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Last U.S. Combat Brigade Leaves Iraq; Sliver of Hope for Pakistan

Aired August 19, 2010 - 13:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And let's get you to New York City now. CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Ali Velshi -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Tony, my friend, you have a great afternoon. We'll see you again tomorrow. I'm Ali Velshi, as Tony said. Here's what I've got on the rundown today.

You -- let me tell you what makes the latest jobless numbers so disturbing. They reflect a trend, a bad trend that's only getting worse, and they reflect an economy that's doing anything but recovering.

Plus, he walked away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract. He joined the military, and he gave up -- he made the ultimate sacrifice, but Pat Tillman's story is not over. Author Jon Krakauer is out with an updated version of Tillman's best-selling biography. He joins me this hour.

And also, not just about one mosque, one location. The battle over the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero reflects on all Americans. We're going to ask you a very tough question.

Well, in the almost seven-and-a-half-year history of the U.S. war in Iraq, today will go down as a reference point, if not a turning point. Today is the last U.S. combat brigade, the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed out of Iraq and into Kuwait, 13 days ahead of a White House deadline for ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.

On September 1, Operation New Dawn is set to begin, with a cap of 50,000 U.S. troops, quote, "advising and assisting," end quote, Iraqi troops. Even that may not be the turning point the Obama administration is hoping for.

CNN's Arwa Damon has seen many of this war's highlights and low lights from all over Iraq. She joins me now from Baghdad.

Arwa, what does this mean,? We have had some media outlets parading this around as the end of the war, the end of combat. Do you know what this really means? Tell us.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ali, first of all, let's say that 60,000 (ph) troops do still remain in country before the White House reaches its aim of having troop levels down to 50,000. This is significant in that the military was presenting it as being the last brigade combat convoy to leave Iraq. But there are still soldiers who are here, and they're going to be moving out over the next few weeks, because the American administration really wants to see this war transition into a new phase. This new phase, Operation New Dawn, is going to officially see the U.S. Military in a noncombat role.

Now, this doesn't mean that the Americans are going to cast aside their weapons or all of a sudden walk around the streets without body armor. They're going to still be out there, but in less numbers, less oversight and less ability to directly impact what happens on the ground on a day-to-day basis. What they will be doing is focusing on training the Iraqi security forces, partnering with them at more of a senior level, poring over intelligence, helping them analyze that intelligence.

But also keeping as much oversight as they can. Because some of the U.S. troops that we've been talking to have been saying they really don't know exactly how the Iraqis operate when they're not around. So they're going to keep as close of an eye on them as they possibly can -- Ali.

VELSHI: Arwa, tell me what this means. We keep saying it in quotes. Those 50,000 troops, noncombat troops are going to advise and assist. I know you've sort of given me some description of it. But it seems like a strange thing. We don't think of highly-trained, specialized, heavily-armed troops as advise and assist. In the world I come from in business news, we think of those as consultants in an office.

DAMON: Well, you know, Ali, we've been talking to the troops about that. And they were quite frankly saying that it's a difficult mental shift for them. Because at the end of the day, these are still combat soldiers and now they're being presented with this new mission. Of course they had to shift their mindset. They had to shift their training.

But to give you one example, we were just out near the Syrian border. It's an area of land that was controlled by a unit that was comprised of 1,500 troops. It's a huge swath of land, in fact. And now that unit has shrunk to just being 450 soldiers.

What this means along the border is that the U.S. military no longer maintains a presence at those border posts. It means that the U.S. military no longer has the capacity to patrol those border posts along with the Iraqis. They have to leave that part of the mission up to the Iraqis and basically hope that whatever lessons they have passed on and will continue to pass on, are going to stick, that the Iraqis will stand up and do their jobs.

But yes, on many levels, they will be in something of a consulting role. They won't have the final say in terms of how operations are conducted any more.

VELSHI: Let me ask you this. Is today different than yesterday was? And will September 1 be different than the day before, when the new mission goes into place for someone like you on the ground, who is following this war?

DAMON: No. Not for the Iraqi population, either. Remember, the U.S. military has largely stayed in the shadows for the better part of the last year and a half when the security agreement between both countries came into play.

In terms of the U.S.'s role here, they have largely already been transitioning into this advise and assist mission. The departure of this last combat convoy saw a few thousand more troops leaving Iraq. But this has been an ongoing process. It's not as if all of a sudden overnight the U.S. military just disappeared from the streets of Iraq.

