Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Crisis in the Middle East; Shuttle Discovery

Aired July 17, 2006 - 08:34   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. And welcome back to you. I'm Miles O'Brien.

Let's get right to what's happening in the Middle East this morning. Escalating attacks in Lebanon are prompting countries to try to get their citizens right out of the danger zone. U.S. military helicopters are expected to evacuate more Americans out of Lebanon today. And Marines have ferried almost two dozen to Cyprus. That happened on Sunday.

CNN's Barbara Starr live at Pentagon for us this morning.

Barbara, frankly, those numbers sound very, very low.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They do indeed, Soledad. This is taking a bit of time to get going. The people that they are evacuating from Lebanon right now are people who are the very young, the very elderly, people who have medical problems, unaccompanied minors. There are a number of young American students in Beirut. They are trying to prioritize the list and get those people out first.

But right behind them, Soledad, there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans who are trying to get out of Lebanon. The process works like this: They register with the State Department, and then as soon as the military can get a large-scale evacuation underway, those people will be put on transport to Cyprus, but this is taking some time.

The evacuation is expected to go in two ways, by both air, helicopter, to Cyprus, and possibly to go by sea. They may try and bring some ships in.

But at the moment, still the situation remains so unsettled in Beirut that the military is trying to determine exactly how they can do this safely and get safe passage for these Americans out of there. They can coordinate, of course, with the Israelis and with the official government of Lebanon.

But sources telling us no one can really guarantee what Hezbollah will do in Beirut if a large number of U.S. helicopters come in, if a large number of Americans start moving around the city to fixed points. There's a lot of concern about that. Beirut is a city that has seen sniper fire for years, and that is a major concern to get this evacuation of Americans under way -- Soledad. S. O'BRIEN: You know, Barbara, with were talking to the State Department spokesman earlier. She said that there's sort of this process of having an e-mail, you sign up to be notified by email, which to me sounds like a brutal way to have to wait to get information if you're desperate to leave. Is that standard?

STARR: Well, all of these non-combatant evacuations, that's what they're called, they work a little bit differently in each country, but through U.S. embassies, it is standard. Americans in foreign countries generally register with an embassy, register their location and how they can quickly be found in the event of a crisis, but this is pretty unprecedented, because this will be an evacuation under what could really be combat conditions, but hopefully not.

The Marines tell us, the military tells us that they want to get into Beirut, which is an extraordinary statement in itself, the U.S. military going back into Beirut. They want to get into Beirut and get out without any problems. They don't want to fire a shot. They just simply want to go in and take out as many Americans as they can. So the process is unfolding before our eyes -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: The big problem, of course, is that they're telling Americans not to go through Damascus, go into Syria. Some reports of people getting through, others not getting through. And of course, that in itself has its own risks there.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this morning. Barbara, thanks. If you've got a loved one who's visiting Lebanon, don't call the embassy in Beirut directly. Obviously the State department wants you to call the toll-free number, and that number is 1-888-407-4747, 1-888-407-4747. Or go to the Web site; is the best way to get in touch with anybody who you're trying to track down there -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Faithful viewers of our program will recognize our next guest as an expert on the region. He's learning firsthand how quickly things can change there. Fawaz Gerges is the author of "Journey of the Jihadist." He studies the Middle East at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and he thought he'd take a vacation in Lebanon this summer so that he and his three children could meet up with come relatives. It didn't turn out the way it was planned. He joins us now from Beirut.

Fawaz, good to have you with us. Sorry that you're stuck. Tell us your story and what your predicament is right now.

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Well, you know, Miles, Beirut is a very chaotic city now. You have bombings on an hourly basis. Israel is launching a systematic bombing campaign of the civilian infrastructure. The Lebanese only airport in Beirut is out of business. Israel has bombed the sea ports, the bridges. Lebanon is being split into various separated areas. And as you know, Miles, Israel has also a full naval blockade of the country. We are hunkering down. There are shortages of supplies, of bread, of fuel, of other supplies, and of course children are terrified. They're terrified. In fact, my children have difficulty sleeping at night because of the constant presence of fighter planes. The situation is extremely unpleasant. Many people have been killed. More than 180 Lebanese civilians have been killed, and the bombing continues on an hourly basis.

M. O'BRIEN: What do you tell your children to console them?

GERGES: Well, you know, I tell my children that they are very fortunate and lucky, because many other children have been killed. Unfortunately, again, the bulk of casualties have been civilians. Many children, and women and elderly have been killed. At least my children are confined to a small place in a small apartment, but they have food, they're relatively safe, and we are hoping, of course, to get out of Lebanon as soon as conditions permit. But of course, we don't know how the situation unfolds, because there is war, and there is bombing, and there is shelling. I think it's -- we have to wait a while to see when and how we're going to get out of Beirut.

