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Crackdown in Syria Continues; Republican Debate Winners and Losers

Aired February 23, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight with breaking news. Diplomatic sources telling CNN's Elise Labott that a number of Arab countries are now supplying arms to opposition forces inside Syria. The sources will not identify which countries, but Qatar and Turkey have expressed some interest in sending in weapons.

We are getting conflicting reports from our people on the ground. They have yet to see any influx of weapons. It remains to be seen how this will play out in the end. We will keep a close eye on the situation for any late changes, but again this report coming from our State Department correspondent.

It's just one of many new developments and potential developments tonight on many different fronts. Two things though do remain constant. Dozens of people are being murdered, killed every day and the Assad regime continues to lie about it. In fact, they're finding new ways of lying about it, especially about the two Western journalists killed in Homs yesterday whose bodies are now trapped there.

The government blaming them for dying in the conditions the regime itself created, also claiming they're not targeting journalists or civilians, armed only terrorists. The first statement is outrageous. There's strong evidence the second statement is a flat- out lie.

One of those journalists, Marie Colvin, did the last reporting of her life on this program. We talked to just her hours before she was killed. A new report out today from U.N. investigators, 72 pages that read like an indictment of the Assad regime.

Forces, it says, the report plainly states -- quote -- "have committed widespread systematic and gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the state."

The report notes the opposition Free Syrian Army has also committed abuses, but -- quote -- "not comparable in scale and organization to those carried out by the state.

Now, remember, the Assad regime still claims to be fighting just armed terrorists, not systematically shelling unarmed civilians which is what we see happening in Homs. Also today, Secretary of State Clinton opened the door to closer ties with the political arm of the opposition, the Syrian National Council. Listen.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will, from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures and the pressure will build on countries like Russia and China because world opinion is not going to stand idly by.


COOPER: Diplomats telling CNN that this view may prevail at the Friends of Syria conference which takes place tomorrow in Tunisia, which Secretary Clinton is going to attend.

Now, behind the scenes, there are talks going on trying to broker some sort of a cease-fire so that food and medical supplies can get into Homs and the wounded and the killed can come out. The bodies of correspondent Marie Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik remain in Homs near the makeshift press center that was rocketed yesterday morning where they were killed.

Two other journalists were badly wounded, need more sophisticated treatment than they can get now. They need to get out of Homs, out of Syria to Lebanon. Today, they described their injuries and asked for help.


PAUL CONROY, PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE SUNDAY TIMES": I was wounded in a rocket attack yesterday and two large wounds to my leg.

EDITH BOUVIER, FRENCH JOURNALIST (through translator): My leg is broken the length of my femur. I need to be operated on as quickly as possible.

The doctors have treated me as best they can, except they cannot perform any surgical operations. So I need, as quickly as possible, during a cease-fire a car with medical equipment or at least in good condition to take me to Lebanon to be treated as quickly as possible.


COOPER: Well, they survived the rocket attack that killed Marie Colvin. She spoke with us Tuesday night, her last interview before she was killed, telling the story of a baby named Adnan (ph), a 2- year-old who was killed by shrapnel, who died before her eyes, and all the others.


COOPER: The regime in Syria claims that they're not hitting civilians. MARIE COLVIN, "THE SUNDAY TIMES": Anderson, I think that's probably the main reason I'm here. It's freezing, there's nothing to eat, I'm getting shelled every day. Because I'm sitting in Baba Amr, Homs, on a civilian street.

Every civilian house on the street has been hit. We're talking about -- this is a very kind of poor popular neighborhood, two or three story houses. Every single house has been hit. The top floor of the building I'm in has been hit, in fact totally destroyed.

There are no military targets here. It's a complete and utter lie they are only going after terrorists. There are rocket shells, tank shells anti-aircraft being fired in a parallel line into the city. The Syrian army is shelling the city of cold, starving civilians.

COOPER: Well, thank you for using the word "lie." And I think a lot of people would want to thank you because it's a word we'd often hear, it's not often used, but it's the truth in this case.

Marie, I mean, you have covered a lot of conflicts over a long time. How does this compare?

COLVIN: This is the worst, Anderson, for many reasons.

It's partly personal safety, I guess. There's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. So that's a real concern. And just the terror of the people and the helplessness of these families hiding on the first floor. Just all they can do is hope it doesn't hit them. That's very, very difficult to watch.


COOPER: That was her last interview. Hours after she gave us that interview, she was killed when a rocket hit the makeshift press center in Baba Amr, the neighborhood where she and others were working.

Now, the Syrian Foreign Ministry they issued a statement essentially blaming her and the other victims, rejecting -- quote -- "all statements that hold Syria accountable for the death of journalists who infiltrated Syria at their own risk, without the Syrian authorities' knowledge of their entry and whereabouts."

