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Saddam Calls For Iraqis To Fight 'Invaders'; Texas Wildfires Near Amarillo Claim Homes, Livestock; Witness Coaching in Moussaoui Trail Puts Death Penalty In Question

Aired March 15, 2006 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: I'm Soledad O'Brien. We've got some breaking news out of Iraq today. A big day in the Saddam Hussein trial. Saddam Hussein is on the stand right now. We're going to bring you a live report.

Also, calls for a shake up at the White House. Insiders are saying new blood is needed to get the president back on track.

M. O'BRIEN: Texas on high alert once again today. High winds could spread wildfires. Firefighters are stretched thin in the panhandle.

And the problem, of course, too much water in Hawaii. A dam bursts and now all-out search for the missing; concerns about other dams as well.

S. O'BRIEN: And we're going to take you back to Sago mine, today. For the first time since the explosion workers go back into the mine. Those stories are all ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Big development out of Baghdad. Saddam Hussein just minutes ago taking the stand at his trial. This will certainly be critical testimony. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson has been in the courtroom. And we're talking with him on the line right now.

Nic, how long has Saddam been on the stand? What is he saying?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's been on the stand about 15 minutes, Miles. He is beginning to lay out what is perhaps going to be his defense here. The judge asked him for his name. He gave his name, he gave his date of birth. The judge asked him for his qualifications. He said the president of Iraq.

He went on to say that God had trusted him to lead Iraq and he repeated again, he said, I am Saddam Hussein Al Majid, president of Iraq, and commander of militant forces.

That was the translation given by the translator inside the courtroom, commander of militant forces, I believe that it's the first time we've heard Saddam Hussein cast himself as the leader of what happens was he is referring to as the insurgent forces in Iraq. We will certainly look for more and clearer translation on that as his testimony goes on.

The judge has told Saddam Hussein that he has plenty of time to give his testimony in front of the court. That he has given it before in writing to a judge, but now it's Saddam Hussein's opportunity to tell the court his testimony. And we will likely hear the judge begin to ask him questions and the prosecution will likely follow on after that, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: We should tell our viewers what we are seeing here are old pictures here. Saddam Hussein is currently testifying, there a taped delay. We don't have immediate live transmission out of that courtroom. I believe it's been on the order of 20 minutes. As soon as we get those pictures in, we'll show them to you.

Nic, in the meantime, set the scene for us in this courtroom. Would you?

ROBERTSON: It's very interesting, Miles. I've watched Saddam Hussein come into this courtroom on a number of occasions. He normally walks in fairly slowly. He looks around. He takes in everything and everybody that's in the courtroom. Often waves at the bank of defense lawyers that are just close to the dock.

Today, he walked in quite briskly. His shoulders were bent and his head was down. He didn't really look across there to the defense, didn't really acknowledge his defense team, tried to sit down in his normal seat. The guard showed him he should sit down in the middle seat. He sat down immediately.

It appeared when he came in today he was expecting a tough session. His head was down and he looked for somewhere to sit immediately, and he didn't really acknowledge the defense team. That is a change in his demeanor that I see -- that I see today.

However, his -- the statements that he is giving, he said he wasn't given a lot of time to prepare his statement today. We said it was a bit of a surprise that he was brought into the courtroom today. But he was reading from a written statement. That statement was like what we've been hearing from him from the beginning, he still considers himself as president of Iraq and, as such, considers the court an illegitimate court -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson, who is watching the trial for us. Saddam Hussein, once again, on the stand, as soon as we get some video showing him on the stand, we'll bring it to you. Just to clarify, those pictures you saw were file pictures from previous appearances as the trial has progressed -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's take it back to Texas now. And of course the Texas panhandle flat as a skillet, and ideal for fast-moving grass fires. Firefighters this morning are gearing up for what could be a very difficult day. High winds could send embers easily across the landscape. Let's get right to CNN's Ed Lavandera, he's at a fire command center in Amarillo, Texas, this morning.

