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Paula Zahn Now

Interview With Al Sharpton; Gangs in the Military; Vice President Cheney Visits Iraq

Aired May 09, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Thank you so much for being with us.
Here's what we're bringing out in the open tonight.

The Reverend Al Sharpton is being accused of attacking presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon faith. Exactly what did he say and what did he really mean? I will ask him in an exclusive interview.

Also, fears that the military is signing up violent gang members, who will be even more dangerous when they get back home.

Plus, a crisis in the classroom -- these teachers were attacked by their own students. And it's happening in more and more schools.

But the first story we're brining out in the open tonight: Is Vice President Cheney's surprise trip to Iraq going to accomplish anything? Tomorrow, he will be shaking hands with U.S. troops. But, today, it was all business, urgent meetings with the Iraqi government.

And to give you an idea what he's with, with Iraq in crisis, bordering on chaos, with the White House facing intense pressure to pull U.S. forces out, Iraq's elected leaders are getting ready to take two months off.

That's right. The people the White House are counting on to solve Iraq's political and security problems are going on vacation.

Hugh Riminton is in Baghdad covering the vice president's visit, and filed this report.


HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A show of anger for the U.S. vice president -- Shias in Najaf, south of Baghdad, chanting their opposition to any visit by the occupiers.

This is only Dick Cheney's second visit to Iraq since the invasion he helped engineer -- the message now, it's game time.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot going on, obviously. It's a very important time. And there's a lot to talk about.

RIMINTON: The talking began with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose national unity government faces a walkout by Sunni Arab lawmakers as early as next week over a constitutional wrangle.

The senior Sunni politician, Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi, was one of those Mr. Cheney got to meet, as he urged all of the major players to find ways to work together.

CHENEY: I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I had seen previously.

RIMINTON: Also raised, the two-month summer vacation being planned by the Iraqi parliament. Mr. Cheney says that is a sovereign Iraqi issue, but:

CHENEY: I did make it clear that we believe it's very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion, and that any undue delay would be difficult to explain.

RIMINTON: The U.S. vice president says, on key benchmark issues, like a new oil law, provincial elections, and constitutional reform, he expects Prime Minister Maliki to make a formal statement next week.

(on camera): On his last visit here, in December '05, Mr. Cheney said that Iraq had turned the corner. A few months earlier, he had famously declare that the insurgency was in its death throes. Since those times, the rate of American deaths in Iraq has continued to climb.

(voice-over): This time, no such bold statements, but Mr. Cheney says he was impressed by the commitment he saw and small signs of progress.

Tribal sheikhs, Sunni and Shia, in what had been a violently divided town in troubled Diyala Province, have pledged to work together, joining forces against al Qaeda.

U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to bring in suspected al Qaeda and other terrorist foot soldiers, but they also continue to strike -- the normally placid Kurdish town of Irbil mourning more than a dozen dead in a truck bombing that also left scores wounded.

Hugh Riminton, CNN, Baghdad.


ZAHN: So, what is going on right now between the White House and Iraq seems to be a classic game of good cop/bad cop. The president has been gently pushing the Iraqi government along. So, you can see what the vice president's job was today in Baghdad.

And here is White House correspondent Ed Henry with more.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Cheney delivered a stern message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Aboard Air Force Two, en route to Iraq, a senior administration official told reporters: "We have got to get this work done. It's game time," a startling statement more than four years into the war.

LAWRENCE KORB, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The administration is becoming increasingly desperate because they know time is running out.

HENRY: The vice president made clear U.S. patience is growing thin, especially with the Iraqi parliament planning a two-month summer break.

CHENEY: Any undue delay would be difficult to explain.

HENRY: Two years ago this month, the vice president said:


CHENEY: I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.


HENRY: Based on his latest briefings, Mr. Cheney says the situation is getting better.

CHENEY: They do believe we are making progress. But we have got a long way to go.

HENRY: Indeed, during the president's visit, there was an explosion that rattled the windows at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Reporters were raced to a basement attack shelter, before getting the all-clear signal.

The vice president's schedule was not interrupted. And he proclaimed himself impressed by the answers he got from Maliki.

CHENEY: I do believe that there's a greater sense of urgency now than I had seen previously.

HENRY: But, last June, during the president's own unannounced trip to Baghdad, he expressed similar confidence in Maliki.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate you recognize the fact that the future of your country is in your hands.

ZAHN: So, Ed, I understand there was a critical meeting yesterday between the president and some members of Congress. What happened and how hot did it get?

HENRY: Well, it's interesting.

