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American Morning

Journalist Freed; 4th Of July Celebrations; Extreme Heat; A Show Of Patriotism

Aired July 04, 2007 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Free at last. A kidnapped reporter released, describing his 114 days as a hostage like being buried alive.

ALAN JOHNSTON, FREED BBC JOURNALIST: It is the most fantastic thing to come to the end of that. It was the most terrible thing I've been through in my life.


ROBERTS: His family's relief.


GRAHAM JOHNSTON, FREED JOURNALIST'S FATHER: We got the phone call late last night. And I said, hello, son. How are you? Are you all right? And he says, I'm 100 percent.


ROBERTS: And his story of survival and celebration on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning to you. Thanks very much for joining us. It's the Fourth of July. Two hundred and thirty-one years old now.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Can you believe that.

ROBERTS: Doesn't feel like a day over 175.

Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts.

NGUYEN: Yes, good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Kiran Chetry today.

And it is really an Independence Day.

ROBERTS: It really is after that. Independence and freedom for one particular fellow. We're following a breaking story from the Middle East this morning. The 114-day long ordeal of BBC reporter Alan Johnston is over.

Early this morning he was released in Gaza, thin, pale, but, obviously, thrilled to be out of what he called a living nightmare. These pictures of him at the British embassy are just in. They came in to us in just the last few minutes. Johnston was held by the Army of Islam, bound up, his life threatened. He's in Jerusalem right now talking about how he got through it.


ALAN JOHNSTON, FREED BBC JOURNALIST: The first month, I was in a place where I could see the sun. But for the last three months, I was in a room where the shutters were always drawn. And so I had no sunlight. I couldn't see the sun at all. And that was depressing. And that was the last -- basically three months since I saw the sun. Although, in the last -- the very last place, the last two days, I could see it again.

Maybe it will be a while before I really know quite how I've been affected by this thing. But at the moment, I fell as well physically and I think mentally as I can really kind of expect to. You know, it's a big effort to keep your mind together really in those situations. And, as I say, maybe I won't know for sure for a while, but I feel very good at the moment. It's fantastic, actually, to have left Gaza.


ROBERTS: Johnston also reveled that his captors did let him listen to BBC on the radio, so he was able to follow as his colleagues reported on his ordeal and worked to get him free.

CNN's Ben Wedeman knows Johnston personally, talked with him this morning, greeted him after his return from captivity. Ben joins us now live in Jerusalem.

Ben, obviously, Johnston very, very, very happy that this is all over.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He is thrilled. I know I spoke to him just a little while after he was released and he was really gushing with excitement, with relief to finally be out. Whether it's 114 days or 115 days, the BBC doesn't count the day that he was kidnapped. But I think if you speak to Alan, he definitely will count that extra day. So it adds up to 115.

Alan really has gone through hell down in Gaza. And just the idea that he can finally get out of there and get back to civilization, so to speak, and eventually get reunited with his family, is something that's clearly put a real spring in his step. When I spoke to him, he was incredibly relieved and incredibly excited to be getting out of there.


ROBERTS: He was being held by this Army of Islam, which, as I understand it, Ben, is an offshoot of a very powerful clan called the Dimush (ph) Palestinian clan. Hamas was working very hard to win his release. And upon his release, Johnston had praise for Hamas. Let's take a quick listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

A. JOHNSTON: To be quite honest, I think if it hadn't been for that real serious Hamas pressure, that commitment to tightening up Gaza's many, many security problems, that I might have been in that room for a lot, lot longer.


ROBERTS: So there's a bit of irony here, Ben. Hamas is coming under so much global criticism and yet Alan Johnston is praising them saying they were instrument in winning his release.

WEDEMAN: Yes. We have to take into account that Hamas was eager, was very eager to get Alan Johnston released for a variety of reasons, John. They want to show that they have re-established law and order in Gaza.

But there's another reason why they were going after this clan. And that's because this clan, which is closely linked to the Fatah movement, is really one of the biggest obstacles to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They're very well armed. They're very numerous. And they have been fighting Hamas for quite some time. So getting Alan released really clears the way for Hamas to go after this group.

And there's another important issue. Hamas officials, not only Hamas officials, but independent people in Gaza, in the West Bank, consider that this Army of Islam, which comes out of this clan, is really the thin edge of the al Qaeda wedge in the Gaza Strip. We saw some of these videos that the group put out are very them of many of the themes that al Qaeda has taken. And it's not out of some newfound conviction on the part of Hamas signing up to the global war on terror. What it is, is, they don't want to be outflanked politically. They see this group as a threat and they are anxious to go after it now that Alan has been released.


ROBERTS: All right. The considerations for the future there and a really terrific day for Alan Johnston.

And, Ben, we're glad your friend is out of captivity.

Ben Wedeman for us in Jerusalem this morning.

Ben, thanks.

