Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Shooting in U.S. Consulate in Istanbul Kills Six; Former EPA Official Alleges Cover-up in Climate Change Controversy; U.S. Businesses Boosting Trade in Iran; Mexican Comic Character Under Attack; War Powers Report Recommends More Input From Congress; Mitt Romney Interview

Aired July 09, 2008 - 07:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: The White House fighting back, saying this morning the test is a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and completely inconsistent with Iran's obligations to the world.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Also new this morning, polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in the hospital this morning. He was taken from jail where he is awaiting trial on several charges of sexual misconduct and incest. No word on why he was brought to the hospital.

And the U.S. general who led efforts to train Iraqi police forces will tell Congress today that U.S. forces are still needed on the ground. His comments come as two Iraqi lawmakers call for a timetable for troops to withdraw as a condition of signing a new security deal with the United States.

Our Frederik Pleitgen is live in Baghdad for us this morning. Frederik, they're talking about a withdrawal within three to five years. Is that something the conditions on the ground would allow?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly doesn't seem like it to us. John, you're absolutely right. They're talking about a timetable of about three to five years for all American troops to leave this country. But they do qualify that, they say, if the security situation on the ground permits that. That means if the Iraqi Security Forces are going to be in a shape to keep the peace in this country.

And certainly from what we're seeing, while the security has improved a lot in this country over the past year, the Iraqi Security Forces still are a long way from being able to keep the peace by themselves. Nevertheless, one thing that Iraqi lawmakers are telling us, they're still in very tough negotiations with the U.S. over an agreement that would keep U.S. forces here. But they say they are not confident that they are going to meet a deadline by the end of the month to have that agreement hammered out, John.

ROBERTS: In his State of the Union Address back in 2007, Frederik, President Bush talked about, you know, talking about this force that would stay in Iraq. Let's think along the lines of South Korea or Germany, there's, you know, 40,000 troops, not quite 40,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. Would the Iraqis be willing to accept a force of that size? PLEITGEN: Well, it depends really on who you ask here on the ground. I mean, if you ask the Sunnis they certainly wouldn't mind having a very substantial number of U.S. soldiers here on the ground for an extended period of time. Of course, if you're talking about South Korea or Germany, you're talking about something like 50 to 60 years.

If you ask the Shia on the other hand, the majority of them say they would like the American forces to leave this country as fast as possible. And again, these are all things that the two sides are now negotiating in that agreement to keep U.S. forces in this country.

Among the very, very difficult points that there is a lot of dissent about in that agreement, of course, one of them is also what authority are U.S. forces going to have here? Will they be able to detain Iraqis? And are they going to be able to conduct security operations in this country without telling the Iraqi government? So there are still a lot of very difficult issues, and troop levels are certainly one of them, John.

ROBERTS: A lot to be discussed. That deadline coming up on July 31st. Frederik Pleitgen for us from Baghdad this morning. Frederik, thanks.

Senator John McCain is downplaying Iraqi demands for a firm timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. While campaigning in Pittsburgh yesterday, McCain said he is confident that Iraq's prime minister will make decisions based on the situation on the ground.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Since we are succeeding, then I am convinced as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. And I'm confident that's what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about. He's told me that during many meetings we've had.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I hear John McCain saying we can't surrender, we can't wave the white flag, nobody's talking about surrender. We're talking about common sense.

We cannot be there forever. We can't be there for 50 years. We can't afford it. Our military families can't bear that burden. We've got to get more troops in Afghanistan. I am going to bring this war to an end.


ROBERTS: Senator Barack Obama defending his position on Iraq, saying the prime minister's remarks are in line with his own policy which McCain has branded a strategy for defeat.

CHETRY: Now to allegations of a cover-up by members of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff involving the health effects of climate change. A former EPA official says he was pressured to change his conclusions and when he refused, somebody did it for him.

Our Kate Bolduan takes a closer look at the allegations.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a former EPA official by her side, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer accused the White House of censoring congressional testimony on the dangers of global warning and pointed directly at Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: We now know that this censorship was not haphazard. It was part of a master plan.

BOLDUAN: Former EPA Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett says last year the vice president's office pushed him to delete portions of testimony detailing the potential health impacts of climate change prepared for Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a press conference, Burnett refused to name anyone in the vice president's office and provided few details. But in a letter to Senator Boxer, Burnett says he was asked to remove "any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change." He said he wouldn't do it.

JASON BURNETT, FORMER ASSOCIATE DEP. ADMINISTRATOR, EPA: I wanted to make sure that the testimony was -- was fundamentally accurate. And when I concluded that it was, I declined to make -- make any edits or suggested that CDC do so.

BOLDUAN: But sections of testimony were removed and the White House acknowledged changes were made because it questioned the science behind some assertions. White House spokesperson Tony Fratto says more than one office raised concerns over accuracy.

For her part, Dr. Gerberding has defended her testimony.

DR. JULIE GERBERDING, CDC DIRECTOR: No one from the department, the White House, or any place else in government has ever put one word in my mouth or taken one word out.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Now, Burnett has given about $100,000 to Democratic campaigns in recent years, this according to a group who tracks campaign donations. But when pressed, he denies this is politically motivated. Kate Bolduan, CNN, Capitol Hill.


