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CNN LIVE TODAY

New Terror Chief?; Hunting the Taliban; Cher-Ing Her Voice

Aired June 15, 2006 - 10:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up in this hour of CNN LIVE TODAY, picture this, the new face of al Qaeda in Iraq. That is what U.S. officials -- military officials believe. A closer look with new details on who this man is coming up.
The lone survivor of a deadly coal mine accident, Randy McCloy, Jr., attending the signing ceremony for tougher mine safety laws. We'll have live coverage of that.

And he came crashing to a mountain floor after a 100-foot free fall. He's now an amputee. This climber is scaling peaks again, and get this, he says his life is better than ever.

Hear his story on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

We're going to take a close look at -- a close look at this picture this hour. U.S. forces in Iraq are, no doubt, doing the same thing right now.

This is a photo of a man believed to be the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike last week. The military identifies him as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Muhajer

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: He operates primarily in the past out of southern Baghdad. Raids in April and May of this year into areas of southern Baghdad recovered some materials confirming his high-level involvement in the facilitation of foreign fighters to conduct attacks in Baghdad itself. On 13 June, or June 13th, we did see posted by him threatening retaliatory attacks against the multi-national force for the death of Zarqawi, claiming that our only option was to leave this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what can you tell us about this guy? And what is the U.S. military doing to try to find him?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the reason they put -- decided to go ahead and put the picture out, Daryn. They do want to find him. And he was not very well-known.

The feeling was that U.S. and Iraqi troops, if they came across this man, wouldn't even know who they had on their hands. So the picture is now out, even though officials tell us they knew they were running the risk of creating another iconic figure.

But this is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian man, they say, who was very close to Zarqawi. Met him in 2001 in training camps in Afghanistan. Trained there as an explosive's expert, came to Baghdad in the 2003 time frame, was a high-level leader in the initial days of al Qaeda in Iraq. Knows suicide bombing technology, IED technology, all of it.

He is now said to be the major operational commander for al Qaeda in Iraq. But, and this is pretty significant, General Caldwell sounds a note of caution that, still, there may be a power struggle after Zarqawi. Have a listen for a minute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALDWELL: Al-Masri's ability to effectively exert leadership over the al Qaeda cells remains unclear. And how many al Qaeda senior leadership members and Sunni terrorists that may attempt to exert their influence and take charge is unknown at this time. We do know that he espouses in open-press statements the same tactics of attacking and killing innocent civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Power struggle, though there may be, this is the man now in the picture frame in Baghdad. The one that now we in the news media, of course, are going to be likely to ask, "Do you have him?" -- Daryn.

KAGAN: What about the stash of documents that they have found in Iraq?

STARR: That came in a press conference that the Iraqis held shortly before General Caldwell's press conference announcing that they had a number of documents that they believe now, in their view, signal the end to al Qaeda in Iraq. Documents that they say show how desperate the organization was, what they were trying to do.

But really, at the end of the day, I think most U.S. military commanders would say there's still a long way to go. A lot of progress. It's definitely good news that Zarqawi is gone.

This man may or may not take over a very public leading role after Zarqawi. But, you know, the bottom line remains. The foreign fighters, al Qaeda in Iraq, that was only a segment of the insurgency, and the rest of the insurgents still is out there -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, thank you.

The war in Iraq setting up political battles on Capitol Hill. Debate in the House this hour could put divided Democrats on the spot. House Republicans are pushing for a resolution against the timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals.

Democrats are split over the issues. They dismiss the issue as political theatrics.

On the Senate side, Democrat John Kerry is expected to call for troops to be re-deployed from the war zone by the year's end.

Meanwhile, also taking place on the floor of the U.S. Senate today, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer criticizing the Iraqi government for the idea they're considering of granting amnesty to those that have harmed U.S. troops.

Let's listen in to that sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: What kind of ally is this? Will he turn on us in two months or six months? He seems to be the new hope of the new government. And within 24 hours after President Bush leaving Iraqi soil, he defames the sacrifice of American soldiers and their families.