White House spokesman Tony Snow confirms to CNN tonight that there was a meeting here in the private quarters of the White House yesterday afternoon between the president, as well as Karl Rove, Secretary of State Rice, other top officials, with these 11 Republican lawmakers, who basically had some tough talk for the president -- Snow saying -- quote -- "Everybody was completely candid in telling the president the situation is very difficult in Iraq." But it's important to note, many of these lawmakers are very junior. They were not senior lawmakers. This is not like the Republican leadership coming up here and saying, look, Mr. President, this thing is over.

We're not quite there yet. What this does show is that Republicans on the Hill are getting more and more nervous about the situation on the ground. And, while the president is facing heavy pressure from Democrats, he is also facing even more pressure now from Republicans, saying, you have got to turn this around quickly; otherwise, it's going to interfere in the '08 elections.

And it's also, obviously, more importantly than just the politics, you have got over 150,000, 160,000 U.S. troops in the middle of what a lot of people in both parties now believe is a civil war -- Paula.

ZAHN: Ed Henry, thanks so much for the update.

HENRY: Thank you.

ZAHN: We are going to go to straight to our "Out in the Open" panel now, Errol Louis, a columnist and member of "The New York Daily News" editorial board, Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky. And Niger Innis is a political consultant, as well as national spokesman for CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality

Great to have all three of you with us.


ZAHN: So, is the vice president being used as the fall guy here for the president's Iraq policy?


I'm surprised to hear that, apparently, it's game time in Iraq now. I didn't even realize we were in preseason for the past four years. But I don't think so.

I think that the vice president has been the staunchest advocate of this war. And that's why they're sending him in to deliver this message. Sadly, it's the message that they should have delivered four years ago, that it was game time four years ago. I think they have run out of time, not only with Democrats, but I think with Republicans as well.

ERROL LOUIS, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Dick Cheney is not the warm and fuzzy guy. He went over really as an enforcer, to try and get these guys in line.

ZAHN: Unfortunately, he finds out the government is going on vacation for two months.

LOUIS: Well, not just that, but that he finds out that yet another fatal detonation within the Green Zone, which is supposed to be the secure area, nothing but bad news. It is a situation that reeks of desperation politically.

ZAHN: Do you think it reeks desperation? And will the vice president ultimately have any impact?



ZAHN: How so?

INNIS: I think they are both right, that he went over there as the enforcer, as the hammer.

But he is going to be meeting with various Shia, Sunni and Kurd leaders over there. It reminds me of the scene, I think, out of "The Godfather," where the boss of bosses brings the other bosses together and just bangs their head together, says, get your act in order.

That is exactly -- he is right guy to do exactly that.

ZAHN: What is the incentive for this government to get its act together?


ZAHN: I mean, the threats have been made all along about pulling out and stopping the massive kind of support they're finding right now from American troops.

INNIS: Well, I think these guys aren't foolish, and they see where the wind is blowing. And they know the impatience of the American people is running out, or has run out.

And they're -- it's not all bad news, though. I mean, one good sign is that some of the Sunni militias have broken away from the al Qaeda factions. And there does seems to be -- they do seem to realize that the real enemy here are foreign al Qaeda elements and not the U.S. or their Shiite Iraqi brothers.

ZAHN: You were talking about the impatience of the American public.

I want you all to look at some of these latest numbers, numbers which reflect public attitudes towards this war, 65 percent of all Americans opposing the U.S. war in Iraq, the same poll showing the president's approval rating at a low 38 percent.

So, do you see him changing his policy in any way to burnish his legacy?

ROGINSKY: You know who is going to have to change it for him? John Boehner, Trent Lott, his erstwhile supporters in the Congress, who have to realize they are not going to walk off a cliff with this guy anymore.

ZAHN: Well, they have told him.

ROGINSKY: That's right.


ZAHN: ... September, October, critical months.

ROGINSKY: And that is why Dick Cheney is in Iraq today.

He realizes it's not just the Democrats anymore. It's his own supporters in the Congress realize they have got an election next year. They have got a presidential election next year. How many more seats are they going to lose? Are they going to lose the White House for this guy? And I think the answer is obviously no.

ZAHN: All right.

So, if they are sensitive to that pressure, what is it that the president can do, short of bringing all the troops home now...


ZAHN: ... that is going to change that picture for these very tight races coming up?


LOUIS: Even that wouldn't necessarily work.

And, frankly, everything that we know about this administration says that they're not going to change their fundamental strategic and ideological doctrine at the last moment.

So, his credibility, his popularity, it's going down, past Jimmy Carter numbers, towards Richard Nixon-type numbers. Seventy-one percent, in another poll, recently said -- of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track.

I don't think that they're going to do anything more than hold the course and hope for the best in history, hope to be proven right somewhere down the road, to sort of claim a Winston Churchill legacy: I was the one man who saw this coming, and I tried to warn the country about it.

But I don't think they are going to suddenly turn into pacifists.

INNIS: I am going to -- I am going to offer a bit of a contrarian view here.