CHETRY: At that press conference, Boxer also accused White House Press Secretary Dana Perino of lying about the incident last year. Speaking at the G8 Summit in Japan, Perino demanded an apology from Boxer. Boxer said the Bush administration should apologize to the American public for withholding important information -- John.

ROBERTS: And coming on the heels of Iran's new missile test. Today we're going to be hearing about America's tough policy with Tehran, whether or not that hard line is having an impact on Iran's nuclear program and just how much of a threat Iran really is to the United States.

Undersecretary of State William Burns, who's speaking to lawmakers in both the Senate and the House, will also address Iran's meddling in Iraq and across the Middle East. And while the Bush administration tries to put the squeeze on Tehran's economy, Iran is still getting plenty from America in exports.

CNN's Zain Verjee is live in Washington. She's got the details on that for us. Good morning, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The State Department just announced new restrictions against specific Iranian individuals and companies, basically accusing them of helping develop nuclear weapons. But some American businesses are still dealing with Iran.


VERJEE (voice-over): The Bush administration is trying to squeeze Iran's economy. At the same time, U.S. businesses are boosting trade with Iran. According to U.S. government data, over the past seven years exports to Iran exploded from $8.3 million in 2001 to $146 million in 2007.

ROB SOBHANI, PRES., CASPIAN ENERGY CONSULTING: The dollar figures are insignificant when you compare it to the hundreds of billions of dollars that the United States trades with the rest of the world.

VERJEE: The biggest export, cigarettes. About $158 million over the seven-year period. But also products like vegetable seeds, vitamins, even bras and cosmetics.

SOBHANI: Iranians still love America and American made products.

VERJEE: Those exports coming mainly from companies in Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida and California. A U.S. law passed in 2000 does allow the sale of agricultural goods and medicine to Iran which partly explains the boost in exports, but there remain strict limits on what U.S. companies can sell to Iran. Sanctions forbid the export of weapons, airplanes, and any investments in the oil and gas industry. And ban business with certain Iranian banks.

ADAM SZUBIN, TREASURY DEPARTMENT: Overall sanctions against Iran are very, very stringent with an eye towards putting pressure against the Iranian regime for their support for terrorism and proliferation.

VERJEE: But experts say Iran will continue to try and get around those sanctions.

SOBHANI: There is no doubt that the Revolutionary Guards of Iran are doing everything possible to acquire American technology that will be used against America because of our presence in the Persian Gulf region in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: There were reports that Iran had also received weapons from the U.S., but John, that ended up being a typo. Those weapons went to Iraq -- John.

ROBERTS: Isn't it nice when it's just a typo? Because we have seen weapons going into the hands of the wrong people.


ROBERTS: Zain, one of the big stories we're following today, Iran's testing of a number of medium and long range missiles. What's being said about it there in Washington today?

VERJEE: Well, the timing is pretty important. I mean, this comes as more tension with the U.S. and Israel. The missile test though appeared to be a warning from Iran and a response to a military exercise by Israel that was seen in Iran pretty much as a practice run for attack -- an attack on Iran. It also comes as there are more financial sanctions by the U.S. against Iranians.

And it's also happening as the U.S. signs a deal with the Czech Republic to build a radar station there as part of the missile defense shield that's intended to shoot down missiles from rogue countries like Iran. After those missile tests, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that these threats are real. She says, see, look, they just did that. They're not imaginary.

ROBERTS: And that you're not only upsetting Iran but Russia as well.

Zain Verjee for us this morning. Zain, thanks very much.

CHETRY: Police arrest a man for climbing the "New York Times" building early this morning here in New York. The 29-year-old got up to the 11th floor and pulled out a banner that said bin Laden's plan. And it showed a picture of Osama bin Laden holding President Bush on puppet strings. Police are now going to take that climber to the hospital for a mental evaluation. He's at least the third person in two months to climb the "Times" building.

Still ahead. Stopping shady lenders. Coming up at 10 past the hour. Well, it is 10 past the hour.

So coming up just a little bit later, the Fed steps in to help future homeowners from dubious mortgage dealers.

ROBERTS: And then at 17 after, questionable character. A Mexican comic book controversy involving a character named Memin, and according to some his resemblance to African-Americans. Moving message or is it being lost in translation?

CHETRY: And at 42 past the hour, is the U.S. military for Christians only? An atheist soldier is claiming that and suing the army. We've got his story. The "Most News in the Morning" still ahead.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning."

Let's get you updated on some breaking news this morning. At least six people killed at a shoot out outside of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey is calling it a terrorist attack.

Istanbul's governor says the gunman drove up to the building and began firing, killing three Turkish police officers. Police fired back. The gun battle lasted between three and five minutes. Three of the attackers were also killed.

CHETRY: More than two generations. The wild adventures of a young comic book character have been huge in Mexico. Sales of the comic in the millions. But recently the popular cartoon found its way into a Texas Wal-Mart leaving shoppers and some in the community outraged. Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, for more than 60 years Mexicans have followed the adventures of "Memin Pinguin," a cherished comic book character. But when Memin arrived on the bookshelves of a Houston, Texas Wal-Mart store, Memin found himself in a much more serious story line.



LAVANDERA (voice-over): Shawnedria McGinty stumbled across this Mexican comic book, "Memin for President" in a Houston Wal-Mart store.