NGUYEN: Well, John, we've also heard from Alan Johnston's parents this morning. They talked with reporters from their home in Scotland and say they never gave up hope that they'd see their son again. Graham Johnston called this a "wonderful morning" as he described hearing Alan on the phone.


GRAHAM JOHNSTON, FREED JOURNALIST"S FATHER: It's a wonderful morning, I can't tell you. We got the phone call late last night from the BBC and we're absolutely overjoyed. It's been 114 days of a living nightmare.

And just to hear his voice, he telephoned us. There was a lot of noise in the background. And I think he's being jostled a lot. And all he said was, hello, dad. And I said, hello, son. How are you? Are you all right? And he says, I'm 100 percent. And then the phone was cut. So that's all we've had from him so far. But we've seen him on the box and it's just incredible. It's been -- it's been a long 114 days.


NGUYEN: And we will talk with Alan Johnston's colleagues at the BBC. That is coming up in just a few minutes.

But also this morning, investigators in the U.K. are considering lowering the threat level there from critical to severe. The decision will be based on whether they think another attack is imminent. Six suspects are right now in custody, two more being questioned. All have careers in medicine and may have ties to al Qaeda in Iraq. There are also reports that their names may have been on a terror watch list in the U.K. We'll have more on that from CNN's international terror correspondent, Paula Newton. That is at the bottom of the hour.

Well, a violent standoff in Pakistan appear to be coming to an end this morning. More than 100 radical Islamic students surrendered overnight. More are expected to leave a little bit later this morning. They had been holed up inside a mosque in Islamabad for months. The confrontation erupted yesterday when 12 people were killed in a gunfight.

Scooter Libby might have his two-year probation lifted. The judge who sentenced him saying that probation normally follows a jail term. Since President Bush commuted Libby's jail term, the judge now wants new arguments from lawyers on whether Libby should be on probation. President Bush says he hasn't ruled out a full pardon.

And thousands of gallons of spilled crude oil -- look at these pictures -- moving with flooded rivers in Kansas. Well, it's now within a few miles of a lake that serves as a source of drinking water for people in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Emergency workers say water supplies are not in immediate danger since most of the oil is floating on the surface.

ROBERTS: Seven minutes after the hour now and time now to check in on some of the other big stories with our AMERICAN MORNING team of correspondents. Sean Callebs is at the National Mall in Washington on this Fourth of July watching ramped up security in D.C. and around the country.

Good morning to you, Sean.


Indeed, expect strictly enforced, stringent security measures here on the mall in Washington. They expect about 500,000 people here today to watch the fireworks later on this evening. But everyone will have to pass through a security checkpoint. Washington is one of eight cities around the country that has a special law enforcement team dispatched specializing in focusing on explosives and keeping an eye on mass transit. Everyone wants patriotic music and fireworks, John, no one wants surprises.

ROBERTS: I'm sure they don't. In Washington, one of the great places to be on the Fourth of July as well.

Sean Callebs, thanks very much.

Dangerous heat and a storm watch for the holiday. Rob Marciano is with us from the CNN Weather Center.

What are you looking at, Rob?


ROBERTS: And, of course, some of those California communities are ruling out fireworks for the Fourth of July because of the extreme fire danger. Going, instead, for a light show.


NGUYEN: John, listen to this. It appears that it wasn't the extremely resistant drug form of tuberculosis after all. Doctors say Andrew Speaker has a more treatable form of TB, but, still, he should not have been traveling. His case set off an international health scare. And last night on "A.C. 360," Speaker and his wife railed against Center for Disease Control for how they handled this whole thing.


ANDREW SPEAKER, MISDIAGNOSED WITH MOST DANGEROUS TB: I think they owe an apology to the people that they scared. It just -- I know they do dual testing here when they're running a test to see whether or not something has tuberculosis or what kind, they run two at the same time to make sure their results are correct. They created a huge international panic. They scared, you know, millions of people around the world.

SARAH SPEAKER, ANDREW SPEAKER'S WIFE: And I say, too. I know I was reading, MDRs (ph), too, something that it is definitely not something that we're happy that Drew has. And I know it's difficult to treat. You know, MDR, there is 500,000 cases in 2004. I don't know the latest year. But, you know, I think the term XDR (ph) is what scared people to such a degree. And also, because that diagnosis, Drew was put on some very scary drugs. I mean, some drugs with some very awful side effects.

A. SPEAKER: That I wouldn't have been put on.

S. SPEAKER: And so they've -- that he wouldn't have been put on.


NGUYEN: Now MDRTB is treatable with drugs. And because doctors in Denver caught the mistake, Speaker likely won't have to undergo lung surgery.

ROBERTS: You've got to wonder, is there a lawsuit in the making here.

NGUYEN: Oh, I bet, somewhere in here.

ROBERTS: Well, I mean, he and his father are personal injury attorneys. So they know something about it.

