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American Morning

President Obama in China, Urges China to Accept Universal Rights; Illinois Prison May House Guantanamo Bay Transfers; A Look at Khalid Skeikh Mohammed, Alleged Mastermind of 9/11

Aired November 16, 2009 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you. It is November the 16th. Thanks for joining us on the Most News in the Morning. Good to have you here as we start our week. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Here are the big stories we're going to be telling you about in the next 15 minutes.

First, President Obama is in China pressing the country's leaders on human rights and speaking to Chinese students at a town hall meeting in Shanghai. The president stressed the importance of personal freedom including an uncensored Internet. We're going to be getting a live report from China just ahead.

ROBERTS: The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks getting his day in court, a civilian court just blocks from Ground Zero. In just a moment, we'll dig deeper into Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's past and the impact that his trial will have on al Qaeda.

CHETRY: And from Guantanamo Bay to America's heartland, is Thomson, Illinois the new home for suspected terrorists? Well, today, a government task force will visit a nearly empty prison there, but what are folks in the small town hit hard by the recession saying about that prospect? We're live in Thomson with more.

ROBERTS: We begin this morning with President Obama in China, perhaps the most important stop on his eight-day trip to Asia. The president arriving in Beijing where in just the past couple of hours where he'll meet with China's president and prime minister. It's Mr. Obama's first official visit to China, and it began in Shanghai with some nontraditional diplomacy. The American president speaking to Chinese student and playing to his strengths at a town hall meeting.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I see China's future in you. Young people whose talent and dedication and dreams will do so much to help shape the 21st century. I've said many times that I believe that our world is now fundamentally interconnected. The jobs we do, the prosperity we build, the environment we protect, the security that we seek -- all of these things are shared.


ROBERTS: Our Dan Lothian has more on the town hall event and the government's response to it. He is reporting for us this morning from shanghai.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, right to the last moment, the White House was negotiating with the Chinese government over details of the town hall meeting. The president took eight questions and used this platform to both praise and carefully prod the Chinese government.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Working the room as he often does in town halls across the U.S., President Obama's most pointed answer came not from a question in the audience but from the Internet delivered by the U.S. ambassador.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shouldn't we be able to use Twitter freely?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes. I've always been a strong supporter of open and Internet use. I'm a big supporter of non-censorship.

LOTHIAN: In a country that routinely blocks access to cyberspace, even this event wasn't completely free. As CNN's Ed Henry was talking to students in the audience before the town hall began...

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He was just telling me about what question you wanted to ask President Obama.

LOTHIAN: A government official stepped in and ended the conversation.

HENRY: OK. But he was just telling us about -- yes.

LOTHIAN: The town hall meeting attended by more than 400 university students was streamed on the White House Web site and carried on Shanghai's local state-run station but not on China's national network. President Obama danced around a question about arm sales to Taiwan, was asked whether terrorism still remains America's greatest threat. And on his Nobel Peace Prize award told a questioner, it's not something he deserves but emphasized the need to keep promote peace.

Mr. Obama was not asked about human rights but used his opening remarks to push that message.

OBAMA: These freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation we believe are universal rights.

LOTHIAN: The Chinese students appeared to embrace this exercise in democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's very good.

LOTHIAN: And President Obama himself.


LOTHIAN: There were no surprises no tough questions, but a White House official says that the president was able to deliver an important message about open government and human rights, and they believe that the town hall meeting was a meaningful way to do it -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Dan Lothian reporting for us this morning from Shanghai. Dan, thanks so much.

And at 6:30 Eastern, we're going to take a closer look at President Obama's visit to China with Gordon Chang. He is the author of "The Coming Collapse of China" and former assistant Secretary of State Jamie Rubin.

CHETRY: Still ahead, President Obama's decision to try suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. We're talking much more about this throughout the morning.

Four of his alleged co-conspirators also facing civilian trial here in New York and it's drawing fire as well as lots of second guessing on the Sunday talk show, including Rudy Giuliani, the city's mayor at the time of the attacks. But a former New York senator is backing up her boss.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: It's part of Barack Obama deciding that we're not at war with terrorism any longer. So this is not treated as if it was an act of war, which it should be treated like. Remember, he's told us we can't use the term war on terror. The only problem with that, John, is the terrorists haven't stopped going to war with us.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The attorney general is determined after consulting with veteran prosecutors that this is a case that appropriately can be brought in our federal courts. Other cases will be brought in the military commissions. I'm not going to second guess the attorney general.