MCGINTY: And I was like, OK. Is that a monkey or a boy? To me it was an insult.

LAVANDERA: She'd never heard of "Memin Pinguin." So she bought a Spanish-English dictionary and tried translating but still didn't like what she saw.

MCGINTY: I asked my boyfriend. I'm like, does that look like a monkey to you? Is that a monkey? You know, we're going back and forth. And he was like, no, that's a black woman.

LAVANDERA: McGinty and Houston community activist Quanell X want the comic books removed from stores.

QUANELL X, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: This is absolutely insensitive toward race and particularly to African-American culture and also people of color. This is poking fun at the physical features of an entire people.

LAVANDERA: But Mexican readers who grew up following the shenanigans of Memin say critics need to look beyond the cover and understand the stories.

JAVIER SALAS, SPANISH RADIO HOST: They will bring a smile to their face because we're so fond of that character. We respect him. We love him. And that's why it's so absurd for us to hear complaints about people who don't know, don't understand Memin.

LAVANDERA: Memin is a poor Cuban Mexican kid. Mischievous and caring, he helps his mother make money by selling newspapers and shining shoes. A comic book character tackling real life problems.

SALAS: We grew up reading, learning, educating ourselves with a lot of the topics that they always taught, which is honesty, justice, tolerance. He was a very unique character.

LAVANDERA: Memin is no stranger to controversy. Three years ago a series of Mexican stamps honoring Memin ignited an international uproar. The stamps were discontinued because of protests from African-American leaders.

QUANELL X: This is a disgrace. Look how they portray his mother, with these huge ethnic lips, darker skin, making her -- making her look like the big gorilla and the child looking like the little monkey.


LAVANDERA: Wal-Mart confirmed to CNN that it will no longer sell any of the "Memin Pinguin" comic books in any of its stores. But fans of Memin are saddened saying that the valuable lessons of this beloved cartoon character have been lost in translation. John and Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: Former Mexican president Vicente Fox says the character is not racist but a beloved character embraced by all Mexicans.

ROBERTS: Coming up, driving into a wildfire. A blazing inferno on all sides, but they kept right ongoing. Dramatic new video to show you. How close is too close?

Also ahead, remote control killers. A CNN exclusive. For the first time inside a secret American air base where unmanned missiles are launched to the other side of the world.

And wait until you see what our cameras captured inside the virtual cockpit. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." We have some national headlines for you now.

Take a seat 92,000 times. He's trying to set a record on his behind, planning on sitting in every single seat in Pasadena's Rose Bowl in 48 hour. Good luck.

Well, think you're a fast text messaging? The great American text off. She won last year and she's trying to hold on to her crown. So could you beat her thumb? $50,000 says n-o.

Driving through an inferno. A news crew barrels through fire. Stunning video as a sudden shift in the wind drives flames toward the vehicle. Now the California wildfires have forced firefighters to close down roads to incoming traffic north of Sacramento.

Rob Marciano following the weather out west for us right now. We'll look at exactly what they can expect and whether conditions are going to cooperate or make it tough for the firefighters today. Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Kiran. The heat is really the big story. It began building yesterday and we're going to have it for another couple of days.

High pressure sliding into the West Coast. Huge ridge. Jet stream nowhere to be found. We're up on British Colombia. That's where all the rain is. But on top of that we've got an offshore flow that brings the air down across the mountains. It compresses it. It heats it up. It dries it out.

We're talking about afternoon highs that easily get up and over 110 again tomorrow. That's what we saw this yesterday. Paso Robles, California, these are all records, 111; Palmdale 110, Sacramento 108, Modesto 107, even on Napa Valley, the Wine Country, are you kidding me, 103. We could see similar numbers today.

Here's Hurricane Bertha in the Atlantic, a minimal hurricane at the moment; 75 miles an hour winds that's moving northwesterly at 10. It gained a little strength. That's possible over the next day or two.

Forecast track brings it just east of Bermuda. We'll tell you from the Atlantic to the Pacific, check out these amazing pictures of the Kilauea Volcano on the big island erupting as it has done for the past couple of decades. A little bit more active the past few days. Kind of took a bit of a detour towards a subdivision.

That is a cool shot. Look at that. Look at this. Just pouring out of the earth, building that big island even bigger. John and Kiran, that's something I want to see. How about you?

CHETRY: Yes. Those are amazing pictures. Let's all go to Hawaii for a closer look.

MARCIANO: Road trip.

ROBERTS: New beach front property. There you go.

MARCIANO: Take this show on the road.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: I like it. See you guys.

ROBERTS: It's a popular class of drugs used to treat bacterial infections. This morning a major new warning from the Food and Drug Administration about it. We're paging Dr. Gupta today.

And a new effort to change the way the U.S. goes to war. A report recommends the president should get more input from Congress first. We'll speak to two former secretaries of state who want to throw out the 1973 War Powers Act. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. A new call to change the way the U.S. goes to war. A report says Congress should have more input before sending troops into a significant armed conflict. That recommendation follows failed efforts by Democrats in Congress to put a stop to the war in Iraq or to put conditions on President Bush's strategy. The authors of the study say that this is not directed at the Iraq war, but rather an action which was approved by Congress.