NGUYEN: Well, and then he was set to have surgery over something that he thought he had, which appears it wasn't that bad.

ROBERTS: That's one thing. But it's putting him in confinement and all of that.

NGUYEN: With the security guard outside.

ROBERTS: Yes. All right. Well, we'll see what happens there. Wouldn't be surprised though.

Democrats are beating Republicans when it comes to raising campaign cash. "Quick Hits" now. Contributions for the second quarter show the top Democrats collected more money than the top Republicans by about a three to two margin. Barack Obama alone has 250,000 contributors. More than Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain combined.

More accounting problems today for Enron. Twenty thousand former employees finally got their first payment from a settlement to repay them for retirement funds that were lost in Enron's collapse. But a computer glitch meant that 13,000 were underpaid while 7,700 were overpaid. The company's trying to fix the problem.

And coming up, the lifeline for just-released journalist Alan Johnston. How his colleagues at the BBC got messages to him in captivity. We'll talk with the BBC's world news editor just ahead.

Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, July 4th fire fears.


ASSISTANT CHIEF JIM HALL, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: This stuff is like a time bomb ready to just go off.


ROBERTS: How runway campfires and dry conditions can turn into a rapid inferno. What you need to know for your Fourth of July barbecue next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm (INAUDIBLE) Degaris (ph) from EMF Kuwait. My hometown's Upland, California, the IE. Happy Fourth of July. And send me some food, mom. Love you guys!

ROBERTS: Hey, when I was in Iraq, we used to look forward to going to those operating bases because the food was much better there than what we were getting.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING on this Fourth of July.

"Quick Hits" starts with efforts to make sure that the flag that you might be flying today, should be flying today, is made in the USA. Laws have popped up in several states this year, the toughest in Minnesota, where all flags sold in the state must be made in America.

Look for a big change in the big apple's fireworks show tonight. For the first time ever in New York, fireworks, some of them at least, will be aimed into the East River. They're called nautical shells and they'll explode on the surface of the water instead of in the sky.

And Uncle Sam wants you slow down. In Orlando, a police dressed as Uncle Sam is using his radar gun to catch speeding drivers. All part of an operation to get people to slow down this holiday week.


NGUYEN: Well, John, the long nightmare for the BBC's Alan Johnston is finally over. He and the BBC celebrating his release today from 114 days in captivity in Gaza. Jon Williams, BBC world news editor, is with us now from London.

And let me ask you, when did you get word of this release?

JON WILLIAMS, BBC WORLD NEWS EDITOR: Betty, I got a call at 1:30 this morning, London time, to tell me that Alan's 114-day ordeal was over. And for Alan, his colleagues, his family, it's a very sweet moment.

NGUYEN: It is such a relief, not only for Alan and his family, but for you, of course, and all those colleagues at the BBC. Did you get to speak with Alan directly?

WILLIAMS: I did. He called me as he was crossing over the border from Araz (ph) into Israel. And he told me that for the best part of three months he had been able to hear what we had been doing on his behalf, on the BBC world service, by listening to a radio that he had managed to get a hold of. And for us, that was a vindication of our policy to keep his name in the public eye and to make sure that everybody remembered that Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza.

NGUYEN: And were you sending any type of message to him during that time? Did you know they had a radio?

WILLIAMS: The message that we were sending was that he was not alone. We had 200,000 listeners, viewers, and readers to the BBC sign an online petition on the BBC news Web site. And every night one of our programs on the BBC world service radio, called "World Have Your Say," would read out messages from audiences right around the world just to let Alan know that he was in their thoughts and their prayers.

NGUYEN: And I understand at some point he was kept in confinement, didn't even have a window to see outside and that at one point he was chained. Did you get any more details on what it was like for him to be in captivity?

WILLIAMS: Truthfully, the conversation that I had was only a couple of minutes long. And it was simply fantastic just to hear his voice. There are many opportunities and will be many opportunities in the coming hours and days to debrief Alan and to learn some of the lessons from this ordeal. But just now, it was just fantastic to hear his voice.

NGUYEN: Yes, it is. Free at last, Alan Johnston today. That's word that we have gotten and everyone has been waiting for it and finally it came through.

John Williams of the BBC, I know you're very thankful today and we thank you for talking with us.

WILLIAMS: And thank you, Betty.

ROBERTS: Terrific story this morning.

The wildfire danger from coast to coast is so extreme these days that several cities are canceling their Fourth of July fireworks displays tonight. The drought, record heat and thousands of campers are adding to the worries of the U.S. Forest Service. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence caught up with them outside of Los Angeles.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): A wildfire rips through a picnic area near Santa Barbara and burns almost 500 acres of brush. Several campsites have to be shut down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kitchen, living room was here. Back bedroom.

