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Killed Navy SEAL Identified as Nicholas Checque; Messi's Breaks into Record Books; Hugo Chavez Announces Cancer Returns

Aired December 10, 2012 - 12:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: An elite special forces team goes on a daring mission to rescue an American doctor abducted in Afghanistan. Well, they saved him, but they lost one of their own.

You know this unit. It is SEAL Team Six. They were the ones who carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Our Chris Lawrence is covering the story from the Pentagon. Chris, talk about what this rescue mission was all about and I understand that you also have the identity of the SEAL who was killed.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we do, Suzanne. We just learned that he was Petty Officer First Class Nicholas Checque. He was 28-years old. He enlisted in the Navy about a year after the attacks on September 11th. Almost immediately, he started to train in special warfare operations and started deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan where he earned numerous medals.

He was from Pennsylvania and, again, he was part of that naval special warfare development group, which is commonly known as SEAL Team Six.

MALVEAUX: And give us a sense of the whole abduction and the rescue mission. What was behind this?

LAWRENCE: Well, there are conflicting stories. The U.S. forces in Afghanistan are saying this is a Taliban operation, while some of our Afghan sources, some local leaders, are saying these were smugglers.

But either way, this doctor, Dr. Dilip Joseph, an American who was working with some of his Afghan counterparts -- he works for a non- profit charity organization. They were out last Wednesday visiting one of their rural clinics and they were on their way back to headquarters in Kabul when armed men basically stopped their vehicle, ordered them out, kidnapped them.

Now, after the charity was going back and forth contacting some of the kidnappers, eventually the two Afghan men were released, but U.S. forces got word from the ground and from surveillance that Dr. Joseph was in imminent danger and that's when they made the call to send in the SEAL Team Six to try to get him out.

They did. He is safe. He's being debriefed. He'll probably be back home in the next couple days, but unfortunately, Nicholas Checque, Petty Officer Checque, who was part of that team, was killed.

MALVEAUX: And, Chris, I know the doctor's family is speaking out, offering their condolences. They also thanked everybody that was involved in this. What are they saying?

LAWRENCE: Yes, the outpouring is tremendous, all the way up from President Obama to Secretary Panetta to the doctor's family.

Let me read you a statement from what they released, thanking everyone. They said, "We are incredibly grateful for the multiple agencies of the U.S. government that have supported us in this difficult time and especially the quick response by our military and partner allies to rescue Dilip. They showed great heroism and professionalism."

We've seen rescue attempts like this before. They do not always turn out well. Earlier this year, four aid workers were rescued in part of Afghanistan, but over the last few years, we've seen a Scottish aid worker killed in a failed rescue attempt, an Afghan journalist who was working with "The New York Times" also killed in a failed attempt.

So, these are risky missions sometimes. In this case, the doctor was rescued. he's going to come home with his family, but unfortunately, a Navy SEAL was killed.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, those SEALs are real heroes. Thank you, Chris. Appreciate it.

Venezuela's president is doing his business to try to reassure the country that he's going to be OK. But Hugo Chavez is back in Cuba for surgery. His absence, raising questions about who actually is going to run Venezuela while he's gone.


MALVEAUX: Leaders of the European Union are celebrating today with the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was handed out in a ceremony in Oslo, Norway. The Nobel Committee awarded the $1.2 million prize to the 27-nation bloc in October. They say the group has turned Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace in the six decades following World War II.

Not everyone thinks the award is justified. There are some critics who are angry about how the E.U. has handled the crisis, especially in Greece.

In Italy, markets plunged after unexpected news that Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti plans to actually step down later this month. The prime minister says he's going to wait until a national budget is passed, but investors are concerned about how it might affect the country's high levels of the debt.

The move also means former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who left office last year amid corruption allegations, could actually make a comeback.

And I want to get a look at stocks right here, how they are doing. Up 33 points. Looking at the Dow Jones. A pretty good read so far.


MALVEAUX: Take a look at live pictures here of President Obama's plane, Air Force One, arriving in Redford, Michigan. You can see the crowd there awaiting his speech, as well. He is there to tour the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant. At the top of the hour, he's expected to deliver remarks on the economy and the middle class and, of course, making his case, taking it directly to the American people about the need for 98 percent of Americans not to get a tax increase.