But, "Keeping Them Honest," there is ample that the government knew the exact location where most foreign correspondents were working. There's also new reporting, Britain's "Daily Telegraph" citing Lebanese intelligence intercepts of Syrian army radio traffic.

Those intercepts reveal, according to "The Telegraph," that direct orders went out to target the makeshift press center. We should point out, we have been unable to confirm the specifics on our own.

However, our own Arwa Damon, who spent time in that he building just days ago, tells us it's been routinely targeted. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "It hit us. It hit our house. There's something burning," the voice on the tape cries out. "The media house in Baba Amr has been hit."

"Cut off the live camera," someone shouts. "They have discovered our position." But nothing, they swear, will shut them down.

To get to the upper floors, you really have to hug the wall because there's the one window that's exposed. But this is where you really see the full impact of the damage that was caused by the incoming rounds. I mean, this right here, it just speaks for itself.


COOPER: Well, it bears mentioning and repeating again and again. Government forces are targeting almost every building in several neighborhoods in Homs, especially Baba Amr.

But Arwa and Marie Colvin and just about every outside reporter who has been into Homs knows and has seen, blinding honest eyes on the ground, that's parts of the overall Syrian strategy.


DAMON: One of the biggest accomplishments for the media team here was getting up a live stream so that they could show the world exactly what was happening in real time. And they believe that this really aggravated the Syrian government.

Now, this is one of the live cameras they had set up outside. And they are telling us that it was shot by a sniper's bullet that went in right there and then came out the other end. But even though the government managed to bring down this live feed, they still had other cameras set up, still managed to get the images and the message out.


COOPER: Well, more than 100 people killed today in Syria, more than 100 people, according to the opposition. Dozens more died yesterday. Dozens more will likely die tomorrow. The wounded will not get treatment. The children will die.

And tonight, Marie Colvin's mother waits, perhaps in vain, for her daughter to finally, finally come home.

Earlier tonight, I spoke with Hoover Institution senior fellow Fouad Ajami, a chief international correspondent, as well as global affairs anchor at Christiane Amanpour at ABC News.


COOPER: Christiane, when you hear the Syrian government warning journalists not to go in and report in unsafe and turbulent conditions, when they are the ones who have created these conditions, it's just -- it's one of the many galling things that they have said over the last 12 months.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC NEWS: It is. You can understand the government doesn't want independent journalists sneaking in and exposing precisely what you're saying and what they have been seeing.

I remember back in Bosnia, we had many journalists who snuck into places between the Serb lines. It's the only way to do it, if we are not going to be able to get in there independently. And this is what makes this reporting and what Marie gave her life for and what Remi gave his life for and Anthony Shadid, and all of the people who we have lost. It's to get to the truth, and it's so difficult in these circumstances.

COOPER: And we -- you now have a situation where a number of reporters who are there are asking for some sort of evacuation somehow to get out, which is basically, I mean, a microcosm of what -- there are civilians there who can't get food in and what some sort of humanitarian corridor.

AMANPOUR: It is one of these unbelievably hellish situations, where, as you say, nobody can get in or out safely right now.

The reporters are justifiably afraid. They do want to get out. They have been very brave getting there. And obviously, the civilian population is trapped as well. Again, the same kind of things, this medieval kind of siege mentality that we saw in Sarajevo and Srebrenitsa and all those towns that are so evocative 20 years later.

It was 20 years ago that we saw this in the Balkans and it's being repeated in these small towns and cities around Syria.

COOPER: You know, when -- every time we talked to Marie Colvin, and we talked to her a lot over the years in many different situations, her voice was always so cool and yet her words were so powerful.

She was so determined to see the truth and to tell the world. She actually called us on the last day of her life, not because she wanted to be on TV, because she -- but because she was so desperate to get word out about what was happening.

AMANPOUR: Well, that is what defined her.

And her voice and persona was always urgent and determined and fierce, emotional, but not emotional to drown out the reality of what was going on that she was reporting.

COOPER: And you knew her as a friend.


COOPER: I never even met her, and yet I knew her as this voice in all these places because I talked to her so often. Fouad, and now you hear the Syrian government -- whether or not they directly targeted her and the other journalists who were there, and there is some indication they may have, but we frankly don't know, they have clearly just by indiscriminately shelling targeted countless numbers of people.

FOUAD AJAMI, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, it's important for Bashar al-Assad to turn the lights off. This is exactly what the regime is all about.

And this man, we know he harks for his father's time. He harks for a time when the lights could be turned off. And people like Marie Colvin and others are a challenge to this. It's been said of this war, by the way, Anderson, this is the first YouTube war.

We see everything. We see everything. And these brave people have even paid such a terrible price to even make us see deeper and further. And I think there is absolutely a great amount of tolerance in our world for this because all the violence we have seen in Syria hasn't risen to the level where the world will come to the rescue of the people of Homs and to the rescue of the people of Zabadani and other Syrian towns.