LAWRENCE: Near Lake Tahoe, hundreds of families are homeless this holiday. And investigators suspect that blaze was caused by an illegal campfire.

How bad could it be this Fourth of July?

ASSISTANT CHIEF JIM HALL, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: This Fourth of July could be bad.

LAWRENCE: California forestry official says thousands of campers could accidentally spark this dry, brittle brush.

HALL: Grab some of this stuff. This stuff is like a time bomb ready to just go off. One little ember flicked at that, it's ready to go off. And a prime example . . . LAWRENCE: Chief Jim hall showed me exactly how fires start.

HALL: No one's here and they've left the stuff burning. Prime example. All we need is a gust of wind into the bushes and we're fighting fire.

LAWRENCE: Los Angeles just ended its driest rain year on record. Barely over three inches.

With triple digit temperatures forecast fort rest of week in parts of California, officials have banned some traditional holiday celebrations, like fireworks.

HALL: And for five or 10 minutes of ah or five or 10 minutes, seconds of ah, I mean, we could have this whole hillside go up.

LAWRENCE: Almost all massive fires start from one little spark. So Hall warns families to clean out the area around their grills, and pour enough dirt and water to cool it down.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Los Angeles.


NGUYEN: The announcement of one of the biggest deals of the year tops our "Quick Hits" today. Hilton Hotels will be sold to the Blackstone Group, an investment company, for $26 billion. I know you're looking at me. That's a lot of money, isn't it, John.

ROBERTS: Well, I was thinking, you were staying at a Hilton last night too.

NGUYEN: Yes. Hopefully it won't change over too fast. I need a room for the next couple of days. Well, Hilton owns Double Tree, Embassy Suites and Hampton Inn. Combined with Blackstone's other hotels, the company will control 600,000 hotels worldwide.

Well, new numbers show this has been the worst year for flight delays since the government started keeping track. Cancellations are a big part of the problem. They shot up 80 percent compared to last year.

It's a show of patriotism and dedication in a place where those words are anything but meaningless. And up next, a Fourth of July ceremony in Iraq that honors the efforts of some very special soldiers. AMERICAN MORNING is coming right back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No matter how bad things are in America, we always have our freedom. We have our freedom of choice, freedom of religion, freedom to vote for who we want. There's no other country like that.


ROBERTS: Twenty-three minutes after the hour now. An impressive show of dedication and patriotism in a place where many say it matters the very most -- in Iraq. Earlier today, 500 U.S. soldiers spent their Fourth of July re-enlisting for another tour of duty. General David Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, oversaw the ceremony at which about 100 soldiers also became American citizens.

Sergeant Major Marvin Hill is General Petraeus' senior enlisted advisory. He joins me from Camp Victory, just outside of Baghdad in Iraq.

Sergeant Major Hill, this is the first time that we've seen something like this put together in Iraq. Why did General Petraeus want to do it?

SGT. MAJ. MARVIN HILL, SR. ENLISTED ADVISER TO GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, he just wanted to show the soldiers, Sailors, airmen, Marine, that they are very important to us. And he wanted to make sure that they understood that we appreciate them and we appreciate the sacrifices that they are making, as well as their families.

And to set the record straight, it is not the first time we've done a ceremony such as this in Iraq. In 2003, General Petraeus and I held a similar ceremony in Mosul where we re-enlisted 158 soldiers on the steps of one of Saddam's palaces. And similar ceremonies have been done since then.

Today we re-enlisted 588 great Americans. And we naturalized another 161 service members. And they became American citizens as well.

ROBERTS: Great. Well, terrific. Sergeant Major, I was actually referring to the size in terms of the first time we've seen anything of this size.

I was there last fall, did a lot of running around with the 177nd Stryker Brigade. They tend to do these re-enlistment ceremonies just a couple of service members at a time. I remember we went down to the parade round there with the crossed swords. They re-enlisted a couple of fellows. It must be quite impressive to see that multiplied on such a scale as we saw today.

HILL: Yes, it is. And if you're not careful, you really get emotional during a ceremony such as that. You just find yourself getting choked up as they're raising their hands and, you know, and committing themselves to their country one more time.

ROBERTS: What's the statement that this sends out today? And I think of it particularly in light of the idea that the army fell slightly short of its recruiting goals in May of this year.

HILL: Well, I think it sends a statement that our young Americans are committed and they get it. They are very patriotic. They understand why they're serving and they understand the risks that are involved and they want to stay and fight along the side of their brothers and sisters.

ROBERTS: You know, the White House pointed out that the re- enlistment rate of Iraq veterans is higher than among the military services in general. Why is that?

HILL: Well, I think it's because they are doing what they joined the military to do. If they joined the military to be a truck driver, they are a truck driver in combat. If they joined to be an infantryman, they are an infantryman in combat. So I think it's about doing what you really joined the military to do.