Joining me from Washington, the chairs of the committee that wrote that report, former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher. Thank to both of you for being with us this morning.



CHETRY: Secretary Baker, let me start with you about this. Under this statute, the president would be required to consult with Congress before deploying troops into any "significant armed conflict," one lasting more than a week. How is that different than what happens now?

BAKER: Well, it's considerably different because the statute that today governs this issue has long been discredited. It's ineffective and most commentators and experts think it's clearly unconstitutional. And it provides Congress with a mechanism to require the president to withdraw troops after 60 days if Congress hasn't affirmatively approved the action. And it's that particular provision that most people think is unconstitutional.

All our -- all our proposal does is to suggest that before action is taken there be consultation between the president and the Congress. We set up a congressional committee designed for that particular purpose. We do this in a way that we think is good both for the executive branch and the legislative branch and good for the American people.

The playing field is not tilted in one direction or the other. And both the legislative and executive branches retain their ability to assert their constitutional war powers. They don't waive that or diminish those by virtue of supporting this new law.

CHETRY: All right. Secretary Christopher, let me ask you this. So, if Congress disapproves of the war, could that stop military action?

CHRISTOPHER: Kiran, if Congress disapproved, then it would have to go to the president. And if the president vetoed it, the Congress would have an opportunity to pass it over his veto. If they did that, it would become the law of the land.

On the other hand, even if -- even if it survived the president's veto, Congress can take its own action through its internal rules, could end up cutting off -- kind of cutting off the funds for the troops if Congress had the will to do that. Fundamentally, what we're talking about here is to try to ensure that the president talks with the leaders of Congress before launching any kind of a war action in the present time. We think that's far preferable to the situation now where we have a flawed and ineffective fashion.

CHETRY: All right. For example, Secretary Baker, after taking control of Congress back in 2007, the Democrats tried to cap force levels in Iraq and also to set a timetable for withdrawals. Neither of those were successful. Would anything be different if this statute was passed as it relates to Iraq?

BAKER: Well, you know, this new proposal of ours was not designed with any particular conflict in mind. The fact of the matter is that President Bush went to Congress and got overwhelming approval from both the Senate and the House for the action that he took back then.

And all we're saying is that more consultation is better than less consultation. The American people polls continue to show that fact. And we're encouraging that by setting up a clear mechanism and getting rid of a statute that doesn't work and a statute that's very onerous, particularly as far as the executive branch is concerned.

CHETRY: All right. Secretary Christopher, let me ask you about this. Part of this report urges that whoever becomes the next president would pass this within the first 100 days of the administration. You, as I understand it, were able to brief both Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama's campaigns about this. How did they receive this?

CHRISTOPHER: We briefed their staffs and certainly we didn't expect any indication from them. They were glad to have the information. We didn't want to blind side them, but they received it very well. We hope they'll study it over the next few months.

Yesterday, for the first time, we gave them a copy of the full report. We hope this could be focused on at the beginning of the next administration. This is all perspective, Kiran. It doesn't try to look back at past conflict.

If this works right, I think it can greatly improve how we address the next conflict if it has to come.

BAKER: Both campaigns, Kiran, made positive comments overnight about the proposal as being an interesting proposal, one that deserves serious study and one that might solve an enduring problem. This problem has existed since the founding of our Republic because the constitution, as you know, gives the president the authority as commander in chief and gives Congress the power to declare war and the power of the purse.

CHETRY: All right. Well, very interesting. I want to thank both of you for joining us. Secretary of State James Baker and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, thanks for being with us.

BAKER: Thank you. CHRISTOPHER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: We are following the breaking news right now out of Turkey. A shooting near the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. At least six people killed including three police officers.

It happened just about three hours ago. Police say attackers opened fire on a police checkpoint outside the fortified building. Police returned fire killing three of the gunmen.

The U.S. ambassador to Turkey this morning called the incident a terrorist attack.

Joining us now on the phone from Istanbul is NPR reporter Ivan Watson.

Ivan, is there anything -- any more information on what the motive of these gunmen was? I mean how did this whole thing unfold?

IVAN WATSON, NPR REPORTER: We've been speaking with eyewitnesses and they've been describing how the attack took place.

Tragically, Turkish police who are the front line of defense at the foreign diplomatic posts around Turkey bore the brunt of this attack.

Two eyewitnesses described a gray Ford Focus pulling up outside the entrance to the U.S. consulate. There were four passengers inside. Three men got out. And the driver then slowly moved off with the car.

Now the three men who got out were armed and they proceeded to open fire on the Turkish police who stand just outside the entrance of the U.S. consulate. They attacked the police in their guard booth. And in the ensuing gun battle, the three attackers were killed, but also three Turkish police were killed.

A fourth police officer was wound. He's being treated for his wounds at a hospital here in Istanbul. And a civilian was evidently caught in the crossfire and also wounded.

The driver of the vehicle is still believed to be at large right now according to the governor of Istanbul.

ROBERTS: Ivan, as far as you know, from talking to eyewitnesses there, was there any attempt made by the gunmen to try to break through security, to get inside the consulate? Or did they just seem intent on shooting it out with the police outside?

WATSON: Well, I have to mention that this consulate is very well fortified. The offices are perched on a hill about 100 feet away from the outer wall, which is some 15 feet high. So to breach that wall would have been very difficult indeed. There are bullet -- there's the bulletproof glass. There are security officers inside the wall as well.

