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Unions Brace for Crippling Blow; Mexican-American Star Dies in Plane Crash; Syrian Rebel Group to be Named Terrorist Organization; Closed Florida Reform School at the Center of a Mystery

Aired December 10, 2012 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

I want to begin with a fast-moving story out of Syria. A group of rebels helping fight to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad is about to be declared a terrorist organization. U.S. government documents indicate this radical group -- they're known as the Al-Nusra Front, has ties to al Qaeda.

This group has been behind some of the major military successes for the Syrian rebels thus far, but also some of their more extreme tactics like suicide bombings.

Nick Paton Walsh joins me now live from Beirut.

Nick, we know some of the same fighters fought in the Iraqi insurgency. What more do we know about them?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is interesting how the U.S. government has chosen to designate this group.

They quite simply said that the Al-Nusra Front, which is what many people remember from the Syrian rebellion, behind some many of these key victories, also, as you say, the more extreme tactics, suicide bombings, even claimed attacks on part civilian regime held areas, it says this name is simply another name for al Qaeda in Iraq, which we all recall from the Iraqi insurgency.

That is certainly clearing the link between Iraqi insurgents and these parts of the Syrian rebels, but to many Syrians on the ground who are looking for success from the rebel military movement, these men are actually the vanguard of their rebellion -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: The U.S., though, Nick, really hasn't offered much more than verbal encouragement here to these opposition fighters, at least at this point in the game here.

Is anti-American sentiment, is it really -- is it growing inside Syria?

WALSH: I think it is fair to say that -- when I was in Iraq two or three months ago, people were already expressing massive frustration at the lack of outside help, yes, much of it voiced toward the world's main superpower, the United States. That has certainly grown. My colleague, Arwa Damon, pointing out many actually are growing increasingly anti-American in their sentiments, looking perhaps to the Al-Nusra Front for some greater sense of guidance in the future because they seem to have their act together, to be disciplined and effective and of course also some frustration at the Free Syrian Army who aren't necessarily providing services for people at this time.

The real danger at this point is that now we see this radical group being blacklisted, called terrorists and it will be really hard for the U.S. to deal with them in the future and it will cause a kind of split within the rebel movement, those rebels that the U.S. want to deal with and those they don't want to deal with and consider to be terrorists. And quite how do you then have a harmonious future in the post-Assad era, Brooke?

BALDWIN: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.

We are also today watching very, very closely here what is happening in Michigan, where within the next 24 hours, lawmakers are expected to deliver a crippling blow to organized labor by voting to turn Michigan into the country's 24th right-to-work state, Michigan, the birthplace of the UAW. Listen to this recent protest.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!


BALDWIN: Since last Thursday, protesters have been gathering, here, inside the Michigan Statehouse and chanting, shame on you. The right- to-work measure is expected to pass and that would mean workers in Michigan would not have to pay union dues.

Protests have calmed just a bit today. They're expected to grow as this measure gets closer to passage.

I want to bring in Cindy Estrada. She is the vice president of the once very powerful UAW, United Auto Workers. She joins me from Detroit.

Cindy, welcome.

First off here, all signs everything I have read and can tell, points to this being a done deal. And you're the one, I understand, who is doing the negotiating with the Michigan governor, Governor Snyder, on behalf of 17,000 UAW members. What are you asking for here in these final hours?

CINDY ESTRADA, VICE PRESIDENT, UAW: Part of what we're asking for is the governor to do exactly what he said he was going to do from the beginning, is that he wants to reinvent Michigan, that he wants to have labor and community and management come together to focus on job training, to focus on education, to focus on creating good jobs.

And -- however, this is the opposite of what the governor is now doing. He's deciding he would rather take on this divisive fight instead of spending time reinventing our state and making it the state it could be and that we were on our way to making when we we're able it come through the auto crisis, labor and management together.


BALDWIN: What are you hoping for? I hear the frustration in your voice, the governor sort of changed his stance here on this. Here, moving forward, this thing is just about a done deal come tomorrow. What are you asking for here in the final hours?

ESTRADA: In the final hours we're still asking him to not sign the bill. But if we don't succeed in that, what it is going to be is it's going to be our campaign over the next two years to make sure that we don't have the kind of legislature that decided instead of having transparency and instead of having people actually vote on this bill and have open debate, where we would have a legislature that will honor the citizens of the state, and not try to ram stuff through in a lame-duck session, when in fact the legislature that is going to take place in 2013 are newly elected legislatures who should be involved in this debate.


BALDWIN: So is that what this is about, the protests, the visuals, seeing people chanting inside the Statehouse? Much of this is about two years from now, the election.

ESTRADA: This is about two years from now and this is about us demanding to have what we had through the auto crisis, that we're going to be better off in the state of Michigan if we work together, labor, management, community, that we can create real success, that we can reinvent, that we can have more efficient companies, but that's going to come from everyone being at the table.