AMANPOUR: And, Fouad and Anderson, I really strongly believe that's because you need people like Marie Colvin and Arwa Damon and all of the people who go in there to humanize these endless hours of very brave YouTube videos.

COOPER: But the YouTube video is not enough.

AMANPOUR: It's not enough. You need the human story, and you need the face to the numbers, and you need the emotions of the people. You need to hear what they are going through and to see it. And that's what Marie and everybody gave.

COOPER: But it's -- I remember you in Bosnia. I would occasionally go to Bosnia. And over the course of that war in Sarajevo, I found people getting angry in Sarajevo toward reporters, saying, you know what, how many deaths do you need to see, how many deaths do you need take pictures of before somebody out there starts to do something?

AMANPOUR: Well, and rightly so, because we did chronicle their story every single day. And, by the way, at that time, American networks had a much higher appetite for international news. We got our stories on every night on American television.

COOPER: There are very few places actually telling the story of what is happening in Syria right now, especially on broadcast networks.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's true. I mean, trying to do our best, but you're absolutely right. That is true. And it's a very scary situation. And Marie's death has just had a chilling effect, you can imagine. And in Syria, there is no appetite to intervene. And we have been told by the politicians and by the world leaders that it is difficult. It's not like Libya. In Bosnia, we heard this is a terrible civil war, all sides are equally guilty.

People didn't want to do anything until they were forced to do it. And it's going to be interesting to see in this friends of the Syrian people meeting that's happening in Tunis Friday, secretary of state, 70 other countries and organizations, what they will come up with there.

COOPER: How serious do you think that is, Fouad?

AJAMI: Well, I think there is -- there is, if you will, a battle of wills between the friends of Syria, the United States, France, the European powers, the Arab powers, and then what I call obviously the friends of the Syrian regime. And that's basically Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, that's a very important ally from Beirut, and lately joined by none other than Hugo Chavez, who is now sending supplies and fuel to the embattled Syrian regime.

If I were a gambling man, I would bet my money on the friends of the Syrian regime rather than on the friends of Syria. The friends of Syria are nothing. The friends of Syria are just running the clock. We talked a couple of nights ago and I said something to you, Anderson, about even on that Sarajevo clock, there's still 18 more months to be run. There's 18 more months to be run.

The Syrian violence is now a year-old. But as we both have -- as all three of us who were talking about Bosnia, we know it took three- and-a-half years before the cavalry came to the rescue.

AMANPOUR: Correct, but it took much less time to bring in humanitarian aid. And this I think is going to be the crux of what happens tomorrow, because the only thing that they can do now is try to put some ultimatum to President Assad.

I have heard, give him 72 hours or something to cease-fire or else put on more heavy sanctions, but to try to bring in humanitarian aid. But that, as we all know, requires armed escorts. Humanitarian aid doesn't just drive in with soft-skin vehicles and civilians, certainly not in war zones. So that's going to be very interesting to see.

But I would disagree with you. You say the friends of the Syrian people are nothing and nobody. The friends of the Syrian people are the United States of America, the world's only superpower. They have to be able to come up with something to affect the situation on the ground.

The problem, of course, is that the opposition is splintered. We don't exactly know who we would give, who the U.S. or the allies would give weapons to and how to do it. So unless there's an area where the West or Turkey or whoever, a combination, will carve out as a safe zone... COOPER: Some have talked about Turkey carving out some sort of a safe zone up north that the Turkish military somehow would defend. I don't know if that's..


AJAMI: Look, the Turks are ready to help, and the Turks have drawn their line. What the Turks have said, they will not allow massive influx of refugees from Syria. They have told Bashar what the rules of the game are all about.

They will not allow massacres close to them. The Turks need American leadership, and, already, if we're talking about this friends of Syria meeting, it's going to be several hours in Tunisia. And the Tunisians themselves say they precluded a decision on their soil that any help, any military help would come to the Syrian people.


AJAMI: So, Bashar -- Bashar is going for broke. He's -- he's -- he already knows.

COOPER: There's no going back for him.

AJAMI: No, no. I mean, the fate is, he either stays in this bunker that he's in, in Damascus or he knows the fate of Milosevic and is sent to The Hague, or he knows the fate of Gadhafi is found at the end of a drainage pipe.

And when we say we're going to give him an ultimatum, he will say, and then what? This ultimatum has to be backed by the use of power. And we keep finding reasons to abdicate. We keep finding reasons to avoid the moment of reckoning.

COOPER: I saw Marie Colvin's mother, this poor woman who -- I was thinking about her. How many countless hours and weeks of her life has she spent waiting for her daughter to come home from one dangerous war zone or another, and now she's just waiting, hoping her daughter's body will be brought home, and even that seems to be in question.


