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American Morning

Interview with Mikhail Saakashvili; Police Mistakenly Raid Mayor's House in Maryland; Bin Laden's Driver Sentenced; Russian Troops Entering a Breakaway Region in Georgia; Death Toll Rising After a Bus Plunged Off a Highway in Sherman, Texas; Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics Now Underway; A Busy Week in Pop Culture

Aired August 08, 2008 - 08:00   ET


CHEYE CALVO, MAYOR OF BERWYN HEIGHTS, MD: He refused to apologize for any specific action of the police. But -- and they only express regret. And that's what disturbs me. They're not prepared to stop, step forward and say where they made mistake. And the mistakes are plentiful.
They did not even look up who lived in our house. They did not look at -- they did not know my name when they came in the door. They refused to contact local police.

They refused to even pursue other leads like the delivery driver. They actually told us on sight that the delivery man had been approached by drug dealers to try to involve us in the scheme. And we asked, have you investigated the delivery man? And at that time, they weren't willing to give us an answer.

So, they broke down our door prematurely, and then immediately when the facts start coming out, instead of owning up to it, they began to say simply false statements and that's really troublesome.

And finally, there was Wednesday, where one over the line where they blamed my dogs for getting shot despite the fact they were far away from the door and killed immediately upon entering. And then blamed my mother-in-law because she saw a S.W.A.T. team on her front yard while she was making dinner, she screamed. And they said her scream was the thing that compromised the investigation and, therefore, they had to knock down the door and start shooting.

That's just the problem. I mean, the reality is, we are blessed in many ways. My family and I have an amazing community and a lot of support. But the reality is, this happens all the time in this country and just unfortunately in Prince George's County. And mostly the people to whom it happens don't have the community support and the platform to speak out.

So I appreciate you paying attention to our condition, but I hope you also give the attention to those people who may not have the same platform and voice that we have.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: No, it's a very valid point and, you know, there's been a lot of people who really were drawn to this case and wanted to find out more, in mainly because of the horrific nature in which you lost your pets. I mean, the two dogs getting shot really touched a cord with many people.

And you're right, it does happen more often unfortunately than it should. But thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Cheye Calvo, the Mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland. Thanks.

CALVO: Thank you, Kiran.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. Russian troops entering a breakaway region in Georgia. Moscow TV shows a convoy of Russian tanks entering South Ossetia, which borders Russia. Military planes dropped two bombs already as troops battle for control of that region.

And we're just minutes away now from the start of the opening ceremonies. President Bush is there right now in the official start of the Games in Beijing. Well, brings a new threat. A Chinese Islamic group is warning Muslims to avoid planes, trains and buses during the Games.

And more breaking news. The death toll rising after a bus plunged off a highway in Sherman, Texas. It's about 60 miles north of Dallas. Police now say now 13 people are dead, at least 18 people were airlifted to area hospitals. Investigators think a blown tire may have caused that crash.

For more on that, let's get to Kitty Richardson. She joins us live via phone as the spokesperson for Wilson N. Jones Medical Center.

Kitty, how many do you have in-house there? How many are you treating? And what are their conditions?

ON THE PHONE: KITTY RICHARDSON, WILSON N. JONES MEDICAL CENTER SPOKESPERSON: We accepted 16 patients here at Wilson N. Jones from the accident. One of those 16 was transferred to Harris Methodist Hospital in Forth Worth. Of the 15 that we have here, five are in critical condition, one of those has come out of surgery now and is in our ICU. And the other four are critical patients who are also in our ICU units now.

MARCIANO: How much -- give us the play by play here. It seems like a large amount of people coming into your emergency room. How much time did you have to prepare for these patients coming to your hospital?

RICHARDSON: Well, we pretty much as soon as it goes down on the scanner and we're alerted, we get all our staff in. So they're here within a pretty short period of time. But we were fully staffed in the ER. We called in additional staff. We called in a lot of our surgeons and all the ancillary staff also.

MARCIANO: Can you describe for us what it's like when that many patients arrive? Can you give us kind of set the scene of how things went down?

RICHARDSON: Well, when I arrived here at the hospital, about 2:30 this morning, and went back to the ER, yes, it was very busy. All the rooms were full. But the staff is very well-trained in taking care of emergencies like this. And even though we had quite a few individuals, everything was flowing correctly and moving along just like it should.

MARCIANO: 13 people, unfortunately, have lost their lives. Any of those fatalities occurring in your hospital?

RICHARDSON: No, sir. We have not had any fatalities here.

MARCIANO: Considering the large number of patients that you're treating and your experience with that hospital, is this a bad accident? Seems pretty bad.

RICHARDSON: Yes, this is a bad accident. Yes.

MARCIANO: And when do you expect some of the patients who have lesser injuries to start being released?