Hey, Ed. Good morning. How is it looking? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Soledad.

Well, everyone here on high alert today, high winds, as you mentioned. We are at the staging ground where the calls for reinforcement to surrounding states has gone out. But behind the scenes, what you will not see is that the wild west has gone high tech to fight these wild fires.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Sunday morning about 11:30.

LAVANDERA (voice over): Wildfires erupt and Danny Richards is staring at a frightening scene from the control room of the Emergency Operation Center in Border. Eight cameras, normally used to track tornadoes, capture a massive wall of smoke and fire threatening the small town northeast of Amarillo.

DANNY RICHARDS, EMERGENCY OPERATIONS COORDINATOR: This probably exceeded what we thought was the worst-case scenario by three or four times.

LAVANDERA: Firefighting is a dirty business. Low-tech roll up your sleeves kind of work.

RICHARDS: Emergency operations, this is Danny.

LAVANDERA: But from this room in the basement of city hall, high tech weaponry supports the front line.

RICHARDS: When you see a fire break out it is extremely important to get on it as quickly as possible.

LAVANDERA: Radar can capture the first glimpse of a fire.

RICHARDS: They produce enough smoke that they appear on our radar screen as clouds. If we would see a smoke plume begin, we would turn our cameras onto that area and try to get visual confirmation.

LAVANDERA: Firefighters then attack. Of course, Sunday's wildfire outbreak couldn't be controlled. The winds were too strong. Back in the emergency center, Danny Richards could hear everything the firefighters were up against. Radio transmission is channeled into this room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's still a lot fire coming across this way. It's starting back up, moving back towards the school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire has hopped the highway on us?

LAVANDERA: In a matter of seconds, Richards was also getting a close look at the flames. Firefighters using satellite technology, beaming pictures back instantly.

RICHARDS: Any time you have flame lengths from the ground to the top of six to ten-foot flames, then we know, you know, a little more information about what kind of fire that we're fighting.

LAVANDERA: The flames this past Sunday reached 12 feet. Danny Richards and the 150 firefighters in this area were outgunned. So they developed a new game plan to get the fire under control.

RICHARDS: There's a certain amount of low tech of firefighting that you have to do to get out and get your hands dirty to fight a wildfire. We try to support those men in the field with as much technology as we can.


LAVANDERA: Several counties here in the Texas panhandle have similar kind of technology in their emergency center, so they will be using that today. But it's also very low tech here. There in Hutchinson County, which is northeast of Amarillo, volunteers will be put out, fanned out across the county, with binoculars to keep track of any fires that might break out -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, Ed, let me ask you a question about all the livestock in the area. When you talk about a giant area that has been devastated, what is happening to the livestock?

LAVANDERA: It's going to be a huge economic impact on this region; 840,000 acres has burned here and much of this is ranch land and farmland. There are thousands of cattle that have essentially been burned in these wildfires. We know one cattle rancher who had 750 cattle, and he's only been able to find 40 of them so far.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh. How awful. Ed Lavandera for us this morning in Amarillo, Texas. Ed, thank you.

And certainly weather is critical for battling the fires. Let's check the forecast because wind is going to be crucial. A bad day, isn't it, Chad?


M. O'BRIEN: Government's death penalty case against Zacarias Moussaoui still alive, but really just barely. Yesterday, the judge barred key witnesses from testifying against the Al Qaeda conspirator. This, after a government attorney violated the rules sending court transcripts to those witnesses. Here is Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING (voice over): It is a body blow to the prosecution case against Zacarias Moussaoui. The judge is excluding aviation evidence and testimony from aviation officials.

ANDREW MCBRIDE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: These seven witnesses are the key to the government showing that had Moussaoui showing the truth in August, they would of able to stop one of those planes in September and saved lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am, why did you do it?