VELSHI: All right. Arwa, thanks for making that clear for us. It's an important development, but it's useful to keep this in context for our viewers. Arwa Damon in Baghdad, and she's seen so much of this war.

Well, we haven't heard the phrase "shock and awe" lately, but that was how the war was supposed to go down, if you remember. March 20, 2003, the U.S. bombardment began. Less than a month later Baghdad fell and by May, President Bush gave a triumphant speech from the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. I'm sure you'll remember the banner on that aircraft carrier: "Mission Accomplished." That was 2004.

But 2004 brought the bloody fight for Fallujah, also the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison. 2005, Iraqis took part in their first free elections in half a century.

Through it all, insurgents battled troops and civilians battled one another, and the hanging of Saddam Hussein in late 2006 did not change that.

In 2007, the Bush administration launched the surge, bringing U.S. troop strength to an all-time high of more than 170,000. Fifty- six thousand U.S. troops are in Iraq today, heading down to 50,000, as Arwa just said, by September 1.

And then there's America's other war. Remember that? Some 94,000 troops are in Afghanistan. U.S. troops, that is. And that's going up to 98,000 by year's end. We'll continue to cover the story.

Well, the bad news keeps coming. I'll tell you why today's jobless claims numbers are especially troubling, when we come back.


VELSHI: If you listen to me you know I'm largely an optimist. But I want to talk about money for a second.

Once every month we get the unemployment numbers in this country. In between that, we get the weekly initial jobless claims. That's the measure of the number of people who the previous week went to an unemployment office, logged on, made a phone call to say, "I'm out of a job. I need unemployment benefits."

Well, last week's number was 500,000. That is the highest number we've had since November of last year. That is alarming, when you're in an economy that you are hoping is recovering, to have more people going out and applying for jobless benefits for the first time is an alarming sign. It usually is a harbinger of what we're going to see in the unemployment numbers when they come out.

The other thing is, sometimes every week it's not easy to sort of determine whether that's a trend. So we balance it out by looking at the four-week moving average. So over the last four weeks, prior to this week, what does it look like? How many people have gone out to sign up for unemployment benefits for the first time?

Well, that number is 482,500 per week. And that is the highest four-week average since December of last year. So if we're in August and things don't look like they're improving on the job front, that's alarming to us. We're having a lot of discussion about double-dip recessions. Richard Quest and I will be tackling this later in the show in our "Q&A" segment.

But the bottom line is, when you look at the things that contribute to recessions or cause people to stop spending, unemployment is obviously the highest on those. You can have issues with your house or the house value. You might have issues with your investments in the stock market. But ultimately, everybody needs a job. And when more people are climbing -- claiming unemployment insurance benefits, that tells you that there may be more people out there looking for jobs than we would have been hoping for.

I'd like to get your views on the idea of a double-dip recession. You're also great with the conversations that you have with me on Facebook. So I want you to go to my Facebook page, and give me a sense of what you think. Do you think we're for a double-dip recession and how do you think that the government should deal with unemployment at these high levels.

For now, it's a bit of an alarming trend. Let's hope that changes.

If you want to hear more about this, I'll have a big discussion about unemployment, the economy and deficits and double-dip recessions, all of that this weekend, Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern, Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern on "YOUR $$$$$" right here on CNN.

We've been also talking about Pakistan a lot. International aid for flood-ravaged Pakistan is starting to pick up. But for the 20 million Pakistanis affected, each day is a fight to survive. We'll take you right there after this.


VELSHI: In Pakistan, this hour, a slight, very slight ray of hope. After three weeks of devastating and deadly flooding, countries around the world are finally starting to ramp up relief aid to the millions of suffering people. But for many people, it might be too little; it might be too late.

Consider this: 20 million women, men and children affected. Nearly 1,500 have been killed. More than four million are homeless; 3.5 million children at risk of deadly disease.

And later today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to tell the United Nations that the U.S. will provide an additional $150 million in aid. That will bring the total to $440 million.

Already there are U.S. military helicopters in the country. They've been part of a U.S. mission that has rescued 6,000 people. And along with other U.S. planes, they've helped deliver 717,000 tons of food and other much-needed supplies.

Also Germany and Saudi Arabia have announced new pledges of aid. Japan says it would send helicopters to help distribute food, water and medicine.

With more on these developments, CNN's Reza Sayeh joins us from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Reza, I understand you are just back from touring one of the hard-hit areas. What's it like there?