CHETRY: Well, when the 9/11 suspects arrive in New York about 20 blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, they will face an unprecedented wall of security. Subways and streets will be closed. There will be snipers positioned on rooftops.

And stay with us. Coming up, we're going to have more on this decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to New York and the message it sends to Al Qaeda. We're going to be speaking with Nic Robertson, our senior international correspondent. He's extensively covered Mohammed, Al Qaeda and the war on terror.

And there's also a question of what to do with other terror suspects that are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. Right now, a federal task force is shopping for locations to house the suspects. In fact in just a few hours, the task force will come to the tiny and economically stressed town of Thomson, Illinois. It's got a near empty maximum security prison with plenty of space.

Elaine Quijano is live in Thomson this morning. And, Elaine, what are the -- what are the town's folks saying about whether or not they'd be willing to house some maximum security prisoners, including terror suspects?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, they're very willing, Kiran, here in Thomson. In fact, residents say they are well aware of the concerns about bringing Guantanamo detainees into this prison behind me, but at the same time they are not viewing it as a national security concern at all.

For them it is very personal. They see this as an opportunity really, a big chance for them, they think, to turn their town around.


QUIJANO (voice-over): About 150 miles west of Chicago sits the farming community of Thomson, Illinois, population 600, where the biggest building in town, a $145 million state prison sits mostly empty. And just down the road at Sunrise Restaurant...


QUIJANO: The talk is all about how to fill it.

ARDEN WEAVER, THOMSON RESIDENT: I myself, I have no objections.

QUIJANO: Like others in Thomson, Arden Weaver has heard the concerns about security and bringing terror suspects from Guantanamo to U.S. soil. But he's not worried.

WEAVER: I don't feel with the modern technology in this prison, I can't picture anybody escaping.

QUIJANO: Neither can restaurant owner Zendel Zendeli. His take, that it doesn't matter who's being held at the prison.

ZENDEL ZENDELI, RESTAURANT OWNER: All the prisoners are in there for a reason. It won't make a serial killer any less dangerous than anybody else, you know. They'll be bringing all kinds of prisoners there.

QUIJANO: The Thomson Correctional Center reportedly houses only 144 minimum security inmates, but the state of Illinois is jumping at the chance to fill more of the prison's 1,600 cells.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Make no mistake about it, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We have a chance to bring more than 2,000 good paying jobs with benefits to this region.

QUIJANO: Back in Thomson, the shuttered businesses on main street tell the story of the toll the recession has taken on the town and its people. CINDY OTTENS, THOMSON RESIDENT: We need jobs in our area, very depressed. Economically and emotionally people are looking for these jobs.


QUIJANO: Now, as you mentioned this morning, administration officials are set to take a look at the facility behind me. In the meantime, some Illinois congressmen are absolutely opposed to the idea. Republicans, congressmen argue, look, we understand that certainly times are tough here in the state of Illinois but they insist, Kiran, that national security concerns should trump everything -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we'll see what they decide. Elaine Quijano for us this morning in Thomson, Illinois. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Also new this morning, the White House is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to expand its fight against the Taliban. Officials say cooperation from the Pakistani government will be critical to the president's strategy in Afghanistan. National security adviser General James Jones went to the Pakistani capital Islamabad this weekend to pass that message along. That strategy and new troop increases could be announced sometime this week according to "The New York Times."

CHETRY: And a live look now, the official launch clock is ticking. NASA getting ready for liftoff of shuttle "Atlantis." It's scheduled for 2:28 this afternoon, and it looks the weather is on their side. Ninety percent chance the weather will cooperate.

The six astronaut crew will be in space 11 days, and that includes Thanksgiving. They're delivering spare parts to the International Space Station and there are also three spacewalks planned.

ROBERTS: And one lawmaker in France is pushing to ban corporal punishment including spanking a child. A National Assembly member who is also a pediatrician says after decades of practicing medicine, children who are spanked lie and are more aggressive. She also says kids who aren't spanked behave and listen better and have more respect for authority.

CHETRY: Nine minutes past the hour. A self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed now coming to New York for trial. Critics are in an uproar. But what message does it send to Al Qaeda?


CHETRY: Twelve minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

After a long and winding road spanning more than 45 years, the Library of Congress will honor Paul McCartney and all his silly love songs. The 67-year-old former Beatle will be the third recipient of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Sir Paul will accept the award at the star-studded tribute concert. It's going to be held in Washington, D.C. this spring. They haven't announced the acts yet.

