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American Morning

Tensions Spark Against U.S. and Israel Following Qana Airstrike; L.A. Sheriff's Department Accused of a Cover-Up in Mel Gibson's Arrest for DUI; Autistic Boy Turns to Karate for Therapy

Aired July 31, 2006 - 07:30   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone.
Happening this morning, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way back to Washington right now. Rice says before she left Jerusalem that she had a three-pronged plan to stop the fighting. That plan includes a cease-fire and an international force in southern Lebanon.

Israel has agreed to take a two-day break from air strikes in the wake of the Qana tragedy. The planes were firing again just a short time ago, the Israeli army says the planes are only being used to support and protect ground troops. And the heat that clamped down on the west last week has now settled over the Midwest. An excessive heat warning has been issued in several Midwest cities including Chicago and St. Louis.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome back everybody, I'm Soledad O'Brien.

HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris, in today for Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded confident about that peace agreement as she left the Middle East last night. She was in the middle of negotiations at the time of the Qana bombing. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns joins us from the State Department with more this morning. Nice to see you sir, thanks for talking with us.

Let's talk a little bit more about this 48-hour cessation in the air strikes, as I'm sure you're well aware, many civilians did not leave the region because they have been afraid to travel, the roads have been horribly unsafe. Survivors come by and have talked to us and said that they've basically taken their lives in their own hands as they get on the roads that are bombed-out. So why now? Why not provide an opportunity for people to get out, this 48-hour cessation, days ago, before the killings at Qana?

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Soledad, you're right. The situation of these civilians in south Lebanon has been precarious. We had several hundred American citizens stuck in south Lebanon and we were able to bring them out by convoy last week, but there's clearly a need, especially in the wake of the air strike at Qana, where so many people died, for civilians to be able to go north, should they wish to. And that's what the Israeli government is advising them to do, because military operations are going to continue, according to the Israelis, ground operations, in that area.

There's also a need to get humanitarian aid into the people of south Lebanon and we're trying to help the United Nations relief agencies, who are doing the best they can under difficult circumstance to do just that. So we very much supported the move by the Israelis last evening to announce this 48-hour period.

O'BRIEN: But I guess the question is, why now? Why not days ago or a week ago when people, refugees actually could flee, as opposed to being in the basement of a building that collapses and kills them?

BURNS: Well you know, there is suffering on both sides of the border. There have been a million Israelis in the northern third of the country who have had to live in bomb shelters and basements for the better part of two-and-a-half weeks. And, of course, there have been tens of thousands of people in south Lebanon in similar circumstances.

The fact is, Soledad, you have bitter, bitter divisions and emotions over the last 25 years between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah attacked Israel. Cease-fires are never easy to arrange between two parties, and Secretary Rice did announce today that we hope to move this week in the United Nations towards a cease-fire, towards a political agreement between Lebanon and Israel, and towards the creation of an international military force that could go into south Lebanon to police the area and prevent Hezbollah from causing the same problems that it's caused over the last few weeks.

O'BRIEN: Let's expand on that a little bit. What exactly has changed in a week to lead the secretary to feel that in fact she's closer to a peace agreement that will last?

BURNS: Well, what's changed Soledad is that we've been negotiating between Israel and Lebanon for the better part of two weeks, and Secretary Rice has been in the region for a week, and she believes that we have made progress in those negotiations in defining a future political settlement between Israel and Lebanon, and in getting closer to a mutual agreement for a cease-fire. That wasn't possible a week ago.

O'BRIEN: But let me stop you there because...

BURNS: They were further divided a week ago.

O'BRIEN: ... you've been negotiating with Israel and Lebanon, but actually the fight to a large degree is between Hezbollah and Israel and the Lebanese military and the Lebanese government to a large extent by U.S. administration's own words, has proven itself ineffective in controlling Hezbollah. Shouldn't you be negotiating with Hezbollah and Israel? Or Hezbollah, Lebanon and Israel, or Syria, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Israel?

BURNS: Well, I don't think you can expect Israel to negotiate directly with Hezbollah, given the enmity between them, but we also want to strengthen the Lebanese government. It is sovereign, it's democratic. We'd like to see their sovereignty and their sense of control extend down to that border. We'd like to see the Lebanese armed forces be able to deploy south to that border.