REZA SAYEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Senator Kerry was there, as well. Ali, no country has given more to Pakistan's flood victims and help with relief efforts, more than the U.S. Now they say they're going to be helping some more.

Senator Kerry in Pakistan announcing a boost to aid. We have to correct that number. Initially, he misspoke here. He said an additional $150 million. But it's actually another $60 million that will go on top of about $90 million that's here in Pakistan. Senator Kerry, in one of the hardest-hit areas in central Pakistan, taking an aerial tour with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.

Still, village after village in this area under water. And as you mentioned, international aid has been slow to come in. Some are speculating that governments and individual donors are not stepping up to give to Pakistan, because of this perception that this government is corrupt, that President Asif Ali Zardari is corrupt.

We asked Mr. Kerry about what he saw today and that perception of this government.


SAYEH: Senator, briefly, your thoughts on what you saw?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I saw a country that's been devastated. Countless numbers of homes that are destroyed. An area the size, bigger than Italy in its entirety, 500 miles plus up and down. Obviously people living under very, very difficult circumstances. So this is a huge challenge. And one that's going to take an enormous amount of effort to deal with.

SAYEH: You trust the money that you're giving to this government will go to the people that you just saw?

KERRY: The money that we're giving right now is going directly into programs that are providing food and providing shelter. I can guarantee you that accountability and transparency on the flow is one of the central features of President Obama's efforts with the State Department to do what needs to be done here.


SAYEH: So just to be clear, the U.S. already has $90 million in aid on the ground here in Pakistan. Senator Kerry today and later senator -- Secretary of State Clinton will announce an additional $60 million. Senator Kerry also saying $200 million initially earmarked for economic development here in Pakistan will now go to reconstruction and recovery.

Certainly, Ali, much of the work the U.S. is doing here is for humanitarian efforts. But Senator Kerry acknowledged today that they're also here because of their own interests, none bigger than the fight against militancy, Ali. They see this as an opportunity to improve relations with Pakistan and win some hearts and minds.

VELSHI: Reza, what is the situation with the actual flooding, the monsoon rains, the water causing the flooding? Are we entirely in aftermath now? Or is there still danger of more rains and more wet weather?

SAYEH: There's some indications that in parts of central Pakistan and northwest Pakistan, the waters are receding.

But in this aerial tour we went on today, Ali, I've got to tell you, for a 30-minute stretch, acre after acre, we still saw entire communities, entire towns under water. Hundreds of homes, hundreds of buildings abandoned, vacant. These are homes that belonged to millions of people now that are homeless. And it's those people that are waiting for international help to get in there.

VELSHI: All right. Reza, good to see you. Thanks very much for -- for keeping us posted on the story. We will be checking in with you as we continue to cover the story of the flooding in Pakistan and the relief efforts. Reza Sayeh in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

Let me bring you up to speed with some of the top stories that we're following here at CNN.

Once again, parts of Tennessee are under water. It's the result of heavy rain that's pounded the middle east -- I'm sorry, pounded he middle part of the state of Tennessee. One town reported eight inches in 12 hours. Now forecasters predict more rain by the end of the week.

The state is still recovering from those springtime floods that left behind more than $1 billion in damage. You'll remember those.

You might want to check your eggs before cooking them. One Iowa company is recalling 380 million eggs because of salmonella concerns. They were sold under the Albertson's, Farm Fresh, James Farms, Glenview, Kemps, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma, Lund and Pacific Coast brands. They're marked with a three-digit code, ranging from 136 to 229, 136 to 229. The Centers for Disease Control says hundreds of people have likely been sickened.

I've never seen a code on my eggs. I'll have to look for that.

General Motors is ready to start selling its stock to the public again. The Detroit automaker filed the necessary documents yesterday. The initial public offering is expected to generate anywhere from $10 to $20 billion, and that would make it one of the largest in U.S. history.

And coming up nextpa, I'm talking to best-selling author, Jon Krakauer. You will definitely know his work. I want to talk to him about his updated edition of Pat Tillman's biography. It was a dramatic story to begin with, and it is not over yet.


VELSHI: I want to give you a really interesting look at a story that you all know about. Pat Tillman, you all know the story about Pat Tillman: went over to fight in Afghanistan, gave up his Major League -- his NFL contract for more than $3 million. And he went over, and he was fighting in Afghanistan and his family heard that he was killed in battle.

And it only came out afterwards, that, in fact, he was killed by friendly fire.