The top 2 percent, he is pushing in negotiations with Republicans to actually have those tax cuts expire and to have those tax rates go up for the wealthiest Americans. Again, taking it directly to the people as he brings his entourage and his message to Detroit.

Football, a big Monday morning talker, but today the world is watching a certain soccer star -- that is right -- in Barcelona. Amanda Davies looks at how Lionel Messi is turns heads and breaking word records.


AMANDA DAVIES, CNN INTERNATIONAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It was only going to be a matter of time, but Lionel Messi has done it, broken the goal-scoring record that stood for four decades.

He's long been writing headlines with his magical performances in front of goal and now he's written his place firmly into the record books.

He's been breaking the hearts of football fans around the world with his match-winning abilities for Barcelona and Argentina. And now Messi has broken the record for the most goals scored in a calendar year.

Remember it was back in November that he passed Pele's total of 75 goals that he scored in 1958. And then it was just the great Gerd Mueller standing in his way with the 85 scores that he scored for Bayern Munich in West Germany in 1972.

But now, it's Messi's target that's going to be the benchmark for players for years to come.

On his own this year, Messi has scored more goals than entire teams like Liverpool and Milan. He's done something that the likes of Maradona, Romario, Eusebio and Alan Shearer never managed.

BEGONA PEREZ, SPANISH FOOTBALL JOURNALIST: He doesn't like to be compared to Maradona because every time people tell him, you look like Maradona, you are like Maradona, he's says obviously you're saying that because you never saw Maradona play.

And so he doesn't like comparisons, but obviously, he's a unique footballer and he's going to be in history books in the future.

DAVIS: There's not many certainties in life, but at just 25 years of age, you can be pretty sure there's plenty more to come from Lionel Messi. Not just goals, but silverware as well. And it would take a brave man to bet against him claiming a fourth straight for Ballon D'Or next month.

Amanda Davies, CNN, London.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And you're looking at Air Force One there. The door open. We are waiting for the president to walk down the stairs. He's going to be arriving in Detroit, Michigan. He's going to be speaking at an auto plant there to talk about the need for the two sides to come together, the White House and members of Congress, to avoid the fiscal cliff, taking his message directly to the American people.

We'll have more after the break.


MALVEAUX: Looking at pictures there of President Obama with a crowd. This is in Detroit, Michigan. He just stepped off of Air Force One. He's greeting folks there on the tarmac. They're taking pictures. This is all a part of his campaign to reach out to the American people to make his case about the need to avoid going over the fiscal cliff and what his solution to that is -- and that would require that the top 2 percent of Americans pay higher taxes. That is something that he has been talking with Republicans in Congress about and believes is nonnegotiable. Shaking hands there.

And we're taking a look at the venue as well. That is where he's going to be speaking at the auto plant at the top of the hour.

Also saw the president last night at the "Christmas in Washington" charity concert in D.C. That event was hosted by Conan O'Brien. It featured, of course, the legendary Diana Ross and South Korean's pop star PSY, who was greeted by the president. The president did not attempt PSY's signature dance, "Gangnam Style." The two were talking during the Christmas in Washington concert yesterday, but the president did suggest he thinks he can do it. He thinks he can do that dance. So we're going to see if that actually ever happens.

But there was some controversy, however. PSY apologizing on Friday for an anti-American rap performance that he did eight years ago. It all seems to be patched up and worked out now.

Also want to tell you about this extraordinary girl. She was living in one of the poorest places on earth. This is a slum in Uganda. Well, she discovered chess. She turns out to be a prodigy. We are talking about the story of Phiona Mutesi. She has inspired a documentary, a book. Disney actually plans to make a movie of it.

Phiona and her chess coach actually spoke with Josh Levs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIONA MUTESI, UGANDA CHESS PRODIGY: Before I discovered chess, I was living in the hard life where I was sleeping on the streets and you couldn't have anything to eat on the streets. So that's when I decided for my brother to get a cup of porridge. And when I for my brother to get a cup of porridge, that's when I started learning chess.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Because there was an area in which, if you went and learned chess, you could get a bowl of porridge, right, and that would help feed you and feed your brother.


LEVS: So you go into this place. You see people playing chess. Had you ever seen it before? Did you know what it was?

MUTESI: No, I had never seen chess. So it was my first time to play chess.