MESERVE: Transportation Security Administration lawyer Karla Martin triggered the ruling, by violating a court order prohibiting the coaching of witnesses, sending e-mails, including trial transcripts.

Six of the seven witnesses told the court they did not think their testimony had been affected, but Judge Leonie Brinkema concluded, whether these witnesses have actually been tainted or not is almost impossible to tell." and excluded them.

STEPHEN SALTZBURG, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It is inexcusable. I mean, even a rookie lawyer ought to know about the rule on sequestration, which is that it means witnesses can't hear other witnesses.

MESERVE: Brinkema also accused Martin of telling a "bold-faced lie" after it was revealed that three witnesses knew nothing about a government letter based on information from Martin, saying they would not talk to the defense. Two of the witnesses said, in fact, they would have. Brinkema said, "I don't think in the annals of criminal law there was ever been a case with this many significant problems."

Some 9/11 family members were distraught that a government lawyer had weakened the case against Moussaoui.

ROSEMARY DILLARD, WIFE OF 9/11 VICTIM: It felt like my heart had been ripped out. I felt like my husband had been killed again. I felt like the government has let me down one more time.

MESERVE: The trial is in recess until Monday, while the government contemplates its next move. An appeal is widely expected. Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Alexandria, Virginia.


M. O'BRIEN: Recently the parents of a man killed on 9/11 came face-to-face with Zacarias Moussaoui's mother. In just a few moments they will join us live in the studio and tell us what that was like. You can only imagine.

S. O'BRIEN: A desperate search to tell you about. It's going on right now on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. A Coast Guard helicopter is searching for seven people missing after a dam break. At least one person was killed when the 100-year old dam failed on Tuesday. The islands, as Chad has been telling us, has been hit by weeks of heavy rain. At daybreak they will add another aircraft to the search, and try to look for these folks.

Workers will go back into the Sago mine today for the first time since the January 2 explosion. You will recall, of course, that 12 workers died while waiting 41 hours to be rescued. The company now says that blast was in fact set off a lightning strike. The sole survivor, Randal McCloy made his first visit home on Tuesday. He is walking with assistance. Talking just a little bit. They say his conversation are not quite normal yet. And in baseball, former baseball star Dwight Gooden is waking up in a Florida jail today. He is being held without bond in the Hillsboro County jail. He goes before a judge this morning. Hs arrest came after a regular meeting with a probation official and a drug screening test that came back positive for cocaine. Last November, he pleaded guilty to leaving a DUI traffic stop.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come, more on that dam break in Hawaii, leading to an intense search. Two homes swept away. Perhaps seven people missing. We'll check in with the Coast Guard on the hunt in helicopters underway right now.

S. O'BRIEN: And of course, if you sue the search engine, Google -- and pretty much every does -- listen up. A judge makes a key ruling on a big privacy case. Andy is "Minding Your Business" with that story ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: And later, two moms on opposite side of a tragedy. One lost a son in 9/11, the other's son accused of aiding that tragedy. Their dramatic meeting ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: New pictures coming in, once again, to remind you, this is a bit of a tape delay here. We don't have live immediate transmission out of the courtroom in Baghdad of the Saddam Hussein trial. So this happened roughly 20 minutes ago as Saddam Hussein takes stand in his trial, formally, for the first time.

He is, of course, to remind you, on trial alleged to the killing of 148 Shiite men in the 1980s. Allegedly a reprisal for an assassination attempt as he toured the town of Dujail in 1982. Saddam Hussein has already, in his testimony, brief as it has been so far, called the court a comedy against Saddam Hussein and his comrades. His half-brother had testified earlier in the day.

Let's try to listen for just a moment to the translator as the judge and Saddam Hussein exchange conversation here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The case, you are accused and the case of legit. In the name of God, merciful.