ROBERTS: A, you know, Sergeant Major, the one thing that I really found when I was over there recently is, despite the challenges that they faced, despite the threats that they face on a daily basis, almost to a man, every member of the military has their head totally in the game. How do they do that when you consider the hardships that they're under?

HILL: They do that by good, sound, positive, in-your-face leadership. I mean soldiers and our service members, the proximity to their leader, is almost direct. So when you saturate a unit with outstanding leadership, it has to be contagious.

ROBERTS: Sergeant Major John Pratt (ph), thanks very much for joining us this morning. Appreciate you being with us. Appreciate your service. And happy Fourth of July to you and everybody there in Iraq.

HILL: Command Sergeant Major Marvin Hill. Thank you.

ROBERTS: All right.

NGUYEN: The big story we'll be following today, BBC correspondent Alan Johnston is a free man this morning. Just ahead, we are going to hear, in his own words, about how he survived 114 days in the hands of militants in Gaza. That is after this break.


ROBERTS: And there's a shot of the Statue of Liberty, it's sort of like the -- I don't know, our daily shot here. We show that a lot.

NGUYEN: But it's significant today, John.

ROBERTS: It is, absolutely, because it's all about Lady Liberty, all about the Fourth of July. Fireworks spectacular on the East River tonight in New York, and the rain expected to hold off for that. So we're hoping that we're going to have a nice day and a great fireworks display.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's Wednesday, the Fourth of July.

I'm John Roberts. Good morning to you.

NGUYEN: Happy Fourth of July.

Good morning, I'm Betty Nguyen in for Kiran Chetry this morning.

We do want to start in London with new developments in the U.K. terror plot. There are reports this morning that intelligence officials knew about some of the suspects before the attacks. One was even reported to be on a watch list.

CNN's International Security Correspondent Paula Newton is following all the developments this morning and she joins us now live from London.

So, how long have these suspects been on the watch list?

PAULA NEWTON, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Certainly MI-5 won't say, but when they go through pretty routine surveillance operations now, sometimes names come up. They say they warrant (ph) to high priority, their names come up perhaps quite innocently. All that information is stored on what is now a very sophisticated database. So the minute this news broke, MI-5, the domestic spy agency here, would have relayed any information they had to police. And that certainly would have sped up the investigation quite some bit -- for quite some time.

In the meantime, Betty, I can tell you that they're looking at the possibility of lowering the threat level here. We are at critical now. That would bring it down to severe. And still, quite a heightened alert here, but not as it has been. Right now, police still telling us that they believe a core of this cell in custody. What they're trying to figure out right was whether or not it was one or two al Qaeda operatives who perhaps came here to specifically recruit medical professionals for this plot, Betty.

NGUYEN: Paula, you say the core is in custody. Do we have any idea who may have been the ring leader?

NEWTON: The suspicions certainly do point to the two gentlemen who tried that suicide attack in Glasgow, one remains in critical condition in hospital, and again, doctors don't expect him to survive. The other is the Iraqi doctor, Lal Abdullah (ph) and they believe that perhaps he was the person originally recruited.

He came to Britain in 2004, and that does really correlate with a lot of the intelligence information that MI-6, the foreign spy agency here, gathered in a SPECIAL REPORT that they had in April, saying to expect that al Qaeda in Iraq was now trying to plan more terror activities in both Britain and Europe -- Betty.

NGUYEN: CNN's Paula Newton joining us live from London today. Paula, thank you.

ROBERTS: We're also following a breaking story from the Middle East this morning. The 114-day ordeal of BBC reporter Alan Johnston is over. Early this morning, he was released in Gaza. Johnston was held by the Army of Islam, bound up, his life threatened, forced to make hostage videos, even one in which he was wearing a suicide bomb belt.

He's in Jerusalem right now, talking about how he got through that ordeal.


A. JOHNSTON: For the first month (ph), I was in a place where I could see the sun. And, but for the last three months, I was in a room where the shutters were always drawn and so I had no -- no sunlight. I couldn't see the sun at all, and that was depressing. That was the last, basically three months since I saw the sun. Although, in the last -- the very last place, the last two days, I could see it again.


ROBERTS: Johnston also revealed that his captors let him listen to the BBC on the radio. One of his colleagues told us just a few minutes ago that they made a point of reading messages on the air to Johnston so that he would know just how much support was out there.

CNN's Ben Wedeman knows Johnston personally and we talked with Ben just a little while ago.


WEDEMAN: Well, I spoke to him just a little while after he was released and he was really gushing with excitement, with relief to finally be out. Whether it's 114 days or 115 days, the BBC doesn't count the day that he was kidnapped. But I think if you speak to Alan, he definitely will count that extra day. So it adds up to 115.

Alan really has gone through hell down in Gaza. And just the idea that he can finally get out of there and get back to civilization, so to speak, and eventually get reunited with his family is something that's clearly put a real spring in his step.