ROBERTS: Price of gasoline has gone down just a hair. AAA reports the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is $2.63. It is the eleventh consecutive decrease in the price of gas.

CHETRY: Good news out of Detroit as well. General Motors is expected to announce it will begin repaying a $6.7 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury by the end of this year. The news comes as the automaker plans to release its preliminary third quarter earnings, the first since declaring bankruptcy in June. The government will still have a 61 percent ownership stake in the automaker.

ROBERTS: It's a decision that's touching off a political firestorm, bringing the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four others here to New York City just 20 blocks from Ground Zero to stand trial. Most of us may recognize Mohammed from this picture taken shortly after his arrest in Pakistan back in March of 2003. But who is he? And what exactly has he taken credit for?

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has done extensive reporting on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the Al Qaeda at large. He joins us this morning from London.

And, Nic, does the decision to hold this trial make New York any more of a target for Al Qaeda than usual?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly will in as much as Al Qaeda always wants to attack New York because it's such a symbol of the United States success, the economy, the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, another example of that, the 9/11 attack, of course, an example of that. Recent arrests, Abdullah Zazi (ph), the Afghan-American planning attacks in the New York area. Brian Ninelvinas (ph), arrested a few months ago. He was also planning attacks in New York area.

So, yes, there's a track record that Al Qaeda does want to attack New York. And this will probably push them further in that direction. But they have a will. Can they actually get through? Everyone is certainly aware of that, so will it make New York any more dangerous?

It seems, you know, the Al Qaeda can't make good on that intent so far. So it would seem that the authorities are able to protect New York despite that threat that probably will get a little bigger, John.

ROBERTS: Let's look beyond America's borders. How is this all being perceived by Osama bin Laden supporters as well as Muslims worldwide, Nic?

ROBERTSON: You know, you talk to the people who support bin Laden, I was talking to some on Friday night. They believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy. They believe that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed won't get a fair trial, that all this will be unjust. So to the immediate supporters of Al Qaeda and bin Laden, it's probably not going to change a lot. But what President Obama really seems to be doing here is playing the long game. And the long game here is trying to undo what Bin Laden has done, which is tell Muslims around the world that the West is out after you, that your religion isn't respected and create a divide.

And what President Obama, by intending to hold open public trials here, will be to send a message to the vast majority of moderate Muslims around the world that the United States is a democracy and can give these people a fair trial in the public eye.

So he will be playing to the long game and will perhaps win greater support in the long run, but changing the al Qaeda die-hards, changing their minds, nothing's going to change there.

ROBERTS: Right, but what about perceptions of the American justice system? Is it taken by and large by people around the world to be fair?

ROBERTSON: You know, this is going to be a tough -- a tough case. There's going to be a huge amount of scrutiny particularly in the Muslim world. They're really going to look to for the nuances here. They're going to look to see if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed does get a fair trial.

But if he does and if everything proceeds as -- as prosecutors hope it will, and clearly the vast majority of people hope it will, it is going to send a very clear message, that democracy is alive and well in the United States, even for people who've been held in Guantanamo Bay and put that era behind the United States and behind the perceptions of a lot of people around the world.

ROBERTS: All right. Nic Robertson for us this morning, reporting from London. Nick, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Well, we talked a lot with Christine Romans about auctions, about Bernie Madoff's different wares, homes, items, watches -- all up for sale. Well, they finally held this auction, pulled in almost $1 million this weekend. Gerri Willis is going to come show us what were the most popular items from the Ponzi schemer's wares.

Seventeen minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Twenty minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

We have Gerri Willis with us in for Christine, "Minding Your Business." Good to see you this morning.


CHETRY: So how much did this Madoff auction fetch so far?

WILLIS: Well, you know, we've got initial estimates $900,000, almost a million dollars the auction brought in, and in many cases the items went for much more than was expected. I want to show you some of these items and what they fetched. Let's start with the New York Mets jacket that was emblazoned with Madoff's name on the back of it. Look at this. The estimate was it would sell for $720. It actually sold for $14,500 -- way, way, way over expectation. Little frenzied auctioning or bidding on that particular item. And if you were looking for a pair of dangle diamond earrings that were formerly owned and worn by Ruth Madoff, well you could have done no better than buying the $70,000 earrings, and they were estimated to go at $21,400. You can see some of the stuff just went through the roof, the bidding really on fire.