I actually think this, the legacy question, is really more not so much about Bush, but the next president of the United States. And, contrary to what you guys say, I -- I believe, if the next president is Romney, Giuliani, or even Clinton, that we could very well still have troops in Iraq two, three years from now.

There may be a circle action, a merry-go-round action, where you take some troops out for political niceties here at home. But, inevitably, we are not going to allow a pre-9/11 Afghanistan to develop in Iraq, after the blood and treasure that we have spent there.

ROGINSKY: That's already...


ZAHN: So, you're saying that we will be triumphant in Iraq, when everybody is saying we're locked in a civil war now, and they don't think we can win?

INNIS: We can't afford to lose. We cannot afford a pre-9/11 Afghanistan to develop in Iraq. That's the bottom line.

And President Hillary Clinton, if -- should she be president of the United States, is a very serious person. And she understands, after the political silly season is over, that she has a country to lead and a country to protect.

ZAHN: So, you came back to the Democratic...


ZAHN: ... didn't he?

ROGINSKY: Well, I'm glad we have conceded the White -- have you conceded the White House...


INNIS: No, no, not quite.




LOUIS: They haven't conceded. In the most recent debate, you have got 10 candidates, Republican, and they never mentioned Bush. I think he got mentioned three times in the course of an hour -- of hours.


ROGINSKY: Once. I think once, yes.

LOUIS: So, this is not a winning strategy for any candidate.

ZAHN: Got to move on now.

Errol Louis, Julie Roginsky, Niger Innis, thank you all. Appreciate it.

ROGINSKY: Thank you. ZAHN: Tonight, the Reverend Al Sharpton is being accused of religious bigotry, because he said this.


AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway.


ZAHN: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign is furious about that remark, calling it downright bigoted. What did Reverend Sharpton really mean? He joins me next in an exclusive interview to explain.

Then, a little bit later on: Gang members in the military, they are learning to be killers, but what happens when they come back home?

Plus: a scandal at a high school near you. You're not going to believe the numbers tonight. Why are so many of America's teenagers dropping out, try at the tune of about a million a year?


ZAHN: Tonight, one of the most high-profile Mormons in the country, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, is all but accusing the Reverend Al Sharpton of religious bigotry.

It is all because of remarks Sharpton made this week during a debate over atheism with author Christopher Hitchens. They were arguing about the civil rights movement and what Hitchens sees as the inexcusable use of religion to justify slavery and separation of the races.

That is when Hitchens brought up Romney.


CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VANITY FAIR": Just to give a contemporary example, one of the current candidates for the Republican nomination is a member of a church, the so-called Mormon Church of Latter Day Saints, that, until 1965, had it as an article of faith that the Bible separates the sons of Ham, and makes them lesser.


ZAHN: The reference to sons of Ham is commonly accepted as a term for black people.

Well, Sharpton responded by arguing that, since Martin Luther King led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights movement was, in Sharpton's words, God-based. But he didn't stop there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHARPTON: Let's not reinvent Dr. King any more than we try to reduce God to some denomination or convention.

And, as for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway. So, don't worry about that. That's a temporary...


SHARPTON: That's a temporary situation.


ZAHN: Romney's campaign is calling Sharpton's remark disheartening, disappointing, and appalling.

So, what did the reverend really mean?

Well, he joins us here, exclusively, to explain.

Welcome back.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

ZAHN: I want to start off by having you listen to what candidate Mitt Romney had to say about what you had to say in this debate.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His comment was a bigoted comment. It shows that bigotry still exists in some corners. And I thought it was a most unfortunate comment to make.


ZAHN: All right. So, obviously, Mr. Romney thinks you were making negative comments about his religion.

Were you saying that Mormons weren't real Christians?


What I was responding to -- and it's interesting he did not attack Mr. Hitchens, who said this -- that he, Mr. Hitchens, had said that the Mormons had, in fact, had in their articles of faith that blacks were not to be part of an inclusiveness of God.

And I said, don't worry about that anyway, if that's the case, that real believers, not atheists -- because the argument was over atheists. The argument was not about Mormon -- real believers, not atheists, was going to vote against him anyway, because I don't think Romney will win.

ZAHN: All right. But...

SHARPTON: But I think -- no, but I think what is interesting here is, I think now Mr. Romney, since I didn't bring this up -- Hitchens did -- has opened the door for me to say, well, wait a minute. Is Hitchens right? Is this the history of the Mormons? And were you part of that history? Did you -- were you a part of this church before they renounced this?

I think that, if we have seen -- even on this show, people raise questions to Senator Obama about his pastor and his sermons, nothing near like this about separating the sons of Ham, if we have seen people raise questions about whether Mr. Giuliani practices his faith, how does it become bigotry if one was a member of a church who, according to this scholar, the tenets of the church was based on racism.