When I spoke to him, he was incredibly relieved and incredibly excited to be getting out of there -- John.

ROBERTS: He was being held by this Army of Islam, which is, as I understand it, Ben, as an offshoot of a very powerful clan called the Dagmush (ph) Palestinian clan. Hamas was working very hard to win his release and upon his release, Johnston had praise for Hamas. Let's take a quick listen to what he said.


JOHNSTON: To be quite honest, I think that if it hadn't been for that real serious Hamas pressure, that commitment to tidying up Gaza's many, many security problems, then I might have been that -- in that room for a lot, lot longer.


ROBERTS: So there's a bit of an irony here, Ben. Hamas is coming under so much global criticism and yet, Alan Johnston is praising them, saying they were instrumental in winning his release.

WEDEMAN: Yes, we have to take into account that Hamas was eager, was very eager to get Alan Johnston released for a variety of reasons, John. They want to show that they have established, re-established, law and order in Gaza.

But there's another reason why they were going after this clan, and that's because this clan, which is closely linked to the Fatah movement, has -- is really one of the biggest obstacles to Hamas in the Gaza strip.


ROBERTS: Our Ben Wedeman this morning from Jerusalem talking about his good friend, Alan Johnston, released this morning, after 114 days in captivity, Betty.

NGUYEN: Truly an Independence Day.

Well, while lots of people do have this Fourth of July off for barbecues and fireworks, U.S. troops are in the combat zones of Iraq.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is embedded with American troops south of Baghdad.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Betty. I am here on Forward Operating Base Kalzoo (ph). It's about 30 miles south of Baghdad, and these soldiers here indeed don't have any time off. They have operations going on like every other day.

Now, two of those soldiers are with me right now, that is Lieutenant Jason Depuis and Captain Ryan Mitcha.

Lieutenant, let me ask you first. Fourth of July, you've been on operations since well before daybreak today. What is that like being on operations while everybody else is celebrating back home?

LT. JASON DEPUIS, U.S. ARMY: That's why we do it, you know, so everyone else can and celebrate back home. So, it kind of makes me glad to know that everybody else is having a good time and it makes what I'm doing here worthwhile.

PLEITGEN: Now, Captain Mitcha, I know that your wife is at home, she has a small baby and you're expecting another baby. What it's like for you knowing that the family's home? How are they taking you being here for such a long time?

CAPT. RYAN MITCHA, U.S. ARMY: It's tough on the family, but my wife's very supportive. My parents back home are very supportive and the people in Anchorage, Alaska, are very supportive. So, that makes it a lot easier.

PLEITGEN: How do you talk to them, what do you say to them?

MITCHA: I'm in e-mail contact with my wife just about every day, and I call my wife about every two weeks, my parents maybe once a month. But we just talk about normal things that are going on.

PLEITGEN: Lieutenant, if -- I have (ph) one more question. How is your family celebrating the Fourth of July without you? DEPUIS: My parents are back home, my brother's also deployed. So they're going to get together with friends and family. And my wife is going out with our neighbor and they're going to go out on the lake and go party out on the water. So they're going to have a good time today.

PLEITGEN: All right, thank you both very much. Stay safe. Thank you very much for being with us.

Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: Well, while people are celebrating, work still goes on there in Iraq. Frederik, we appreciate that -- John.

ROBERTS: The major presidential candidates are spending their holiday on the campaign trail, most of them in the state of Iowa, the hawkeye state.

And that's where "AC 360's" Tom Foreman is for this morning's raw politics report.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're continuing our raw politics road trip through Iowa, and we are not the only ones. The Fourth of July upon us, a traditional campaigning time. Candidates are shooting through the state like bottle rockets.

(voice-over): Better get the 12-pack of rolls for the candidate cook out in hawkeye land. On the grill for the Republicans, Mitt Romney hosted two events and Mike Huckabee served up a speech about health care.

Slinging slaw on the Democrats' side, the Bill and the Hill got the crowds all riled up at two campaign rallies. The Obama-rama had a full day of meet and greets. Big Joe Biden campaign from dawn till dusk. And Chris Dodd launched an entire tour called River to River. They'll (ph) travel throughout Iowa for the holiday weekend.

Seems a bit much, but the Raw Politics read with 18 candidates fighting for attention, those with weak polls and little money can only elbow themselves into position and hope a front-runner slips up.

But the second string fighting can be vicious. Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback is ripping into another challenger, Tom Tancredo, saying he took campaign cash from a donor connected to planned parenthood. Camp Brownback says Tancredo should, "publicly denounce his time." But Tancredo says, no way, campaign donors support the Congressman's principles and values, not the other way around.

And it looks like President Bush may have turned around talk about growing tension with the Russians. He and President Vladimir Putin indicate their fishing vacation in Maine amid spats over Iran, Kosovo, missile defense systems, turned out just ducky. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a very long, strategic dialogue that I found to be important, necessary, and productive.

