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Australian DJ's Speak Out; American Doctor Rescued; More Protests in Tahrir Square; Assad Says Weapon Rumors are All an American Scheme; The Fiscal Cliff Looms, but the Meetings Continue; Consumers Face Uncertain Times

Aired December 10, 2012 - 11:00   ET


ROVENIA BROCK, NUTRITIONIST AND AUTHOR: They contain antioxidants like anthocyanin that give the food their blue color, but they help to boost memory, too.


TED ROWLANDS, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": I'm Ted Rowlands. Thanks for joining us today.

"CNN Newsroom" continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield. Ashleigh?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": All right, thanks, Ted, so much.

Nice to see you, everyone. Hello. It is 11:00 on the East Coast. It's 8:00 a.m. on the West Coast.

How far is too far? That question is being asked around the world today as outrage seems to be building over the tragic death of a nurse in Britain who was duped by a prank phone call from two Australian deejays named Mel Greig and Michael Christian, both of them posing as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.

As you've probably heard by now, they said they were calling to check on the condition of Prince William's pregnant wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was being treated at the hospital for acute morning sickness.

We now have a photo of the nurse who committed suicide. It's being released by the London police.

She was the one who took the call and passed that on to Catherine's ward and another nurse released confidential information on Catherine's condition.

The station aired the recording of the call on Tuesday and, on Friday, this nurse was found dead after, apparently, a suicide. And the deejays are you off the air.

They are speaking out saying they are devastated with this death.


MEL GREIG, 2DAYFM DEEJAY: There is nothing that can make me feel worse than what I feel right now and for what I feel for the family.

We're so sorry that this has happened to them.


BANFIELD: Matthew Chance is covering the latest developments in London.

Matthew, do we know anything more about this suicide and what also might have caused this nurse to take her own life?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we haven't got much in terms of hard facts about what the actual cause of death was. There's an autopsy going to be held tomorrow here in London where the coroners will be able to sort of establish when the cause of death was.

But one of the things this Australian radio station has been saying is that there's been way, way too much emphasis being placed on the prank call as the only factor in this suspected suicide.

There are other issues as well, they say, the psychological disposition first of all of the nurse and, also, the possible role the hospital may have played in putting some kind of pressure on the nurse when it emerged that she was the one who took the prank call, didn't go through proper protocol and passed it through to the ward.

Now, the hospital has already moved very quickly to end any suggestion that it took disciplinary action against the nurse, saying that it didn't do that. It also said it was trying to support her, in fact, during what it called a difficult period and, so, they've already moved to try to deflect any criticism that may have come their way that they may have mishandled this.

BANFIELD: Obviously, the deejays are devastated by this. If you can read into their interviews that they've been giving, they seem as though they're just tortured by what's happened.

What more do we know about their reaction to this?

CHANCE: Yes, actually, tortured, shattered, devastated. This all started off, of course, as a light-hearted gag from their point of view.

They make the point, which is sort of quite reasonable, that they had no way of really knowing what the tragic consequences of this prank call would be.

Prank calls take place in radio stations all over America, all over the world and they don't end up like this and, so, this is a particular incident and as such, the radio station is asking for emphasis to be taken elsewhere.

But, as for the deejays themselves, absolutely devastating. We've got some sound. They gave an interview, their first interview, to the Australian networks earlier today. Take a listen to what they had to say.


GREIG: Unfortunately, I remember that moment very well because I haven't stopped thinking about it since it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you found out she was with two children, how did ...

GREIG: Very sorry and saddened for the family and I can't imagine what they've been going through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what about you, Michael?

MICHAEL CHRISTIAN, 2DAYFM DEEJAY: Gutted, you know? Shattered. Heartbroken.


CHANCE: Well, both of them are themselves now receiving counseling now, as well, according to the radio station they work for.

They've been suspended from their jobs. Their show has been canceled. And, obviously, big questioning hanging over their futures.

BANFIELD: Such a distressing story on a lot of levels. Matthew Chance, live for us in London, thank you. Thank you for that.

I want to turn now to the war in Afghanistan and what is being considered a daring rescue mission by a U.S. special forces team.

The team rescued an American doctor -- seen here -- who had been kidnapped either by Taliban or by smugglers. That part still unclear.

But during the mission, a member of the team, a Navy SEAL, sadly, was killed. U.S. officials say that he was a member of SEAL Team Six and that is, of course, the same elite unit that took part in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

President Obama paid tribute to the fallen SEAL, saying, quote, "He gave his life for his fellow Americans," end quote.

Chris Lawrence is at the Pentagon right now with more on this mission. First of all, I think, Chris, a lot of people didn't even know there was a doctor who had been kidnapped and needed rescuing. What's the story behind this?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And that's not all that unusual, Ashleigh.