ZAHN: All right. Prior to 1965, when blacks were considered...

SHARPTON: I think it's '78, I'm told...


ZAHN: Well, then our research is using a different date.

SHARPTON: Right. All right.

ZAHN: But, prior to that date, when blacks were finally considered as equals within the church, did you find the Mormon Church racist?

SHARPTON: I think that that is by self-definition.

If, prior to '65, '78, whenever it was, they did not see blacks as equal, I don't believe that as real worshipers of God, because I don't believe God distinguishes between people.

That's not bigotry. That is responding to their bigotry.

ZAHN: All right.

SHARPTON: And I think Mr. Romney, since he brought this up -- I didn't call him a name; he called me one -- needs to answer, did he, prior to '65, ascribe to that? I think he has brought in a very interesting discussion here that he needs to answer.

ZAHN: Can we revisit your words once again? Because you very carefully use the words "real believers" and "believers."

SHARPTON: Correct.

ZAHN: Let's listen one more time to what you had to say.


SHARPTON: As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway. So, don't worry about that. That's a temporary...

(LAUGHTER) SHARPTON: That's a temporary situation.


ZAHN: All right.

I just spoke with Christopher Hitchens, who happened to be in the hallway upstairs, before we went on the air. And he said, when you were saying those who really believe, he thinks you were making a distinction between Mormons and other Christians...


ZAHN: ... and somehow conveying that Mormons are lesser Christians.

SHARPTON: I was conveying -- I was answering what he said. He is the one that attacked Mormons. You just played it.

ZAHN: Right.

SHARPTON: I didn't attack Mormons.

Based on what he said -- clearly, I do not believe that anyone that really believes in God would have, at any point, believed that blacks were less than every other human being.

ZAHN: All right, but is it...


SHARPTON: May I finish?

ZAHN: Well, but...

SHARPTON: So -- and what I said was -- I didn't even say really believers. I said really believe in God, because I don't believe you can really believe in God if you think God created some inferior to others.

I believe that. And, as a minister, I have a right to advocate that. That is not bigotry. That is really saying, I don't believe God is a bigot.

ZAHN: So, you deny what Hitchens is saying, when he thinks you were making distinctions and somehow...

SHARPTON: Well, I will tell you what.

ZAHN: ... suggesting that Mormons weren't real Christians?


SHARPTON: Why didn't Hitchens challenge that that night, if he felt that?

ZAHN: Well, I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about you right now.

SHARPTON: Well, you brought him up.

Hitchens -- I'm telling you what I meant, and I'm telling you what I said. I'm also telling you what Hitchens said. Hitchens, according to what you just played, attacked the Mormons. Hitchens did.

It's strange that Romney didn't attack Hitchens. Hitchens is not attacking Romney. I'm the one that belonged to a race that couldn't join the Mormons, and I'm the one that is the bigot.

ZAHN: But you...

SHARPTON: Now, you're talking about trying to pass the buck.

ZAHN: All right. But, in closing...

SHARPTON: It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.


ZAHN: You are valuing Mormons' belief in God the way you were a Pentecostal, or the way you would a Methodist, or the way you would a Methodist Presbyterian?

SHARPTON: If someone said that, when I was running for president, that the religious group I was a part of was racist against another group, and somebody else said, well, if somebody -- others that really believe in God -- because I don't accept that as a belief in God -- I would have to defend why I was a member of that group.

Did I denounce that? Did I change? When did I change? I certainly couldn't turn around and call them a bigot for being a victim of what my denomination once perpetrated.

I think the same way front page of "The New York Times" and others went at Obama and asked him questions about his past, who never said anything like that, now have a responsibility to say, well, Governor Romney, were you a Mormon then when this was taught by the church? When did you denounce it? When did you change?

I think that we have got to play the game by one set of rules. But calling me a bigot to raise questions about bigotry, I think that it would be laughable if it wasn't so serious and had been played out through this campaign.

ZAHN: Reverend Sharpton, we have got to leave it there. Thank you for joining us tonight.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.

A lot of people are worried that there is a ticking time bomb inside the U.S. military. Gang members are enlisting, learning to kill, and,, some day, they will be coming home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When these cats come back from -- these gang members come back from Iraq, we are going to have some hell on these streets.


ZAHN: Out in the open next: What can our military and our cities do now to head off deadly trouble later?

Also, the numbers are going to make you absolutely sick. Why are high school students dropping out at the rate of 6,000 a day? Now, that's something to debate, Reverend Sharpton.

SHARPTON: I agree with that.

ZAHN: That's disgusting, isn't it?


