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Muslim Clerics Yanked Off Airliner; Iran and Syria Courting Iraq?; Inside Jonestown; Warren Jeffs Appears in Court

Aired November 21, 2006 - 22:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Whatever Warren Jeffs may turn out to be, whatever happens to his followers, nothing, thank goodness, compares to what we know and what we're still learning about another religious leader, the Reverend Jim Jones and his cult of death.

ANNOUNCER: Seduced by a madman, they lined up to die.

STANLEY CLAYTON, FORMER PEOPLES TEMPLE MEMBER: And she went up to that Kool-Aid, to that death barrel, and she just didn't hesitate. And she died in my arms.

ANNOUNCER: Mass suicide, or was it mass murder? More than 900 dead -- new research and new details, a terrifying look at what turned Jonestown into a killing ground.

Axis of allies? One is accused of assassinating its enemies and the other could be working on the bomb. Syria and Iran, is Iraq about to make nice with them? Will the United States have to, to get out of Iraq?

And they were yanked off a plane for saying their prayers. What does it say about post-9/11 security and 9/11 memories?


ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Sitting in for Anderson and reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here's John Roberts.

ROBERTS: And thanks for joining us, everyone.

With the United States looking for a way out of Iraq, a new and troubling question is on the table tonight: Is the region now heading for some kind of unholy alliance between Iraq, Iran and Syria?

We will get to that in just a moment, including charges today that Syria ordered the cold-blooded assassination of another top politician in Lebanon.

But, first, a new and revealing take on one of the most enduring mysteries of our time. Twenty-eight years ago today, Americans were trying to absorb -- absorb gruesome reports of a mass killing in a far-off jungle. The dead were Americans who had followed man named Jim Jones to a tiny South American nation. Most of them never came home.

Were they the victims of mass murder or mass suicide? A new documentary tries to answer that question. It's a fascinating film -- in a moment, my interview with the filmmaker and Jim Jones Jr.

First, some background.


ROBERTS (voice-over): When Jim Jones started the Peoples Temple in Indiana in the 1950s, it was progressive, a place where black and white could worship together a refuge for the poor and elderly.

REVEREND JIM JONES SR., THE PEOPLES TEMPLE: I represent divine principles, total equality, a society where people own all things in common, where there is no rich or poor, where there are no racists.

ROBERTS: His church became a haven for the idealistic, the downtrodden, the dispossessed. Jones' congregation thought they were following a visionary.

JIM JONES SR.: Wherever there's people struggling for justice and righteousness, there I am, and there I am involved.

ROBERTS: But that vision came with a price.

NEVA SLY HARGRAVE, FORMER PEOPLES TEMPLE MEMBER: We turned our paychecks over every time we got paid. And then we got an allowance, $5 a week.

ROBERTS: Jones built the Peoples Temple into not just a church, but a powerful political force. He could turn out hundreds of demonstrators in a heartbeat to support politicians and community causes.

On the outside, Jones' community appeared upbeat and unified -- behind closed doors, though, another story.

LAURA JOHNSTON KOHL, FORMER PEOPLES TEMPLE MEMBER: I was in a lot of meetings where people were spanked or beaten. And I -- I was slapped once also in a -- in a public meeting.

ROBERTS: Harsh punishment was how Jones kept his congregation in line. He demanded loyalty.

But, as the years wore on, and Jones became more controlling, and the temple more controversial, some parishioners fled, and began talking to the press.

DEBORAH LAYTON, FORMER PEOPLES TEMPLE MEMBER: Before the article was going to break, Jim convinced the publisher that she needed to read it to him. And he realizes that this article is going to be hugely damning. They flew out to Guyana six hours before that article was going to hit. ROBERTS: Guyana was Jim Jones' escape plan, Jonestown, he called it, utopia in the middle of the South American jungle -- no radio or TV. The sole source of information was Jones himself.

JIM JONES SR.: The United States is calling for the removal of all blacks and Indians.

REBECCA MOORE, FAMILY MEMBERS DIED AT JONESTOWN: There was this pervasive sense of being under attack in Jonestown. He told them that things were just getting worse in the United States. They couldn't go back home, and not only that, but these forces were traveling to Guyana to destroy them there.

ROBERTS: In truth, the only thing keeping people in Jonestown was Jim Jones. And when word of that began to leak out, it did attract attention from officials back home.

One of them, California Congressman Leo Ryan, who traveled to Jonestown in November 1978.

REP. LEO RYAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think that all of you know that I'm here to find out more about questions that have been raised about your operation here.