President Bush, you should call your friend the prime minister and get him to retract this evil statement immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: No response from the White House on Chuck Schumer's remarks from the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Let's move on to Afghanistan now, sometimes called the forgotten war. Today it's clawing its way back into the headlines for two separate reasons. First, you have an upsurge in violence by Taliban fighters. They're blamed for this attack on a bus that was carrying workers to a U.S. base in Kandahar. At least 10 people died and 15 were wounded.

And now to a massive new initiative in the hunt for Taliban fighters. More than 10,000 U.S.-led troops are fanning out across the country's southern region.

Our Senior International Correspondent Brent Sadler is with the sweep. This is a story you will see only on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENT SADLER, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Canadian combat troops prepare for battle in southern Afghanistan, the sharp end of U.S.-led Operation Mountain Thrust in Kandahar province. Afghan police are not so well-equipped, but they're getting better at killing the Taliban, say the Canadians, learning from each firefight. This combined battle group claims the Taliban is being forced into a corner.

COL. IAN HOPE, COMMANDER, TASK FORCE ORION: I know they're tired. I know they're overwhelmed in this particular area. They still can mount attacks.

SADLER: Afghan police captain Ahmed Masood says villagers are fed up with the insurgent violence and are helping the offensive to succeed by feeding information.

(on camera): Captain, how close are we to the Taliban here?

CAPT. AHMED MASOOD, AFGHAN POLICE: One kilometer. And two kilometers in some places.

SADLER (voice over): But the Taliban know the lay of the land.

MASOOD: Even we have powerful (INAUDIBLE), even we have strong (INAUDIBLE) and airplanes, but they know the area better than us.

SADLER: An advantage, but not one that's going to have much tactical effect on these hunters in pursuit of prey.

(on camera): Operation Mountain Thrust has been hitting the Taliban hard from the air and on the ground. It is a multinational effort. These Canadian troops have been out here for the past few days, sweeping this area of Taliban insurgents.

(voice over): The offensive is now shifting into high gear, calling on some 11,000 American, Canadian, British and Afghan forces.

HOPE: It is a multi-national effort, where we'll have pressure on Taliban forces throughout the entirety of the southern region of Afghanistan. Simultaneous activity, which is all focused at disrupting them.

SADLER: Charlie Company Task Force Orion completes four days of fighting that determine Taliban at close quarters.

MAJ. BILL FLETCHER, COMMANDER, CHARLIE COMPANY: At which point two of our personnel were wounded. At that point in time, we had already had artillery. And as a cut-off, we brought in a 1,000-pound bomb to destroy the target and then finish the sweep-through.

SADLER: A tough mission all around.

PVT. NATHAN COVENEY, CHARLIE COMPANY: Yes, I'm glad to be back, but time kind of goes slow here. And I like being out there. We're doing the business.

SADLER: The deadly business of defeating their Taliban enemy.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: In other world news, a horrific bus bombing in north- central Sri Lanka. Sixty-four people dead, another 45 injured, many of them children.

The government blames the Tamil Tiger rebels for planting a landmine that ripped apart the crowded bus. Sri Lanka's military responded to the blast with airstrikes on rebel positions. Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland, and the group denies responsibility for this bus attack. It blames paramilitary elements.

Oil going to waste, it's not a pretty picture for a U.S. soldier in Iraq. His assignment ahead this hour on CNN LIVE TODAY.

And she's known for her outrageous outfits. Now Cher is focused on what soldiers wear.

That story ahead on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Well, I do believe we have a bit of a rally on Wall Street.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

Troops in Iraq have a new ally. The singer Cher. No, she's not performing, just trying to save lives.

Our Jeanne Moos filed the story for "THE SITUATION ROOM".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The singer known for flirtatiously playing with sailor's hats has turned her attention to helmets. Cher likes to wear her own outrageous headgear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look lovely as always.

MOOS: Now she's worried about what soldiers wear.