RICHARDSON: Later this morning or early afternoon, we'll probably know which ones that we can release.

MARCIANO: And the -- you said five are in critical, one just came out of surgery, can you describe for us some of the most common injuries you're having to deal with?

RICHARDSON: Yes. On the critical patients, I'm not certain the extent of their illnesses and like I said, we have moved all of them from the ER setting up to our intensive care unit. The rest of the individuals, there's a variety of injuries, but mainly lacerations and so forth.

MARCIANO: You've been listening to Kitty Richardson. She's a spokesperson for Wilson N. Jones Medical Center just north of Dallas, Texas, to determine where a deadly bus crash has happened. They have 15 patients that they're treating at that hospital.

Kitty, thank you very much for your information this morning.

CHETRY: We're following breaking news right now that we want to bring you. This is coming to us from the Associated Press reporting that Georgian forces have shot down two Russian aircrafts in a battle over control of a breakaway province. Our Matthew Chance is covering this from Moscow.

Matthew, a lot of this information is just coming out right now, but what are you learning?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, details very sketchy at the moment, Kiran, about what exactly is taking place between Russia and Georgia's forces -- the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, over the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia.

We know that over the past 24 hours, there's been fierce fighting with Georgian forces, launching artillery strikes and air strikes to dislodge the red (ph) separatist rebels that want independence from Georgia there. What we're seeing now is some kind of Russian response. Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, condemning Georgia's actions in South Ossetia, saying there will be a response.

Within the past few minutes, we've had these quite startling reports, the one you just mentioned coming to us from the Associated Press that Georgian forces have shot down two Russian aircraft over the territory of Georgia in close proximity to South Ossetia.

We just have that on the Associated Press at the moment. We're working hard to try and get it confirmed from Georgian and from Russian sources.

But what we also have are pictures that have been broadcast on Russian state television of Russian tanks and Russian armored vehicles moving, according to the commentary on the television, across the Russian frontier, outside of Russia, crossing into Georgia itself, perhaps to bolster the thousands of Russian peacekeepers that are already on the ground inside South Ossetia.

But certainly it's a being big development and it's a dramatic move on the part of the Russians that comes in response, as I say, to this military action that's been undertaken by Georgia over the past 24 hours to try and bring this separatist region of its country, which is backed by Moscow, back under its own control.


CHETRY: It seems that if there was to be any type of major military action, it would really have a devastating impact on the region. What is the potential fallout from what you're hearing today?

CHANCE: Well, it's clearly very serious indeed if a country like Russia with its enormous military puts that military to work at war, certainly against the country like Georgia, which is a very tiny republic -- a former Soviet republic, a very close ally of the United States. It wants very much to join the NATO military alliance.

I think the consequences of this continuing instability in places like South Ossetia and other breakaway regions of Georgia, as well, that is supported by Russia, is that it really puts a question mark over Georgia's ambitions to join NATO. That's what it wants more than anything else.

But, you know, the military alliance is going to be looking again and again at what chances Georgia has of joining NATO, when it's so unstable on its borders with Russia. And so, that's one aspect of it.

Also the human consequences of this going to war against Russia in this mountainous area of South Ossetia could have devastating consequences. Already, it was reported to have had 15 civilians killed, a number of other casualties as well in the fighting over the past 24 hours. Obviously, the potential is, that could get much, much worse.

CHETRY: All right. We'll continue to follow this with you. Matthew Chance reporting from Moscow for us this morning on this breaking news. Thanks.

MARCIANO: Well, John McCain says Barack Obama's idea of change is raising your taxes. Hear what McCain says he'll do to keep Washington spending in check. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


MARCIANO: We're back. It's 10 minutes after the hour. Ali Velshi sitting next to us. What do you got there?


CHETRY: You know, I love Rob speaking in -- Ali Velshi is sitting next to us.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, I'm getting tired of the obvious as well. I mean, the fact as I went away, we've been talking about -- just got back from vacation this week. I go away, while I was here, oil was surging, gas prices were surging. I go away, everything starts to go the other direction and the dollar has been dropping.

And we had this discussion before I went away. I specifically choose a vacation in Croatia this year because they don't operate on the Euro. And I thought I'm really dodging this bullet.

Well, guess what, the dollar is at a five month high against the Euro. I mean, it's like I went away and look what happened. It did a 17th month high against the British pound. So, you need a $1.93 to buy a British pound. It was way over $2. You need $1.52 to buy Euro. It was over $1.61. And back to my home country of Canada, you only need $0.95 now to buy a Canadian dollar.

For a little while, the Canadian dollar was higher than the U.S. dollar. So, like, I just don't get it. It's like a conspiracy.