AMANPOUR: And it's a terrible tragedy. For all our of parents and families who watch us go to these zones, we put them through terrible hell. And, usually, they let us do what we have to do because it's really important, and Marie made that very, very clear.

But can you imagine what she must be going through right now and her brother and her sister and the family just wanting to get the body out and the injured colleagues in there. And across the whole population of Homs and the cities.

COOPER: Yes. Who -- who have nowhere else to go. And they can't get out at this point.

Christiane Amanpour, it's great to have you on the air. Nice to have you back.

AMANPOUR: It's great to be back.

COOPER: All right Fouad Ajami, you very much.

AJAMI: Thank you very much.

COOPER: It is great to have Christiane back.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. Add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight. And let me know if you think arming the opposition by -- whether it's by the U.S. or Arab countries is a good idea.

Up next, who got the most out of last night's CNN debate? With two tied races coming up, the question could be make or break. We got new polling. And our panel, Mary Matalin and Paul Begala join us.

And later, a man's wife ends up at the bottom of the ocean. He winds up first in jail in Australia, then on trial in Alabama. A prosecution witness saying his story didn't add up. But today, the judge issued a stunning ruling. We'll talk about that with Sunny Hostin.


COOPER: "Raw Politics" now. New poll numbers showing a tight race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and a fallout from last night's Arizona debate. Arizona and Michigan obviously will hold primaries on Tuesday. Michigan is considered do or die for Mitt Romney. And new polling from ARG shows him trailing Rick Santorum there slightly, 38 to 34 percent.

That's within the margin of error. Statistically it's a tie. Shows the race tightening, though, and Senator Santorum's lead slowly fading. What does not yet show is what effect if any last night's debate is having on the race. A lot of observers felt Romney had a strong performance, we're gong to talk about, including what a lot of political watchers saw as a shaky performance by Rick Santorum last night at the debate.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The whole reason this issue is alive is because of the bill that you drafted in Massachusetts, Romneycare, which is the model for Obama care and government take over of health care.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wait a second, wait a second.

SANTORUM: And -- I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in but you know, when you're, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team for the leader. And I made a mistake. He supported the folks on Wall Street and bailed out Wall Street, was all for it. And then when it came to the auto workers and folks in Detroit, he said no. That to me is not a consistent principle position. I had one. I believe in markets. Not just when they're convenient for him.



ROMNEY: Nice try but now let's look at the facts.

SANTORUM: I defended that at the time. I'm proud I defended it at the time because I think they did make mistakes. I do believe there was abuse and I said we should stop it. And as president I would impose earmarks.

KING: Governor?

ROMNEY: I didn't follow all of that but I can tell you this, I would put a ban on earmarks.


COOPER: So did any of that move the needle?

Let's bring in Democratic strategist Paul Begala who's advising the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA action, also Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Mary, I mean, it did seem like last night Santorum could not really stay on message as he had in past debates, getting drawn to discussions he kind of -- could have maybe avoided. Do you think he's going to hurt now?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: What happened last night is something that Paul and I have seen uncounted times, which is no matter how well prepared one believes they are, no one is ever completely ready for their spot, their time in the klieg lights. And he had a -- he had a rough beginning. He had some low points. He had -- also had some very high points and he did recover.

But the first time the klieg lights are heating up you, you just -- you can't prepare for it. There's no way to prepare for it. But I don't think anybody -- I don't think those debates move the needle anywhere. Although you're exactly right, Romney had a very strong night. But I don't think the debate is going to move Michigan or Arizona.

COOPER: Really? That's interesting. Paul, do you agree with that? Do you think it's not going to move a needle?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think it can and it probably will. So I do -- I disagree with Mary on that part. A lot of people watched. Millions of people watched. And then millions and millions more watch it all cut up like that. And yes, Santorum's problem is, he And Had one question to answer. And rather one answer for every question. That is Mitt Romney stinks.

OK, instead he was playing "Jeopardy" and he let John King decide his topic. Here is a Broadway show tune question, he talked about Broadway show tunes. There's an earmarks question, talk about earmarks. There's only one category --

COOPER: I didn't hear the Broadway show tune question?

BEGALA: Metaphorically speaking. You know, (INAUDIBLE) always has these bizarre categories in there that I don't know anything about. So --

COOPER: Grecian urns.

BEGALA: The -- right, the only category is why Romney stinks for 200, Anderson. I mean, that's the only answer he needs to bring. Because the truth is, I don't agree with him on anything. I just -- I have done two campaigns against him. He's enormously talented. But he actually the principles he articulates. He can make the argument that Romney is a fair weather conservative. He did not make that case last night.

COOPER: You didn't hear, Mary, the word jobs being discussed a lot. I think it was only said actually about half a dozen times last night. Did that surprise you or are they sort of on the same page on that issue and therefore they didn't talk about it?