CHER, SINGER: It's the a difference between life and death.

MOOS: Man the battle ships, Cher has come to Washington to fight for the fighting men and women. Her weapon, the quietly serious C- SPAN.

CHER: The helmet becomes a weapon in itself.

MOOS: Cher has teamed up with a group called Operation Helmet, dedicated to supplying soldiers with padding that improves helmets. The Army has already upgraded theirs, but the other services tend to have old-fashioned webbing instead that allows the helmet itself to strike the head in an explosion. When fitted with the new padding, watch what happens. Remember Sonny and Cher, well now it's Bob and Cher.

BOB MEADERS, FOUNDER OPERATION HELMET: She is the real thing. I can tell you that. She has a heart as big as Texas.

MOOS: Retired Navy physician, Doctor Bob Meaders founded Operation Helmet because the military couldn't come up with the money to upgrade existing helmets. Cher herself donated over $100,000. She's been visiting wounded soldiers.

CHER: That one boy really touched my heart so much.

MOOS: When she went to autograph a picture for the boy in the hospital...

CHER: ... How do you spell your name? And I looked over and he had to look at his wristband because he had head injuries.

MOOS: This isn't the first time that Cher has been on C-SPAN. On Memorial Day Weekend, she called in at 4:30 in the morning without mentioning who she was until she asked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And is this Cher?

CHER: Yes.

MOOS: Which prompted "The Daily Show" to use an "I Got Through Babe" graphic. Cher is an unabashed liberal, who opposes Bush administration policies.

CHER: I just cannot bare these people for another moment.

MOOS: Cher will join Doctor Meaders when he testifies about Operation Helmet before a congressional subcommittee. A performer whose own head gear turns heads may have soldiers tipping their hats to her.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: And you can see more stories from Ms. Moos on "THE SITUATION ROOM." Join Wolf Blitzer at 4:00 Eastern, and again in prime time at 7:00.

Going underground. Illegal immigrants take a dark and dirty route across the border, and too often there is no exit.

CNN's Rick Sanchez took the sewer pipe crossing for "AC 360."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You wouldn't think that underneath this 90-pound manhole cover, hundreds, maybe thousands of people, are sneaking into the U.S., through sewer pipes so filthy, so dangerous, city workers won't go inside them without first dropping a hazardous chemical detector to check for methane and other deadly gases. Yet dangerous as they may be, these subterranean tunnels offer huge rewards for smugglers who know them well enough to escort as many as 30 immigrants per trip, charging up to $1,500 P.R. person for their expertise in avoiding Border Patrol agents like Kurstan Rosberg.

KURSTAN ROSBERG, BORDER PATROL: This is ultimately where the smugglers come out. They enter through a manhole to the north inside the U.S., crawl through the pipes and ultimately come out here. SANCHEZ: Here in these rancid waters which lead to a grated opening. This is where smugglers use blow torches to bust through.

ROSBERG: So they've got time to work in concealment here, cut the grate, and then the people just run over and hop in.

SANCHEZ: The fence they jump is only 20 feet away. That's how close the Mexican border is. And you see these tall reeds? Agents say immigrants use these as hiding places before heading into the sewer pipes.

But then what? What's it like to actually go inside the sewer? For those answers we contacted the San Diego Streets Department Supervisor Aaron Snelling. The 6'5" he barely squeezes through an open manhole to show us the way. I follow behind. Fifteen to 20 feet underground, I find concrete pipes four feet across, too small to get through without crawling or slouching.

(on camera): And there is no visibility down here?

AARON SNELLING, SUPERVISOR, SAN DIEGO STREETS DEPARTMENT: No visibility at all.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): The smuggler leading the way may use a cigarette lighter, but for the rest of the immigrants, including women and children, it looks like this.

We're in total darkness to show what you it's really like for these immigrants as they try and get in here. Go ahead now and turn on the light.

(on camera): This is how they have to go through these pipes. Literally feeling their way, because they're not able to see anything. You can see the smudge and the dirt and the mud that's -- you have to walk through to get through this thing.