ZAHN: Out in the open now: the shocking truth about gangs in the U.S. military. The armed forces are the perfect place to go if you want to learn how to kill. And, more and more, members of white, black, and Latino street gangs are signing up. It is so serious, in fact, the FBI calls it a national security threat.

Here is Thelma Gutierrez.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Airman 1st Class Miguel Robinson, AKA Scooby (ph), Los Angeles Crip, Marine PFC Thomas James Laden (ph), AKA Irish (ph), Hammerskin white supremacist, Lance Corporal Andres Raya, affiliation, Norteno gang, they are gangsters in uniform who have infiltrated every branch of the United States military, and mark their territory on base, in barracks, even overseas in Iraq.

At this NCO club at Fort Bragg, a sea of hands openly flash gang signs, the rank-and-file so brazen, their affiliation is often no secret at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I started recruiting active-duty military personnel to join a white supremacy movement to eventually overthrow the United States government.

GUTIERREZ: T.J. Laden (ph) was an extremist, a recruiter for a white supremacist anti-government group who joined the Marines.

(on camera): Why were you there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To just gain knowledge, gain understanding. The military made me a better recruiter, organizer, and propagandist.

GUTIERREZ: Miguel Robinson is a Crip. He joined the Air Force to get away from gang life. It didn't last long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was guilty of drug trafficking in the military and I was guilty of setting up a gang atmosphere.

GUTIERREZ: Robinson and Laden say the military trained them to become more lethal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me a .50-cal sniper rifle, and I can take down a .747 tomorrow over any major United States city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They put me in the military and gave me a gun, so now I shoot straight now? I'm not just spraying? I'm actually knocking things down?

GUTIERREZ (on camera): No one knows for sure just how many gang members are in the military. By some estimations, it's less than 1 percent of all military personnel, hardly an epidemic, but enough to prompt the FBI to issue this report.

(voice-over): Gang members at military installations from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have been involved in drug distribution, robberies, assaults, and murder. According to this 2007 internal FBI document, the report found that gang activity in the U.S. -- quote -- "is increasing and poses a threat to law enforcement officials and national security."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military men training gangsters on how to use weapons.

GUTIERREZ: An issue law enforcement is taking seriously.

Al Valdez (ph) is a former detective. He trains police around the country on gangs in the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not illegal to be a gang member in the United States. And it's a protected right. In fact, the head of Army Recruitment Command correctly states that. What happens is, they bring that gangster mentality within the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When these cats come back from -- these gang members come back from Iraq, we are going to have some hell on these streets, because these dudes are coming back with training that's on another level.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A gang member that has military training, he doesn't run. He stands his ground and goes after that cop.

GUTIERREZ: Ceres, California, 2005. Lance Corporal Andres Raya is home from Iraq. The 19-year-old Marine who police say has close ties with the Norteno Mexican gang, but no criminal history, sets up a police ambush. No one knows why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still shooting. We're still shooting.

GUTIERREZ: Wearing a poncho and carrying an automatic assault rifle, Raya calls 911, and lures police to a liquor store. Security cameras capture the rest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was yelling orders at this fellow to show me your hands.

GUTIERREZ: Officer Sam Ryno and his partner are the first on the scene. Raya spots them. He takes cover at the corner. Then, using a military tactical technique called slicing the pie, Raya searches out his targets, then begins firing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next thing I remember is hearing a shot and instantaneously, getting hit in the lower left leg.

GUTIERREZ: Reya continues firing, hitting Ryno four times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can feel the bullets hitting on the pavement by me so I know this guy is still trying to kill me.

GUTIERREZ: That's when officer John King (ph) arrives, a seven- year veteran of the Army. King grabs his rifle and returns fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy. I'm coming in from the east.

GUTIERREZ: A Marine on a rampage who begins firing at a fourth officer, using a technique called suppression fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He continued to fire on Howard the whole time, keeping Howard pinned down behind the wall.

GUTIERREZ: Sergeant Howard Stevenson (ph), a 23-year year veteran of the Ceres Police Department, didn't have a chance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He ran up on him and within three feet and shot him in the head twice with -- at point blank range with an automatic rifle.

GUTIERREZ: Reya is then cornered and killed in a firefight with officers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this case, this guy was a killer hiding in a United States Marine Corps uniform.

GUTIERREZ: The Defense Department declined an on-camera interview for this story, but acknowledged to CNN it is concerned about gang activity. The United States Army Criminal Investigation Command states, quote: "We do not deny there is some gang activity and gang association within the military. But we do not see it as a rampant issue."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they will tell you straight to your face, we don't have a problem with gangs in the military. Wow. Amazing.

GUTIERREZ: T.J. Laden (ph), a former Marine and former skinhead now writes about extremists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have racist graffiti, gang graffiti in Baghdad on military installations in the United States. Guys wearing gang clothes to E-clubs, but you don't have a problem with gang members in the military? Quite interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looked like a kid.