MATALIN: You know this is the 20th debate. Was the 20th debate. It's pretty clear where everybody is on jobs. It would have been better for Santorum, I think, to talk more about his manufacturing incentive economic plan, which is important. And it's particularly important in the swing states in the general election.

But, yes, Anderson, you're exactly right. We all sort of roughly agree. And by not talking about jobs, it disadvantaged Romney who didn't have an opportunity to talk about his tax reform plan, which is very important to garner support with conservatives. So that's why I say its not dispositive in the way that -- here's what's been the history.

Romney has not gotten any momentum out of these victories. And Santorum had to do more than just say, "You stink, Mitt." He had to say why he's the preferred alternative. There's still two other conservatives vying for the preferred alternative position and he had him right now as an argument. He had many more jobs than just play -- "Jeopardy." He had a -- and he got a fair amount done.

COOPER: Paul, how crucial is Michigan and Arizona next Tuesday?

BEGALA: Well, it's all important for Romney because if he loses the state where he was born, where he was raised, where his father was a three-term governor and the CEO of one of the largest employees -- employers, that's a disaster. It's less of a disaster for Santorum, but he's got to win somewhere. He won the three states, that we just had and that was fine. Not a lot of delegates at stake there and not as impressive as beating the guy in his homes state. If he can do that that's a game-changer.

If Romney wins, it's not necessarily a game-changer, the thing goes, but the -- for Romney, that is to day losing would be catastrophic. For Santorum, losing is not good, but not catastrophic.

COOPER: And Mary, do you see anybody dropping out before Super Tuesday?

MATALIN: No, I do not. And there's -- they have a little under two weeks to fool around in 10 states. I don't think Super Tuesday is going to change the dynamic either because presumably Newt will win in his home state and Mitt will win in his other home state. And you know what -- that might be illustrative and indicative in a positive way for Santorum. If he wins Ohio, that's -- Michigan -- Ohio is a way bigger contest than Michigan.

And I don't see anybody dropping out Super Tuesday or after Super Tuesday. There's no incentive for anybody to drop out.

BEGALA: Right. But Santorum has got to start talking again like that grandson of an immigrant coal miner. That speech he gave the night of the Iowa caucuses was terrific.


BEGALA: He's got to stop talking like a guy who was, like, you know, for -- over a decade in the United States Senate working on earmarks and Title 10 and Title 20.

COOPER: Yes, and I mean, at one point during the debate last night when he said, look, you know, it's a team sport and sometimes you've got to take one for the team, that certainly didn't seem to play well in that hall.

BEGALA: No. And I understand what he was trying to say, but you can't -- you know, particularly when you're running for the presidency. Again that's where you want to be -- you know, Gary Cooper in "High Noon." That's what people want in their president. And so when you say, well, I violated my principles but I kind of had to for the team. It's not going to cut.

COOPER: Mary Matalin?

MATALIN: That's why I think it goes to the klieg light issue.

COOPER: Yes. The klieg lights also while being punched from both sides so it's -- it's kind of -- it's --

MATALIN: It sure is that.

COOPER: One, two, three punch.

Mary Matalin, appreciate it, Paul Begala as well.

BEGALA: Thanks, Anderson. COOPER: Up next: the danger in Afghanistan turning deadly over the burning of Korans at a NATO base, the target, American troops. Two American troops died -- details on that.

A major development, also, in the case known as the honeymoon murder trial -- the wife who died 11 days after her wedding underwater, the latest after the break, a stunning development at that.


COOPER: Tonight, "360" follow-up to a story we told you about earlier this week, the criminal case some have dubbed the honeymoon murder trial.

Well, today, a judge in Alabama abruptly threw out the case against Gabe Watson. You can see the reaction there. He was accused of murdering his new wife in order to receive thousands of dollars in insurance death benefits. Prosecutors say they are stunned by the judge's decision.

Twenty-six-year-old Tina Watson died in 2003 while scuba diving with her husband in Australia. It was on their honeymoon. They were married for 11 days. They got married in Alabama.

Gabe Watson says his wife drowned due to inexperience. He pleaded guilty to criminal -- criminally negligent manslaughter in Australia. He served time in prison there. It's a very complicated case. I want to talk about it with legal analyst Sunny Hostin, a former criminal prosecutor.

The prosecution was stunned that the judge threw this out. Were you?

SUNNY HOSTIN, LEGAL ANALYST: Extraordinary. I was stunned because these motions for judgment of acquittal are made every single day in every criminal case across the country. They're just perfunctory.

COOPER: This where the prosecution had made its case, and the judge said, "You guys didn't make the case."

HOSTIN: You didn't make the case. There just wasn't enough evidence. And what's so interesting about it, these are just never granted, Anderson. And that's because the standard is you've got to look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the government. It's a really high standard.