So strengthening Lebanon -- we respect Prime Minister Siniora very much. We want to support him and his government. That has to be the way that we conduct the end game of these negotiations, between two states. Hezbollah, as you know, the anomaly is, it has two ministers as part of that government. The Lebanese will have to work out the solution on their side of the cease-fire line, and we'll promote one between two countries.

O'BRIEN: But many analysts would say what has happened over the last now three weeks practically has only served to move Lebanon closer to embracing Hezbollah. The Lebanese prime minister, who historically has not really been a big friend of Hezbollah, is now thanking Hezbollah for its sacrifices? Those are quotes.

To some degree, hasn't what's actually happened is to move Lebanon and even moderates closer to embracing a terror organization because of the bombings, because of the collateral damage?

BURNS: Well, emotions are very high, and understandably so, given the toll on the civilians in south Lebanon. But I think in reality, behind the scenes, there is very little love for Hezbollah among the majority of Lebanese and certainly in the Arab world in terms of governments, that's true as well.

And we Americans have to face the facts. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that has killed hundreds of Americans in the past. It's an adversary of ours. It's backed by two countries, Syria and Iran, who are funding it and providing it missiles to fire down on Israel and disrupt that peace.

Those three -- Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, bear the major portion of responsibility for having caused this conflict and to now see its perpetuation. We want to get to a cease-fire as soon as we can.

O'BRIEN: But sir, let me stop you there, if I may, for one second. You just said those three bear the major responsibility -- Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, those three are not involved in discussions for a cease-fire.

BURNS: And listen, there's no lack of discussion between the Syrians and the rest of the world, Arab governments, European governments or the United States. As President Bush and Prime Minister Blair said the other day, the Syrians need to decide which way they're going to go, whether they'll be a responsible country working for peace or whether they'll fuel the war that they've been fueling for the last few weeks.

The important thing in the Middle East at this juncture is to strengthen Lebanon and to have an agreement between Lebanon and Israel. We're not going to bring Iran or Syria into these talks because they're the ones who are causing the problems, and they're the ones who now have to make a decision in the isolation in which they now find themselves, which way they're going to go.

O'BRIEN: Nicholas Burns is the undersecretary of state for political affairs. Thanks for joining us this morning, we sure appreciate it.

BURNS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Tony?

HARRIS: So Soledad, let's see how the incident in Qana, today's air strikes and Hezbollah's response is playing out in the Arab world. Israel had agreed to a 48-hour halt in air strikes after Sunday's missile attack in Qana killed from 30 to 60 people. That number is being adjusted even as we speak. CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs, Octavia Nasr joins us live from the CNN Center in Atlanta. Octavia good to see you.


HARRIS: Well, Octavia, you monitor all of the Arab language channels, you're watching what's being said in the newspapers. Give us a sense of what is being said today, I guess a full day after the Israeli air strike in Qana.

NASR: You know, in one word, outrage. Another word is anger. Blame on Israel, blame on the U.S. for not acting. It seems you read any newspaper that you pick up in the Arab world, it's going to have the pictures of the Qana victims, especially the children, even cartoons as the one we're going to show you, also depict the tragedy and how victims of that tragedy were mainly children. Here from Anahad(PH) Newspaper in Lebanon, you see the deck of cards and it says the lists of terrorists, the Israeli list of terrorists and basically you see children there on the deck of cards.

You have headlines such as "The Killer Butchers his Victim Twice," in reference to the attack in '96 on Qana and the attack yesterday. Arab media very, very angry, very upset about the situation.

I'll tell you something else, Tony, it seems that the feeling has changed, or is changing slowly from not just anger and outrage, to fear, fear about what the future is going to bring. You know, we're talking about the cessation of aerial fire for the next 48 hours, Israel requesting villagers to leave their villages. And the question on many people's mouths today, when you listen to the commentaries on Arab media, people are upset, saying where do you want these people to go?

This is a small country. Already they have about 800,000 displaced people with no place to go, and even this morning, LBC, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, showing demonstrations in Bint Jbeil. You've heard of Bint Jbeil a lot in the news lately.