ROBERTS: Ryan wanted to know if church members were being held against their will. His aide was dispatched to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, do I both understand you to say that you both want to leave Jonestown on this date, November 18, 1978?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When word got out that people were leaving, all hell broke out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You bring those kids back here! You -- you bring them back! Don't you take my kids!

ROBERTS: Congressman Ryan headed for the small airstrip outside Jonestown, promising safe passage to anyone who wanted to leave with him. But Jim Jones had other plans.

Ryan and his entourage were ambushed as they tried to board his plane. Five people, including the congressman, were killed. That's when Jim Jones began his death spiral.

JIM JONES SR.: The congressman is dead. You think they're going to allow us to get by with this? You must be insane. If we can't live in peace, then let's die in peace.

TIM CARTER, FORMER PEOPLES TEMPLE MEMBER: That's when I noticed that there were armed guards kind of taking positions up around the pavilion.

JIM JONES SR.: Die with respect. Die with a degree of dignity. It's nothing to death. It's just stepping over into another plane. Quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly, quickly. Where's the vat, the vat, the vat? Bring it here, so the adults can begin.

ROBERTS: The vat was killed with a Kool-Aid-type drink laced with cyanide.

STANLEY CLAYTON, FORMER PEOPLES TEMPLE MEMBER: My wife came up to me. She -- she didn't have no tears in her eyes. She just -- it was -- was just in a daze. And she went up to that Kool-Aid, to that death barrel, and she just didn't hesitate, just took it, and drunk, and then told me to hold her, to take her. And I did. And she died in my arms.

ROBERTS: More than 900 people tied that day. Some call it a mass suicide. Those who escaped call it mass murder.

CLAYTON: I ain't never used the term suicide, and I'm not going to never use the term suicide, that that man killed -- was killing us.

ROBERTS: Jim Jones never drank his own poison. He died from a gunshot to the head. A final act of protest was how he described Jonestown.

JIM JONES SR.: We didn't commit suicide. We committed an act of revolutionary suicide, protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.


ROBERTS: The new documentary, "Jonestown: The Life and Death Of Peoples Temple," opened recently, and it is a riveting film, to say the least. It includes interviews with survivors and relatives of some of the victims, as you saw.

I recently talked with Jim Jones' adopted son, Jim Jones Jr., and director Stanley Nelson about the film.


ROBERTS: Stanley, I want -- I want to play a clip from the documentary here. It's two of Jim Jones' childhood friends speaking with each other

Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the time I was 5 years old, I thought Jimmy was a really weird kid. There was something not quite right. He was obsessed with religion. He was obsessed with death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My brothers came back with stories of him conducting funerals for small animals that had died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A friend of mine told me that he saw Jimmy kill a cat with a knife. While having a funeral for it was a little strange, killing the animal was very strange.


ROBERTS: Stanley, what was Jim Jones' childhood like? And -- and how did that shape him as an adult?

STANLEY NELSON, DIRECTOR, JONESTOWN: "THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLES TEMPLE": Well, I think it was really important to show that Jim Jones was very strange, you know, from the very beginning, from a very young child.

You know, he was from the other side of the tracks. You know, he lived in a very small community in Indiana. And he was, you know, as close to being an outcast from the community as there possibly could be. His father basically didn't work. His father drank a lot.

And, you know, Jim Jones was really -- was really an outcast. I think that there was also something strange within Jim Jones. You know, it didn't all come from the outside. Some of it was -- was something that was internal, and that was there from the very beginning.


Jim, what caught the attention of authorities -- I mean, the church was controversial, from -- from the -- from the get-go here. But really what caught the attention of the authorities was that people were -- they had heard that couldn't leave Jonestown in Guyana.

Let me play another clip about that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, I really want to get away from him. And, by Christmas, I will be gone.

JIM JONES SR.: By Christmas, you want to be gone? By Christmas, you want to be gone?


JIM JONES SR.: By Christmas, do you want to be gone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would ask you, could I go home to make a trip to see my people?

JIM JONES SR.: I have the power to send you home by Christmas, but it's not on a Trans World Airlines. It's blasphemy. It's blasphemy to talk about going back, when you have not been given approval.

Do you want to go home?


JIM JONES SR.: Well, then be seated, and shut your mouth, and don't be in my face anymore. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Jim Jones really beating up on someone who said that he wanted to leave.

Could general people in the congregation, though, leave Jonestown of their own free will?

JIM JONES JR., SON OF JIM JONES: People couldn't leave if they wanted to.

But I think you have to look at kind of back going to the philosophy and some of the insecurities Jim Jones had. He could not see why someone would want to leave this mission and cause.

I mean, you also have to look at what Peoples Temple was providing and what it did -- and what it did.