So these guys didn't get any further than that outer line of defense, which consists of the Turkish police who then fought back. As one eyewitness described it, some of the police stayed hidden in their guard booth until the attackers used up their ammunition, and then the police returned fire.

One eyewitness described how one of the police officers died -- he died on the scene of his wounds shortly after the battle took place.

ROBERTS: Which would seem to make the motivation for this attack quite puzzling. Have any groups there in Turkey claimed responsibility or involvement in any way?

WATSON: No. So far we haven't had any claims. And Turkey has a long history of various diverse collection of groups that carry out violent attacks against (INAUDIBLE) forces, against government targets, civilians, and foreign targets here.

It ranges across the political spectrum from leftists, anarchists, to Kurdish nationalists to al Qaeda-linked groups, who in 2003 carried out a deadly series of suicide bombings. One of the targets was the British consulate. They succeeded in killing the British consul general as well as destroying a number synagogues and a British bank, and killing and injuring scores of mostly Turks.

ROBERTS: And as we all know, things have been pretty quiet since those terrible attacks back in 2003. But, obviously an up tick in violence today there in Istanbul.

Ivan Watson from NPR, joining us on the phone - Ivan, thanks very much for that update.

President Bush is heading home after his last G8 Summit. He called the meeting, quote, "very productive." Leaders from the eight major industrialized nations endorsed the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions around the world in half by the year 2050.

This morning, Barack Obama is firing back at his critics. Appearing on the "Today" show, the presumptive nominee addressed those who say he is moving to the center on Iraq.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While I'm also going to be taking into account is the prime minister of Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki, saying that we should have a timetable for withdrawal. The American people believe we need a timetable. The Iraqi government believes that it's ready to stand up and take on these responsibilities.

We are seeing a declining security situation in Afghanistan that has to be shorn up. We've got enormous burdens on our military families. And we're spending $10 to $12 billion a month in Iraq that could be used to put people back to work here in the United States and to create an energy policy that frees ourselves from the dependence on foreign oil.

So my job as commander in chief is to listen to the commanders, but to shape a strategy based on all the factors that go into American security.


ROBERTS: And Senator Obama also commenting on Iran's reported missile test, saying it's proof that the U.S. needs to open up direct channels of communication with Tehran if we want them to change their behavior.

This morning we are giving you exclusive access to an elite group of pilots who are changing the face of aerial combat. They're attacking targets in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they're not in the cockpit of the aircraft. They're doing it all from the comfort of an air base in Nevada.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is live at the Creech Air Force base in Nevada for us this morning with this exclusive report.

Jaime, this is really, really fascinating stuff.


We're here -- it's very early in the morning at Creech Air Force Base and already crews are revving up the engines of these unmanned predator attack planes for training missions. But the real action is taking place half a world away.


MCINTYRE (voice over): At Creed Air Force Base 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas, a pilotless plane lands under a blistering desert sun. The remote base is home of the first unmanned attack squadron featuring the original Predator drone, armed with a pair of hellfire missiles, and its newer, bigger and far more lethal cousin, the Reaper, which carries four times as much fire power.

Colonel Chris Chambliss, a former F-16 fighter pilot is the wing commander.

COL. CHRIS CHAMBLISS, WING COMMANDER: This airplane can carry the same bomb load that I carried into fight. So it's pretty impressive capability.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Can it do the same thing an F-16 can do?

CHAMBLISS: Yes, everything except pull G's and go fast.

MCINTYRE: And put the pilot at risk.

CHAMBLISS: That's exactly right.

MCINTYRE (voice over): You see the planes are deployed overseas but the pilots are not. For over a year now Reapers have been flying two separate around-the-clock patrols in Afghanistan from a command center that has been strictly off limits to news cameras until now.

MCINTYRE (on camera): CNN is the first news organization to be granted access to this operation center. And as a condition, we had to agree to show none of the imagery which remains highly classified.

Still no sooner had we walked in than we witnessed an air strike by A- 10 attack planes assisted by a Reaper and brought to us live from Afghanistan.

(Voice over): Declassified video shows the deadly effectiveness of the Reaper, a plane that never sleeps with an eye that never blinks.

So far this year, Reaper pilots have launched 64 missiles and dropped seven 500-pound bombs in Afghanistan, all from an air-conditioned office 7,000 miles away from the front, but only a short commute from the Las Vegas suburbs.

(On camera): So you're driving to work with all the other commuters except you're going to war.


MCINTYRE: What's that like?

DEAN: It's -- it takes you a few months to get adjusted to it. Seeing bad guys on the screen and watching them possibly get dispatched and then going down the street to Taco Bell for lunch is kind of a surreal effect.


MCINTYRE: You know the pilots here think they are the future of aviation, of aerial combat. And the Air Force is betting with them. It is shifting the money it has in its budget for unmanned aerial vehicles to buy as many of these Reapers as it can, as many as 60 in the next year -- John?

ROBERTS: Jaime, it's just fascinating to be able to see what's going on there a half a world away.

Have there been any stories of frustrations there where they have a target in their sights but the armaments that were on the Reaper have been expanded and they can't take a shot?