Now I want to show you the item with the highest estimate, that was the Rolex Prisoner watch. This is really a collectible. Rolex made these watches for British POWs during World War II. They could buy it and then pay for it after the war. It was estimated to sell at $87,500. It actually sold for $65,000...

CHETRY: So a watch collector got a bargain there.

WILLIS: Watch collector got a bargain.

But listen to this. Here's the item that was expected to sell for the least. The sign for their Montauk beach house -- and we've seen pictures of that before, right? It was estimated to sell for just $20. It went for $2,000. So, big surprise there. As you know, we brought in...

CHETRY: They sell the mailbox too?

WILLIS: Precisely. They -- they brought in some $900,000.

But understand that there is $65 billion presumably that Madoff has said he had under management. So far, $1.4 billion has been recovered for people who are victims of the scam, the scheme. $500 million has been returned, some $1.5 billion will be returned by the end of the year. So we are still a very long, long way before victims are made whole here.

ROBERTS: But, you know, the -- the auction fetching more for a lot of these items than was thought, would, you know, certainly go to some distance toward recompensing these people.

WILLIS: Yes. It will -- it will be some help. You know, and they're not done yet. There's another auction this week in Ft. Lauderdale to sell that boat that you may have seen, the -- a Lifesaver 4 (ph) Bull ship.


WILLIS: They're going to sell -- they're going to sell the boat this week, so if you don't have anything to do Tuesday, you can go down and see that.

CHETRY: They still can't sell (ph) two houses, though.

WILLIS: The Manhattan Penthouse and the Palm Beach house still for sale, so if you have a few extra shackles (ph), you can put them down and buy that.

But, you know, I guess the Madoff name is really selling some of these stuff.

CHETRY: Apparently so. Very interesting.

All right. Gerri Willis, thanks so much.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: Roadside bombs in Afghanistan. They are an increasing threat to NATO and US troops there. So how do they go out hunting for them to try to protect themselves?

Our Chris Lawrence is traveling with the military unit. He'll bring you the inside story, coming right up.

It's 23 minutes after the hour.


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

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is creating a task force to focus on roadside bombs in Afghanistan. IEDs are the number-one killer of troops there.

CHETRY: Well, soldiers are hunting now for homemade bombs, and they face the possibility of being blown up every time they go out on patrol. Every mile of roadway could be a threat. All it takes sometimes is something as simple and small as a pack of cigarettes.

Our Chris Lawrence is live in Kabul this morning with an "AM Original." Good morning, Chris.


You know, they're making these bombs out of tin foil, batteries, bicycle seat springs. It's almost impossible to track these kind of items coming over the border when you can find them in anyone's backyard.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): In Afghanistan, it's man versus bomb. Soldiers are getting frustrated, fighting an enemy they can't touch.

LT. CHARLIE DROLSHAGEN, U.S. MILITARY: It feels like sometimes there's nobody for you to blame.

LAWRENCE: Lieutenant Charlie Drolshagen is with the Fourth Engineer Battalion. They go looking for bombs to clear the routes for other NATO soldiers and marines. They're also the only unit to deploy to Iraq this year and then move directly to Afghanistan.

(on camera): In Iraq they'd see one person or one team plant a fully assembled bomb, but the tactics are completely different here.

(voice-over): One man gets paid to dig a hole.

LT. MATT FITZGIBBON, U.S. ARMY: He doesn't know what the hole's for. He just knows that he's getting paid $20 to go dig it.

LAWRENCE: That hole could sit for days until a second man is hired to string a wire.

FITZGIBBON: And then someone else will come along and -- and might -- might have a different role in it.

LAWRENCE: It may take a month, but a killer bomb is being assembled even as patrols pass by.

FITZGIBBON: And unless you start putting the puzzle pieces together, you don't realize that that's exactly what they're doing.

LAWRENCE: Lieutenant Matt Fitzgibbon calls the militants ingenious. Another officer in Kandahar told us they've learned how to place warnings that only Afghan civilians are likely to see.

The road clearance team has lost 11 soldiers, including four last month to a devastating 1,000 pound bomb.

SGT. LUIS ROJAS (ph), US ARMY: The vehicle got blown -- it got blown out a good 20, 30 meters away from the road.

LAWRENCE: Sergeant Luis Rojas (ph) tried to comfort the driver.

ROJAS (ph): I was actually caressing his head at the time, you know, talking to him, you know, telling him to stay with us.

LAWRENCE: Rojas (ph), who's got a wife and daughter, has seen so many friends die, thinks IEDs are inevitable.