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

JIM JONES JR.: And -- and I think this film really exemplified that very well.

I mean, it had homeless shelters before it was something that was common, had soup kitchens, had drug rehab programs, had your aging citizen, senior citizen homes. There was a family and sense of community that was formed.


JIM JONES JR.: And he just couldn't see why people would want to leave.

ROBERTS: I believe you were -- you were off in Georgetown, playing basketball at the time of the mass suicide, the mass murder, whatever people want to call it.

Had you been there, would the outcome have been different, or do you think you wouldn't be here talking to us today, if you were there?

JIM JONES JR.: You know, for many years, I have thought that very same question. You know, could I have made a difference? Could the fact that my brothers were and myself were all not there, would we have made an impact?

And, you know, I think that overstates the humanity...

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

JIM JONES JR.: ... of the 909 people that were there.

The chain of events that occurred within the 24 hours that Leo Ryan came there, and to -- up to the actual taking of the poison, and -- and Jim Jones being shot, I don't know if anything could have changed those events.

ROBERTS: Well, it's a terrific and a fresh look on a piece of history that, to some degree, has been misunderstood up until now.

Jim Jones, Stanley Nelson, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

NELSON: Thank you.

JIM JONES JR.: Thank you.

NELSON: Thank you so much.


ROBERTS: From one radical religion to another -- still to come, polygamist Warren Jeffs' day in a Utah court -- testimony in tears from a young woman who says Jeffs forced her to marry at 14.

Iraq and Syria have resumed their relationship. What does it mean for the war?

Plus: racial profiling or just playing it safe? Muslim clerics grounded at a U.S. airport.

This is 360.


ROBERTS: Raw emotion today in a Utah courtroom during a hearing for Warren Jeffs -- tears from one of his accusers, a young woman who claims the polygamist leader forced her to marry her own first cousin when she was only 14 years old.

CNN's Gary Tuchman was in the courtroom today.

Gary, what was it like?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, today was the day that polygamist Warren Jeffs was to find out if his felony case was going to go to trial.

But, after emotional testimony in this Utah courtroom, first preliminary hearing, the judge hasn't made a decision yet. And we will tell you why in just a moment.

But, first, to set up what's going on, Warren Jeffs is being accused by the state of setting up and ordering and presiding over many marriages of girls under the age of 18 to men over 18.

But the star of this case is a witness who was 14 years old five years ago, when she says she was forced to marry her 19-year-old first cousin by Warren Jeffs. She also says that Jeffs was the man who told her she had to continue with it, even though she didn't to marry this 19-year-old first cousin.

Because prosecutors say she had sex unwillingly with this first cousin, Jeffs is being charged with being an accomplice to rape, faces the possibility of life in prison. This woman testified today -- and we're not allowed to show her to you on camera, because she was 14 back then. But she said, during her marriage -- quote -- "The entire time I was there, I was crying. I was so scared, I wanted to die."

She said she had no idea what it was like to be a wife. She said she didn't even know, when she got married, where babies came from. And she said, the first time she had sexual relations with her 19- year-old husband, she had no idea what was going on, she was horrified, and she was terrified.

She cried during much of the two hours of testimony. It certainly was very effective. I can tell you, there were some tears in the courtroom, but no tears among the 10 or so supporters of Warren Jeffs, and Warren Jeffs himself, who sat respectfully, but not emotionally. They were very stoic.

Now, we can tell that you Warren Jeffs' attorneys say there's no way he's guilty of being an accomplice to rape. They say, yes, like many other religions, he arranges marriages. He presides over marriages. But they say, this ex-husband hasn't even been charged with rape, so how can Warren Jeffs be charged with being an accomplice to rape?

Prosecutors say they reserve the right to charge that ex-husband later, but they haven't done it so far. But I did talk to those attorneys about what they thought. They say, this is a religious persecution.


QUESTION: Do you think she wanted to married? That's all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. -- Mr. Jeffs is not charged with arranging a marriage. That's not the charge. He's charged with rape, with all of the emotional connotations of the charge of unconsented sexual intercourse, being an accomplice to that conduct. And he's not guilty of that charge. There was no rape. And my client, as an accomplice, is not guilty of rape.


TUCHMAN: So, that was one of Warren Jeffs' defense attorneys.

We can tell you that there is a very low standard of proof for the judge to bring this to trial. He just has to have probable cause. He will make that decision next month, because the hearing did not end today. It was so emotional and so long, they will have to continue on December 14. And the judge will make that decision.

So, it's expected that it will go to trial. However, one thing that could be a problem for the prosecution in this case is, the now 20-year-old woman, who was 14 back then, has also filed a civil suit. And, a lot of times, when you are seeking money from the person who is on trial, that affects a jury the wrong way.