MCINTYRE: Well, one of the reasons that they've gone to the Reaper is it has a much heavier bomb load. It's got twice as many missiles, two 500-pound bombs, essentially, as I said, the same as an F-16.

But, you know, in the early days when these unmanned aerial vehicles were first armed back right after September 11th, within just a few days after September 11th they had a Predator over Afghanistan with missiles and they had somebody they thought was the Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader in their sights. It never got the authorization to shoot.

ROBERTS: Wow. Jamie McIntyre for us from Creech Air Force Base. Just amazing stuff.

Jamie, thanks so much for that. CHETRY: A soldier who did two tours in Iraq suing the Department of Defense saying that while he was looking out for U.S. interests, the military was violating his rights.

Also, scammers stealing from Medicare using the identities of dead doctors?

You're watching the most news in the morning.


CHETRY: Breaking overnight, war games in Iran. Tehran test firing nine medium and long range missiles in the Persian Gulf. State TV reporting the missile tests were in response to fears of a U.S. or Israeli attack.

The White House is condemning those tests.

And Veronica De La Cruz is here now with some other stories new this morning.

Hi, Veronica, good to see you.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Hi, it's nice to see you. Nice to see you, John.

ROBERTS: Good morning.

DE LA CRUZ: And good to see you as well. Here's what's new this morning.

Scammers are using dead doctors to steal money from Medicare. A congressional report out this morning says Medicare paid as much as $92 million over seven years to people falsely using I.D. numbers assigned to dead doctors.

Here's how it works. Suppliers billed Medicare for things like wheelchairs and oxygen tanks and said it was ordered by a doctor who, in some cases, had been dead for 15 years.

The report also says the government has known about the problem since 2001 and has not fixed it.

France's president Nicolas Sarkozy will join President Bush at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing on August 8th. Sarkozy had been delaying his decision hoping to see progress in talks between the Chinese government and Dalai Llama.

Britain's prime minister and Germany's chancellor both have said that they skip the opening ceremonies.

Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt gets a standing ovation in the French Senate. Betancourt got a little choked up on all the attention. The president of the Senate praised her for her courage.

Last week Betancourt was rescued after being held by Colombian rebels for more than six years. And Ingrid Betancourt will be Larry King's guest tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Finally, listen up, ladies. You know who he is. Matthew McConaughey -- well, today he is a daddy. He and his girlfriend, Camila Alves, they had a baby boy on Monday. The couple have named their son Levi. He weighed in at 7 pounds, 4 ounces. And McConaughey said that now comes the greatest adventure -- raising him.

And that is what is new this morning. We'll come back to John and Kiran.

CHETRY: It is an adventure.

DE LA CRUZ: Right?

CHETRY: Congratulations to them. Congratulations.

DE LA CRUZ: Wonderful.

CHETRY: Plenty of time to watch us even on the West Coast because they won't be sleeping.

DE LA CRUZ: Right.

ROBERTS: A lot of women just went, wow, that's so great, he had a baby. And they also went...

DE LA CRUZ: I know. The elusive bachelor. Now he's a daddy. That's good.

CHETRY: Thanks, Veronica.

Well, a soldier who served two tours in Iraq is now suing the military.

Army Specialist Jeremy Halls said he was discriminated against because he's an atheist. The Pentagon would not discuss Hall's the case with us but our Randi Kaye did speak with Hall.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, Army Specialist Jeremy Hall was raised as Baptist, said Grace before dinner, read the bible before bed. When he was deployed to Iraq in 2004 he took his bible with him.


KAYE (on camera): When you carried that bible with you to Iraq, what did it mean to you at that time?

SPC. JEREMY HALL, U.S. ARMY: I felt a greater need to be in touch with God.

KAYE (voice over): That was then. Now 23, Specialist Hall has rejected all of that. He no longer believes in God, faith, luck or anything supernatural. That sudden lack of faith, he says, cost him his military career, put his life at risk, and eventually led him to file a federal lawsuit, suggesting the United States military has become a Christian organization.

HALL: I think it's utterly and totally wrong, unconstitutional.

KAYE: Hall alleges in the suit there's a pattern of military practices that discriminate against non-Christians in the military.

(On camera): Specialist Hall is suing the Department of Defense among others. He doesn't want money, just religious freedom in the military. He says after the lawsuit was filed his life was threatened by fellow troops. He says the army, fearing for his safety, assigned him a full-time bodyguard, and eventually sent him home early from Iraq.

(Voice over): On Thanksgiving two years ago, he refused to pray at his table. Hall says he was told to sit somewhere else. And when he was nearly killed in an attack on his Humvee, he was asked...

HALL: Do you believe in Jesus now? I said, no, but I believe in ballistic armor.

KAYE: Michael Weinstein, a retired senior Air Force officer and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is suing along with Specialist Hall.

MICHAEL WEINSTEIN, MILITARY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOUNDATION: Our Pentagon, our pentacostagon(ph) today is refusing to realize that when you put the uniform on, there's only one religious faith -- patriotism.

KAYE: Religious discrimination is a violation of the First Amendment. It's also against military policy.

Keeping them honest, we asked the Pentagon's man in charge of military personnel policy what's going on.

(On camera): Is the Pentagon pushing one faith among troops?

