation will reveal. But you know, there could have been a guy with a machine gun in the window and a baby by his side. So there a number of scenarios where the baby could have been in the gray area. We don't know exactly what happened. And if there was a cold-blooded murder, that's something different. But there is a tremendous amount of murky gray area that we operate in ever day. We don't know where exactly someone was. We don't what exactly they were doing, and that's why we need a thorough investigation.

S. O'BRIEN: We heard lots of reports about stress. That especially in Haditha, there may have been someone killed and everybody reacts with stress and anger. Give me a sense of what it is like on the ground. You know, is it possible to avoid that, if your buddy is killed next to you?

PANTANO: That's one of the great questions. You made a comment earlier for us sitting at home, we try to understand or hear a description of what may have happened in a moment in time. But most of us at home, in our air-conditioned studio certainly, we have very little context for the day-to-day anxiety, the adrenaline spikes, that have a real physical toll on you psychologically and emotionally. Then of course the reason that we fight is for our brother and, you know, our fellow warrior beside us, not so much for larger ideological reason, but really for the man besides you, to protect them. So their death, it can be very traumatic in combat. And I think that most men that have been in combat have been very close to the edge. But that's really where good leadership comes in. I think Paul would agree, that it's about the leadership being able to regulate that IV drip of rage and adrenaline.

S. O'BRIEN: Is the fear, as you go into combat, are you thinking, I'm going to shoot first, because frankly, if I hesitate, even three seconds, they could kill me, and so maybe that's the -- you know, let's go in and shoot; if there's any debate, it's better to save your own life?

RIECKHOFF: You always maintain the right to preserve your self- defense and protect the guys or women to your left and right and I think that's the enormity and the gravity of the situation that we can relate to that maybe civilians can't.

But I think there are also policy implications here and policy factors that are increasingly the likelihood of things like this, when you send people back for a third and sometimes a fourth tour, when you Continue to run our active duty and Reserve as hard as we have been, without a break, without time to adequately retrain. I'm not saying it excuses these type of incidents, but it definitely does increase the frequency of the likelihood of something like this having an environment to take place.

S. O'BRIEN: I find it so interesting. We have someone who's never been in the armed services and only just, you know, met people who are to even understand. When you talk about the fog of war and things like that, you really can't even get a good sense of what that is like in a circumstance in Iraq. Thanks for coming in to talk to us about it. I certainly appreciate it. Ilario Pantano and also Paul Rieckhoff. Both have excellent, excellent books out talking about the Iraq war and their experiences. I highly recommend them both.

Thank you, guys -- Miles.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you.

PANTANO: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Every year in the U.S., guns are involved in about a third of a million violent crimes. That's a large scary statistic. But embedded in it is a twist that is making things harder for police to bring criminals to justice. They are called community guns. That means a gun stashed for all who know about it to use.

AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty-five-year- old landscaper Antonio Someto (ph) was born in Angola, but recently met a violent death south of Boston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody murdered my brother.

LOTHIAN: It's believed the gun used in his murder could have been a so-called community weapon, which is typically stored outdoors and shared by multiple gang members.

PAUL WALSH, BRISTOL COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: They'll put it in one area where these five individuals know where it is and they have access to it.

LOTHIAN: Now, for the first time, federal ATF agents and local law enforcement officers have launched a major effort using a dozen bomb-sniffing dogs to seek out community guns.

JIM MCNALLY, ATF: Don't leave your guns outside anymore.

LOTHIAN: ATF Special Agent Jim McNally say dogs like Herbie (ph) have the right skills to do the job.

MCNALLY: Because of their ability to find explosive residue, they can find guns.

LOTHIAN: They targeted a half dozen sites recently in the city of New Bedford, a coastal working-class community dealing with a rash of gang violence, searching under trash bins, around playgrounds and in overgrown fields.

MCNALLY: Because we know that the gangs are putting guns outside so that they won't be in the house and linked to the gang members should they get caught.

LOTHIAN (on camera): And finding those weapons takes care of another concern -- that innocent children out in the neighborhood might just run across a gun, pick it up, and end up in the middle of a tragic accident.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Parents should be able to let their children play in the public parks and playgrounds without fear that they will come across a loaded firearm.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): In this first sweep, nothing was found, but the effort is expected to expand statewide.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm glad that something is being done.

MCNALLY: This is a way to shake things up, to let them know we can find guns.

LOTHIAN: An effort to disrupt the way gang members operate.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.



M. O'BRIEN: Oh, Chad, did you happen to pick up this week's "Newsweek"? Have you picked it up?


S. O'BRIEN: Here's me, Chad.

MYERS: I saw!

M. O'BRIEN: There she is. This guy -- who's this guy?

S. O'BRIEN: Wait, here's Brad Pitt next to me.

M. O'BRIEN: Wait a minute, they have the graphic up. Our hands are not there. Here, here, put us back up. There we go. OK, who is this guy?

MYERS: That's Brad.

M. O'BRIEN: Brad!

S. O'BRIEN: Look, can I show you how -- closer. Look, Brad, Soledad....

M. O'BRIEN: And that's no PhotoShop deal. They were actually all there.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, they were. He's not -- he is not bad looking, that Mr. Pitt.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, but in all seriousness, it's about Katrina.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

M. O'BRIEN: This is serious stuff. This is the first ever Giving Back Awards from "Newsweek," and Soledad was chosen among these people who have given great contributions in various realms. And in particular, they cited Soledad for her work subsequent to Hurricane Katrina, including that powerful interview of then FEMA director Mike Brown. Congratulations, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

M. O'BRIEN: Proud to sit beside you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you. You're so nice. That's sweet. We'll move on now.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's go on.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, you're going to meet an 11-year- old boy behind one of the biggest cartoon characters on TV. He's the voice of Diego in "Go, Diego, Go." We're going talk to him, coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.