That remains to be seen, but that is an issue that is out here -- John, back to you.

ROBERTS: Great report, Gary Tuchman, in Saint George, Utah. Thanks. And we will get back to you next hour for more on this bizarre case.

Up next: What happens if and when Iran and Syria, America adversaries, become Iraq's new allies in the region?

Plus: What does yet another assassination in Beirut say about Syria, and what does it mean to an already shaky Lebanon?

Around the world, this is 360.


ROBERTS: President Bush and the first lady leaving Hawaii today, heading home after a week in Asia -- the president will be taking another trip after Thanksgiving, flying to Jordan for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The talks are scheduled for the 29th and the 30th.

According to the White House, they will focus, as you might imagine, on building security and democracy in Iraq. They will also be happening in the wake of a couple major developments, Iraq and Syria reestablishing diplomatic ties today, after nearly 25 years, at a meeting that could -- could, mind you -- bring the presidents of Iraq and Syria together with Iran's president this weekend.

The involvement of Syria and Iran is something that the Bush administration says it does not want to see, but, in the end, may have to come to accept.

From Tehran, here's CNN's Aneesh Raman.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a meeting aimed at ending violence in Iraq. That sounds good, but here's the hitch. The United States isn't leading the talks. It isn't even invited. Instead, its nemesis, Iran, will take the lead, playing host this weekend to the president of Iraq, its onetime enemy. And, Iranian sources tell CNN, Syrian President Assad may join in.

VALI NASR, AUTHOR, "THE SHIA REVIVAL": The whole point of this exercise is for Iran and Syria to show that they do not need U.S.' approval for approaching the Iraqi government or for having their own peace plan and stability plan for Iraq. I mean, the whole point is to suggest that they are a player, with or without U.S.' approval.

RAMAN: Not just player, but a power that can no longer be ignored. Iran is now closer than ever to a goal it has pursued for years, expanding its influence into Lebanon through Hezbollah, into the Palestinian areas through Hamas, and now into Iraq through its alliances with Shia leaders and militias.

Add it up, and you arrive at a key Iranian aim, to topple U.S. dominance in the Middle East, which is why Americans are skeptical.

TOM CASEY, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I think the thing that has concerned us -- and still does concern us -- is the fact that, while there have been positive statements from the Iranian government about wishing to play a positive role in Iraq, those statements haven't been backed up by actions.

RAMAN: Instead, U.S. officials contend, Iran continues to funnel weapons and fighters into Iraq. Iran denies that, but is only defiant, as it pushes ahead on a nuclear enrichment program, despite a nearly three-month-old U.N. deadline to stop, claiming last week it will have a working nuclear power program by February.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will commission some 3,000 centrifuges by this year's end. We are determined.


RAMAN: Three years since President Bush labeled Iran part of the axis of evil, a phrase that stings here even now, Iran's power and influence have just kept growing. And with the United States blaming Iran for causing so many problems around the world, is it now time for Iran to become part of the solution? For the moment, Tehran seems willing, as long as it is calling the shots, and not Washington.


ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman joins us now live from Tehran, where it is daybreak.

Aneesh, where does this leave things now? Is there any chance, at least according to the Iranian leadership there, that they might be willing to sit down and talk with the United States, and that it might actually happen?

RAMAN: Well, at the moment, John, chances seem slim, because, when it comes to Iran and the U.S., it always goes back to nuclear politics. And that is where you find an impasse.

The U.S. has said it won't talk to Iran until it suspends its nuclear program. Iran isn't doing that, and says it won't talk to the U.S. until it changes its attitude.

But the two countries have tried to talk exclusively about Iraq in Baghdad, through their ambassador. The situation back then wasn't as bad as it is now. The talks failed then. They could succeed now, because neither country really benefits from an Iraq that completely falls apart.

ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman for us in Tehran -- Aneesh, thanks very much.

More now on the developments today from CNN's Michael Ware in Baghdad, where it is also just becoming daybreak. Michael, how could these new relationships change the landscape in Iraq? There are many people who believe that Iran already wields more power in certain sectors of the Iraqi government than the United States does. Put that together with Syria, and does it become much more powerful?


I mean, in fact, it -- it -- it -- it's almost apparent that, no matter who is footing the bill, no matter who has the 141,000 troops here on the ground, be that America, it is, nonetheless, Iran which has greater sway within key elements, key factions of this government than does Washington already.

Now, this is not a new relationship. It's not even a new series of relationships. Baghdad and Tehran have been talking to each other almost since the beginning. We saw, under Prime Minister Jaafari, and now under Prime Minister Maliki, the closeness of that relationship be -- become even greater.