MARCIANO: Well, you know, we need this discussion. You know, why does everything have to be about you? I mean, I think you're right. You really think that the economy --


VELSHI: I don't actually think -- yes, I don't actually. No, I'm just annoyed as an individual that I totally rigged this thing the wrong way. I hedged entirely incorrectly. No, there's no correction.

CHETRY: You didn't know that? The Fed wanted to find out where Ali was going on vacation before they make an implication on interest rate?

MARCIANO: Where in the world is Ali Velshi (INAUDIBLE).

CHETRY: Exactly. VELSHI: Yes. I only wish. I'd actually just like to give a little disconnecting from this whole thing so that I would -- some people just get it right, they're just lucky on how they plan their vacations and where they spend their money. I'm not lucky, I'm smart.

MARCIANO: It's the curse of being a business reporter.

VELSHI: That's what it is.

MARCIANO: Just like bad weather wherever I go.

CHETRY: You're like Rob, yes. You're like Rob, just go to New York, then go back to Atlanta.

MARCIANO: That's what it is.

VELSHI: He's the same, right?

MARCIANO: Exactly. The same dollar.

CHETRY: Something like that. Thanks, Ali.

Well, it's a busy week in pop culture. First, of course, Paris Hilton out with her first political ad. Then, "People Magazine" paying through the nose for the first pictures of Brad and Angelina's new twins. Well, comedian Chuck Nice joins us. He's got a look at celebs living the good life.


MARCIANO: Welcome back. As part of our commitment to help you make a more informed decision in the presidential election, we're playing longer versions of the candidates in their own words so that you can hear the issues about what they're talking about on the campaign trail.

Here's John McCain talking to voters in Ohio about wasteful Washington spending.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I spoke up against the administration and Congress and Senator Obama when they gave us an energy bill with more than giveaways to big oil and really no solution to our energy problems.

I want to take a minute here on this issue because I think Senator Obama might be a little bit confused. Yesterday, he accused me of having President Bush's policies on energy. That's odd because he voted for the president's energy bill and I voted against it. I voted against. It had $2.8 billion in corporate welfare to big oil companies, and they're already making record profits, as you know.

Senator Obama voted for that bill and its big oil giveaways. I know he hasn't been in the Senate that long, but even in the real world, voting for something, voting for something means you support it, and voting against something means you oppose it.

Unfortunately, on issues big and small, what Senator Obama says and what he does are two different things. Senator Obama says he's going to change Washington. But his plan is to raise your taxes and spend more of your money. It's not my idea of a solution of what troubles Washington. In fact, it sounds a lot like the problem.

In the few years he's been in the Senate, he has requested nearly $1 billion in earmarked pork barrel spending, that's $1 million, almost, for every day that he's been in office. We need to end this out of control spending in Washington, and I'm president, we will stop it. And I'm proud to stand before you to tell you that I have never asked for nor received a single earmarked pork barrel project for my state. I'm proud of it. I will veto. I will veto.


I will veto every pork barrel bill that comes across my desk. I will make them famous and you will know their names, my friends. You will know their names. We will stop this corruption.


We'll stop this corruption in Washington. And it is corruption. Former members of Congress now are residing in federal prison because of this system. You know, I often steal a lot of lines from Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan used to say, Congress spends money like a drunken sailor only I never knew a sailor drunk or sober, with the imagination of Congress. That's pretty good line I get to like.

I use it so often, I'm not making this up. I received an e-mail from a guy that said as a former drunken sailor, I resent being compared to members of Congress. You know, you can't blame him, you can't blame him.



MARCIANO: And in 20 minutes, we'll hear from Barack Obama on his plans for the Democratic convention and the economy as well.

CHETRY: And we're continuing to follow breaking news of that deadly bus crash north of Dallas. Police now saying 13 people killed, at least 4 others in emergency rooms and in surgery fighting for their lives. We're getting breaking details. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


MARCIANO: Updating our breaking news. Thirteen people now dead after a bus plunged off a highway bridge in Sherman, Texas. That's about 60 miles north of Dallas. At one nearby hospital, at least four people are in critical condition. The bus was carrying 55 people. And investigators think a blown tire may have caused the crash. CHETRY: Also breaking right now, it's the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics now underway. President Bush among the 100,000 in attendance. And CNN is at the Olympic Games this morning, as well.

Our John Vause joins us now from Beijing.

Good morning, John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN BEIJING CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Kyra. Actually, we're at one of the (INAUDIBLE) which are set up here in Beijing. It's more than 20 that's here in Beijing. And the whole bunch up and down the country, because the Birds Nest stadium actually seats 91,000 people. There's 1.3 billion people in China, which means 1.2 billion 900 -- a lot of people can't go.

So, what they have here is this fence designed for the opening ceremony on a big screen. And what they're seeing right now is basically 10,000 performers involved in a 3-1/2 hour long spectacle, which is a celebration of 5,000 years of Chinese history.