Unfortunately, our legislature and our governor in Michigan thinks that they're better off going it alone. We just don't believe that that's accurate. It was proven through the auto crisis that when we work together, we can make real, lasting change. And that's what we're fighting for tomorrow and every day for the next two years until the next elections.

BALDWIN: Cindy, when -- we have been looking at the pictures. Let's throw some more pictures of these protesters, these pro-union folks who have been inside and outside of the Statehouse. It looks to me the turnout has not been -- depending on the pictures, has not been entirely tremendous. Do you think that is a sign of the inevitable? Do you think people now are sort of pulling back?

ESTRADA: I think the turnout -- we have had some members down there in some community. But what we're really focusing over the last two weeks is the governor wanted to come to the table and all of us work together to come up with a plan, so that we wouldn't have this divisive fight.

Unfortunately, the governor decided not to lead. We had a great plan on the table on where the legislature, where the community and labor and management could work together, but they decided instead they wanted to attack democracy, that they wanted to attack working families, and that they wanted to pass this divisive bill without a debate by the citizens.

And so the turnout isn't as high as it is going to be over, you know what you will see tomorrow and through next two years because we weren't asking for that. We were staying at the table and negotiating because that's what we do, that's what we feel is a responsibility of the -- as citizens of Michigan, is to try and figure out how to come up with a solution together. And if we had this kind of leadership during the auto crisis, we wouldn't have had the recovery of the auto crisis -- or the autos.

BALDWIN: We will follow up and see what happens tomorrow. Here we are talking Michigan. The president in your state today, in Detroit. Cindy Estrada, thank you so much, vice president of UAW.

ESTRADA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: The music industry, millions of fans, they are mourning the loss of a powerful female voice. Mexican star Jenni Rivera was killed when her plane crashed into the mountains of northern Mexico early Sunday. We know at least five others who were on board, some of them her closest colleagues, they were all also killed. Rivera had just finished performing in Monterrey, Mexico, sold-out shows, 15 million in record sales, reality TV, and the possibility of a breakthrough into the English-language market on the horizon.

But she started out small. In fact, in an interview with CNN Espanol in 2010, she spoke about how she once sold cans for scrap metal, and hawked C.D.s at her family's stand at the Los Angeles flea market.

Who was the woman known to the fans as La Diva de la Banda or the diva of banda music?

Joining me on the phone from Miami is host of is "Sabado Gigante," Don Francisco.

Don, it is a pleasure to have you on, calling in. You have a stellar career. You have sat down with presidents, politicians, businessmen, entertainers, and Jenni Rivera. Here is what I want to know. What was she like when the cameras were off?

DON FRANCISCO, "SABADO GIGANTE": She was very talented and controversial also. I can remember that I interviewed her in 2001 when she just started and she said, I'm a secretary of my mother and now I want to be a singer.

And that was the way that she starts. And she came up very, very fast. She was very, extremely talented.

BALDWIN: But you -- Don, you have met and interviewed so many different, you know, entertainers. What was it about her you think that made that rise happen so quickly? What was it that resonated with the community? FRANCISCO: I think that's something magic, too difficult to explain.

But I can remember her brother sat with me. That was like a family that was very related to music. His father was like a musical producer.


BALDWIN: They were all in music.


BALDWIN: I think they were all in music, her whole family.

FRANCISCO: Everybody is in music today, but at that time, it was only the father and I had in my program his brother -- her brother -- excuse me.

And he was very charismatic, the brother. Then after that when the brother was famous after six months, he starts also very fast. Then she came to our talk show.


BALDWIN: We have pictures of it. We're looking at it right now. Forgive me for interrupting, but here are the two of you sitting and talking.


FRANCISCO: Yes, 2001 was the first time. Then she came so fast to the success.

I think she was very charismatic too.

BALDWIN: She was a mother, a grandmother. I know she was pregnant in high school. But here's what I want to know. Why did she call herself the diva?

FRANCISCO: Diva, that's the name -- I don't know if she called herself a diva. I think people they call her the diva.

BALDWIN: Diva de la Banda.

FRANCISCO: Diva de la Banda. That's like a very special singer, they call that a diva. I really -- that even I know what it means a diva, but I think it's a very special singer.


BALDWIN: Don Francisco, thank you so much for sharing some of your pictures and your video and your stories. Don Francisco, host of "Sabado Gigante," thank you.

FRANCISCO: Thank you.


BALDWIN: Decades ago, dozens of boys disappeared from a reform school never to be seen again. Well, today new evidence shows what may have happened to them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We found burials within the marked -- current marked cemetery.

BALDWIN: I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

(voice-over): An American doctor kidnapped in Afghanistan. What happens next involves round-the-clock negotiations and a dramatic act of courage by SEAL Team Six.