So we hear this as prosecutors all the time. And we just figure that the defense is laying a foundation for appeal. You never hear those words, "Motion granted." And that's why these prosecutors are so shell-shocked.

COOPER: It's so creepy, that photo of him underwater, because you see in the background his wife to the right. It's almost impossible. There. That shadow all the way to the right is actually his wife.


COOPER: Which is really -- she ended up drowning under water. There are allegations that he hugged her, that he turned off her respirator. He was -- he had some diving experience.

HOSTIN: He was a trained rescue diver, apparently.

COOPER: And that's why he pled guilty to negligent manslaughter in Australia...

HOSTIN: That's right.

COOPER: ... that he didn't do enough to save her.

HOSTIN: That he didn't do enough, that he was a bad dive buddy. But I've spoken to rescue divers following this story. And they've all said the golden rule, when you see someone in trouble, you bring them to the surface. Well, he did the exact opposite in this case.

He left her on the ocean floor and went up for help. That, apparently, was a red flag to everyone who has this type of experience. But the judge heard that kind of evidence from expert divers and still found that it just wasn't enough to prove first- degree murder.

COOPER: They also hadn't really -- though you don't have to prove motive in a murder case, they really hadn't done a very good job of proving motive.

HOSTIN: That's right. And the judge really was upset about that. He made it very clear that the motive was ridiculous.

But the prosecution doesn't have to prove motive. It's never an element of the crime. Smart prosecutors show motive because juries want that.

But I think it's just extraordinary that this case never went to the jury, especially in light of the fact, as you mentioned, he pled guilty to negligence. He pled guilty. He served time.

COOPER: There's a big difference between negligence and murder.

HOSTIN: Yes. That's accurate. But bottom line is, because he admitted some culpability in her death, combining that with all of the other evidence, I'm just surprised, looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, this judge dismissed the case.

COOPER: Interesting story. Sunny, appreciate you being with us. Thanks very much.

Just ahead, the mysterious death of an American television producer, reality show producer. He worked on -- there's a show, "The Amazing Race," also "Whale Wars." The mystery is getting deeper about exactly how he died. His assistant was found next to him, also unconscious. She's recovering.

This all happened in Uganda. We'll have a report on that ahead.

First, let's check some other stories. Susan Hendricks has a "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, an apology from President Obama did nothing to subdue a third day of violent protests in Afghanistan over the burning of Qurans by NATO troops.

Some protesters tried to storm a military base today. And a man wearing an Afghan military uniform killed two American troops.

Here at home, seven states are asking a federal judge to block that federal mandate requiring religious employers to provide birth control coverage for their workers. This has been controversial.

The rule is part of the new health-care law. Three government departments and the cabinet members that head them are named in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Army soldier accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks deferred entering a plea at his arraignment. Among the charges Bradley Manning is facing, aiding the enemy, a capital offense. Prosecutors, though, are not seeking the death penalty.

And how about this? Just like Harry Potter, author J.K. Rowling is trading Hogwarts for new adventures. She has a deal to write a new book, a novel for adults. The title and publication date will be revealed later this year. Looking forward to that one.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Thanks, Susan.

Take a look at this. This is really incredible. A guy on a snowmobile had a very close call in Bedford, Wyoming. He caught it all on tape. Take a look.




COOPER: Yikes! Look at that.

HENDRICKS: And he was rolling on it.

COOPER: It just opened up right in front of him. I mean -- wow. Seems very calm and cool. I would have been screaming at that point.

HENDRICKS: Right. Me, too.

COOPER: Wow. Amazing. HENDRICKS: He kept rolling.

COOPER: Still ahead, a quarter century after the space shuttle -- let's take a look at it again. Maybe not. Take a look.

HENDRICKS: There he is.

COOPER: Wow. How did he -- I would love to talk to him and find out how he sensed that this thing was opening up under him or if he just happened to stop.

HENDRICKS: And he was so calm.

COOPER: Yes, crazy. And then he starts backs up, wisely.

All right. Still ahead, a quarter century after the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded, new video surfaces of the disaster. Details on that.

Also, strange story. A reality TV producer found dead on a hotel balcony. His assistant lying near him, unconscious. His family thinks foul play is a possibility. Local authorities in Uganda where this happened say no. Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky joins us with details.


COOPER: In "Crime & Punishment" tonight, the mysterious death of an American TV producer. Jeff Rice was his name. He was in Uganda in Africa, working on his next project, when he died.

Ugandan authorities say an autopsy found drugs in his system. Rice lived in South Africa with his wife and daughters. Those who knew him say the drug claim was stunning. It's not the only question mark in the case, though.