I guess mistakes happen, but the depths to which the military went to try and spread the story that, in fact, he was killed in battle, are quite astonishing. So I want to introduce you to Jon Krakauer. He's the author of "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman." Jon Krakauer has written so many fascinating and interesting books.

You went out and you got the story. And then you've changed it. You've updated the story. The book is now out in paperback, but there -- you've changed things.

JON KRAKAUER, AUTHOR, "WHERE MEN WIN GLORY": I've revised things. When I turned in the manuscript for the hardback edition, Obama had just -- just been installed in the Oval Office. And I had no idea he was going to appoint General McChrystal, make him a four- star general and make him our commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal was -- oversaw the cover-up. He was the main force driving the cover- up.

VELSHI: Describe to me for those who haven't read it -- I mean, most of America knows the story. But what was -- how did the cover-up take place? Pat Tillman is out there. There's a firefight takes place. He dies. He's shot in the head. And we are led to believe that he was killed as a hero in battle fighting with the enemy.

KRAKAUER: Right, when he was killed, it was in the evening of April 22, 2004. Everyone there knew it was from friendly fire. There was never any doubt.

Within a matter of hours, by the next morning, the commander was on the field. He relayed up the chain of command it was friendly fire. It went all the way up the back channels to the White House and the Pentagon. No one ever disputed it was friendly fire.

And yet, the -- right away, they started to give Tillman a Silver Star, the third-highest medal for valor in the military. General McChrystal administered that Silver star. He submitted a fraudulent -- fraudulent paperwork that, you know, made no mention of friendly fire, very strongly suggested it was enemy fire, sent it to the secretary of the Army.

The very next day McChrystal sent a secret, back-channel e-mail to his general, saying someone better warn the president not to quote the Silver Star paperwork I just sent, because if it ever gets out that he was killed by friendly fire, it will make him look like a liar. So McChrystal was playing it both ways.


KRAKAUER: There's evidence that early on the Army has CID, the Criminal Investigation Division, it's like NCIS. It's like the FBI of the Army. And right away, when Pat's body was sent for an autopsy, the medical examiner said, you know, "These wounds, these are really weird. And they don't match the fact that Rangers are telling us he was killed by enemy fire." The medical examiner refused to sign the autopsy. He called the CID and said, "You've got to look into this. It's suspicious."

So when the CID went to Afghanistan to look into it, McChrystal sent his military lawyers to obstruct the CID, which is a serious offense. I mean, that -- you can be imprisoned for five years for obstructing the CID. McChrystal, he took a lot of risks to cover this up.

VELSHI: To what end? Look, the bottom line is Pat Tillman did nothing wrong. It must be very difficult for his family to have to learn this truth, because to most people, Pat Tillman is still a hero. He went out and gave up a lucrative career to go fight for his country and got killed because he went to go fight for his country.

KRAKAUER: And he deserved the Silver Star. He deserved it, because when his buddies started shooting hundreds of rounds of machine gun fire, he got out to try to signal them to save the young private under his command. So he deserved it.

What happened was, this was April 2004. The war in Iraq is going terribly. The battle of Fallujah is going on. Abu Ghraib broke that very week. Bush is up for re-election in six months. The Bush administration needed some good news. The last thing they needed was, who shot our poster boy? So they covered it up and presented Pat as this hero who died by the Taliban. You know, trying to save everybody. It was all very cynical.

There's 200 e-mails that flowed in and out of the White House the day he was killed, where his re-election people were saying it would be really advantageous for you to push this hard, now. They track numbers, the numbers for the military, the polls. There was the most popular support for the war and the military since the "Mission Accomplished" speech you just mentioned a year earlier.

So it was all -- it was all about politics. I mean, it was all about, you know, we just can't -- we just can't let this out now.

VELSHI: What a great family the Tillman family is. You got to know them fairly well. How did they respond to this?

KRAKAUER: Well, we wouldn't know anything, except for the Tillman family -- most families, you know, when they lose someone in a war, a son or a brother, they just -- they're grief-stricken. They're paralyzed. The Tillman family got angry when they heard they were lied to. And they -- especially Pat's mother, Mary Tillman, who has written her own very good book about this. She just forced investigation after investigation.

Pat's father, his brothers, I mean, that family -- the military, the Army tangled with the wrong family if they thought they could just -- I mean, there's so many other friendly-fire deaths. Part of the Tillman family's mission was it's not just about Pat. Friendly fire is covered up way more than anyone knows.