M. O'BRIEN: Do you feel as if you and your kids, relatively speaking, are in a fairly safe place?

GERGES: Well, you know, Miles, there are no safe places in Lebanon. As the Israeli defense minister said two days ago, there is no safe place in Lebanon. But my children are relatively -- are a bit more, I mean, provided for and sheltered.

But most of the population in Beirut, remember, Miles, this is urban warfare. You have bombings on an hourly basis from high distances. You don't have really a combat, ground combat. And when you have urban areas, when you have urban warfare, basically, the bulk of casualties tend to be civilians, including or mainly children, and that's what we are witnessing in Lebanon in the last few days.

M. O'BRIEN: Have you had much contact with the American embassy? What are they telling you about the possibility of being able to get out of there?

GERGES: Actually, I live a bit close to the American embassy, and my oldest son today, Bassan (ph) -- he is 16 years old -- he went to the embassy and he registered all of us. He had an application, and they told him that the embassy will contact us in the next few days. But as you know, Miles, how are you going to get out of Beirut? How will the embassy collect thousands and thousands of Americans and Lebanese-Americans? The embassy says, Miles, there are 20,000 Americans here. I would say the numbers are around 100,000, because most of us don't register with the American embassy. I mean, I travel to them at least on a monthly basis. I never registered. And many more like myself, who find themselves trapped in Lebanon.

This is truly a major crisis, not just for us, I mean, Americans, you're talking about four million Lebanese, and not just Americans. In fact, I would say the entire Lebanese population is being held hostage, hostage because a war that's taking place between Hezbollah and Israel. And the Lebanese civilian population and the Israeli civilian population are paying the consequences of this particular confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel. M. O'BRIEN: Unfortunate scenario. Fawaz Gerges, we wish you and your family well. Please stay in close touch. If there is anything we can do, let us know.

GERGES: Thank you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery hurtling their way to a Florida landing as we speak. So what's it like onboard a blazing-hot spacecraft as it dives into the atmosphere faster than a speeding bullet? Look at the speeds there. That's the dashboard. That's pretty much how fast they are going now, a little less than 17,500 miles per hour. We'll ask someone who's been there and done that, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Most people don't like to watch commercials. And if they have a way, they sure have the will to breeze right through them. In the future, advertisers are going to have to come up with some new ways to reach viewers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When a commercial comes on I usually get up and go. I'm out of the room.

Commercials to me are a nuisance. If I have 20 minutes to watch something, I don't want to watch 10 minutes of commercials.

The advertisers to think way outside of the box. Get to the point. Tell me why it's going to benefit me. Make it interesting. Make it exciting. The advertisers that give you something new, something you haven't seen before, those are the commercials that I want to watch.

M. O'BRIEN: But it's going to take some big changes to keep us tuned in. More and more of us are using digital recorders, time- shifting our programs and then fast-forwarding through the commercials.

There'll be 30 million DVRs in use in another year in the U.S. So what's an advertiser to do to slow us down?

(voice over): Peter Kim of Forrester Research says instead of fighting new technology, advertisers are working in tandem with it, like inserting promotional codes good for discounts or deals that flash on the screen, giving viewers incentive to watch very carefully. But many marketers believe product placement or branded entertainment...


M. O'BRIEN: ... may be the wave of the future.

PETER KIM, FORRESTER RESEARCH: ... putting products in the context of a show and integrating it within the fabric of the content rather than being separate in commercial breaks.

M. O'BRIEN: Soon advertisers may also be able to tailor commercials to consumers, specifically targeting a geographic location.

KIM: We see technologies being developed to that target, consumers, based on their zip code and eventually their home. Advertisers will be able to deliver offers that they feel are most relevant to that demographic. And the future of advertising is really building deeper relationships rather than taking a mass media approach.



M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back.

We are about 23 minutes away from the landing of the Space Shuttle Discovery. We have live pictures now of mission control there, as you see the flight directors. And they have made their decision. The breaking rockets have been fired. The space shuttle now -- if you look at our dashboard here, this is an estimated trajectory from our friends at Analytical Graphics, traveling at 15,000 miles an hour, bleeding off speed pretty quickly, an altitude of 44 miles, and the range from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida now, about 2,100 miles. They had a map up. As soon as we see the map up again, we'll bring that to you so you can actually see where they are. They're coming across the Southern Pacific, across Mexico, and then on toward a landing from the southeast to the northwest, runway 3-3 at the Kennedy Space Center.

Somebody who's been through all this several times in her life, twice as commander, is Eileen Collins. She joins us from Houston this morning.

Eileen, you've been listening to the loops, as they like to say. That's the NASA term for listening to the communications. Have you heard anything unusual, first of all?

EILEEN COLLINS, FMR. SHUTTLE COMMANDER: Well, so far, this is a very normal descent and entry. I'm actually getting very excited here. It reminds me of a year ago when I was doing this myself. This is a little bit of an eerie time for the astronauts. They're coming through darkness. In fact, the period of peak heating should be coming up here very shortly. And what you're going to see out the window is you start with kind of a whitish glow, and it turns to a yellow and then orange, and then it almost gets a little bit of a green tint to it. The picture...