What makes it worse, oftentimes they come in to these pipes thinking they're only going to be in here a few minutes. But it turns out one of these manhole covers will be shut and they'll have to go to the next one, or worse. The smuggler will simply lie to them.

And we could be walking down this tunnel for a couple of blocks.

SNELLING: A good seven to eight blocks this way. Over 1,000 feet.

SANCHEZ: That's a long way.

SNELLING: Yes, it is.

SANCHEZ: To walk in the dark in a tunnel.

SNELLING: By just touch and feel, yes.

SANCHEZ: That's got to be real creepy.

SNELLING: Real creepy.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Look at size of the cockroaches. They attract rats, and they attract snakes. But Snelling says the biggest danger is simply running out of air. That's why he and his workers only come down here with one of these.

SNELLING: This detects flammables, carbon monoxide or anything that's going to deplete the oxygen.

SANCHEZ: Undocumented immigrants who have been caught in these tunnels say they're taught to travel like a human chain.

(on camera): So, what, do they just feel their way around?

SNELLING: Normally, they're just holding onto the person ahead of them and just touching the walls and feeling their out until they get to a point where someone's tapping on the street.

SANCHEZ: But too often the way out is no way out.

(voice-over): This is their escape patch. Imagine if a car or a truck passes over as someone tries to get out. That's why in some areas Border Patrol agents now seal the manholes or place sensors around them.

ROSBERG: The sensor will pick up the vibration and send a signal to dispatch. Dispatch will in turn call our agents in the area and they'll respond.

SANCHEZ: If they get there in time. For now, with a 23-mile network of sewage and drainage pipes, snaking under the U.S. border and 500 manholes, the serious border crisis has turned into a deadly subterranean game of catch me if you can.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, San Diego.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Anderson Cooper is covering all sides of the illegal immigration story. You can catch "AC 360" weeknights at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.

A developing story taking place. Carol Lin has that for us -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Daryn, it looks one of the big debates for the Supreme Court this year is privacy rights versus what the police need to know, whether a crime is being committed.

This just came in, that a Supreme Court decision by a 5-4 vote says that police can use evidence in a home with a warrant if they didn't knock on the suspect's door. Now, this goes back to a Detroit police case involving a drug raid where officer announced that they were entering the house, but that they didn't knock. It's almost like a lesson in manners here. Previous rulings had usually demanded that police actually knock and announce themselves. Daryn, this is not the end of the debate. I mean, back in March, the Supreme Court was dealing with the question as to whether police could enter, even if they knocked, if two people inside disagreed whether the police should come in, whether that would be legal.

So, this is obviously a big decision. But, you know, if a crime is being committed in a house, you know, conservatives might argue, let the police in under any circumstance. But this is an issue that the Supreme Court is taking up today.

KAGAN: Carol Lin.

Thank you, Carol.

Doctors gave this man less than an hour to live, but this mountain climber rises to new heights. He fell nearly a hundred feet to what should have been certain death. You're going to meet him just ahead on CNN LIVE TODAY.

And you get a lemon, you make lemonade. That's how the saying goes. But not when that lemon is a $1.7 million limited edition Mercedes Benz. In that case, you put the squeeze on Mercedes. Revving up for a fight just ahead.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: We go live now to the White House. President Bush getting ready to sign a new mining safety bill. Also in attendance there is Randy McCloy, Jr. He is the one man who survived the Sago mining disaster in January that took place in West Virginia.

He had a very tough rehabilitation. He's there onhand today, along with his wife, to see the signing take place.

Let's go ahead and listen in to the president.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... Mitch McConnell, members of the United States Senate, as well as Mike Enzi, Senator Ted Kennedy.

I'm particularly thrilled that Senator Robert Byrd is here. I don't know if you know this, but last Monday...

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: ... last Monday he achieved a milestone, and that is he has served longer in the United States Senate than any other senator in our nation's history, and he served with distinction.