VELSHI: And it needs to be out there. It's a terrible thing, but the fact is we need to know everything about war.

KRAKAUER: And there would be far less friendly fire if the Army took it seriously and really -- like when there's a plane crash, the people investigate it and figure out just what happened. The Army does the opposite. When there's a friendly fire accident, they do an investigation and go through the motions, but they never want to find anyone culpable. They never want to know what really happened. And so friendly fire continues. It always happened, but it happens at a much higher rate as a result.

VELSHI: Do you think as a result of this incident and hopefully the stuff that Mary Tillman wrote about it and you've written about this, do think that's changed today? Do you think if a Pat Tillman died from friendly fire again today, it would be handled differently by the military? That they've learned that covering up is not a good idea?

KRAKAUER: I would hope so, but I'm not convinced. I mean, I accidentally just met Jan Smett (ph), a young soldier at Walter Reed, who told me that five months after Pat was killed, a member of his own platoon was shot by someone, a first sergeant's platoon. To this day, no one knows about it. No one knows about it. I mean, you know, it's the Army's reflexive instinct is it's shameful, we're going to cover it up and bury it. In the Army there's no -- the Army always investigate itself. It's so hard to get to the truth that I fear this will keep happening.

VELSHI: Jon Krakauer, you are such a fantastic author. It's such pleasure to have you here. And you really applied your love of writing to uncovering things and telling stories that other people didn't tell. So it's our honor to have you here. Thanks very much. I hope you'll talk to us again.

KRAKAUER: I'd love to.

VELSHI: Jon Krakauer is the author of "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman," which is now available in paperback.

All right. New York's controversy, I think you know the one. It's the whole country's question: is America Islamophobic? It's on the cover of the new issue of "TIME" magazine. It is definitely worth a read. And we're going to talk to the writer behind the piece when we come back.


VELSHI: Okay, your American "Time" magazine is required reading. But new cover story out tomorrow -- this is it. It asks a very simple question - "Is America Islamophobic?" What the anti-mosque uproar tells us about how the U.S. regards Muslims. And I will tell you it has told us something very interesting over the course of the last week or so.

Bobby Goesh is Time's deputy international editor, and he wrote the Islamophobia piece. And I think everybody has to read because if you are in this country, it's part of the dialogue that we are involved in at this point. Answer the question for me, first -- is America Islamophobic?

BOBBY GHOSH, DEPUTY INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: There's a lot of Islamophobia growing in this country. It's not as bad as some parts of Europe. There are no neo-Nazi thugs going around beating up American Muslims. But there is a lot of hate speech. And it's getting louder and more vicious. And in these mosque protests, not just the one here in the New York, but all over the country. In the mosque protests we've seen that hate speech take on a new and more venomous tinge to it.

And here's the worst part. It's now come out into the mainstream. We're listening to figures, not fringe lunatics, if you pardon the expression. But we're listening to people who are held in wide respect in this country say things that in other contexts would be considered completely inappropriate.

VELSHI: Have you been able to come up with contexts to give examples of where it would be appropriate, inappropriate? Where we wouldn't use this kind of language to talk about another identifiable group?

GHOSH: I don't think any identifiable group but the Muslims in this country. I don't think Newt Gingrich could say that -- could compare them with Nazis. I think that would be considered, it would never occur to him.

But as somebody who I spoke to during the story told me, Islamophobia is now the accepted form of racism in this country. Muslims feel that people are allowed in the public sphere to say whatever they want to say about Islam and they can get away with it.

VELSHI: Bobby, this was not the case immediately after 2001. In fact, I almost think things got bad and they started to get better. What has worsened the situation for Muslims and the way they're regarded in the United States?

GHOSH: Well, things did get quite a lot worse after 9/11. We weren't paying that much attention because there was a war coming. There was enormous human tragedy in this city. So, we didn't pay that much attention when someone like Pat Roberts or Jerry Falwell compared the prophet Muhammed to a terrorist. And somebody else said he was a pervert. But if you were a Muslim-American, you were paying attention.

And then things did quiet down and to a substantial degree, the credit goes to President Bush, who made it clear right from the get-go --

VELSHI: Our war is not with Muslims -

GHOSH: It's not with Muslims. It's a religion of peace. It's just a small band of extremists that we are fighting.

But then more terrorist acts took place -- more recently there have been acts committed by Muslim-Americans. America went to war in two Muslim countries, you started hearing about suicide bombings on television every day. So, a certain fear and sense of alarm crept in. Which is all right, which is permissible.