ROJAS (ph): (INAUDIBLE) today, they were leaving (ph), or, you know, tomorrow that we're clearing the routes.

LAWRENCE: On the battalion's memorial wall, they've left room for more names. And with three months left in their tour, the unit has dozens of roads to clear before they see their families.

DROLSHAGEN: It's nice to get sympathy and -- and understanding from home, mostly because it reminds us that there's a normal world out there without roadside bombs.


LAWRENCE: Fortunately they were not hit on their last run out, but they're always being watched. In fact, the insurgents have even observed how the soldiers deploy from their vehicles after an explosion and they started setting anti-personnel mines (ph) in their pack to catch them outside their vehicles -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Chris, is there any specific strategy that they use for targeting a convoy? In Iraq, I've seen attacks where they let the first truck maybe even two go by before they set the bomb off.

LAWRENCE: You're absolutely right. And we asked these guys because they were actually in Iraq and then came to Afghanistan, and almost everybody here says there is no pattern at all. Sometimes they take out the first, sometimes the last, sometimes the middle. No one ever feels like any particular vehicle is any safer than any other.

CHETRY: It's such a game of hit or miss, as you were showing us. You know, sometimes they rely on using little superstitious things like singing a Disney song as they go through, you know, because it brought them luck before.

But are the insurgents watching the soldiers, observing what they do? It seems every time we go one step, they figure it out and we have to, you know, switch gears and do something else.

LAWRENCE: You're -- you're absolutely right. In fact, these route clearance guys say some of the problem is they'll go through and they'll clear a route but they don't have as many eyes on that road as the insurgents do. So they'll clear a road, but they say occasionally the insurgents could come behind them and replant a bomb after they've gone through.

It's one of reasons they say they could use more soldiers down there just to get more eyes on those roads.

CHETRY: All right. Chris Lawrence for us in Kabul. Very, very interesting stuff for us this morning. Thanks.

And we're half past the hour right now, checking our top stories.

Drug companies quietly pushing through some price hikes while at the same time promising to cut prescription costs by $8 billion a year. A story in the "New York Times" today that the average price of a brand-named drug jumped by about 9 percent in the last year. It means a year's supply of a daily drug now cost you $200 more on average. Drug companies said that the hikes cover the development of new medicines.

A truck bomb killing at least four people and wounding dozens of others in Peshawar, Pakistan. Officials say that the pickup truck with explosives went off in front of a police station. It's the latest blast in a town near the Afghan border. Three hundred people have died in the attacks. Many believed to be the work of the Taliban in the past month.

Well, the holiday spirit is all about giving. This year, though, that may be changing. A new survey from Harris Interactive says that Americans will be giving less to charities this year. Only 38 percent polled said they were likely to give a charitable gift as a present this year. It's down 11 percent from last year -- John?

ROBERTS: President Obama is in Beijing this morning on his first-ever visit to China. He arrived overnight and after a stop in Shanghai where he spoke to Chinese students at an American-style town hall meeting. A host of critical issues will be on the table as the president sits down with China's leaders. And joining us now to break it all done, Gordon Chang, columnist and the author of "The Coming Collapse of China." Also the former assistant secretary of state, Jamie Rubin, now a Columbia University professor.

So, the way that China has been described the last couple of presidents -- President Clinton, as you know, Jamie, called them a strategic ally. President Bush called them a strategic competitor. How does President Obama view China?

JAMES RUBIN, FMR. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think he sees them as a potential partner. They've talked a lot about reassurance (INAUDIBLE). I think the real issue here is that both President Obama and the Chinese leadership are pragmatists. And this is going to be a highly pragmatic relationship. There'll be horse trading. There'll be a lot of detailed discussion about substance, not so much of an ideological battle or geostrategic battle.

ROBERTS: What do you think, Gordon?

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "THE COMING COLLAPSE OF CHINA": Well, before President Obama left on this trip, he called China a strategic partner of the United States. That's a very important meaning to the Chinese because they have strategic partner relationships. And he called them a vital partner.

The real issue, though, is whether that's going to make any difference on the great issues of the day, like Iran, North Korea and climate change. And you know we've seen over the last four or five months, they've become much more assertive, less cooperative.

And so President Obama is trying to scope out the world the way he would like it to be. I'm not so sure it's going to be the world as it is.

ROBERTS: There are many people who wonder if this president is being a little too soft on China. You know, he hasn't made an issue of them linking the currency to the American dollar. Not like the Bush administration which was pushing very hard that the Chinese de- link their currency.