I mean, it is nothing new, in that sense. We have an Iranian ambassador here in Iraq. And, with Syria, though this is now the formalization of the renewal of the relationship, there has been communication between Baghdad and Damascus for some time now.

The question is whether it is in anyone's interest for the instability to end, essentially, for the attacks against U.S. forces to stop. And the answer is no. These guys can talk as much as they like, but, even here in Iraq, it is still within many people's interests within the government to see the Americans attacked.


I -- I was wondering, though, in terms of the sectarian warfare that threatens to tear the country apart, Michael, with both Syria and Iran now getting involved in a diplomatic level with Iraq, is there any expectation that that sectarian violence might diminish some, at least during this -- this period of increased diplomatic overture?

WARE: No, not at all, not in the slightest. There's no indication of that. There's no suggestion of that. No one is saying that.

And, quite frankly, there's no incentive for that. I mean, the U.S. General Casey, Ambassador Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, have made it very clear. They say that both Syria and Iran are fund -- are arming and funding insurgents, and, indeed, are directly contributing to and inflaming the sectarian violence.

They have been doing this while they have been talking for a year anyway. This makes absolutely no difference to the civil war whatsoever.

ROBERTS: Another day of good news from there.

Michael Ware, as always, thanks very much. Appreciate it. In a moment, another piece of the puzzle -- Lebanon and allegations that Syria is behind the latest in a string of political assassinations.

Also, back home, a group of Muslim clerics yanked from a flight, was it simply a question of security or a case of anti-Muslim intolerance? We will get into that.

You are watching 360.


ROBERTS: Having health insurance supposed to make your life easier, right? Well, not necessarily. Hundreds of families in one state say they have been dumped by their insurance companies, policies cancelled.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lose our home. We lose our credit. We have two sick babies without insurance.


ROBERTS: Coming up, 360's Dr. Sanjay Gupta with one family's story, a look at why consumer advocates charge some insurance companies are unfairly canceling policies of people who are filing large claims. We're "Keeping Them Honest". That's later on 360.

Now back to the tricky business of maintaining peace in perhaps the roughest neighborhood on the planet. As we reported, Syria might become part of the solution for Iraq after long being part of the problem. But Syria brings some ugly baggage to the table, in particular its alleged campaign of political assassination in neighboring Lebanon, with another high profile killing today.

With more on that, here's CNN's Brent Sadler in Beirut.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a highly organized professional assassination. The young anti-Syrian Christian cabinet minister, Pierre Gemayel, died in a hail of bullets after his car was rammed, shot at close range in what's being described by many as a cold-blooded murder to ignite a political firestorm and topple the western-backed government.

Lebanon's national security may now be hanging on a thread in the wake of the latest murder in a series of assassinations to engulf Lebanon in the past two years. It's all starting with the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri and continued with the killing of four more prominent anti-Syrians in Lebanon, politicians and journalists.

FOUAD SINIORA, LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): This attack against one of the symbols of freedom in Lebanon will make us more determined and committed to the freedom of this country and to the independence and sovereignty of this country.

SADLER: The government of embattled Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was already rocked by recent resignations of cabinet members, mostly allies of Syria, attempting to bring down a ruling coalition of Muslim, Jews and Christian groups.

Led by the armed militant group, Hezbollah, supported by Iran and Syria, the opposition was planning to stage street protests in an attempt to paralyze the country.

The leader of the parliamentary majority, Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri's son, was holding a news conference defending Siniora's government when he received a handwritten note, alerting him to the deadly attack.

SAAD HARIRI, PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY LEADER (through translator): I've been told that Minister Pierre Gemayel has been shot.

SADLER: Clearly shaken, he accused Syria of having a hand in the killing.

HARIRI: I am afraid that these assassination will never stop until we have an international tribunal to prosecute the people who killed all those who died last year and also here this year (ph).

SADLER: Outside the hospital where the minister died, anger and sorrow with a promise from the pro-Syrian president here that the killers will be hunted down.

EMILE LAHOUD, PRESIDENT OF LEBANON (through translator): this terrorist attack will not pass unpunished. We will do everything we can to unmask the criminals who carried out this crime against all Lebanese.

SADLER: The latest murder came amid pressure at the United Nations to agree an international tribunal to try suspects with Syrian connections in the 2005 assassination of the long-serving prime minister, Rafik Hariri, a powerful Sunni Muslim leader who was pivotal in the post-civil war reconstruction of Beirut.