But then you have people who have made it their business to capitalize on that sense of alarm for political gains. Who have stoked up this thing and sort of deliberately spread very poisonous lies about the religion and about the people who practice that religion and put it out there into the public theater.

VELSHI: Bobby, where does the discussion go? Something's going to happen with the mosque downtown. Either it's going to carry on or someone's going to negotiate it moving off. As you said, there are discussions all over this country. There are, last I counted, more than two dozen mosques in discussion about being built in communities that don't want them around.

So, either Muslims are going to back off and sort of sit in the shadows until this whole thing blows over or this is going to lead to some sort of confrontation. I have no idea how the confrontation takes place in the mainstream dialogue. Where do you think this dialogue goes?

GHOSH: Well, hopefully in a little while, temperatures will cool down and they will actually be a dialogue. Right now, there is no dialogue. The dialogue has been hijacked by extremists on both sides.

I think what it will take is for the political leadership in this country to rise above the hatreds that we're seeing around us. Exactly the same thing that happened when this country dealt with anti-Semitism, when this country dealt with prejudice against African- Americans. It will have to be a kind of civil rights movement. And it will need leadership from the majority of this country to stand up and defend -- VELSHI: The problem is your own polling shows what other polling we've seen, that in fact, the majority view does seem in some fashion to partake in this Islamophobia.

GHOSH: One in four Americans have a negative -- sorry. Four in ten Americans have a negative view of Islam. And that's a very dangerous proportion. So, some of the challenge for the Muslim community is to communicate better, is to give a better sense of what Islam really is, is to persuade people that they're not all to be tarred with one brush. And ironically, that is what the people behind Park 51, the cultural center here in New York, that's what they're trying to do. They're trying to communicate that Islam is not what many Americans perceive. That it is a --

VELSHI: Right. But Every part of their message has been lost?

GHOSH: At the moment, yes.

VELSHI: The name Cordoba, some people are associating it with Muslim rule and bloody battles. But in fact, Cordoba was one of the finest times in relations between the major religions.

GHOSH: That's right, in interfaith discourse. And the great mosque of Cordoba that people are talking about and that Newt Gingrich was talking about -- the man who built it, the Muslim prince who built it bought it from a Christian group. Paid money for it and bought it from a Christian group. And there was not a lot of alarm and anger raised then. It's -- as I said, we -- I'm afraid at this point, no rational discussion seems possible.

VELSHI: It's just too hot.

GHOSH: It will take a little while, and temperatures have to cool down. Maybe we have to wait until the election to get over.

VELSHI: What's difficult is that it's been difficult for people who would like to have a reasonable discussion about this to do so, because they're being lumped with being politically correct or things like -- in fact, it's hard. We've heard politicians who have come out in defense of letting this mosque be built sound like they are apologists or some sort. Now -- everybody now is backing away from the positions that defend free speech.

GHOSH: No less a person than the president of the United States. Which for many Muslims is quite disappointing. It will take an act of statesmanship. Statesmanship is when you can rise above the public sentiment and bring people along with you. If we went with the majority, there would still be segregation in this country. If we went with the majority --

VELSHI: Women wouldn't vote in this country.

GHOSH: Exactly. American Jews would not have all their rights.

So, it's time for leadership. It's time for our politicians -- and if it doesn't come from politics, it may have to come from somewhere else. It's time for Americans to step up and say, this will not be allowed in this country. This country was built on finer principles than this, and we are going -- we're not going to tolerate this kind of prejudice. This kind of bigotry and this kind of Islamophobia.

VELSHI: "Time" magazine on the shelves tomorrow, required reading. Bobby Ghosh, thank you very much.

And by the way, we continue to want to hear your commentary on this. Go to my Facebook page, Tweet us, whatever you'd like. The bottom line is, we do want to hear your opinions on this.

Listen, 12 months in the Iraqi combat zone. Now the fighting there is over for 4,000 of those combat troops. The Iraq war, however, is not over. We're going "Globe Trekking" to explain exactly what has happened in the last 24 hours in Iraq when we come back.


VELSHI: Time now to go "Globe Trekking." Although these days, the way the news is, it seems we're always globe trekking.

Let's go to Kuwait. As we mentioned, the U.S. Army's Fourth Stryker brigade combat team pulled out of Iraq today, is now in Kuwait. Known as The Raiders, they were the last U.S. brigade combat team in Iraq.