BILL CARR, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Absolutely not. If an atheist chose to follow their convictions, absolutely, that's acceptable.

KAYE (voice over): Weinstein doesn't buy it and points to this promotional video by a group called Christian Embassy.

WEINSTEIN: Christian Embassy is mustering these men and women into an intentional relationship with Jesus Christ.

KAYE: The video which shows U.S. generals in uniform was shot inside the Pentagon. They were subsequently reprimanded.


KAYE: Today Specialist Jeremy Hall is back at Ft. Riley working as a military policeman. He plans to leave the army next year -- John, Kiran?

CHETRY: Well, the army isn't the only branch of the military being accused of something like this. In 2005 the Air Force Academy dealt with similar complaints. It acknowledged some senior officers did not act appropriately. It then adopted new guidelines.

Currently the ACLU is threatening legal action on behalf of students at West Point and the Naval Academy who say that they have to pray at meal time.

ROBERTS: Forty-six minutes after the hour. There is still much more ahead on the most news in the morning.

At 54 minutes after this hour, Mitt Romney coming up live. What's his take on McCain's budget plan, the talk of him being vice president, and the war in Iraq?

And at 29 after our next hour, a CNN exclusive. Barbara Starr and a growing problem for the U.S. military. Are the attack vehicles being shipped to Iraq -- the MRAP -- actually putting our troops in harm's way?

And at 38 minutes after the hour, costly Cuba. Flying home to see family a whole lot more expensive now. We'll tell you why.

You're watching the most news in the morning.


ROBERTS: Eleven minutes now to the top of the hour.

The Food and Drug Administration is ordering the makers of some antibiotic drugs such as Cipro to put the strongest possible warning on the box, the so-called black box, saying people who take the drug are at higher risk of ruptured tendons.

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is live this morning from Atlanta.

Sanjay, this is something that was suspected before. Why the added concern about it?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. You're right. First of all, they've had some idea that there have been -- there's been a link between this particular class of antibiotics and tendon ruptures, which is surprising to a lot of people. Since '92 they've known this. They even put a more serious warning back in 2004.

Now they say because there are hundreds of cases that have been reported and because it seems to come on so quickly even after just one dose, people can start to have this pain in their tendons.

They said that this warranted the highest warning, a black box warning, sending out a message to both doctors and patients everywhere that, look, this is something that we're concerned about and people should be aware of it.

We're talking about one of the most popular drugs in this class of drugs known at Cipro, which is the -- people may remember that. That was the medication used to treat people who had been exposed to anthrax. This is a pretty powerful antibiotic.

Why exactly this occurs, why it would cause tendon problem, they don't know that. It might be something that's causing sort of toxicity to the tendon. It's unclear why but the company that makes the drugs says it will comply and they'll go ahead and put these black box warnings on the labeling.

ROBERTS: Sanjay, one of the tendons you're talking about that somehow gets targeted by these drugs is the Achilles tendon down there in your ankle. If you rupture that you got serious, serious problems.

What should people who are on these drugs do or people who are thinking about taking these drugs because they are widely prescribed for, let's say, traveler's diarrhea. If you've been somewhere south...

GUPTA: That's right.

ROBERTS: ... you pick up a little stomach bug.

GUPTA: Yes, exactly. And you're right, I mean, first of all, this is a pretty significant concern. You rupture that tendon that's a problem. It's one of the smaller tendons which maybe why it's more targeted, so to speak.

A couple of things -- one is that there are people who seem to be at the highest risk for having these problems -- people over the age of 60, people who have previously had transplants, and people who also take steroids.

So if you fall in one of those classes of people then you need to be worried about taking Cipro or the other drugs in that class. But also, if you have any pain in your tendons, specifically the Achilles tendon which runs between your calf and your ankle, and you're taking the medication, you may want to talk to your doctor about it and switch to another antibiotic.

I think that's probably the best advice.

ROBERTS: All right, good advice for us this morning, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, good to see you. Thanks.

GUPTA: Thanks, John.


ROBERTS (voice over): Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, "ISSUE #1" this election -- McCain and Obama duel over who can save your job and fix the economy. McCain's supporter Mitt Romney is live coming up.

Plus, life saving vehicles out of commission in Iraq. The exclusive details.

You're watching the most news in the morning. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, it's "ISSUE #1," your money. And presumptive presidential nominees, senators John McCain and Barack Obama, have launched a big drive this week to convince voters that they can stabilize the economy and improve things for people around the country.

Here to discuss these issues and others, former presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor, McCain support, Mitt Romney.

Governor Romney, thanks for being with us this morning. Great to have you.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Kiran. Good to be with you.

CHETRY: I want to ask you about this proposal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She called on President Bush to dip into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, saying it could help reduce gas prices.

If there's evidence that dipping into our reserve would provide immediately -- immediate relief, would that be something that John McCain would support?

ROMNEY: Well, I haven't spoken with Senator McCain in that particular issue but I do think that the American people recognize that the reason you have a Strategic Petroleum Reserve is in case of an emergency of some kind.

And what we have right now is the effect of a long-term imbalance between supply and demand. There's just not enough oil being pumped out of the earth for that demand worldwide. And as a result, if we're going to see long-term energy prices brought down, we're going to have more supply and we're going to -- have more supply here in this country.