Wouldn't meet the Dalai Lama before this trip. When the secretary of state went over earlier this year, human rights took a backseat to economic cooperation. Cooperation on climate change. So is this administration, do you think, Jamie, being tough enough on China?

RUBIN: Well, I don't know about soft or tough. But I would agree that on human rights they've clearly down played the significance of human rights to American-China policy as compared with, say, the last Democratic administration which made human rights a big issue around the time of each summit. The Chinese decided to release dissidents because of their desire to meet American requirements. And so I think President Obama has made a decision as secretary of state that they've got bigger fish to fry when it comes to climate change, when it comes to nonproliferation or the economy and down played human rights.

Personally, I don't think that's a very good idea. I think it matters when the American president speaks firmly on human rights and pressures the other governments. It's true that it's tougher to do so after the days of Guantanamo during the last eight years but President Obama is fixing that. So I'd like to see a tougher stance across the board on human rights, not just with China.

ROBERTS: At this town hall meeting that he had in Shanghai he did talk about Internet freedoms, Gordon. Let's listen to a little of what he said and we'll come back on that.


OBAMA: I'm a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information. I think that the more freely information flows the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves.


ROBERTS: The president went on to say that sometimes he wishes the Internet wasn't so welcome because he reads a lot of criticism of himself. But he was out there promoting more Internet freedom. Some of the Twitter accounts are being blocked there.

But what's really surprising is before the president came out, our Ed Henry was talking to one of people who's there at the town hall and government officials came over and said, stop talking to these people.

CHANG: Well, that's typical. And it's good that President Obama talked about human rights, because it's not only the right thing to do, it's also directly related to our security. Because the Chinese see that when we don't press human rights, it's a sign of weakness. And when they think we're weak, you know, they're not going to be cooperative.

The Chinese were static when Secretary Clinton, in February, said that human rights is not an essential part of American diplomacy. And the month after that, Chinese ships harassed American unarmed vessels in international waters. There's a direct link.

ROBERTS: Who's got the power here? Because China holds so much of our debt. They're the biggest foreign holder of our debt. They're asking about health care. Are you sure you can afford us? They're like the banker who's saying we want to make sure that you can repay the debts that you've got to us here. But then at the same time, the bulk of China's trade surplus is made up of American consumers buying their goods.

So who really has the power?

RUBIN: You know I'm not one who believes that China is sitting and dealing with us like a -- we're a supplicant. I think that's nonsense. China is doing exactly what they think is in their interest to buy American treasuries. They think that's smart for them. That's the reason they are doing it.

And the truth is, when you ask any businessman whether they'd like to owe a bank a little bit of money or a lot of money, they tell you a lot of money...

ROBERTS: A lot of money, yes.

RUBIN: ... because then the bank wants to make sure you succeed. So I don't think China gets the leverage that people suggest out of this. I think they are dealing with our -- buying treasuries because it's in their interest. And I don't think they have forgotten that the United States is a global power, with military power which has the support of most of the world on democracy and human rights.

China is in the isolated spot. They're the only major country in the world who's got a communist one-party system.

CHANG: You know, everything that Jamie said was right but the problem is we Americans think the Chinese have the power. You know as you said, 2008, 93 percent of China's overall trade surplus related of sales to the United States. They have an export dominated economy, which means their economy and their political system is dependent on selling us things.

And you know that especially gets us a lot of leverage because their trade practices are not compliant with their world trade organization obligations.

ROBERTS: Well, we will see how this president uses that leverage going forward. Gordon Chang, James Rubin, always great to see you. Thanks for coming in -- Kiran?

CHETRY: All right, 37 minutes past the hour. A huge opening weekend for the disaster flick "2012." But some people don't think it's just the movie. We're going to meet one of folks who really thinks the world is ending soon.



CHETRY: Welcome back to "The Most News in the Morning." Forty- one minutes past the hour now. That's a snippet from the doomsday flick, "2012", which opened at number one this weekend, raking in $65 million in the U.S. alone. The run-up to the movie has included a lot of talk about a Mayan prophecy and the end of the world.

Now it may sound silly to you but Kareen Wynter found at least one person who really is preparing for the apocalypse. KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, it's amazing how many people are buying into this "2012" theory. We found one man who's gone to incredible extremes.


WYNTER (voice-over): Imagine for a second.

STEVE PACE, 2012 FOLLOWER: More ammo back there. More weapons.