A lot of times, they will not publicize a kidnapping while they are still sorting out the particulars or trying to ascertain whether they might launch a rescue mission. It often does more harm than good to put it out there and put the details out there, so that's not all that unusual. In this case, the doctor was working for Morning Star, a non-profit agency. He was with two local Afghan -- I believe at least one of them was a doctor, as well -- and they were coming back from a rural medical clinic east of Kabul when armed men basically stopped their vehicle and kidnapped them.

They then took them to a camp about 50 miles from the Pakistani border and, over the next few days, their charity had some sporadic contact with the kidnappers and we're told by a local tribal leader that the family of one of the Afghan doctors who was kidnapped paid the kidnappers about $12,000 to get him back. Those two were freed.

But then the U.S. officials got word, probably not only surveillance, but also word from the ground, from informants on the ground, that Dr. Dilip Joseph, the American, his life was in imminent danger.

That's when they authorized the mission to send the SEAL team in. They did get Dr. Joseph out, but unfortunately, one SEAL was killed in that mission.

BANFIELD: And what about that SEAL member? I think I'd heard that the government would consider releasing his name, but not his connection perhaps to anything that might have had to do with Osama bin Laden's assassination, right?

LAWRENCE: Correct. We know from a U.S. official -- it was told to us that he was a member of the Naval special warfare development group. They're commonly known as SEAL Team Six, a very elite unit, but we are not being told whether he was actually part of that smaller team that actually went into the bin Laden compound and took out Osama bin Laden.

We do expect that the Navy will release the name of this fallen hero sometime later today. They probably will not name his exact unit.

BANFIELD: All right. Thanks. Chris Lawrence live for us at the Pentagon this morning. Thank you.



BANFIELD: It's been almost two years since the Arab Spring in Egypt and, yet, Tahrir Square is, once again, alive with protests that really look no different than they did in 2011.

For those who thought that the ouster of their former dictator was the realization of their dreams, there may be a new nightmare playing out under the man they elected to replace him, President Mohamed Morsi, because Morsi has demanded some powers above the constitution and that's not sitting well with a lot of people in Egypt.

And to make matters worse, he just gave the green light to the military to start arresting people in the streets.

What does mean to you and me? What does this mean to Egypt? Joining me now is host of CNN'S "Fareed Zakaria GPS" and editor-at-large of "Time" magazine.

Fareed, what's at play here? What seems to be the issue? Is this truly a grab for power by this president that the people don't want or is there more of a religious undertone to this?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": See, I think the way we should think about this is we think of democracy as being all the good things in government we like, but really, democracy is, on the one hand, lots of votes and popular participation, but, also, liberty, liberty, protection of minority rights, a rule of law.

And what you're seeing in Egypt, they've got lots of democracy. They've had lots of votes, but the elected representative, in this case, the elected president, is not as keen on that whole other bunch of stuff, the rule of law, the separation of power, individual liberties, so he's trying to do a power grab.

This is the drama that's playing out between democracy on the one hand and on individual liberty.

BANFIELD: But what seems confusing is what Morsi did with his decree, essentially declaring himself a little bit more powerful than even the Supreme Court, he's also at the same time saying he's going to put this to the people to vote on a referendum and that should assuage those who don't like the move. Just go to the ballot box and vote no.

ZAKARIA: But, again, think of what I just said.

So, yeah, you could get the people to agree to a constitution that does not protect the rights of minorities, that does not institute the rule of law properly the way, you know -- judicial review and things.

Look, there's always been tension in -- Hitler was elected democratically, so the fact that Morsi can go to the people and, because of organization more than because of popularity, because of organization, the Islamic parties tend to win in these elections.

BANFIELD: So, it's not as though the people of Egypt would like to see this kind of rule put in place. It's that the government and the forces of Mohamed Morsi are just better at getting people to the polls to vote for it.

ZAKARIA: Precisely and that's why these kind of power grabs and this kind super presidency is so dangerous because it's not like he's getting 80 percent of the vote.

In the last election, he won, initially, just 24 percent of the vote. Then they had a run off and then he got 51 percent o f the vote.

So, Egypt is a divided country. What you're seeing is a contest between the various factions.

The question is, can the liberals, can the democrats, can -- from our perspective -- the good guys organize themselves ...

BANFIELD: Unite. ZAKARIA: ... to fight this stuff because -- exactly. Because, otherwise ...

BANFIELD: Form a party, so to speak.

ZAKARIA: Form one party rather than four. And you know what? This is going to be their drama and they've got to make it work.

BANFIELD: So, and the drama, you know, today with this move to install martial law seems rather frightening for people who watched what happened in Tahrir Square.

I mean, we all watched as camels and horses came in, attacking people and beating them.

What do we know about the kind of martial law that the president decided needs to be instilled immediately?