And this is a village that is being asked to evacuate and basically people are saying we have no place to go, so they're taking to the streets instead. But also, if you listen to people, it's very interesting to get their reaction, their spontaneous reaction. You have those who are really, really angry, and you have those that will surprise you with their reaction, like this man. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see this? This is a message that we want to send to the Israeli people. They will not turn us into monsters. We're not going to kill their children and women.


NASR: And also, Tony, you saw this sort of peaceful reaction. Not all of it is peaceful. Listen to this woman and what she had to say.


TRANSLATION OF UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What can I say? They destroyed Lebanon, they destroyed the south. We had civilians there. They were all kids. They didn't have bread. They were hungry without food for five days. Look at them! They were kids, they were all killed in their homes. We don't have resistance here. The resistance is at the borders fighting. They will defend us. Nasrallah will defend us. We were not terrorists. These kids were not terrorists. Show them the images of the children. Show these pictures to Bush and Rice.


NASR: So anger not just at Israel, Tony, but especially at the U.S. at this point.

HARRIS: And you just can't show all of the pictures, they are just so horrific, so graphic. OK Octavia Nasr in Atlanta for us, Octavia, thank you.


HARRIS: Chad, you heard this Mel Gibson story?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, I did, over the weekend.

HARRIS: Hard not to, yeah, big water cooler topic.

Did Mel Gibson get star treatment from the sheriff's department in Los Angeles when he was arrested Friday on suspicion of driving under the influence? CNN's Brooke Anderson has more on the arrest, Gibson's apology for what he calls despicable remarks and the alleged cover-up.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Reverberations from Gibson's arrest are spreading through Los Angeles. Now the L.A. County Sheriff's Department is embroiled in reports they gave Gibson preferential treatment after he was arrested early Friday morning in Malibu, California, on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. The entertainment news website reports authorities altered the arresting deputy's hand-written report, allegedly removing offensive comments Gibson made when he was arrested. TMZ alleges Gibson spewed obscenities and hurled sexist and anti-Semitic statements including, "F*****g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

Gibson then, according to "TMZ", turned to the deputy and asked, "Are you a Jew?" Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will neither confirm nor deny the reports of Gibson's alleged statements, but told CNN the arrest occurred "without incident," clarifying what that means, "Every time somebody is arrested, something out of the ordinary happens, but guns don't always have to be drawn. Without incident means without force."

He went on to say, "There has been no cover-up by the sheriff's department. Nothing has been sanitized. The job of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department is not to focus on what he said or didn't say, but to establish his blood alcohol level and concentrate on the facts." Mike Gennaco who heads the independent group of attorneys who monitor sheriffs' department investigations told CNN they are looking into the allegations of misconduct but said it's not unusual for there to be numerous versions of a report. "There certainly could be legitimate reasons for sending a report back and changing it. That happens all the time."

CNN hasn't seen the official report but has requested a copy under the California Public Records Act. Gibson released a lengthy statement through his publicist Saturday, calling his behavior belligerent and saying, "I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I apologize to anyone who I have offended. I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry."

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement Sunday, saying Gibson's apology was, "Unremorseful and insufficient." They went on to say, "It does not go to the essence of his bigotry and his anti- Semitism." The ADL is responding to reports that Gibson allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks, allegations Gibson did not directly address in his statement. Gibson's publicist, Allen Nierob, told CNN on Sunday he would not comment on whether Gibson had entered an alcohol rehabilitation program, nor would he address whether Gibson made anti- Semitic remarks during his arrest. He said Gibson's statement speaks for itself. Brooke Anderson, CNN, Los Angeles.


HARRIS: Well yeah, it sure does. Mel Gibson's troubles may not stop at the police station. Ahead, Andy's "Minding Your Business."

O'BRIEN: All that stuff I said when I was drunk, I didn't mean it at all.

HARRIS: You didn't. Hard to understand, hmm. All right, Andy's "Minding Your Business."

O'BRIEN: You're not touching that one with a 10 foot pole. HARRIS: No. I could only get memos because of that. "Minding Your Business" with a look at how this arrest could affect some future deals.

O'BRIEN: First though, we're going to introduce you to a boy, he's autistic and karate is making a huge difference in his life and could make a difference in other kids' lives too. We'll share his story coming up next. Stay with us.