COOPER (voice-over): What really happened to freelance reality show producer Jeff Rice? Best known for his work on hit series like CBS' "The Amazing Race" and Animal Planet's "Whale Wars."

Police say he was in Uganda to work on a documentary about a charity group and was found on a hotel balcony, quote, seated in his chair, head bending over the table while bleeding through both the mouth and the nose.

Authorities tell CNN they believe he died of either a cocaine overdose or a deadly batch of the drug, but those who knew him best have serious doubts.

LIZ BRONSTEIN, FRIEND OF JEFF RICE: The Jeff Rice I knew was incredibly straight-laced, family man, two beautiful daughters. I've known his four years. I've never known him to take any drugs at all. So, you know, that cocaine story just seems completely false.

COOPER: The police also report finding a plastic bag of whitish powder at the scene that included heroin.

The one person who could provide some answers is Rice's assistant, Catherine Fuller. She was found next to him on the balcony, lying on the floor unconscious, and is still in the hospital unable to speak. Police say she, too, tested positive for cocaine.

Rice's family and friends question whether the pair could have stumbled onto something someone wanted to keep quiet. Ugandan police are investigating if they'd been forced to take drugs.

Sources tell ABC News Rice and Fuller, quote, "may have been working on an investigative documentary" and fear they might have been targeted.

Rice leaves behind two daughters and a wife, who said good-bye to her husband in this Facebook posting. "Tragically, you left this world, and only time will heal the void that you leave behind. Rest in peace, my darling."

Her husband's death shrouded in mystery, she waits along with police for Catherine Fuller to recover and tell the world exactly what happened in her husband's last moments.


COOPER: And joining me now is Lawrence Kobilinsky, forensic scientist and chair of the Department of Sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

You say this is one of the most mysterious cases you've heard of. How so?

LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, FORENSIC SCIENTIST: It truly is. I mean, there are questions about how cocaine ended up in his stomach. Was this voluntarily ingested? Was he forced to consume this drug?

COOPER: It's unusual for cocaine to be in the stomach. That's obviously not the preferred method if somebody is using cocaine.

KOBILINSKY: It's not the normal route. Basically, people will snort cocaine or they'll inhale it, or they will sometimes rub it on their gums, sometimes inject it intravenously. And there are situations where people will, due to experimentation, will ingest it. It's called parachuting.

COOPER: Parachuting. I've never heard that. There's also people who put it in a condom if they're trying to smuggle cocaine, but that seems like a -- it doesn't seem like the scenario.

You have to rule out all of the possibilities. Certainly, it doesn't look like he was smuggling. He was doing very well financially. He wasn't expecting any trips except to go back to see his daughters. His 2-year-old was having a birthday. So smuggling, I think, is not something we should even think about.

COOPER: It's still something. His assistant was also found unconscious and is now in the hospital. Obviously, she may be able to -- obviously, to give some clues, but at this point, she's not able to talk to Ugandan authorities.

What about this other bag that was found -- reportedly at the scene, a mix of what was in it?

KOBILINSKY: Heroin, precursors to heroin, an impurity, if you will. There was Pavaran (ph), which is prescription medication sometimes used for erectile dysfunction. Caffeine, acetaminophen. It's not the kind of mixture your general practitioner would prescribe.

COOPER: So it's like a trail mix of different -- of things?

KOBILINSKY: A mixture, I would call it a toxic cocktail. If you don't know what you're doing, you could overdose on that, too. Very different from cocaine.

COOPER: Is it known if any of that was in their system?

KOBILINSKY: We don't know. The initial toxicology report indicates qualitatively that there's cocaine present in the stomach. We don't know how much. We don't know how long it was in his body. Because cocaine is metabolized into a breakdown product. That breakdown product can end up in tissues, blood, urine.

If we knew how much of that breakdown product was present and how much cocaine they found in his blood, we could see how long he was subjected to the pharmaceutical effects of the drugs.

COOPER: Some family and friends have sort of raised foul play scenarios that he's been forced to somehow ingest or both of them had been forced, but to my knowledge, there weren't any signs of a struggle.

KOBILINSKY: That's exactly right. There were no signs in the room of any kind of struggle. There's no bruises. There are no more scratches. There were no defense wounds. Nothing there would indicate that any kind of struggle took place.

COOPER: How easy is it to poison someone?

KOBILINSKY: Well, it's certainly easy if you give them something that they think is safe and they ingest it. I think it's quite possible that they were using these drugs recreationally, let's say, and they didn't have a handle on quantities and had no real experience doing this. This may have been an attempt to try it and ingest it and see what the effects were.

You know, euphoria, it's a tremendous stimulant, a feeling of wellness, and if they were looking for that, I'm just saying it's a possibility. We don't know for sure.

COOPER: I mean, it's interesting that you said a drug that was used for -- for sex in for erectile issues in with some of the drugs. People sometimes mix that in with drugs if they are going out to party or want to use drugs and not have their sexual ability stopped.