ZAKARIA: Well, he claims it's emergency. He claims it's temporary. And, you know, the one thing that I'll say about the constitution. It's better than ruling by presidential decree. The constitution that he wants to put in place would not allow him to do this kind of thing.

So, you know, let's hope it's a temporary measure. The most important thing is the constitution that is going to be adopted contains within it a lot of stuff that allows for Islamic law, that allows for women's rights to be abrogated.

That's the part we should worry about and the United States should be telling Egypt, look, if you want aid from us, you've got to protect women's rights, you've got to protect minority rights, you've got to -- you know, those -- our aid to you is contingent on their being a proper democratic constitution.

BANFIELD: And, by the way, women's rights, a very big part of this. The opposition suggesting that there is stuff in this new rule of law that really limits women's rights.

Can you stick around for another block?


BANFIELD: I have a bunch of other questions about Syria, chemical weapons and our role or lack thereof. We're right back with Fareed Zakaria in just a moment.


BANFIELD: So, if you thought the problem in Syria was bad, how about this? The chemical weapons situation, the fear that perhaps Bashar al-Assad might actually use chemical weapons on his own people now being exacerbated by a report that perhaps the blame is coming back to us and the accusation from the Syrians that we're trying to actually get a hold of those chemical weapons and make it look like the Syrian regime has done so. Fareed Zakaria's back with us to talk about this report. It seems as though this is rather serious. Only the government, Bashar al-Assad's administration has sent a couple of letters to the U.N. suggesting this is all a big plot by the U.S. to get those weapons into the hands of opposition members and then blame the Syrians for whatever might ensue.

Does this seem logical or does this seem like a reach?

ZAKARIA: Well, I think it's part of a strategy that the Assad regime has clearly decided upon, which is that America is the cause of all this, that there is an internal group of terrorists supported by the United States and, you know, to a certain extent, Saudi Arabia, but mostly they claim it's just the United States.

And, so, this is part of what the Syrians are doing. It's a last- ditch effort. I don't think anyone in Syria believes it. There's zero chance that the United States is actually doing anything like this.

I think that it's also clear that it's a reaction to President Obama's very tough warning to the Syrians that they shouldn't even think about using chemical weapons.

BANFIELD: Well, you know, I'm curious only because there is this report now that United States has employed military contractors on the ground I think in Turkey and Jordan, but also inside Syria, to help opposition members should they get their hands on some of these chemical weapons depots to, A, secure them and, B, protect them and, C, to do whatever else with them.

Could that be the catalyst for what the Syrians are saying and might there be a modicum of truth to their concern, at least, if we are actually in there trying to make sure those chemical weapons do or don't go where they're supposed?

ZAKARIA: I think that's possible, but that we're telling these guys, look, if you do come across caches, this is what you do, this is how you secure them.

But I would guess that it would be very difficult for the opposition forces to get to the chemical weapons. These are held by the most elite of the elite in the Syrian army.

The army still remains very robust. I mean, one of the reasons the Syrian regime has not collapsed is that it has a very strong army. Traditionally, this was thought to be the strongest army in the Arab world.

BANFIELD: More so than the Israeli Defense Force?

ZAKARIA: No. I mean, in the Arab world. Yeah. The Israelis were always measured against the Syrian army because that was the toughest opposition.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you this. Is this a name that I need to know, get into my common parlance? Nusra Front? The Nusra Front?

And the reason I say that is because there is this report that this is an extraordinarily small, but strong fighting force among the opposition members and that they were born of al Qaeda.

ZAKARIA: This is a fascinating story. What you're realizing is, as the conflict in Syria goes on, the most radical elements, the strongest -- you know, the ones that are fighting most fearlessly tend to be Islamic fundamentalists, tend to be jihadis.

And this group which has been one of the toughest fighting forces, small but tough, is affiliated with al Qaeda.

So, to my mind, it makes the point that the administration has been trying to make throughout. We've got to be very careful before we start supporting various groups within Syria who happen to be opposition to Assad because we don't know much about them.

If we find ourselves funding them or giving them weapons, a group like this, you could very easily imagine five, 10 years later, the same weapons we sell them or give them would be used against us in a terrorist attack.

BANFIELD: We can easily imagine it because it happened in Afghanistan ...

ZAKARIA: Precisely.

BANFIELD: ... and, at that the mujahedeen seemed fairly innocuous to us. They didn't have this sort of groundwork of hate for us at that time.

ZAKARIA: Well, in those days, we thought that the most devout were the best guys because these were the guys fighting the hardest. They seemed, you know, religiously conservative. What could be bad about that?

BANFIELD: What could be so bad? Right. Well, then and we all know.

Fareed, it's always good to se you.

ZAKARIA: Great to see you.

BANFIELD: You must watch, if you do nothing else on a weekend, you must watch Fareed Zakaria's program, "GPS." It airs Sunday at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You can also get a download on the podcast, right?