GUTIERREZ: Miguel Robinson (ph), a Los Angeles Crip, who now brokers ceasefires between warring gangs, says some gang members may change for the better in the military but warns most will not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can take the gang member out the hood but you can't take the hood out of the gang member. See what I'm saying? So when they come back and they shed that uniform, they are still going to pick their rags back up.

GUTIERREZ: No comfort to Sam Rino, who was forced to retire because of his wounds. He says a day doesn't go by that he doesn't think about the Marine with street gang roots who took his friend's life and nearly ended his.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Ceres, California.


ZAHN: And recently one military unit tried to do something about gangs, but what happened next has outraged New Mexico's governor.


GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do believe when you strip search soldiers without any substantial cause, there should be an apology.


ZAHN: So coming up next, why did authorities strip search members of the National Guard unit?

And a little bit later on, an appalling crisis that is hitting our high schools all over the country. How can it be that more than a million students a year are simply dropping out?


ZAHN: Welcome back. We are bringing gangs in the U.S. military "Out in the Open" tonight. Earlier, we reported that white supremacists, black and Latino gangs, have all infiltrated the military where they're learning to kill. Sometimes, taking that skill home to America's streets.

The military says the problem is not widespread, less than 1 percent of the armed forces may be gang members, but that would mean well over 10,000 in uniform. So what is the military doing about that? Well, members of one New Mexico National Guard unit that served in Kuwait say they were singled out because of their race. Forced to strip down to their shorts in a search for gang tattoos. The majority of them, Hispanic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SGT. 1ST CLASS FRANK RAMIREZ, NEW MEXICO NATIONAL GUARD: It's very undignifying and a very hurtful situation for our soldiers mostly.


ZAHN: The commander of the New Mexico National Guard says Task Force Cobra was targeted after one soldier from Wisconsin complained about the unit and sparked an investigation.


COL. KENNY MONTOYA, NEW MEXICO NATIONAL GUARD: The investigator picked up on this and he came 200 miles away to look at our unit because they we were the only Hispanic unit in-country, 55 percent were Hispanic last named.


ZAHN: An Army investigation found that the search was legal and authorized and race played no part. But it also said the tattoo inspections should be stopped. Well, that's not enough for New Mexico's congressional delegation, which is calling for a new investigation supported by governor and presidential candidate, Bill Richardson, who joins me now.

Always good to see you. Welcome.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: So you know what the Army is saying about this? That this search was absolutely legal, it was authorized, it had nothing to do with race. Why are you so convinced that these soldiers were targeted because they were Hispanic?

RICHARDSON: I mean, just because somebody has a tattoo and just because somebody is Hispanic doesn't mean that they're a gang member. And so what you're seeing is men and women that are in combat, that are Hispanic, that are patriotic, and they're stripped down to see if they have tattoos. And they're not given a rational explanation.

ZAHN: What was your personal reaction when you heard that they had to strip down to their black shorts and be subjected to the humiliation of this kind of search?

RICHARDSON: Well, I was upset and I asked the general, Montoya (ph), I said, what are you doing about this? This isn't right. This is typecasting. This is stereotyping Hispanics just because somebody has a tattoo. Almost everybody that I see around has tattoos.

ZAHN: Do you have a tattoo?

RICHARDSON: No, I don't have a tattoo, but this is prevalent. And so General Montoya said, I want to handle this through military channels. I said, fine, but I believe there has been a whitewash by some elements in the Army, some very sloppy investigation. ZAHN: Governor, as I'm listening to you, it sounds to me like you're trying to have it both ways here. On one hand, you're accusing the Army of practicing racial stereotyping. On the other hand, you say it is a possibility that there was some sloppiness and stupidity involved here.

RICHARDSON: I think it's mainly sloppiness, ignorance. Is it conscious racism? I can't prove that. I do believe when you strip- search soldiers without any substantial cause, there should be an apology.

ZAHN: Final question for you tonight about the presidential race. One poll has you pegged at 5 percent, of all the support, of all the Democratic candidates after Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, who is not even officially running. Is America ready for an Hispanic president?

RICHARDSON: I think America is ready for an Hispanic president, an African-American. It's ready for a woman president. I even think a Mormon, although I'm not advocating that. I think those polls are reflective of the fact that this race is nine months away and I'm just getting started. I'm fine where I am right now. I'm rising.

ZAHN: You're fine where you are?

RICHARDSON: Absolutely.

ZAHN: You can't be happy with that number, Governor.

RICHARDSON: Well, I'm happy with it. I am moving up. I mean, I started below the margin of error. I'm not a rock star. I'm not -- I don't have tons of money, millions of dollars. I've got the issues. I've got the background. American people make the right judgments in the end.

ZAHN: Governor Richardson, always good to see you.