Here's some more information about The Raiders. They're part of the Army's Second Infantry Division. They arrived in Iraq in September of last year. Their mission was training the Iraq security force, and they helped provide security during the national election back in March.

Now, these troops are now in Kuwait, that's where they left from Iraqi into Kuwait, waiting to return home. That'll take some weeks.

Our Ben Wedeman is with them there at Camp Virginia. Ben, how'd the withdrawl go? What's the mood amongst the troops you're with?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well Ali, withdrawal went fairly smoothly. Four thousand men and women crossing into the border from Iraq in to Kuwait in the early hours of the morning. Obviously, a lot of relief even if it wasn't the end of the combat mission for U.S. troops, the fact that these 4,000 men and women were able to get out of Iraq and are going home is a great source of happiness and relief for them and their families as well.

They're still around 6,000 troops left to be withdrawn from Kuwait before the first of September when of course, a new phase will begin. So, this Operation New Dawn in which U.S. forces in Iraq will try to provide assistance, training and back-up to the Iraqi army and to the police.

Obviously the situation in Iraq is still very difficult. Just yesterday, there was this bombing outside Iraqi army recruitment center, leaving more than 40 dead. That really underscores the ongoing challenges to those 50,000 troops and as well, the Iraqi government.

Now, the 50,000 should be out of Iraq by the end of next year. But the officers here say that this is the end of the combat mission of U.S. forces in Iraq. Ali?

VELSHI: Ben, as you're talking to soldiers, do they buy into that? Because certainly here, we have discussions about is it really -- how do you call the end of the combat mission when 50,000 armed, trained people are going to remain in Iraq? Are they really advisers? What's -- how does it play out with the people you're with, with the soldiers you're with?

WEDEMAN: (AUDIO GAP) I think there's a sober realization that this isn't the end. In a sense, it's a milestone. But as long as you have 50,000 troops in Iraq, there's a very good possibility that they will come under fire. That they will be attacked. That they will be threatened by the situation in Iraq.

And there's an awareness; there's not great outpouring of joy. This is not the end of the war. And people on the base realize that. That there's still a long way to go before the U.S. involvement in one form or another in Iraq is over. This is just one step toward the end of that phase. Till the end of the U.S. experience in Iraq. Ali?

VELSHI: Ben, thanks very much for your coverage of this. Of course, it will continue. Ben Wedeman for us at Camp Virginia.

You don't want to miss "RICK'S LIST" tonight. Brooke Baldwin is live from Fort Benning, Georgia as troops start to return home from Iraq. "RICK'S LIST," primetime tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Getting away with a lie. A recent federal court ruling could give anyone the green light to say they are a war hero, even if they're not. That story next in "Crime and Consequence."


VELSHI: Let me bring you up to speed on some of the top stories we're following here on CNN. President Obama throwing his support behind stalled legislation that would provide health care to 9/11 responders. The White House has issued a statement saying he looks forward to signing it into law once Congress manages to agree and get it through. You will recall several weeks ago, that's the legislation we had Congressman Anthony Wiener on about after his tirade on the floor of the House of Representatives.

France has begun expelling members of the Roma community. The government says they are in the country illegally. President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a crackdown after community tensions escalated into violence last month. The Roma are often called gypsies, although they don't like that name. They are mostly nomadic. Natives of Bulgaria and Romania, they're allowed to enter France without a visa under E.U. rules. But many overstay the three-month limit. And the timeline is finally firming up for bop's bottom-kill operation. It's meant to permanently plug its Gulf wellhead. It was delayed over concerns about built-up pressure among other things. BP and government engineers have agreed on how to address these lingering issues. Government pointman Thad Allen this all should be over by mid-September.

In "Crime and Consequence," when is a thief not a thief? Turns out that's when someone steals valor. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Stolen Valor Act passed by Congress in 2006 violates the First Amendment. The federal law punishes those who have falsely claimed that they have received military medals.

The ruling was based on the case of a California public official who lied about having won the Medal of Honor. Javier Alvarez won a seat on the Three Valley Water District Board of Directors back in 2007. At the first meeting, he claimed to be retired Marine who won the Medal of Honor in 1987, which he never did. Alvarez was prosecuted in 2008 on one count of falsely verbally claiming to have received the medal. He had conditionally pleaded guilty, preserving his right to later appeal on constitutional grounds. He was fined $5,000, given three years probation and resigned last fall from the utility board.