As we mentioned, President Bush is here. He did meet with U.S. athletes a little earlier this evening. He's among more than 80 heads of state and royalty who is actually taking part of just sitting back and enjoying this opening ceremony.

But even the opening ceremony has not been without controversy. You may remember back in February, Hollywood Director Steven Spielberg resigned in protest over China's role in Darfur in protecting Sudan and the United Nations, that kind of thing.

And speaking of Sudan, probably the best highlight of the opening ceremony will be when team USA comes out and the flag bearer will be Lopez Lomong. He is a former lost boy of Sudan. Has spent ten years in a refugee camp.

Yesterday, the U.S. team captain had to vote. It was unanimous. He would be the flag bearer. A year after he received his U.S. citizenship, his first international competition, he will carry the U.S. flag out into this stadium.

One other little point about this opening ceremony, which is going to be a lot different to all the others, they're not using an alphabetical order system here. It's not A, B, C, D, E. They're using Chinese characters. So that's going to throw things right out. Australia, for example, starts with A, is actually coming out third last. So, a few little different things here. Of course, the big mystery, who will light the caldron? Not President Hu, but who will light the caldron and how will it be done, we'll know in a couple of hours.


CHETRY: John Vause for us. Amazing that you're able to bring us those pictures this morning. Thanks.

MARCIANO: Political parodies and high-priced pictures. This week's celebrities, they're making news on their own right here on CNN.

And Chuck Nice from VH-1's "Best Week Ever" joins us next with a look at the celebs living the good life.

CHETRY: Boom to bust.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No job is safe now.


CHETRY: 9,000 people fighting for work. Inside one of the country's biggest job fairs.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name's Carla (INAUDIBLE), how are you doing?


CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: It was certainly a wild week in pop culture.

MARCIANO: Yes, Paris slammed McCain for putting her in his attack ad. And "People" magazine paid a record price for pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's twins. Also, Morgan Freeman got in a car accident. That was a rough ride for him, but there's more to that story as well.

CHETRY: The guy was able to walk out of the hospital, thank goodness.

Well, comedian Chuck Nice from VH-1's "Best Week Ever" joins us now with our own little AMERICAN MORNING best week ever. I love it.

Thanks for being with us.

CHUCK NICE, PANELIST, VH-1'S BEST WEEK EVER: It's a pleasure guys, how are you?

MARCIANO: Well, let's start -- I don't know, you want to start with Paris?

NICE: Sure, why not? Who hasn't started with Paris, honestly? Isn't that how it works?

MARCIANO: I mean, did you think, you know, when this whole deal started, when the primary started that, you know, Paris Hilton would be throwing her hat into the ring?

NICE: You know, I've got to tell you that Paris Hilton as far as I'm concerned is probably the best candidate there is, you know. She's honest, she's open. The Obama campaign has been trying to find a way to call McCain old since the beginning of the race. And she just comes out and called him the wrinkly white-haired dude.

CHETRY: How about it?

NICE: Yes.

CHETRY: And she wants to look good in a cut out leopard bikini. In fact, let's look a little bit of her campaign ad.

NICE: I don't know. You should see John McCain in a Speedo. You have not lived until you have seen the wrinkly white-haired dude in a Speedo.

CHETRY: All right. Let's see Paris Hilton for a sec real quick. All right, let's just not.

NICE: Why not? Here, just look at me and picture me as a white girl in a cut out bikini and some heels laying on a shays lounge. How's that for a visual, America? Do you like that?

MARCIANO: I think you could pass for it. You have absolute striking resemblance.

CHETRY: There it is.

NICE: There it is, right there.

CHETRY: The craziest thing about it is that how is it that Paris Hilton always is able to resurrect herself and inject herself into anything that's actually happening?

NICE: I'll tell you what it is. Paris Hilton is pop culture herpes. No matter what happens, she's going to come back. Hey, the crew is laughing. The crew is laughing. I know I said herpes on a morning news show and people were like, what is he doing? But they're laughing, OK.

MARCIANO: Oh, I think I see some of them actually wincing. OK, let's talk about Brad and Angelina.

CHETRY: How beautiful.

MARCIANO: How cute, huh?

NICE: They are gorgeous but their children are gorgeous. They have reportedly -- they're paid $14 million for the pictures of the twins. And, you know, that's almost $7 million per kid, because one's a little cuter. So, it's not quite $7 million per kid. It was like, you know, $6 and $8 million.

CHETRY: This is what I have to ask. What's the incentive to make movies now? All you have to do if you're a huge celebrity is have kids.

(CROSSTALK) CHETRY: And the magazine is paying.

MARCIANO: No, it's not going to charity -- that money, come on.

NICE: Oh, yes. Well, that's what they say.

MARCIANO: Right. Right.