And we're glad you're here, Senator. Thank you for coming.

(APPLAUSE) BUSH: I thank -- I thank Majority Leader John Boehner for joining us, as well as Congressman Buck McKeon and Shelley Moore Capito, Hal Rogers, Rick Boucher from Virginia.

I appreciate all of the members of Congress who join us. I appreciate the leaders of the mining industry. I appreciate the workers who are here.

Thanks for taking time out of your day to come.

I want to welcome the families of those who mourn the loss of life. We share in your grief and we are in the memories of your loved ones.

I know it's hard. It's really hard for you. But we welcome you here and we're honored you took time to be here.

I appreciate members of my administration have joined us as well today.

The hard work of American miners provides us with really important fuel. This economy's growing because of the work of our miners. Coal is an important part of our nation's present and future.

Thanks to modern technology and equipment, we've come a long way from the days when a miner would take a canary into the coal mines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BUSH: Passage -- and since the passage of the Mine Safety and Health Act in '77, 1977, America has seen significant decreases of injuries and fatal mining accidents. Yet, events in recent months have reminded us that mining is dangerous work. That's what we've seen.

This year alone, accidents have taken the lives of 33 miners in our country. Just last month, five miners were killed in a mine explosion in Harlan County, Kentucky. And in January, Americans watched and prayed. A lot of Americans prayed with the people of West Virginia for the 13 miners that were trapped underground by the explosion in the Sago Mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BUSH: Only one man came out. He's with us today, Randal McCloy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank god.

BUSH: And his wife Anna.

And we welcome you all. Glad you're here.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And we know -- we know and I hope you know that your falling mining brothers are with us here today in spirit. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.

BUSH: They're with us today with their loved ones here. Eyes wet with tears, but proud of their accomplishments.

We're glad you're here.

We honor the memory of all lost miners today. That's what we're doing signing this bill.

We make this promise to American miners and their families, we'll do everything possible to prevent mine accidents and make sure you're able to return safely to your loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BUSH: The bill I'm about to sign is an important part of the effort. The Miner Act will build on the Mine Safety and Health Administration's ongoing efforts to enhance mine safety training, to improve safety and communications technology for miners, and provide more emergency supplies of breathable air along escape routes.

This new legislation will require mine operators to report any life-threatening accident no later than 15 minute after they know that one has occurred. And to ensure compliance with the law, the Miner Act will increase the maximum penalty for flagrant violations of mine safety regulations nearly fourfold.

To implement this new legislation we need effective and experienced leadership at the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Last month, I named -- I nominated Richard Stickler of the state of West Virginia to be the head of MSHA.

He's got experience. He served for six years as the director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety. He was a miner, a mine shift foreman, a superintendent, and a manager. And the Senate needs to confirm Richard Stickler to this key position.

America's miners work hard every day to support their families and support this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BUSH: It's hard work. You deserve the best training, the best equipment and safeguards that we can provide to protect the lives. And this good legislation I'm signing today is an important part of honoring that commitment.

May god bless you all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BUSH: And may god bless our miners and their families. And may god continue to bless our country. And now it is my honor to sign the Miner Act into law.

(APPLAUSE)

KAGAN: And with that, President Bush is going to sign this mine safety rules overhaul passed by Congress. This is in light of the news that 33 coal miners died this year. The House just gave a final approval on Wednesday. It's going to require miners to provide a second hour's worth of air for miners along escape routes. They now have about an hour's worth, and they've also have to provide communication and tracking devices for miners within three years, particularly symbolic as you see to the president's right is Randy McCloy Jr. and his wife. Again, McCloy, the only miner to make it out of the Sago mine disaster back in January in West Virginia.

We're going to go Iraq in a bit. Oil going to waste. It's not a pretty picture for a U.S. soldier in Iraq. His assignment when LIVE TODAY continues.

And a paper trail of terror. Raids uncovers what's described as a treasure trove of secrets from al Qaeda in Iraq. Details on what was found and what comes next, ahead on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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