And that's why John McCain is focused on saying, let's have additional drilling, let's build a nuclear plant so we can have less expensive electric energy that will power some of our plug-in cars, and let's also use coal and gas in more aggressive ways.

So he's got a plan to get us off of our independence on foreign oil.

Barack Obama, of course, does not favor nuclear power, wants to tax natural gas and coal, and of course, he's not in favor of additional drilling offshore. So Barack Obama has to look for some kind of a quick fix and I'm afraid this is a long-term solution that's needed.

CHETRY: All right. I want to ask you about long-term solutions.

We talked with T. Boone Pickens earlier this morning -- the Texas billionaire -- who talked about his plan to reduce our dependence and it involves spending billions of dollars on wind energy and being able to then harness natural gas to power our cars.

Is that something that seems like a workable solutions, something that a McCain administration would pursue?

ROMNEY: What you're going to find in the McCain administration is a -- an aggressive desire and willingness to support new technologies that help America become energy independent, and that means wind, it means solar, it means our renewable resources like ethanol.

He wants to remove the 55-cent a gallon import duty that we put on ethanol coming from places like Brazil. He wants to create every new source of energy we possibly can in this country. And he's not going to stand up and prevent the creation of new sources of energy like additional nuclear power plants to satisfy, if you will, the left wing of this party.

That's what Barack Obama has to do.

And so John McCain is going to get energy prices and energy dependence where America wants to see it, which is prices down and our dependence on foreign sources eliminated.

CHETRY: John McCain says he can balance the budget by 2013 and one of the ways he says he's going do it is by reigning in spending. You still have him, though, promising to extend the president's current tax cuts to add more tax cuts of his own, and he needs to find hundreds of billions of dollars.

How will he be able to do that by simply reigning in spending?

ROMNEY: Well, I think the key thing that the American people want to see right now is who's going to help them deal with some very tough economic circumstances at home, with gasoline prices through the roof, sometimes with them upside down in their home mortgages.

And John McCain has a plan to do exactly that. One is to get the prices of oil down, as I've just described. Number two is to get taxes down for middle income families. And that's by eliminating the alternative minimum tax. That saves the average middle class family $2,700 a year.

He's also going to double the personal exemption. And finally, he's got a plan to create more jobs in this economy which is also essential to making it easier and better for middle class families.

CHETRY: What would he be...

ROMNEY: Long term...

CHETRY: What would he cut, though? What would he...

ROMNEY: Yes. Long term -- how are you able to reign in federal spending? Pretty simple. You cut out the earmarks, the waste, the fraud, the abuse. And you also go after some of the excesses in our entitlement programs that are, frankly, just gone out of control.

This morning the papers are talking about $72 million having been built for Medicare through fraud... CHETRY: Right. But let me ask you this. I mean earmarks make up about 2 percent of the overall budget, so that's not going to be enough. And when it comes to entitlement programs like Medicare, you have some seniors getting older, and more people that are going to be needing to rely on Medicare.

So how does he make that happen by 2013?

ROMNEY: By reforming the system to make sure that we are providing for the needs of those who need or not spending excessively.

For instance, in the area of Social Security, the president proposed certain personal accounts -- that would have helped -- but also looking at ways to inflate the Social Security benefits for high- income individuals at the CPI, whether the wage index. That also has an enormous impact on savings for -- for Social Security.

Medicaid is a place where enormous savings are -- are potentially there. So the idea that somehow we're going to have to keep taking more and more and more out of people's pockets to pay for federal programs is something John McCain rejects.

CHETRY: I'm just wondering, because there's been a lot made of this problem. Are -- is your campaign digging a hole by saying that, by 2013, the budget can be balanced?

The "Politico" has a story today that says many of the economists who signed on and said they support McCain's plan still don't think that he can actually balance the budget by 2013.

ROMNEY: Well, I must admit that I think most Americans are focused on who can help them over the next several years as we're going through tough times, and particularly, who can help get energy prices down.

John McCain has a plan to do that. Barack Obama does not.

Who can get the tax burden down for middle-income families? John McCain has a plan to do that.

So that's what the people are focusing on. Senator McCain believes that by the end of his first term, we'll have wound down our major contribution to the efforts in Iraq. That will save a lot of money.

We'll also have reformed many of our entitlement programs, cut out waste, fraud and abuse. And if we also see a strong growing economy, those things can combine to balance the budget.

But I must admit...

CHETRY: All right. Let me ask you this...

ROMNEY: ... I think most of you want to see some help balancing their own budgets right away.

CHETRY: Will you be helping John McCain with that in terms of being the vice-presidential nominee? ROMNEY: No speculation on that front for me. I think Senator McCain has a lot of good choices on that front.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if we also see a strong growing economy, those things can combine to balance the budget. But I must admit --

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let me ask you this.

ROMNEY: I think most people want to see some help balancing their own budgets right away.

CHETRY: Will you be helping John McCain with that in terms of being the vice presidential nominee?

ROMNEY: No speculation on that front for me. I think Senator McCain has a lot of good choices on that front. I'm sure any Republican would be honored to be part of his team but that's a decision he's going to make. And I've got no forecast I can make on that.

CHETRY: All right. Well, it was great talking to you this morning. Governor Romney, thanks for being with us.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Kiran.