NICE: The charity is the Brad and Angelina Jolie foundation for the kids that we have pictures of. But, no, I'm joking. I don't know where the money goes.

All I know is this. I feel sorry for the kids that came before, because it's $14 million for these two twins. The other kids' stock has dropped precipitously, you know. It's like Shiloh -- her -- she's down to like what $2 million, you know? Maddox and Sahara, they're like, what, maybe $100,000 apiece. And Maddox, I'm pretty sure they sold him to Madonna.

MARCIANO: Let's shift gears to Morgan Freeman getting into a car accident.

NICE: Yes.

MARCIANO: He's out of the hospital now, but he was with a companion, and now we're hearing that he's getting a divorce with his wife.

NICE: He's getting divorce. Yes, you know, it's a shame that, you know, Morgan's personal life is being aired like this. I mean, I shame for him, not for me. I love it.

But here's the deal, Morgan was in a car accident and what was funny to me is that apparently his paramour is into gardening. So, there were gardening tools all over the road at the scene of the accident. And his wife found that out and she was like -- I knew that hoe was in that car.

MARCIANO: My goodness.

NICE: OK, I had to find a way to say it. It was a little hackie. But you can't just come on a morning television show and say the word hoe without some kind of reference point.

CHETRY: Right. If the word back is not in front of it.

NICE: There you go exactly. But it's cool to find out that now we know what he is doing when he is "Driving Miss Daisy."

ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: That's true. And it has certainly been a fertile week for you for this kind of fodder.

CHETRY: Fertile week, get it? I love it. Always great to have you, come back any time. He says he doesn't sleep. He has nothing else to do.

NICE: I do not sleep. I have children, I do not sleep. CHETRY: I hear you.

NICE: That's right.

CHETRY: Thanks a lot.

MARCIANO: All right. Chuck, good to see you.

CHETRY: Well, we want to update you now on all the top stories we've been following this morning, including that bus crash that happened in Texas. They are now saying authorities there that 13 people were killed and another four are fighting their life, after this crash that happened north of Dallas. Police say the charter bus with 55 people on board, plunged off of an interstate overpass, landing on to the road below. Police say that the bus may have blown a tire. Earlier we spoke with Chief Jeff Jones of the Sherman Texas Fire Department who said that now there is a new concern.


VOICE OF CHIEF JEFF JONES, SHERMAN, TEXAS FIRE DEPARTMENT: As we're trying to clear the scene now, obviously, there's concern about contamination into that creek area. And so we'll be out here for sometime.


CHETRY: The FBI is investigating how police conducted a raid at the home of a Maryland mayor. Police stormed into Cheye Calvo's home when he picked up a package on his front porch. Cops tied up the family, shot his two dogs dead. The package contained 32 pounds of marijuana. The police chief now says the mayor and his wife were unsuspecting victims of a drug ring, smuggling marijuana by delivering it to innocent people.

We spoke with the mayor earlier on AMERICAN MORNING who said that the police lied about their conduct.


CHEYE CALVO, MAYOR OF BERWYN HEIGHTS, MARYLAND: They broke down our door prematurely, and then immediately when the facts started coming out, instead of owning up to it, they began to say, simply, false statements. And that's really troublesome. And finally it was Wednesday, it went over the line where they blamed my dogs for getting shot despite the fact they were far away from the door and killed immediately upon entering.


CHETRY: And we also have some breaking news overseas today.

A dangerous escalation in violence in a break away region of Georgia. The "Associated Press" is reporting that Georgia has shot down two Russian aircrafts in a battle over the south Ossetia region. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said this morning says "a real war is going on." Right now, Russian television is showing a convoy of tanks entering Georgia. Matthew Chance joins us live now from Moscow to describe more of the scene and to explain exactly what's going on. Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Kiran. Well, we're still trying to get confirmation on that "Associated Press" report that two Russian aircrafts have been shot down over Georgia. What we do have confirmation of is what the Russian television has been showing over the course of the past hour or so that images of Russian tanks and armored vehicles moving across the Russian frontier into Georgian territory, to what the Russian defense minister says "to bolster the already large numbers of Russian peacekeepers on the ground in that break away Georgian territory."

So significant influx of Russian soldiers into Georgia. The Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has been on CNN over the course of the past few minutes calling for action from the international community. He also said that he'd personally witnessed Russian war planes bombing territory inside Georgia unrelated to long distance away from where this actual conflict zone was, something that he condemned.

It comes after 24 hours of fierce fighting, Kiran, inside Ossetia with Georgian forces trying to - root out the separatists rebels that are very pro-Moscow and are supported by Moscow in that territory and to try and regain control of that area of Georgia, Kiran.

CHETRY: So is Georgia at war now with Russia?