On Tuesday, the three-judge panel tossed out Alvarez's prosecution, saying quote, "There's no evidence that such lies harm anybody, and there's compelling reason for the government to ban such lies." There's no word whether the Justice Department will appeal to the Supreme Court.

As for Alvarez, by the way, according to court records, he is currently in a California state prison. He was convicted on separate charges earlier this year of defrauding the water district.

Dozens of people have been arrested under the Stolen Valor Act, but since the cases are nonretroactive, the ruling will not change the status of the other cases unless they're appealed.

Well, big heaps of metal and concrete converted from traditional power polls to giant, people-shaped power poles. Look at that. You got to see it to believe it. It's our "Big I," coming up after the break.


VELSHI: All right. We got a great "Big I" for you here. Everyday, we bring you a great "Big I" idea for you.

Listen to this. There are approximately 200,000 miles of power lines in the United States. That's enough to wrap around the earth eight times around. That's just the U.S., by the way. And those power lines don't just exist. They're not just up there. They have to be attached to something, power -- you know, these poles that they're on. You see them everywhere. Everybody's got them. There's nowhere you can be where you don't see them. Now, I'm one of these guys who thinks, because I'm a business guy, I think of that as infrastructure. I think of that as a sign of the times and how productive we are. But there's some people don't think the poles are all that pretty, and I'm going to introduce you to two people who think they can do something about that with people- shaped power poles.

Jin Choi and Thomas Shine are joining me right now. They're a husband-and-wife team. They're designers. Their own company, Choi and Shine Architects. They're joining us from Massachusetts. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being with us. First of all, I'm going to ask you this. Jin, are you serious?

JIN CHOI, DESIGNER, "THE LAND OF GIANTS": Yes. Yes, I am quite serious.

VELSHI: Tell me what's behind making people-shaped electrical poles?

CHOI: Well, I think somehow on a subconscious level, we all think these resemble - these pylons resemble remarkably this living creature. Some are mythological or some are mysterious. Definitely different-worldly. So, I thought that it is natural for me to come up with this kind of imagined creatures in a gigantic scale.

VELSHI: And was this -- Thomas, was this a contest you guys entered or somebody was looking for better designs for electrical poles?

THOMAS SHINE, DESIGNER, "THE LAND OF GIANTS": This was in response to an Icelandic competition held in 2008. Iceland put out a bulletin asking for designers to submit designs, which we entered. And we received an honorable mention for that design --

VELSHI: So, somebody in the world wants to do this. They want to either change or put in new poles where there are new installations to go in that look nicer or somehow evoke better imagery than the old fashioned plain old concrete and metal ones?

SHINE: That's correct.

CHOI: Yes.

VELSHI: Let's talk about where and how this might actually come to fruition. I assume your designs are poles that do everything -- trust me, before this morning I knew nothing about these poles. I just thought they hold up the wires. I suppose yours do everything that the others are designed to do but just look nicer?

SHINE: That's correct. When we did the design, we actually based it on existing pylon design so that it's just taking extended pylons and modifying them slightly so they'll take on a human form, but also function as normal pylons.

VELSHI: And -- and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to start calling them pylons so I don't sound like as much of a moron. (LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: Where do you think we'll first see these going up?

CHOI: That's is still - well, that is not really up for us. We're the designers. We're not the installers or decision makers, for sure. But there have been a lot of inquiries about specifics of this project that we created, and there has been explosive reaction about the project. So, I'm pretty sure, and I hope, that one day somewhere they will decide to build some of these.

VELSHI: Very nice. I look forward to seeing them. I think they will make the Earth a prettier place. We certainly do need electricity to keep going through those wires, so we might as well put them on prettier pylons. At least now I know they're called pylons.

Jin and Thomas, thanks very much for joining us. Jin Choi and Thomas Shine of Choi and Shine Architects in Massachusetts. For more information on this project and the designers, head to my blog page,

OK. Imagine you at the stands at a bullfight when the bull takes on a new target -- you. You have got to see this when we come back.


VELSHI: Okay. Now for a few odds and ends. Let's have a look at this video. You have to see this. That's a bullfight. Fighting back. It stampeded into the stands in an arena in Spain. And look at all those people -- look at that! Look at that thing go. Hurt at least 30 people. No wonder. That bull weighed in at over 1,000 pounds. About 3,500 people were in the arena when he decided to take charge. It did not end well for the bull. The bull was put down afterwards.