WYNTER: Living like this.

PACE: I foresee the potential for a disaster that's catastrophic.

WYNTER: Arming your home with everything under the sun, from semiautomatic rifles, hunting knifes and gas masks, even anti- radiation pills. What Steve Pace couldn't store at his rural Missouri home he stockpiled in this storage shed four blocks away.

PACE: If I'm living out of this bag, we have gone to hell in a hand basket.

WYNTER: But don't call this retired Army sergeant crazy, Pace is just one of many subscribers to an ancient Mayan belief. The world could distract in 2012.

(on camera): You've also described 2012 as the year of collapse.

PACE: Yes. The only reason I choose 2012 as the year of the collapse because so many things point to it. We're getting so close and it's rapidly speeding up. I've been...

WYNTER: You're actually bracing for something, something disastrous?

PACE: Right, I'm talking collapse of civilization.

WYNTER (voice-over): Pace says it's not just the stuff of movies as depicted in Hollywood's latest doom's day film "2012." He says he's been following this highly prophesized date for decades and believes in three years, when civilization collapses, there may be everything from nuclear warfare to famine.

(on camera): What do you say to those nonbelievers?

PACE: I would say, do you have insurance on your house? Why? It's pretty cheap insurance if I need it.

WYNTER (voice-over): Psychology professor Michael Barkin, who's written books on the topic, explains why so many believe in this theory that so many others find bizarre.

MICHAEL BARKIN, PROFESSOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: There has always been a subculture of individuals who fear some kind of dramatic societal collapse. WYNTER: The panic heightened by the movie's release.

BARKIN: It contributes to the belief that December 21st, 2012 has some kind of significance.

WYNTER: And if this ardent believer is wrong, if all of this preparation is a waste, well, Steve Pace says hey, it's not the end of the world.


WYNTER: Maybe not the end of the world yet for this 2012 follower who says there's always 2013 or the next year. John, Kiran?

CHETRY: Well, it's good to be prepared just in case.

ROBERTS: You just never know when the end of the world is coming.

CHETRY: Exactly.

ROBERTS: The space shuttle Atlantis scheduled to lift off this afternoon at 2:28 p.m. Eastern. Is the weather going to cooperate? Our Reynolds Wolf is checking out the forecast for us this morning. He'll join us in just a moment. Forty-four minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Forty-seven minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. There's a live look right now at the White House in Washington, D.C. where right now it is 51 degrees, and it's going up to 64. It's going to be partly cloudy in the nation's capital today.

Time to fast forward now to the stories we'll be tracking for you later today here on CNN. Vice President Joe Biden is going to be traveling to Phoenix, Arizona today. He's heading to two fundraisers for Democratic house members from Arizona, and at 1:15 Eastern, Biden will lead a round table discussion on the economy.

First Lady Michelle Obama is bringing her mentoring program for young women to Denver today. She has a lunch time meeting at the governor's mansion with state and local leaders, and then in the afternoon, they all visit different schools in the area to discuss their careers with students.

And at 2:28 Eastern, as we've been telling you about NASA hoping to launch space shuttle "Atlantis." The space agency says there's a 90% chance the weather will be cleared enough for liftoff. It's an 11-day mission to International Space Station, and it will keep the six-astronaut crew in orbit for Thanksgiving. They're also planning three space walks but looks like a pretty good shot that they're going to get off the ground today.

ROBERTS: They're setting up with a big frozen turkey?


CHETRY: Freeze dried turkey.

ROBERTS: There you go.

Will the weather cooperate this afternoon? They didn't have so much cooperation. They're trying to watch that (INAUDIBLE) a couple of weeks back. Reynolds wolf at the weather center in Atlanta is tracking all the extreme weather. How is it looking there?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, I think it's going to be okay. They're going to have some low clouds, but I think there's only about a 30 percent chance that they are not going to have the successful launch, so we're going to keep a sharp eye on it for you.

Here's the latest we got for you. Getting low clouds are going to be the issue as we put the slow motion zoom in right towards the launch pad. We're going to be seeing into the afternoon hours especially around 2:30 or so, 2:28 to be exact, is a 30% probability of weather prohibiting the launch, so they'll be able to go up, be up there, I believe, 11 days or so and enjoy that freeze dried turkey just as the pilgrims intended.