FOREMAN: A little fishing, a little detente, a little nuclear deterrent, ah, life is good!

That's raw politics.


ROBERTS: And ahead in our 8:00 hour, we're going to go back live to Iowa and talk with presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden. He's spending this Independence Day out there. We'll talk to him about a whole bunch of things, how his campaign is going, how he's struggling with campaign cash and get his thoughts on the Scooter Libby sentence commutation.


Well you know, it is Movie Night at Gitmo. Did you know?

ROBERTS: No, I didn't. What are they doing there (ph)?

NGUYEN: It actually is, and that tops our Quick Hits today. Detainees at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will soon be provided with more recreational options, including movie night. Yet some of the detainees are also being allowed to watch soccer matches.

And the state of Illinois is starting mandatory brain scans for its National Guard. All soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan will be required to get one just as a precaution. The state hopes to detect problems that might otherwise go undiagnosed.

Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING: kids and pools.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Parents often think that they're going to hear screaming or splashing or cries for help. But that's not actually true.


NGUYEN: Safeguarding your pool from accidents. Find out how to protect your kids this summer, next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Forty-four minutes after the hour.

An AMERICAN MORNING update tops your Quick Hits now. Remember the story of the girl whose feet were amputated in an amusement park accident in Kentucky? Well, doctors say they were able to reattach her right foot. Unfortunately, though, the left foot was too damaged. The 13-year-old girl was injured when a cable broke on the Superman Tower of Power ride at Six Flags.

And another data theft story to tell you about this morning. More than two million records were stolen by an employee at Fidelity National, that's different from Fidelity Investments. The company says there's no sign of fraud or identity theft as a result. Maybe just may get more junk mail.

And a Webcam catches two thieves in the act. A man in Oregon left the camera running when he left his house and as you can see here, it caught a couple of guys as they came into his house to rip him off. Police were able to arrest one of the men based on these pictures. The other one though, is still at large.

NGUYEN: Well, on this Fourth of July, millions of parents and those kiddos will take a dip in the pool. But the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports, listen to this, 375 children drown in pool- related accidents nationwide every year.

So, what can you do to protect your children in those pools?

Let's get you now to Greg Hunter who is poolside with the latest on how to keep our kids safe. Greg?


If -- this Fourth of July weekend, if you have a pool like this, the party's probably at your house. So, how do you protect and watch your pool every second to keep from this happening? A toddler falling into the water while you're inside getting something?

Well, you get a pool alarm. And a guy we're about to meet wishes he had one.


MICHELLE SCALZI, ALEXIS' MOTHER: I was more worried when we were playing in front that she would get hit by a car or something, you know? I never -- never in a million years thought this would happen.

HUNTER (voice-over): Mike and Michelle Scalzi, whose lives changed in an instant last June when their 2-year-old daughter Alexis wandered out alone to the backyard pool and drowned.

MIKE SCALZI, ALEXIS' FATHER: There's no words to describe how we feel. The pain is just -- the pain is too much.

HUNTER: Her father tried to revive Alexis, but was never trained in CPR. Now the Scalzis are raising awareness about pool safety. The importance of learning CPR, and installing pool alarms. Here's how they work. When a weight of 15 pounds or more falls into the pool, like this doll, a sensor triggers a high pitched sound.

Other safety measures to consider, an automatic cover and a fence around the pool with a self-latching gate. And even an alarm on the back door, signalling that a child has gone outside. But parents still must keep a sharp eye out, and remember, drowning can happen quickly.

JULIE VALLESE, CPSC: Drowning is a silent act. Parents often think that they're going to hear screaming or splashing or cries for help. But that's not actually true.

HUNTER: Mike, who was home alone that day, had only taken his eyes off Alexis for a few minutes.

MIKE SCALZI: Our goal is to keep Alexis' memory alive and try to prevent another children from drowning.

HUNTER (on camera): Should have had a pool alarm?

MIKE SCALZI: We -- we wouldn't be talking today.

HUNTER (voice-over): Michelle is now pregnant. The Scalzis don't know when they'll be ready to roll back the tarp and use their back pool again.


HUNTER: ...legacy, and just to let you know that the folks who run the charity, the Scalzis say they need money. So, please take a look, and give donations to Alexis' legacy, They have a fiduciary, a bank, the whole deal -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Greg, you filed a report on this about a month ago. And since that time, what kind of response have you seen?

HUNTER: Well, I'll tell you, they got a huge response, they've given away 4,000 pool alarms so far. And again, they need donations of money, that you do have to pay for shipping but these are -- these retail for about $200. And they're giving them away to people who really need them. And if you would like to make a donation to save kids' lives, you could make a donation again at

NGUYEN: And save a life this summer.

All right, Greg Hunter, thank you for that.