M. O'BRIEN: OK. Apparently we're not getting --.

SADDAM HUSSEIN (through translator): I'll ask in this session unexpectedly to give what is called a statement, called since the horrible invasion the criminal court. Since this play has come against Saddam Hussein and his comrades, only played out only because Saddam, with God willing, was chosen to lead Iraqi people. On strength committed to my responsibility. I'm responsible before God for my people. This is an honor and a duty to the people of Iraq. To the great people of Iraq, and to the beloved homeland, and our great nation. On the principles which inspired me to carry out my duty, I was the leader on the son and the soul. And their point of reference and there were my sword on my shield, under the great banner of Iraq. God is great. We work together in building and in facing the enemies, and aggressors, and the saboteurs.

From the beginning, and since they voted me in twice, according to the constitution, as president and leader in a free and democratic referendum, according to our Iraqi Arab and Islamic traditions that have roots in history. The referendum was introduced, by me, to my colleagues. So it became one of our traditions. And part of our constitution. Therefore, I, Saddam Hussein, the president of the Republic of Iraq, and the commander in chief of the armed forces, I am committed to this, and I'm committed to the constitution as my rights and to my great people who will not accept that the foreign invader and the traitors would act on his behalf and deny him the principles and the values that I'm committed to.


M. O'BRIEN: As he makes his statement there, he begins his testimony at trial that has gone on now in fits and starts, at last, Saddam Hussein begins his testimony. As you can see, referring consistently to the fact that he is the rightful, God-appointed leader of the people of Iraq. Really giving little credence or credibility to the courtroom in which he stands as he begins his testimony. We will continue to watch this closely, of course, and bring you excerpts of this throughout the morning.

S. O'BRIEN: He called it illegitimate. As much it is a different day, to a large degree, the same story, as you hear him saying I represent the people. He went on to say I'm still your sword despite what's happened to me, my comrades. And then eventually the judge, at some point, interrupts and says this is not a political speech you'll have lots of time to make your case.

We see Saddam Hussein sort of sticking to the same tune which is I still represent the Iraqi people even though he begins his first day on the stand in his own defense. We're going to take a short break. We will monitor what is happening in Baghdad. We'll get to business news, as well, right after the break. Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Careful what you search online. Andy Serwer is here to tell us about the fight between Google and the government.

ANDY SERWER, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: This is fascinating stuff, I think. It's a case with lasting implications. Yesterday in San Jose, California, U.S. District Judge James Ware (ph) we're ruled that Google has to turn over customer information to the Department of Justice, this after the government scaled back its request for the amount of information that it wanted from the Internet giant. Originally the government wanted 1 million random web sites and one week's worth of search from Google. It's now requesting 50,000 web sites and 5,000 searches. This is part of the government's effort, it says, to battle child pornography on the Internet. Which is something that we, obviously, think is a laudable project for them to be doing. The question is, and privacy experts wonder if the government is trying to do more. This is actually sort of a red herring or a Trojan horse to get into the business of surveilling U.S. citizens on the Internet. That is the big question.

S. O'BRIEN: Kind of the slippery slope theory. You open the door a little crack and then legally you can get in; 50,000 is what they've asked for. How does scaling back really make a difference? Is that going to help towards nabbing child pornographers?

SERWER: Yes, well it's unclear if they thought they needed a million, now they only need 50,000. That is also kind of a mystery here, about the whole process. You know, it's such a huge amorphous world out there. What are you looking for? How are they doing this process? A lot of questions for the Department of Justice.

S. O'BRIEN: Randomness seems like that wouldn't help for child porn not to do random searches, I would think.

M. O'BRIEN: Maybe I'm dense. I don't understand how this helps actually capture these despicable people.

SERWER: That's a mystery to me. If you have the 50,000 web sites, and what if you find zero? What does that tell you? Or what if you find five? I think the DOJ needs to explain a little bit more what they are doing here.

M. O'BRIEN: That would be nice.

SERWER: There's a safer process (ph), they're suggesting, perhaps.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right. Andy, thank you.

SERWER: Thank you.


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