S. O'BRIEN: "Dora the Explorer" conquered the world of children's television, only to be outdone by Nickelodeon's spin-off about her cousin, Diego. And the series "Go Diego Go" is en fuego, as they say, for the preschool set.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got some hands to catch things (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reach out! Catch him! Catch him!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for catching me.



S. O'BRIEN: I love Diego. Eleven-year-old Jake T. Austin is the voice of Diego. Brown Johnson is the executive creative director of Nickelodeon. Nice to have you back. We've talked about Dora in the past. And Jake, it's so nice to meet you.

JAKE T. AUSTIN, VOICE OF "DIEGO": Really nice to be here.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. No surprise, I think, that there was a spin-off of Dora. Because Dora, so successful. What is it about Diego and Dora that really has them clicking -- not just with the kids, but obviously with the parents?

BROWN JOHNSON, EXEC. CREATIVE DIRECTOR, NICKELODEON: Well, I think the thing about Diego and Dora is that they are such great characters. I think kids at home just identify with them as friends, as being really great friends. And I think there's the interactive piece where all the characters talk directly to camera. And I think kids at home really think that they're helping. And if they didn't contribute, that Dora and Diego just would never make it through the jungle.

S. O'BRIEN: They learn a lot. I mean, my girls, who love Dora and Diego, absolutely learn some Spanish and they really are -- you know, love animals because of Diego and all the little backpacks and things that he has.

When you auditioned, Jake, for Diego, what did they tell you to --, like, what were you supposed to be thinking about?

AUSTIN: I had really high expectations going to the audition room.

S. O'BRIEN: Really. Really? AUSTIN: And they really told me to have high energy. This is what I really always had.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I...

AUSTIN: So really what I thought and my mom was, just be yourself. So I did what I had to do. I don't know where it came up with the Diego voice. I tried to sound a little bit like Dora, just in a guy way. So I guess it worked out pretty well.

S. O'BRIEN: Do a little bit of Diego's voice for me.

AUSTIN: Hola, I'm Diego! I'm an animal rescuer. So real high energy. A little bit like Dora.

S. O'BRIEN: Diego has been a huge money maker and Dora, too, for Nickelodeon, right?

JOHNSON: Well, Dora's certainly, you know, been very successful both on and off the network. But Diego's stuff really hasn't hit the marketplace yet. It's coming out this fall. You can see a little bit of it behind us. It's great because the focus of all the Diego stuff is really about the natural science piece and the language piece.

S. O'BRIEN: Because he helps -- for people who don't watch like I do obsessively -- he helps animals, he's an animal rescuer. He's got his little field journal. He gets kids all involved that. A billion dollars is what I heard. Is that about right?

JOHNSON: For Dora.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. And you expect the same?

JOHNSON: You know, I try and stay on the creative side. I think it's great that it's good business. But for me it's really about the audience and it's really about making a great connection with kids.

S. O'BRIEN: Jake, it's nice to see you. Brown, also. Nice to have you guys in to talk about Diego. The second season starts very soon.


S. O'BRIEN: And we're looking forward to that, certainly in my family.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Great to see you.

AUSTIN: All right. It was really cool being here. Love the set.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you. Thank you. Really? I'll sell you the couch.

(END VIDEOTAPE) S. O'BRIEN: The couch is not so comfortable. Nickelodeon's newest episode of "Go, Diego, Go" airs Monday, July 10th at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time.

M. O'BRIEN: Cute kid.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, my gosh. So cute. And he was so sweet. "I love your set." What good manners. He's well raised, as we say.


S. O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, yes, but I loved it still.

M. O'BRIEN: "CNN's LIVE TODAY" up next. Daryn Kagan standing by with that.

Hello, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Miles.

On the Monday edition of LIVE TODAY, reported troop cuts in Iraq. Democrats are smelling politics.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think there's the slightest doubt that there will be reductions in American troops before the elections.


KAGAN: Americans may leave Iraq faster and in bigger numbers than most experts thought.

Plus, cutting-edge science.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whenever Stephen Hawking speaks, we all listen.


KAGAN: A leading astrophysicist says it'll be Earth in our rearview mirror. Humans have wrecked the plan, he says, and that we'll have to move to another planet, and do that soon.

And there goes second base. A minor league coach pitches a fit. I'll tell you what the umps call, what it was that led to this tirade that went on and on and on. Gerri Willis is here with the top-five tips, of course. Top stories and breaking news ahead on "LIVE TODAY" in just a few minutes.

M. O'BRIEN: I think we need to put a little decaf in the coffee urn in that dugout, what do you think, huh?

S. O'BRIEN: He went on and on and on, and then more. M. O'BRIEN: And then more. Wait, there's more.

As a matter of fact there is. Andy Serwer is here with a little preview.


ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Always got more, Miles. Good morning.

Some megadeals to tell you about coming up ahead. Sudafed meets Tylenol.

Plus, the creation of the biggest mining company in the United States.

That's coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Coming up at the top of the hour: Important medical news for men about prostate cancer. Those extra pounds you, too, are carrying. Yes, raise your hands, Miles. They can hurt your chances, seriously, of recovering from prostate cancer. We're going to talk about that.

And lawmakers are renewing their fight to protect Old Glory. Free speech and the flag ahead.

Much more AMERICAN MORNING coming up right after this.


M. O'BRIEN: That's all the time we have for this AMERICAN MORNING. Daryn Kagan at the CNN center to take you through the next couple of hours.