ROBERTS: Forty-eight minutes after the hour now, and passport help tops your Quick Hits this morning. About 350 young diplomats and civil servants are being redeployed by the State Department to help clear that backlog of passport applications. They're going to report for two months of duty at facilities in Louisiana and New Hampshire.

A children's toy recall to tell you about this morning. 68,000 shape-sorting toy castles, made by Infantino are being recalled because beads can come loose and present a choking hazard to small children. If your child has got this toy, Infantino is recommending that you take it away from them right away and contact the company for a replacement.

A scandal involving sex and politics in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says his wife is divorcing him. He also admits he had an affair. Does it raise questions about his ethics, and what will it do to his political future, if anything?

AMERICAN MORNING is coming right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm Specialist (ph) Wes Landram (ph). I'm with the 50th Public Affairs Detachment Camp Fair (ph) down (ph) in Kuwait. I'd like to give a shout out to all my friends and family back in Mississippi. You guys have a safe and happy Fourth of July.


ROBERTS: A political scandal is rocking the city of Los Angeles. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is admitting that his marriage is over and that there is another woman in the picture. She's a reporter for a local television station. Political reporter, at that. Raises questions about ethics and his political future.

CNN's Ted Rowlands reports.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose marriage of 20 years has been publicly collapsing over the past few months, now acknowledges he's having a relationship with a television news reporter, Namir Talis Salinas (ph).

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES: It's true, I have a relationship with Miss Salinas.

ROWLANDS: The latest chapter in a public unraveling of the mayor's personal life has been playing out since January, when people started noticing that he had stopped wearing his wedding ring. Last month, after weeks of dodging questions about the ring, he announced that he and his wife were splitting up.

Corina Villaraigosa, who voters saw faithfully at her husband's side in the run-up to his 2005 election victory, has filed for divorce. While Villaraigosa admits there's another woman now, he doesn't seem to think that voters will care.

VILLARAIGOSA: The vast majority of people base their sense of trust on what you do in your public life, whether or not you keep your promises. I said to people, when I first was elected, that I work as hard as you do from my first day to my last, that I accept responsibility as I have today, as I have every time it was necessary. I'll continue to do that.

But as I said, I'll leave the speculation to others. I'm not going to get into every detail.


ROBERTS: CNN's Ted Rowlands reporting there. Efforts to contact Miss Salinas were unsuccessful. According to a spokeswoman at her station, she was taken off the political beat, which includes covering the mayor's office 11 months ago.

NGUYEN: Well, you better move over Bill Gates because there is a new richest man in the world, topping your Quick Hits right now. Carlos Slim of Mexico is now the richest man in the world, passing Bill Gates according to a new report.

Now, a recent increase in the stock price of a cell phone company Slim controls boosted his fortune to -- listen to this -- $67.8 billion, ahead of Gates by about eight-and-a-half billion.

DaimlerChrysler might soon bring the first Chinese-made car to the U.S. market. The government of China owns the car company which started just about ten years ago. Those made in China cars could make it to dealers right here in the U.S. in just a few years.

And breaking news this morning. After 114 days in captivity, BBC reporter Alan Johnston was freed overnight and is now talking about how he made it through. His story, in his own words, that is coming up right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: America is just a really fun place to be. And you're free.




ROBERTS: A courthouse controversy tops your Quick Hits this morning. The American Civil Liberty's Union is suing the city of Slidell, Lousiana for displaying this painting of Jesus in the courthouse lobby. The suit says the painting violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Apple Computer is charging twice what it costs to make an iPhone. Research firm iSupply broke open the $600 iPhone and found out that its component parts and manufacturing costs add up to about $265. But of course, Apple's got to pay for all that expensive marketing of the iPhone. That accounts for a lot of it (ph), as well.

An $80,000 violin, lost in the New York City subway system. Concert violinist Chon Tumshu (ph) had played a concert in Brooklyn, fell asleep while waiting for his subway. When he got on the train, he realized that he didn't have his $80,000 Scarampella. He's not sure if he left it on the subway platform, or if it was stolen.

NGUYEN: What are the chances of getting that back?

ROBERTS: What are the chances of somebody with an $80,000 violin not realizing until they got on the subway, oh my goodness ... NGUYEN: Where did it go?

ROBERTS: ...where did it go?

NGUYEN: How about you take a cab next time?

All right, the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

ROBERTS: Independence Day.


A. JOHNSTON: I dreamt of being free, literally dreamt. And it is, as I say, almost difficult to describe how good this moment feels.


ROBERTS: An embrace of freedom for a kidnapped BBC reporter set free overnight after four nightmare months in captivity.


A. JOHNSTON: They put a hood over my head and handcuffed me and took me out into the night. And of course, you're going to -- you wonder where that's going to end.


ROBERTS: This morning, the dream phone call he finally got to make.