RICHARDSON: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks for your time tonight.

Time to change our focus now to the day's medical news in tonight's "Vital Signs." A report today says the Veterans Administration needs to overhaul the way it handles vets with post- traumatic stress disorder. The report from a medical think-tank question the standards the V.A. uses to determine benefits. The number of vets getting compensation for PTSD has more than doubled the last seven years but the amount of money spent on them hasn't kept up.

There is some new evidence the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, works. Studies in the New England Journal of Medicine today show that Gardasil protects against cervical cancer for at least three years and can protect against vaginal cancer as well.

Tonight, we move on to a crisis in America. Actually, two separate ones, in high schools are "Out in the Open" for you. Starting with what officials are calling a silent epidemic. Why are teens dropping out at the rate of 6,000 a day? We'll be right back.


ZAHN: "LARRY KING LIVE" coming at you in just a few minutes. And Larry joins us now with a preview.

Hi, Larry, who is joining you tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Hi, Paula. Well, we have got coming up the one and only Jane Fonda, who has had a very special personal reason for looking even more beautiful than ever and she is going to tell me about it. And about working with Lindsay Lohan in her new movie, which is, by the way, terrific. Lots more, too. It's all at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE" -- Paula.

ZAHN: Boy, you've piqued my interest. A personal reason. Are you going to give us any clues?

KING: It involves a member of the opposite sex.

ZAHN: I thought you might have been going in that direction, Larry. We will see you, just about 15 minutes from now. Tell Jane I said hello.

KING: I will.

ZAHN: Thanks.

We're going to spend the rest of the hour focusing on two alarming trends in America's high schools. The number of students who are dropping out and the rise in attacks on teachers. We're going to get to the violence in a couple of minutes. But, first, you're not going to believe these numbers.

More than 1 million students drop out of high school every year. The problem is so widespread that many people call it a silent epidemic and, today, teachers and students gathered in Washington for a summit on the dropout crisis. Why are so many kids giving up on school?

Brianna Keilar brings that "Out into the Open" tonight.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lyle Oates (ph) is now back in high school after two years on the streets dealing drugs and getting arrested. Janelle Harrison (ph) was at risk to drop out but despite the odds, she graduated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was one of the lucky ones.

KEILAR: They are the experts on America's dropout crisis here to give policy makers, teachers and parents a reality check. Not all of their stories are successes.

FALLON O'HAGAN, HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT: I definitely made the wrong decision by dropping out of school.

KEILAR: Fallon O'Hagan left in ninth grade, she now works two jobs as a waitress.

O'HAGAN: After I left, I felt like I had gone too far and I couldn't go back. And then the longer I said that to myself, the longer I stayed out of school and that is what happens, I guess. One day I just woke up and realized that, you know, I wasted it.

KEILAR: By many estimates, nearly a third of public high school students fail to graduate with their class. Minority students fare even worse. About half of African-American, Hispanic and Native American students leave high school without a diploma. They complain of teachers who don't care and a lack of interest in what they're learning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't really excite me.

O'HAGAN: And I guess I just got bored and left.

KEILAR (on camera): It may seem counterintuitive, but experts say higher expectations and more challenging course work may help. They also point to smaller classes and the importance of students having a strong connection with at least one teacher or mentor at school.

(voice-over): It's a crisis that has caught the attention of an odd assortment of partners who met today in Washington. Among them, first lady Laura Bush.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Dropouts are more likely to be unemployed and to receive public assistance. They are more likely to be in prison or unhealthy or divorced. They're more likely to be single parents and to raise children who drop out of high school themselves.

KEILAR: MTC is also raising awareness with a documentary called "The Dropout Chronicles."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think to myself, like, oh, what am I doing here? Why do I have to learn this?

KEILAR: It profiles three young people and their struggles to graduate, as in real life, some make it and some don't. Many dropouts like Fallon regret leaving school but getting back on track can seem insurmountable.

(on camera): Is it sort of daunting and scary?

O'HAGAN: Yes, very.

KEILAR: I mean, I can see it a little bit on your face, that it seems like this huge mountain that you have to climb and you're kind of standing at the bottom of it, right?

O'HAGAN: Yes, the very bottom. KEILAR (voice-over): Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: And we have another school epidemic to bring "Out in the Open" next. This is an epidemic of violence.


JOE SMITH, TEACHER ASSAULTED BY STUDENT: And then I got dizzy. And all of a sudden, the student, I'm going down. The student hit me with a large book on the back of the head.


ZAHN: Coming up next, what is behind the alarming amount of chaos in America's classrooms? And what more can be done to protect our teachers?


ZAHN: Before the break, we were talking about the staggering number of high school dropouts. Now we're bringing another frightening trend "Out into the Open." High school students attacking their teachers, in some cases with weapons. We've been hearing an awful lot about this lately, but we were especially shocked by several assaults on teachers in Philadelphia.