CHANCE: Well, not officially, of course. No official declaration of war has been declared by either the Georgians or by the Russians. But certainly they're at a point of very close contact. They're in conflict according to reports, as well. And that's a very dangerous, a very worrying situation. This situation has been escalating inside Ossetia over the course of the past several years. Ever since the new Georgian president came in, it was a very close U.S. ally, he's been saying he wants to bring these break away territories like Ossetia back into Georgian control.

He also says he wants Georgia to join the NATO military alliance. That's something that's really riled the Russians. And ever since he's made those statements and ever since he's been making efforts to join NATO, there's been a lot of tensions in these break away territories. And these is really those tensions coming to ahead what is essentially conflict, direct conflict at this stage between Russia and Georgia. Although at this stage, it's not a declared war.

CHETRY: What is the situation with the break away territories? The people living there. You know, where do they want their affiliation to lie?

CHANCE: Well, overwhelmingly now in areas like Ossetia, the ethnic Ossetians that dominate the population want independence from Georgia. They feel much closer affinity to the Russians across the border to the north. Many of them perhaps 90 percent of them have taken Russian citizenship and they regularly use the Russian currency for their economic transactions instead of the Georgian currency. So they very much operate as sort of an extension of Russia within Georgia. And that's the way they want it to stay.

Now, the Georgians are very much opposed to that. They say that this is part of Georgia and they want to re-establish central government control over it. And that's the real point of conflict on the ground.

CHETRY: All right. Thank you for giving us perspective and breaking it down for us especially some of our U.S. viewers who are not familiar with this conflict. Matthew Chance for us in Moscow today. Thank you.

And we have - a very important view to bring you now. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is joining us now for an exclusive interview. Thanks for being with us this morning.

We're hearing these news reports and we're seeing some of the pictures of these Russian tanks. Can you describe to us what is happening now?

PRES. MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI, GEORGIA: Well, I mean, Georgia is under attack. And we have Russian tanks moving in. We have continuous Russian bombardments. Since yesterday, you know, specifically targeting civilian population. It happened at, you know, we had lots of bombs today. But it happened one occasion I saw firsthand with my own eyes, happened to be in that town, two Russian jets coming very low, low altitude at low speeds, specifically looking at the marketplace in the very busy afternoon time.

And hitting it, hitting the crowd of the people. And lots of wounded people there. And, you know, this is Russia is fighting war with us in our own territory. And we are in the situation of self-defense against big and mighty neighbor. We are a country of less than five million people, and certainly our forces are not comparable.

CHETRY: Can you confirm that Georgian troops have shot down two Russian aircrafts?

SAAKASHVILI: Georgia's self-defense troops have informed us that they've fired back and shot down two Russian aircrafts. But this is very small part of the inflights. And basically didn't change much of the picture. Yes. But I have - I can confirm that that's what they are saying, that's what they've been confirming. And that, you know, one of these aircrafts was specifically attacking the civilian hospital, wounding doctors and patients there. With no real purpose.

CHETRY: What do you think the United States government should do if anything right now?

SAAKASHVILI: Look, I mean, this is complicated. It's not about a tiny separatist area inside Georgia. The overall population there is less than 25,000 people. It has never been more than 30,000. And it's ethnically diverse, and it's right in the middle of Georgia. But Russia has been preparing for this for years and months now. You know, there've been amassing troops at the border for over four months and they made it no secret.

With our closeness with the United States, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the west in general, we are happy that Georgian democracy, and the way Georgia is run. Georgia is indeed one of small, but very prosperous democratic neighbors of Russia. Not a good example for present people apparently in the Kremlin. And the point here is they always told us, we'll hit you because you're close to the United States.

Yesterday, the whole thing started. You know, they'll be shelling our position for weeks and weeks, especially the last hours, we didn't respond, we declared a unilateral ceasefire. And we only responded when Russian tanks started to move into our country. I mean at 24 a.m., the very moment I got the news Russian tanks are in, I told, OK, let's open the artillery fire. This was not about a separatist area. This was a very blunt Russian aggression. So, what the Americans can do about it? Well, it's not about Georgia anymore. It's about the principles and values America has. You know, it's like attack into 1939 . It's like Afghanistan, in 1979. It's like Czechoslovakia in 1968 when Soviet and Russians tanks moved in.

We are right now suffering because we want to be free and we want to be a democracy multi-ethnic democracy that belongs to all ethnic groups and that's exactly what's happening there. So, basically, I have to - I mean, it's not about Georgia anymore, it's about America, its values. You know, I went to two U.S. universities. I always taught that these values were also those of my own. We have held them not because we love America although I do love America, but because we love freedom. And the point here is that I also taught that America also stands up for those free-loving nations and supports them.

And that's what America is all about. That's why we look with hope as every American. You know, how well the moment was chosen, look at it. You know, there are Olympic games, nobody cares about politics. There is a U.S. election, of course, internal politics consumes everything.