All right. Let's show you what else do we have. You're doing your own travelling nine in the skies above, but even on the ground, you're going to have a few issues. Now, New York metros, both airports even in Boston wind could be an issue. I could see about a 30-minute to an hour delay there, but 15-30 in Houston and St. Louis and Memphis and Denver low clouds and low visibility.

Something might be poor in terms of visibility as the snowfall and the wind combine in the parts of the Central Plain. We have this double barrel low that set up right here, and it's going to be bringing in some moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, but then right behind it, you're going to have a rush of very cold air, and with the overrunning moisture falling through the lower levels of the atmosphere, that means a lot of snow.

We could see anywhere from two to eight inches of snow in places. It's going to be happen to be in a high profile vehicle, say wind vigo (ph) or maybe even a semi-truck or something. You might have some issues there. Now, in terms of temperatures, your daytime high certainly reflect a colder air tumbling in from the North.

Forty-nine degrees are high in Minneapolis, 38 in Kansas City outside Kauffman Stadium, for Denver 43 degrees, and then we get closer to the Gulf of Mexico, you have the moderating effect of that water especially the place like Houston where 66 will be your high, 79 in Tampa, 80 degrees from Miami, 60 in New York, 63 in Washington, our nation's capital, and then back out in San Francisco near pier 39, about 65 degrees the expected high and 75 in L.A up by Chavez Ravine. That is the latest in your forecast. Let's kick it back to you in New York.

ROBERTS: So, a lot of snow birds heading South on high 75 yesterday, Reynolds, so the win bag goes are out there. No question about it.

WOLF: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, Reynolds.

CHETRY: And it's the right idea. You know, it's going to get cold, cold this winter I have a feeling.

Still ahead, Fort Hood lawmakers now wanting answers. Were red flags missed? Barbara Starr with the latest.

ROBERTS: And the rise of militias in America. Are they patriots or extremist? We go training with the Southeast Michigan volunteer militia next hour. Stay with us. Fifty-one minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Seven minutes now at the top of the hour. We're back with the Most News in the Morning. The radical Islamic Imam who had contact with the Fort Hood shooter says he did not encourage him to take American lives. That report from the Washington pose this morning, and on the Sunday talk shows, lawmakers were asking, did the military miss some obvious red flags?


REP. PETE HOEKSTRA, (R) RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think the administration knew by the Friday after the Fort Hood shootings that they had a lot of questions that needed to be answered that there had been all of these red flags, but that they never come together in one place. There's going to be a lot of tough questions that need to be asked that I'm not sure that they were prepared to answer.


ROBERTS: Our Barbara Starr is working the story this morning from the Pentagon.

And Barbara, Congress is being asked to hold off on an investigation, but who is working to get answers?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, Congress is waiting several investigations underway. Topping the list the army's own criminal investigation into the shooting. Those 13 charges of premeditated murder, the next step there will be an army- investigating officer will be appointed. The next investigation, President Obama has ordered an intelligence military two-part investigation if you will, into the whole matter.

Who knew what if there were so many signals, and they were missed? What went wrong here? And he's also said he wants to see if anyone should be held accountable that investigation due to the President by the end of the month. Perhaps, the one that is lagging right now is the army's own so-called hard look. It's own hard look as they say into itself, what went wrong there, everything from base security to the notion that maybe the army was too politically correct, did it know it had someone troubled in the ranks and did take action to stop it? -- John.

ROBERTS: And Barbara, the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, usually fairly reserved in what he has to say, lashing out, expressing his anger at media reporting on the Hasan case. What is he upset about it?

STARR: Yes, absolutely. I think the best way to explain this is to tell folks exactly what Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the end of last week about so many leaks into the news media, so many anonymous sources coming forth and saying what they knew about Major Hasan after the fact if you will. The Secretary is saying quote, "everybody out there with their own little piece of the action." He goes on and he says, "I worry a lot that it has the potential to jeopardize a criminal investigation, and then he says, "so, my view is everybody ought to just shut up."

The Secretary of Defense often mild mannered, right now not so much.

ROBERTS: Yes. You know, we hear so much, you know, I can't talk about that because there's an ongoing investigation. Sometimes, I guess the less said, the better. Everybody wants to see Major Hasan get a fair trial. They don't want to see jeopardize in anyway so perhaps some sage words there from the Secretary. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon this morning. Barbara, thanks.

CHETRY: We're coming up on four minutes before the top of the hour. And still ahead, we're going to take a look at what the President is doing in Beijing, and also an American style town hall meeting that he held with some Chinese students. How did that go over? We're going to find out. We'll be right back.