Deborah Feyerick has more on that.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Frank Burd it began like any other day. He was teaching algebra when a student walked in blasting his iPod.

(on camera): IPods are not even allowed in the class, so why not just kick him out?

FRANK BURD, STUDENT BROKE HIS NECK: If you wound up kicking out everyone who had an iPod and a telephone, you would probably be teaching three people.

FEYERICK (voice-over): But the student refused to turn down the music. Moments later, chaos erupted. Senior Frank Jenkins (ph) saw it happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kid came out of nowhere and just hit him, so hard.

BURD: I have a picture of myself lying on the floor, my head in a puddle of my own blood.

FEYERICK (on camera): Frank Burd's last memory of that day here at Germantown High School (ph) is taking the iPod and walking away. He doesn't remember the student threatening him and following him into the hallway, then pushing him into a second student who punched him, knocking him out. Two weeks later he woke up, his live changed forever.

BURD: I was told that I had my neck was broken in several places. I was told it was big. It was serious.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Violence against teachers is on the rise in some Philadelphia schools. The teachers union surveyed 500 members this year and found the majority, 56 percent, did not feel safe. They've been robbed, hit and, like music teacher Ed Cline (ph), sprayed with a fire extinguisher. Here is what he says about the classroom environment he walked into every day.

(on camera): Hostile?


FEYERICK: Abusive?


FEYERICK: Aggressive?


FEYERICK: And dangerous?


FEYERICK (voice-over): Cline was ready to quit the day he says he was knocked out.

(on camera): He is crouching down like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He hit me I guess with a left hook because my hands were up and I didn't see it.

FEYERICK: So he came around this way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, underneath my hands, yes.

FEYERICK: And you fractured your jaw?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He fractured my jaw.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Teacher assaults are a growing problem in Philadelphia, a problem school administrators trace to family upbringing.

JACK STOLLSTEIMER, SAFE SCHOOLS ADVOCATE: What it really is is a lack of respect for authority, for the teachers, for the principals, for the school police, for all of the adults in the building, but also a lack of respect for their fellow human beings.

FEYERICK: And the students, the violent ones, are not afraid of anyone or anything. The most schools have metal detectors to stop guns and knives, anything can be used as a weapon.

(on camera): Are you taking medication still?

(voice-over): Math teacher Joe Smith was attacked repeatedly in front of his eighth grade class by a 14-year-old girl, after he told her to stop making prank calls from the class phone.

SMITH: She had the phone and beat me across the left side of my eye above my temple.

FEYERICK (on camera): Just attacked you with is it?

SMITH: Attacked me with it. And I started passing out a little bit because it hit me so hard and shocked me, my eye swelled up. And then I had fallen down. And then I thought she was done. I got up and she took a dictionary and hit me the back of my head. Then I got -- I'm dizzy from the front and back. And then she ran up to me and grabbed my tie and started choking me and broke my tie on my neck.

FEYERICK: So she came back to you three times?

SMITH: Three times, yes.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Teachers finally arrive to break it up but Smith says he is the one who had to call the police.

SMITH: Because I could have died. I could have gotten killed. If I hit that student, the police would have been there in three seconds. She hit me, it took them an hour-and-a-half to come. We have no protection.

FEYERICK: No protection from the bad students who are in the minority, but who cast a shadow over their schools.

SMITH: There's a whole lot of good kids that come here every day who graduate with honors.

FEYERICK: Germantown High School says it's working to fix its problem and since the attack on Frank Burd, officials have transferred out more than 140 of the most troubled students. In Philadelphia, hitting a teacher is a felony. All four teens faced criminal charges. Only one, Ed Cline's attacker, got off without serving any time.

(on camera): Do you have flashbacks about this?


FEYERICK (voice-over): As for the future, the three teachers are on disability, debating whether they will ever return to the classroom. If and when they do, Smith says for him, things will be different.

SMITH: I will try my best to hold back. But if I get attacked again, I will have to protect myself in some way, some manner.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Philadelphia. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Wow. I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that all three teachers are also undergoing counseling, they hope to someday return to the classroom, and as you just heard, protect themselves if they are ever attacked again.

We're going to move on to a quick "Biz Break" right now. Another record on the Dow, up 53 points today. The Nasdaq and S&P both closed about 5 points higher. The Federal Reserve are leaving interest rates right where they are for now. It has been nearly a year since the last rate changed.

The Chinese government is taking action over the tainted pet food that may have killed thousands of dogs and cats in the U.S. China today announced a crackdown on foot contamination and says it has now detained managers from two companies linked to the tainted pet food.

And we will be right back. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: That's it for us tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Have a great night.