KOBILINSKY: Indeed but you can't predict the effects of this combination of drugs. And by itself, that prescription drug can be used for erectile dysfunction or it can be used as an anti-spasmodic to sooth irritated bowel syndrome, things of that sort.

But in combination, when you put it together with opioids, the effects can be quite different than anticipated.

COOPER: We're going to have to wait and see. Hopefully, the assistant will be able to shed some light on all this. Obviously, it's a huge tragedy for friends and family.

Doctor Kobilinsky, it's always good to have you on.


COOPER: Coming up, seven Marines die in a mid-air helicopter collision during training along California's Arizona border. We'll have the latest on that.

Also, more than 26 years after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, rare amateur video surfaced taken less than 50 miles from the launch sight. We'll show it to you ahead.


HENDRICKS: Anderson is back in a moment with "The RidicuList." But first, a "360 Bulletin."

A devastating story. A deadly midair collision killed seven American Marines. Two helicopters conducting routine operations collided over Southern California near the Arizona border. The Marines were apparently preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Take a look at this. This is amateur video of the Shuttle Challenger exploding after takeoff back in 1986. You may remember this day. This was shot by a man at an airport in Orlando. Amateur video of that disaster is rare because camcorders were still new at the time and cell phone video, as you know, not invented.

The IRS says it has $1 billion in unclaimed refunds from taxpayers who still have not filed their 2008 tax returns, and now there's a deadline. 2008 returns must be filed by April 17 or any unclaimed money is turned over to the treasury.

And get this: soon there won't be any need to travel to Australia to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists are teaming up with Google to videotape the reef and create kind of a virtual dive so that anyone with access to the Internet can explore the reef, but I'm thinking it still may be better to go.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty talks to Soledad about the state of the GOP race and why he's supporting Mitt Romney, and Jack and Suzie Welch analyze President Obama and Romney's economic plans tomorrow on "STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN," 7 to 9 a.m. Eastern.

Coming up for all of you who have ever had your yogurt stolen from the break room fridge, this one is for you. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, we're adding break room bandits.

It happens every day in office across the land. You bring your lunch to work. You cram it into the fridge amongst the various tuna and Tupperware, hazelnut creamers of your co-workers. Later you go to retrieve it, and it's gone.

Well, first you may wonder if you really did put it in there in the first place, but then it sinks in. Somebody stole your food. Maybe you fantasize about putting a dye pack in your lunch bag or installing a hidden camera, marking off the tuna fish sandwich so you can identify it later.

You don't actually set up a sting operation, unless, that is, you happen to work at the Deer Park, Texas, police station.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I put a camera in the break room. Obviously, a clandestine camera.


COOPER: Clandestine camera. That's right: when food and drinks started disappearing from the break room, officers at the Deer Park police station, they took action. And it wasn't just a sandwich here and a can of soda there. No, no, no.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was hearing more complaints, and then we had the officer who had 60 pounds of deer sausage taken from the freezer.


COOPER: How exactly does one just suddenly walk off with 60 pounds of deer sausage?

Anyway, some officers filled the fridge with energy drinks and sandwiches clearly marked with initials. They set up the hidden camera. Sure enough, a fellow officer was busted stealing stuff out of the fridge. This same officer on four different days.

He's been suspended. He faces misdemeanor threat charges. He reportedly told investigators that he was just cleaning the fridge. That old excuse.

Look, I know in the grand scheme it isn't the worst injustice ever perpetrated on society, but if we learned anything from Ross on "Friends," sometimes the little things mean a lot.


DAVID SCHWIMMER, ACTOR: Someone at work ate my sandwich.

MATTHEW PERRY, ACTOR: What did the police say? Ross, it's just a sandwich.

SCHWIMMER: Just a sandwich? Look, I am 30 years old, OK? I'm going to be divorced twice and I just got evicted. That sandwich was the only good thing going on in my life.


COOPER: All right. Plus, this break room bandit is a police officer. You would think he would know better.

I guess sometimes, though, temptation is just too hard to resist. Take the case of our favorite police officer in Michigan a few years ago. He confiscated some marijuana, made himself a nice batch of pot brownies which he proceeded to eat with his wife, and then he called 911.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I'm having an overdose and so is my wife.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Overdose of what?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you guys have a fever or anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm just -- I think we're dying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much did you guys have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. We made brownies and I think we're dead. I really do. Time is going by really, really, really, really slow. What's the score in the Redwings game?


COOPER: He thinks he's dead. I wonder if he ever did get the score of that Redwings game.

Look, whether you're law enforcement or not, how about let's just not take other people's marijuana and deer sausage? OK? Is it so hard? It's a pretty simple credo by which to live on "The RidicuList."

That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.