LEVS: So, Robert, let me ask you, what is it about Phiona that makes her -- is she a prodigy? You said you discovered something in her about her chess skills that you hadn't seen before.

ROBERT KATENDE, PHIONA'S CHESS COACH: Yes. Actually, I've passionately kind of come to believe that she has an extra natural talent, which is extraordinary. We've been even able to go to the high profile kind of tournaments, or the Olympiads, which we never thought of even being at.

MUTESI: I started playing against girls and boys. Then I started beating the boys. When I play chess, I'm not afraid. I know that I can win.

LEVS: What happened after you started to show your ability for chess? How did your life change?

MUTESI: I thought that the life I was living in that everyone was living in that life. But now I've happened to see many people living a different life. So I think chess has led me to that and given -- it has given me an opportunity to go back to school. Chess gives me hope, where by now I'm having a hope of becoming a doctor and I'm having a hope of becoming a grandmaster.

LEVS: Robert, does Phiona's story show that chess can help lift kids out of slums all over the world?

KATENDE: Absolutely, because it teaches you on how to assess, on how to make decisions, obstrutive thinking, forecast, endurance, problem solving and looking at the challenge as an opportunity in all cases.

LEVS: By the way, what's it like to be in America, to be in New York? How was the trip?

MUTESI: I don't like New York because it's so -- there's too much noise in it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: She's fantastic. Learn more about her amazing story at

Hugo Chavez says his cancer is back. We're going to find out what it means for the president of Venezuela, as well as for his country.


MALVEAUX: North Korea says it might take a little longer to launch a controversial long-range rocket. State media reporting that Pyongyang has extended its launch window until December 29th because of technical problems with an engine. The U.S. and South Korea are condemning the North's second launch attempt this year. An earlier one in April actually failed. The U.S. and South Korea said the launch is a cover for ballistic missile testing.

And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he is back in Cuba today for cancer surgery. He left Caracas early this morning. Now, the 58-year- old has been battling cancer for the past year and a half. Now he's previously undergone surgery and radiation therapy before declaring himself cancer-free. That happened back in July. Before leaving, Chavez spoke publicly about his health.


PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (through translator): Unfortunately, this is how I am telling the country, that in that overall checkup, malignant cells show up in the same infected area. We have had to review the diagnostic, the evolution of the treatment and we have had to check with experts and we have decided that it is absolutely necessary and it is absolutely essential to undergo another surgery.


MALVEAUX: Venezuela's national assembly unanimously approved the president's request to travel, but they -- much of the country, they're divided over his would be successor. Opponents question whether or not Mr. Chavez is now fit to lead. Supporters say any such questions are an attempt to politicize the president's illness.

Want to bring in our Patrick Oppmann in Havana. And, Patrick, we know that Hugo Chavez has been clear that if anything were to happen, it is the vice president, Nicolas Maduro, who will succeed him. What do we know about Chavez's state and the man who would actually take over?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Hugo Chavez arrived here in Havana early this morning and was expected to go into what he called an emergency surgery shortly after arriving here. We don't know if that surgery has begun, but Hugo Chavez had actually said that doctors here in Cuba had wanted to operate on him, Suzanne, on Friday, and Hugo Chavez, as he's been known to do here, didn't exactly follow his doctor's orders. Instead, he decided to return to Venezuela, make this surprise announcement late Saturday. Essentially put his political house in order before returning here to deal with his health issues. And that announcement was really stunning, one that caught everyone by surprise. It hadn't been announced ahead of time that he would be speaking live on TV in Venezuela and here in Cuba. And, as well, you know, he talked about his illness in a way he just hadn't before. He talked about the physical effect that it's having on him, the incredible amount of discomfort that he's feeling. And then he named his successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, one of his most loyal deputies, a true Chavista, who's been not only Chavez's vice president, but foreign minister and throughout his long career has been a bus driver and a union leader.

And it's not a complete surprise, but up until now, Chavez really hadn't signaled in his own party who would follow him, and now he has. He's essentially pointed to the person that he wants all his supporters to throw their weight behind and elect if Hugo Chavez is sidelined, is rendered incapable as president. He's essentially preparing Venezuela and the region for Chavismo without Hugo Chavez, and that is significant, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Patrick Oppmann, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Here's what we're watching this hour.