HARRIS: When the insurance money ran out for Brandon Earnshaw's autistic therapy, his family turned to karate. 2 1/2 years later, Brandon has made history. AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho has his story.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You would never know by looking at him, but 11-year-old Brandon Earnshaw is different. He's autistic, diagnosed at age 5. He can't read or write, but karate is something he can do, extraordinarily well. And it's helping him in unimaginable ways. He started taking classes 2 1/2 years ago after the family's insurance stopped paying for his traditional therapy.

ALINA EARNSHAW, BRANDON'S MOM: And I was very upset, and the therapist suggested to me karate.

CHO: Brandon's mom Alina was skeptical, but just a few weeks after her son started kicking, his teacher noticed a change.

EARNSHAW: She asked if I had started medicating Brandon, if he had been put on any medication --

CHO: Because?

EARNSHAW: Because he was just better able to handle the classroom setting. And I said no, and she said well, something is different. And I said well the only thing we're doing is karate.

CHO: The karate not only helped Brandon to focus, it also helped him with his hand-eye-feet coordination. Suddenly, he could do some of the things his peers take for granted.

EARNSHAW: He could not tie his shoes, couldn't tie anything, and --

CHO: Now he can?

EARNSHAW: Now he can. He ties his shoes. He can ride a bike. He couldn't ride a bike. I didn't think he'd ever ride a bike.

CHO: Brandon can also tie his karate belt. No small feat for a child with autism, and neither is this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brandon Earnshaw, up! CHO: Earlier this month, Brandon competed in the national karate championships. He was one of more than 4,000 competitors, one of only 12 in his age group, and the first autistic child ever to qualify.


CHO: His coach said winning was not the goal.

COREY GREEN, COACH: He finished. He completed the whole thing, and that's really what I wanted to see him do. He was nervous, though.

EARNSHAW: Very, very nervous.

CHO: Alina Earnshaw encourages her son to have fun, and he does, especially when he gets to spar.

What's great about sparring? What is it that you like about that?

BRANDON EARNSHAW, KARATE KID: You get to beat people up.

CHO: You like beating people up?


CHO: Notice the smile. His mom says Brandon used to smile a lot as a baby. Now with karate in his life, Brandon's smile is back.

EARNSHAW: This is something he can do that not everybody can. So now the tables kind of flipped, you know, because he's always at the bottom. But with this, he's at the top.

CHO: His mom hopes some day Brandon will be good enough to teach other kids karate. This may just be the kick-start he needs. Alina Cho, CNN, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


HARRIS: And we are looking at autism all this week in a special five-part series. Senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports later in the program. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Mel Gibson's run-in with authorities in L.A. could cost him in more ways than just in the courtroom. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business." Good morning.

ANDY SERWER: Good morning, Soledad. Now the fallout. We're talking about Mel Gibson's arrest for drunk driving, alleged drunk driving the other day. And you know, this kind of stuff, drunk driving, belligerent behavior, can be forgiven in Hollywood.

What's making everyone uncomfortable are his alleged anti-Semitic remarks. There is a large Jewish community in Hollywood, and this is making people rather uncomfortable, but it's a difficult balance because Mel Gibson is obviously an A-list actor and an A-list filmmaker, but this is a problem that's vexed him before. You may remember the release of "The Passion of the Christ", there were accusations of anti-Semitism there. The film was marketed as pro- Christian, but some Jewish leaders said that it was also tantamount to being anti-Semitic.

He has a couple of projects coming up that are interesting. "Apocolypto," which is a film much like "The Passion," in a sense that it's something that he did on his own and its spoken in its own language. It's a Mayan film. And then most intriguing, a mini series that he's scheduled to do on the Holocaust for ABC. Now this is not in production, no final script has been approved. Bottom line, Mel Gibson has a lot of clout, but if this kind of talk continues, it's going to make life very, very difficult for him in Hollywood.

HARRIS: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Hard to imagine he can move forward if what he is alleged to have said turns out to be what in fact he did say.

SERWER: I wouldn't be surprised Tony, if Disney backs off that mini series and just let's it die. As so many projects in Hollywood do, they just let it go.

O'BRIEN: Or he's going to need a better apology than what he's ponied up so far.

SERWER: That's also a possibility.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Andy thank you.

SERWER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a look at the day's top stories just after this short break. We're back in a moment. Stay with us.