CHETRY: Right.

SAAKASHVILI: There is most of the decision makers are gone for holidays, brilliant moment to attack a small country. Who would care, please?

CHETRY: Well, Mr. President. Let me ask you about this.

SAAKASHVILI: Who will care because it will make lots of difference.

CHETRY: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is saying that he pledging to protect the south Ossetian. Many of them have Russian citizenship and many of them want to be part of Russia, not Georgia. How do you square that with what you're saying about these attacks that have been happening on democracy there?

SAAKASHVILI: Look, this is - this is just not fair. We are talking about small number of population. I can tell you that, you know, mainly they are separatists, switch sides and is now working together with the Georgian government to develop his own ethnic group. This is not about this group, we have a multi-ethnic society where everybody has rights, but this place, this small enclave has been directly administered by Russia. It has been basically the Russian Security Services paradise for smuggling for all kind of criminal activities, for the kind of elicit, you know, mining, et cetera. You know, it was like a small offshore zone for all this time.

Now, we didn't do much about it because we cannot, you know, compete with Russia. And, of course, it would be suicidal of us to provoke Russia unless Russia - what happened to us, it wasn't about provocation, Russia waited, waited for some time and then just said, OK, something is happening. You know, there is artillery fire, there is attack, and then tanks move in. This situation was so artificial, it was like Poland attacking Germany in 1939. It was exact. I mean for me, that's the parallel. I mean, it's like Finland attacking the Soviet Union in 1939, when Stalin wanted part of Finland and therefore that he had time to subjugate that nation.

We are a freedom-loving nation that is right now under attack. And we've always been warned if you got close to America, if you continue down this path, you will have problems. Well, we went to economic embargo, we still prospered. WE went for all kind of provocation, we didn't pay much attention to this. But what's happening now, even my imagination would never - I mean, it's beyond what I could have imagined. This is really way too much. And if this thing - if they get away with this in Georgia, the world will be in trouble.

Georgia is not at stake right now. It's all about Georgia. It's about values, principles, and the world order. Is Russia going to get away this kind of violation? Well, I don't think so.

CHETRY: Well, I want to thank you for speaking with us about this this morning. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili joining us this morning. No doubt we await a response from the international community and the U.S. government, as well on the situation, the escalation of hostilities there between Georgia and Russia. Thank you.

MARCIANO: Lots of breaking news this morning both at home and abroad. It's almost quarter to the hour, we'll be right back.


MARCIANO: We're going to follow the breaking news this morning between the Russian military and that of Georgia. Specifically the southern province of Ossetia. I want to get some word at what's going on in the Pentagon and their reaction. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is live for us. What are your sources saying about all that's going on in Georgia?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rob, we've just spoken to officials at the U.S. European command in Germany. They confirmed to us there are about 130 U.S. military and civilian Pentagon personnel in Georgia right now. They have been there as part of a training mission for the Georgian military. The U.S. is trying to do a head count at this hour and make sure all U.S. personnel are accounted for.

They believe they have everybody that most of them are in the Tablisi region near the capital, but they are going back and making sure there are no U.S. military personnel out and about that are unaccounted for. There will be meetings at U-com we are told throughout the day to assess the situation, see what next steps might be needed if an evacuation of U.S. personnel is needed. At this hour, they do not believe so, but I can tell you here at the Pentagon, this escalating violence between Georgia and Russia is getting attention at the highest levels today. Rob.

MARCIANO: Barbara, you may or may not have heard the Georgian president make a plea on our air just minutes ago for the U.S. to help his struggling company in this military battle. It sounds to me right what you were telling me is right now the main concern of the Pentagon is to make accounts for where U.S. troops are there and are they safe and what to do with them next? Is there any chatter about what U.S. may be doing to help or not help the Georgia nation?

STARR: Well, at this hour, you're right. The main concern is the safety of U.S. military personnel and the U.S. has been training Georgian forces for some years now as part of an effort to get them more capable to stand on their own, if you will. Any discussion at a higher level about intervening between Georgian authorities and Russian authorities is something that the Pentagon believes it would have to come from the White House, from the State Department, and that is part of what everyone is assessing here in Washington this morning, Rob.

MARCIANO: All while President Bush is overseas in China. Maybe that was part of the plan, who knows. We'll have to follow this, Barbara, as we continue throughout the day. Thank you very much. Barbara Starr live from the Pentagon.

CHETRY: In fact, that's what the Georgian president is saying with the international attention focused on Beijing, the timing is more than curious. So we'll continue to follow this. We have a lot of breaking developments this morning. AMERICAN MORNING is going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.