ZAKARIA: You can. Audio podcast, free, but you've got to pay for the video version.

BANFIELD: How's that for a plug? Come back?

ZAKARIA: I'd be delighted.

BANFIELD: You're welcome any day. Fareed Zakaria. We'll be back after this.


BANFIELD: I just want to get this out of the way -- fiscal cliff. I said it. I know you've heard it. You've heard it a lot.

But it turns out you might not have heard it enough because, after another week without real progress in Washington, the possibility of plunging off that cliff is becoming more of a reality and we're just 22 days and counting.

But for the first time in over three weeks, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner actually stood in the same room. They breathed the same air, folks, and they talked and that's a big deal, especially since there's been so little of that going on lately.

After the meeting, spokesmen for both Boehner and the president issued identical statements -- that's nice -- simply saying the line of communication remain open.

That is promising according to former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.


ERSKINE BOWLES, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: But, you know, they've started to tango now and, you know, anytime you've got two guys in there tangoing, you've got a chance to get it done.


BANFIELD: So just how are the warnings affecting you, the American consumer, the person who has to get that money and spend it?

In the last few weeks, we have seen record shopping and Black Friday sales. We've also seen jobs numbers that are up.

And today, FedEx is expecting its busiest day ever, shipping about 19 million packages around the world. So, if you want to break that down into a cool factoid. That is about 200 packages per second and a lot of jet fuel.

Christine Romans, host of "Your Bottom Line," joining me now with more.

So, those sound like great indicators. You're the trend lady. You always say watch the trend. Do the trends look like they're going to continue despite this horror show of the fiscal cliff?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, ANCHOR, CNN'S "YOUR BOTTOM LINE": Look, there's a bunch of things that are going for consumers and you've named some, but you've also got the stock market up. You've got job growth. We said 7.7 percent unemployment. That's great news.

Rising home values, you've been seeing home values tick up ever so slowly, but surely over the last few months. Lower gas prices, gas prices are down 46 cents in two months and they could keep going lower and job market gains -- or, stock market gains, rather.

You've got 13,000 on the Dow. I mean, the Dow has been pretty much factoring in that they're going to fix the fiscal cliff, but I'm telling you that sentiment is starting to show signs of "wobbling" as "The Wall Street Journal" put it on its front page today -- "wobbling."

BANFIELD: I think we've wobbling along in all the uncertainty until now.

ROMANS: You know what? We have had these things going for us and, now, we're getting closer and closer to the wire and consumers are starting to say, wait a minute.

They're going shopping for the holidays and they're hoping maybe that they're going to get a tax refund at the beginning of the year to help pay for their presents. They don't know what that refund's going to look like.

Now, look, would the fiscal cliff affect your personal situation? Thirty-eight percent, Ashleigh, a great deal. Thirty-nine percent, some. Only 6 percent of you say not at all.

So, you're starting to get closer to the line here and becoming more concerned.

BANFIELD: And I said it off the top, 22 days.

But you get a paycheck. I get a paycheck. Probably a lot of people who are watching us right now get their paychecks and they see those deductions and they see payroll and that is all of a sudden becoming a big uh-oh.

ROMANS: Yeah, there's a fiscal cliff that we're talking about that is, you know, the first day of January, the second day of January.

And for people who process payrolls, it's actually December 14th, they say.

BANFIELD: Just a couple of days from now.

ROMANS: They need to know for the software systems, for the way that they're cutting your check for the beginning of the year.

This is what the payroll processors association basically says. They say, the American Payroll Association, a delay in legislation beyond December 14th doesn't give all businesses enough time to update and test their payroll systems for early January paychecks.

They also say it's even worse if you delay a decision even a few months because they can't quite figure out how they can go back retroactively then and change your withholdings.

It's all kind of a software nightmare, so these are ... BANFIELD: It's going to be up to us then to deal with it down the line? You know, our deductions won't be what they should be and, therefore, when we face the tax man, we're going to have to shell out a bunch?

ROMANS: And, you know, there's multiple layers here. You know, there's an AMT fix that we have to talk about. There's a payroll tax holiday. You get about 20 bucks extra a week in your paycheck. That's separate from the Bush-era tax rates that could change.

All of this just to tell you that the markets have held in very, very well because they're -- the markets are telling us they think something's going to get done so it really behooves Washington not to mess it up.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you. Are you free for the rest of the week?

ROMANS: The rest of the week? How about the rest of the year?

BANFIELD: Well, specifically this week, because I just signed you up for a little job. Are you ready?


BANFIELD: Because the fiscal cliff is so confusing on a personal level and how it's going to affect each of our viewers, one-by-one, we're asking, go ahead and tweet us your questions.

ROMANS: Oh, yeah.

BANFIELD: We figured this would be a good idea that basically puts you guys, you and Ali Velshi, to work.