Hariri's death triggered Lebanon's so-called Cedar Revolution. A million people, the largest ever, gathering in Lebanon, assembled in the once war-ravaged capital. Many blamed the assassination of Hariri on Syrian agents and demanded to know the truth behind that killing.

(on camera) Hariri's son and political heir, Saad Hariri, said he fears more attacks but warns that the killers have reason to fear justice when murder suspects, he says, are eventually brought to trial.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.


ROBERTS: Neither a pretty picture in Lebanon nor a flattering portrayal of Syria. It is, however, what it is. I spoke about that earlier with Robin Wright. He's the diplomatic correspondent for "The Washington Post".


ROBERTS: Robin, I know that you're writing a big piece on what's going on in Lebanon right now. The assassination of Pierre Gemayel. What's do you think that's doing to the government now?

ROBIN WRIGHT, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": Iran -- Lebanon's government is at a precipice right now. It's been going through a very rough period over the past five months. The war with Israel and then the crisis over the past week with Hezbollah pulling out its six cabinet ministers, its allies, as well. And that leaves the government very vulnerable.

This assassination underscores the weakness of the Lebanese government at the moment and the deep division. It has arguably not been this divided since the end of the civil war in 1990.

ROBERTS: Now, by rule of Lebanese law, the government stands at the precipice of a constitutional crisis, does it not?

WRIGHT: That's right. It has two cabinet ministers that are on the edge. If they -- if either of them should resign, be injured, killed, decide to resign, then the government would be no more. They would have to reconstitute a government.

And that would then bring all these deep divisions, the issues of the balance of power within the country between 17 recognized religious sects would come to the floor and have to -- and the government will have to make some major decisions about whether to hold new elections, for example.

ROBERTS: What do you think the results of the government falling apart would be? Would it be a democratic processes to put it back together again, albeit with a lot of influence from Hezbollah trying to gain power? Or could it -- could it spiral back into civil war again?

WRIGHT: Well, I think the Lebanese actually are trying very hard to avoid civil war. I think there's a commitment among all the major parties to try to prevent the tension, political tension from disintegrating into a conflict.

They're very nervous. They pulled out of that period. They prospered over the last five years. And the cost of the war with Lebanon -- between Lebanon and Israel this summer was enormous.

So I think there really is a commitment. But the fact is, Hezbollah is going to continue to play for what it believes is its rightful place in the Lebanese government, which involves more power sharing for the Shiites and the Christians with whom Hezbollah is aligned.

ROBERTS: It may be a difficult question to answer, because there's, I assume, quite an amazing lack of evidence, but do you believe Syria's fingerprints are all over Gemayel's assassination, as many people believe they were with Hariri's assassination?

WRIGHT: The U.S. government is already indicating that they hold Syria, in part, culpable for this. President Bush has made a very strong statement. The State Department has made a statement today.

Syria has a history, allegedly, of engagement in political assassinations. There is an investigation by the U.N. now into the assassination last year of a former Lebanese prime minister and the leading reformer in Lebanon. So there will be a lot of finger pointing, I think, at Syria. It's going to be a long time, if ever. Most of Lebanon's assassinations go unsolved.

ROBERTS: You wonder if that country is ever going to pull back from the brink.

Robin Wright, thanks very much. Appreciate your time.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Back home, the uproar over the clerics who said their prayers and were told to get off their flight.

And in our next hour, what friends and colleagues are saying tonight about Michael Richards' racist tirade. That and more when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: Very few people can say they haven't done it. You're at the airport waiting at the gate. You look around at your fellow passengers. Ever since 9/11 we've been told to watch out for the unusual, the suspicious.

But who among us can say our eyes don't always stop even for heartbeat on people who simply look Arab or Muslim, whatever that may mean? It happens every day. What doesn't happen every day, though, is this: a group of Muslim clerics heading home from a conference on tolerance getting yanked off of a plane straight into a national uproar.

The story now from CNN's Dan Simon.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking to you please leave our ticket counter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to leave. I'm...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've given you a number that you can contact.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It had the look and feel of a reality television show.

OMAR SHAHIN, NORTH AMERICAN IMAM FEDERATION: This is an obvious discrimination. Nobody can argue with me on that.

SIMON: As this Muslim leader clashes with a U.S. Airways ticket agent less than 24 hours after being pulled from a plane. News cameras were there as the clerics demanded answers.

SHAHIN: We are American. Our loyalty to this country and they are discriminate us.

SIMON: The trouble started in Minneapolis last night when a passenger passed a note to a flight attendant expressing concern about the behavior of six Muslim clerics bound for Phoenix. The clerics were in town for a meeting of the North American Imams Federation.

Police boarded the plane prior to takeoff and took them into custody. The men say they were handcuffed and humiliated.