CHETRY: The driver for Osama Bin Laden convicted at Guantanamo Bay for supporting terrorism, could be out of prison in less than just five months. A military jury sentenced him to 5 1/2 years minus the more than five years already served. Jamie McIntyre is in Washington this morning with more. Hi, Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, Kiran, it's not often you get to be an eyewitness to history and have a front-row seat at that. But you definitely have a feeling there's a little bit of history being made in that small windowless courtroom down in Guantanamo. Even as both sides argued about what it really meant.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): Salim Hamdan seen smiling in one of the few photographs we have of him, comes across as genial and polite. Before he was sentenced, Hamdan addressed the court through a translator, thanking the anonymous military jurors, whom some news accounts portrayed as his enemies. And he apologized for the acts of his former boss, Osama Bin Laden.

"It was a big shock for me when someone who had treated you with respect and regard," says Hamdan, referring to Bin Laden and "then you realize what they were up to. It was a big shock." Prosecutors portrayed the apology as phony remorse and continued to paint Hamdan a career Al Qaeda warrior. A member of Bin Laden's inner circler who was therefore complicit in terrorist attacks including September 11th.

But the jury of five men and one woman, all military offices picked by the Pentagon sent a clear message by handing down a sentence of just 66 months, knowing full well that 61 months would be subtracted for time served. The jury basically bought the defense argument that Hamdan was a little fish, a driver, a gopher who's basically already paid for his crime since his capture in Afghanistan in November of 2001 and who should be released in a few months.

So what amounts to a five-month sentence raises real questions about whether the government description of prisoners at Guantanamo as hardened terrorists should be taken at face value. And whether Hamdan should have ever been charged with war crimes in the first place.

In the trial, the defense compared Hamdan to the driver of Adolf Hitler, who was never charged with anything after World War II.


MCINTYRE: Hamdan's defense team comprised of a mix of military and civilian lawyers, was ecstatic about the sentencing. Even as the fate of their client remains uncertain, the attorneys and even the judge, the navy captain appeared to have developed a real affection for the 40-year-old father of two girls. But ask them how they feel about defending someone who may have helped kill Americans, and they'll tell you they're not defending a terrorist, they believe they're defending the rule of law and America's core values. Kiran.

CHETRY: Jamie McIntyre, you're right. Front row seat to history for sure. Thanks.

MARCIANO: Well, many eyes turning to the skies as the Olympics get underway with smog a major concern for athletes. So, how do they prepare? Dr. Sanjay Gupta, live in L.A.. Hey, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, you know, what is an athlete going to do about this, Rob? That's the question, do they show up and train ahead of time? Or do they wait awhile. And what about those masks? How effective? I'll have it for you after the break.


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MARCIANO: Beijing's notorious smog, a major concern at this year's Olympic games. So how do you prepare for conditions when you get over there? Especially if you're an athlete. We're paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent who is live in Los Angeles. Sanjay, did you hear about athletes training at altitude to get their - to acclimate. That way you go into the pollution ahead of time and acclimate your body to the pollution?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No. The answer's probably no. And this is after talking to a lot of medical experts. But you're absolutely right, Rob, there's some confusion as to how exactly best to train for these sorts of conditions. When it comes to things like altitude or acclimating overall to a particular climate, yes, training in those types of conditions is probably going to be a benefit. What we know about these fine particulate matter that we've been talking so much about. Pollution, what happens is, some degree of shock that occurs to the body upon exposure to that. But the overall impact of that in the long run doesn't occur typically until a few days afterwards.

So the first day, for example, if you're going to be in some sort of event. If you're exposed to the pollution, right at that time, it may not inhibit your performance as much as three days later. So probably best not to train in those conditions as much as possible. Rob, you've seen those images of people wearing masks just like me. Some of those people apologized for it afterwards, but this is the biggest question that a lot of people have right now, how best to prepare themselves?

MARCIANO: So go in there last minute basically, you predicting any records being broken here? Or you think a knock out performance?

GUPTA: Well, you know, the International Olympic Committee medical advisor, the medical person for that committee says there should be no major risk to spectators or to athletes for that matter. But all the experts we've been talking to over the past few months say it's likely to inhibit performance. So are records going to be broken? I think depending on the day, it can vary day-to-day, but the overall pollution can be a huge factor in just how well these athletes are going to perform.

MARCIANO: Good information, Sanjay, as always and we'll be watching the Olympics to see how these guys do it. Thanks, Sanjay. And for more "Fit Nation," and this week's medical headlines tune into "House Call" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This weekend, Sanjay sits down with actor Matthew McConaughey in an exclusive one on one interview with the new father. "House Call" 8:30 Eastern Saturdays and Sundays.

CHETRY: All right. And that's going to do it for us. Thanks so much for joining us on this busy, busy AMERICAN MORNING.

MARCIANO: There you go.

Well, thanks for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you right back here tomorrow.

CHETRY: That's right. And right now, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Tony Harris and Heidi Collins.