M. O'BRIEN: I think we have some pictures from your re-entry. By the way, when we say peak heating, remember, this takes us back to Columbia. This is when we lost Columbia three-and-a-half years ago. This is you coming in. This is really interesting, looking at the flashes here. Tell us about this. COLLINS: Well, it looks a little pinkish, and reddish and orange outside. The temperature is anywhere between 2,500 to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Now inside, it's very, very -- the temperature have very normal. We're inside of our pressure suit. It's a very, very smooth ride. There's no turbulence, but you do know that this heating is taking place, but what we're doing as astronauts, is we're watching the orbiter, we're looking at the systems. We're very focused on throwing switches, making the checklist items at the right time, so -- and you're thinking ahead, especially the commander. You're thinking ahead toward the landing, but you want to get through this heating period, and I think they're going to have a fine -- they're going to have no problems today.

M. O'BRIEN: And you're sort of enjoying a light show. You don't feel the effects of gravity just yet, do you?

COLLINS: Well, I think they're going to start to feel the effects of gravity about -- maybe about 10 to 15 minutes before landing. Very, very gradually, you'll start to feel like you're setting down into your seat. In fact, you can hold your pencil in front of you, and it will start very slowly coming down, and eventually it'll be about one-and-a-half times the normal force of gravity, but since you've been in space for two weeks, it will feel more like three times the force of gravity. And the crew will have to continue to adjust their seat, adjust their suit, adjust their helmets. And the commander's going to have to make the landing here. It's going to be difficult for him to land using feel, because your feel has totally changed from the way it was when you were in space. You have to use your eyes and really rely on your eyesight to make a good landing.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, we've just been told -- I want to bring Chad Myers in on this -- we're told they've switched runways and now they're going runway 1-5, which means they'll land heading from the northwest toward the southeast.

Why did they switch them around, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: They just gave them all the numbers for that landing possibility of coming in from this direction at the landing facility, rather than from 3-3. If you look up, there's been a pop-up shower there. Cape Canaveral and just to the southeast. They do not want to fly through this pop-up shower and come in this way. They want to take the shuttle on the first animation that you actually had, Miles. They've actually brought the shuttle a little bit farther to the west over Florida, turning around and then actually coming back in here and then down into 1-5, rather than 3-3. They just gave them the numbers. I don't have a confirm on that go yet.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, no, we do have that confirmed. They have switched to runway 1-5. Eileen, that's something you train for. That's no big deal. I presume once they make the deorbiter burn, you can change runways on your way down, right? COLLINS: Yes, that's right. Commander Steve Lindsey is trained to go to both runways. And from the way I understand it, the winds are out of the south today, so I think it'll actually make the landing easier to land to the south into the headwind.

M. O'BRIEN: Tell me this, what -- is there a sense of apprehension among the crewmembers, particularly, you know, you -- I can only imagine what it was like at the very point where we lost Columbia, whether you and your crew stopped to sort of remember that moment. Was there anything like that, or are you just too busy?

COLLINS: Well, I would say it's little bit of both. I mean, you're very focused on, you know, you're flying the shuttle, a $2 billion-plus space craft. You want to make a good landing, but you can't help but think about the Columbia mission and our friends, and the fact that they went through this. It's been three years now, and I know that this is the kind of thing that every crew will be thinking about from now on.

But again, it's in the back of your mind, and we will always remember our astronaut friends that -- in Columbia. And because of them, we're going to continue flying the shuttle, continue the space program and continue building the space station, because it's important for our country to get this space station built.

M. O'BRIEN: Eileen, there was a problem, there was a concern with one of the auxiliary-power units which generate power on the way down. Apparently that turned out to be a non-issue. So really, they've had a pretty good mission here as far as technical issues. The heat shield came out just fine. The foam loss was not as big a problem. The little power-unit problem turned out to be not a big issue. NASA's got to feel pretty good about trying to launch again at the end of August, but that still is an aggressive turnaround, isn't it?

COLLINS: Well, the space shuttle program is definitely back on track, and the next mission is, we're going to try to launch around August 28th. And it looks like we should be able to do that, because this mission was so successful. We had very few problems with the external tank and with the shuttle. The problems that we did have were very minor, and they can be fixed rather quickly. No big issues. So we could very easily see a launch, and we're going to try to get two more off. There's another one scheduled for December.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Eileen Collins. Stay with us. We're expecting a landing now in 17, 16 minutes from now.

Quickly, let me just show you where the shuttle is as we go to break here, one quick final shot here. There you see it. It's just about to report a couple of sonic booms probably across Mexico as they make their way toward the Kennedy Space Center, now traveling right around 10,000 miles an hour, altitude of 36 miles, 800 miles from landing.

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.