SHAHIN: They make us stand here for 45 minutes. No right to talk. Don't do this. Don't do that. And they brought the dogs to search for -- if we had anything suspicious.

SIMON: The imams say the only thing they could have done to draw attention was conduct their normal evening prayers in the terminal prior to boarding and today say they're victims of religious discrimination.

SHAHIN: It's the worst moment in my life, when I see six imams being taken off that plane without any reason, any. There's no reason to do that.

SIMON: But the Department of Homeland Security tells CNN the concerned passenger claimed to have heard the group making anti-U.S. statements. All six imams say they simply did nothing wrong.

MOHAMMED ABUHANNOUD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: We were humiliated and in the view of other passengers which is very, very inappropriate to treat religious leaders that way.

SIMON: The Council on American Islamic Relations called for congressional hearings on religious and ethnic profiling in the wake of the incident.

BUSHRA KHAN, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: We are concerned that crew members, passengers and security personnel may have succumbed to fear and prejudice based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam.

SIMON: U.S. Airways released a statement saying, quote, "We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and will continue to exhaust our internal investigation until we know the facts of this case and can provide answers for the employees and customers involved in this incident."

As for the imams, they eventually the got home to Phoenix today on another airline. Surrounded by friends and family, they say we haven't heard the last of them.

SHAHIN: I will never allow ignorance to destroy my beloved America.

SIMON: Although they say it's no consolation, the group says they've been promised a refund from U.S. Airways.

(on camera) We're getting a better understanding in terms of why the airline did what it did. The Associated Press got its hands on a police report. That report says three of the clerics had one-way tickets to Phoenix and no checked luggage. It also says that some of them asked for seat belt extensions, and the flight attendant felt like it wasn't necessary.

Even so, the clerics say they may file lawsuit.

Dan Simon, CNN, Tempe, Arizona.


ROBERTS: You heard the imams say it, this is America. The question is, what, if anything, does this story say about the kind of America that we're becoming?

We talked about that earlier this evening with James Zogby. He's the president of the American-Arab Institute, and Jan Ting. He's a law professor at Temple University.


ROBERTS: James Zogby, what do you think is going on here? Was this a prudent exercise of caution on the part of the airline staff? Was it a fundamental misunderstanding of another culture? What do you think?

JAMES ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN-ARAB INSTITUTE: Well, I think on the part of the passengers it was a misunderstanding. I think that the airline is seemingly admitting that there is a problem and they're going to investigate, but certainly the rules here seem to be very clear.

I remember Norman Mineta, when he was secretary of transportation, made it very clear that these kinds of events that were taking place all across the country after 9/11 should not occur.

I don't believe they should have occurred in this instance, and I think that these -- these imams have every right to pursue some -- some action here.

ROBERTS: Professor Ting, what do you think? Was the pilot wrong to ask the imams to leave the flight?

JAN TING, PROFESSOR, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I'm not in a position to second-guess people, because I wasn't there.

What I want to say, though, is I want to make two points. One is context and one is balance. I think it matters that we're talking about an airport. I think security concerns are understandably greater at an airport than they are at, say, a restaurant. And so I think it's appropriate for us to worry, particularly given our history and the 9/11 events of five years ago. It's appropriate for everyone to be security conscious. We tell people to be on the lookout for unusual things, and we expect them to report these things. So context, I think, matters.

And secondly, I think balance matters. We have to balance the inconvenience, the potential inconvenience to individual passengers, compared to the possibility of a threat to the lives of hundreds or even thousands of travelers. So I think balance matters.

Finally, I'm not sure where the TSA was in all of this. All of the reports that I've read talk about the police being there. Presumably that's the TSA. I mean, the TSA has some responsibility here. So if there's blame to go around, I'm not sure it can all go on the airlines. Some of it ought to belong to the TSA.

ZOGBY: Well, let's -- let's look at this, though. The fact is that these gentlemen went through the screening process. The point here is that if they go through the screening process -- the metal detector, luggage search, et cetera -- and are found to be safe, then the only suspicious activity is their appearance, the fact that they spoke in Arabic and that they prayed. That is prejudice.

What I think that the airline needs to do -- what the country needs to do, is take a collective deep breath and say, "Let's get over it."

We have Muslims living with us. They're part of our country. They're part of our culture. We need to do a lot better at understanding this community and respecting this community. Simply saying the name Allah cannot be deemed suspicious behavior.

The airline failed in this regard. And I think that they're going to have to examine their procedures a lot more closely. If you get on the plane and you've gone through all the procedures and you have nothing with you that is untoward, then in fact, people have to tell the passengers, please, understand that we are living in a complex society and don't overreact.

ROBERTS: What do you think about that, Professor Ting? If people had a greater understanding of the Muslim faith perhaps they would have seen this as very innocuous behavior.

TING: Sure. I understand what Jim is saying. But on the other hand I don't think you can say that once you're past a certain point that there's no return. You can't second-guess yourself and that you can't express any concerns about safety once people are on the plane.

So I don't think there's any absolute rule there against the airlines saying, "Gosh, you know, here's something we weren't aware of. Let's -- let's take another look at this."

And TSA if they were involved in it, you know the same TSA that Jim says, well, they screen these people, if that TSA wanted to take another look at the situation and wanted to talk to these folks again, then the TSA, I think, has to take some responsibility.

ZOGBY: Absolutely. No one is questioning that. What was going on here was people reported that they prayed. They said the name Allah and somebody said, although the people deny it, that they spoke out against the Iraq war. Well, duh. That's a whole lot of people that we are talking about in this country, and that cannot rule you off an airplane.

ROBERTS: You would probably be throw half of the people in America off of the airplane.

ZOGBY: Well, the polls...

TING: My point is...

ROBERTS: Gentleman -- unfortunately, gentlemen, we're out of time. This is something we could continue to debate, and we will. We'll keep following this story. Thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.

ZOGBY: Thanks.

ROBERTS: He calls himself a prophet of God, and he may soon have so answer to a jury of his peers. We'll have more on the case against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs coming up.

And a final farewell for a legendary newsman in this hour's "Shot of the Day" when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: We're looking at a live picture from Andrews Air Force Base. Air Force Once, the president, now wheels down at Andrews, back from Mr. Bush's swing through Asia, the South Pacific, including his first visit to Vietnam, where he attended the APEC conference in Hanoi.

His next big order of business coming up, pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey on the South Lawn of the White House, and next week he heads for the NATO summit in Europe and after that, he has added another stop on his way back. It will be in Jordan, where he'll meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Big coverage of that coming up.

"The Shot of the Day" also coming up, a tribute to a television news legend. But first, Joe Johns in Washington now with the "360 Bulletin".

Hey, Joe.


A fourth young woman has died of injuries she received in yesterday's school bus crash in Huntsville, Alabama. All the victims were high school students. The initial investigation shows a car driven by another student swerved into the bus's lane, causing the bus to drag along a concrete barrier before plunging 30 feet from a highway overpass.

O.J. Simpson's former sister-in-law says the company behind his canceled book and TV special offered her family hush money. Denis Brown told NBC that Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp offered millions of dollars in profits. The company confirms the deal but denies it's trying to buy the family's silence.

A London hospital treating a former Russian spy says it's unlikely he was poisoned by the toxic metal thallium. Instead, a doctor says a radioactive substance may have been used to make the man sick. The ex-spy, who was also a critic of the Kremlin, is in serious condition. The Kremlin says it's not responsible for the poisoning.

And Hollywood is mourning the death of director Robert Altman. He's best known for the movie "M*A*S*H", which to his great disappointment became a hit TV show. Altman died last night at a Los Angeles hospital. He was 81 -- John.

ROBERTS: Extraordinary filmmaker.

And Joe, sadly, "The Shot" today is a parting shot. A gathering to celebrate the life of a television news legend, "60 Minutes" anchor Ed Bradley, my former CBS colleague. He died earlier this month from leukemia.

The music you are about to hear here is Jimmy Buffet, a good friend of Ed's.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always felt that his greatest achievement was the artistry with which he lived his own life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Finding another Ed Bradley is as close to an impossible task as anything in broadcasting.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I liked him. I admired him. I miss him.


ROBERTS: True icon of America.

Stay with us. Coming up in our next hour, the possibility of a new axis in the Middle East: Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Also, Warren Jeffs in court facing a tearful accuser.

And Michael Richards' racist rant: is his apology being accepted in the African-American community? That and much more straight ahead on 360. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Two of the biggest threats in the Middle East could soon be playing a huge part in the future of Iraq and the United States may be powerless to stop it.


ANNOUNCER: Power play: the leaders of Iraq and Iran find a way out of the war. Will this create a dangerous new alliance for the U.S.? Can it bring our troops home sooner?

Unholy union: from fugitive to facing justice, the polygamist leader Warren Jeffs goes to court with a child bride, the star witness, against him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That the girls' reason that they did not date was because God would talk to the prophet and tell the prophet who that girl belonged to.

ANNOUNCER: And insurance nightmare: taking your money, but denying your claim. A shocking look at health coverage in America from the eyes of a family in crisis.

Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.


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