Plus, a new poll suggests which side the majority of Americans are on when it comes to taxing the rich.

And the worldwide phenomenon under fire for lyrics against America appears at the White House.



BALDWIN: I remember when this next story first broke. Several shallow graves discovered on the grounds of a Florida reform school and claims that guards at the school had tortured the teens to their deaths, and this was back in the '50s and the '60s. So the state of Florida opened an investigation and today they released their findings.

Before we get into that, I want you to listen here to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He takes us to the school grounds, shows us the painstaking work that is being done to uncover what really happened there.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mystery haunts the grounds of this now defunct reform school for boys in the Florida panhandle town of Marianna, involving teenage boys sent here decades ago, some never seen again. In recent years, former students, now in their twilight years, have come forward with horrific stories of punishing abuse doled out by school leaders and of friends who vanished, stories told by CNN.

They accused former school leaders of beatings, sexual abuse and even murder, which brings us to this cemetery on the school's grounds. The bodies of 31 boys are buried here. Florida authorities claim they know how all the boys died, some killed in a fire, others in a flu epidemic, nothing criminal. But new research shows other bodies could be buried in this area, too, and dozens of former students and families say that's proof of a more sinister story hidden in these woods.

(on camera): Back in the early 1960s, the leader of the boys reform school had a local Boy Scout troop come in here and clean up the cemetery. They put up these 31 crosses. But now, a team of anthropologists, over the last year, has been going through all of this area, cleared out all of the woods around here, and they're finding the possibility of many more grave shafts which is only leading to the mystery of what happened here in Marianna.

(voice-over): Untangling the story may be lost to time. The school closed last year. These events happened from the 1940s to 1960s. Most of the school leaders from then have died. But a research project led by a University of South Florida anthropologist, Erin Kimmerle, turned up evidence of additional grave sites during months of searching the school grounds. Kimberly says as many as 18 more bodies could be buried here and that the research team believes a second cemetery could be hidden on the school grounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got something right there.

DR. ERIN KIMMERLE, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: We've found burials within the marked cemetery, and then we've found burials that extend beyond that.

LAVANDERA: Kimberly has traveled the world investigating war crimes for the United Nations, searching for mass graves in places like Yugoslavia and Peru.

(on camera): Have you done just this area or has -- all around?

KIMMERLE: All of it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Her team used high-tech equipment to scan into the ground. All the red you see suggests the location of possible grave sites, but we won't know for sure unless exhumations are ordered. Florida state officials won't comment until they can review Kimmerle's findings.

KIMMERLE: These are children who came here and died for one reason or another and quite literally have just been lost in the woods. And it's about restoring dignity and helping -- if not putting a name to them, at least marking them and acknowledging that they're here.

LAVANDERA: The anthropologist also studied historic documents and public records and discovered a disturbing discrepancy, boys unaccounted for.

OVELL KRELL, FAMILY MEMBER: This was about the last pictures we had of him.

LAVANDERA: Ovell Krell's brother was sent here in 1940. She says, Owen Smith dreamed of playing guitar at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The 14 year old had a musician's vagabond soul. He was shipped to reform school for stealing a car. Ovell never saw him again. Her family was told Owen had run way. She still has a letter sent by the school superintendent more than 70 years ago.

LAVANDERA (on camera): We have been unable to get any information concerning his whereabouts. We will appreciate your notifying us immediately if you receive any word from or concerning him.

(voice-over): But Ovell Smith believes her brother was already dead. A few weeks later, his family was told his decomposed body was found under a house near the school.

KRELL: They think he crawled under there to try and keep warm and that he got pneumonia and died, and that was their official cause of death was death from pneumonia and exposure.

LAVANDERA (on camera): But that -- was that based on anything scientific or any kind of autopsy?

KRELL: No, no.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Ovell says another student told them a far different story.

KRELL: But he looked back, and my brother was running out across a field, an open field, and there was three men shooting at him with rifles. I believe until this day that they shot my brother that night, and I think they probably killed him. And they brought him back to the school and buried him.

LAVANDERA: Against the family's wishes, Owen Smith was buried on the school grounds. She's never figured out exactly where. No one was ever charged in his death back in 1941, but because of that case, along with other accounts of alleged abuse, beatings and killings, the Florida state law enforcement agency launched an investigation in 2008. Its report concluded there was no evidence to suggest that any of the deceased died as a result of criminal conduct. The agency also said it couldn't find evidence to prove claims of physical or sexual abuse at the school. But many former students, like Robert Straley, say that report is a whitewashed cover-up. State officials say they stand by the report's findings.

ROBERT STRALEY: I'm mad at the state, yes. I'm angry at the state, because they let this go on for 68 years and did nothing about it.

LAVANDERA: Straley says he was beaten with a leather strap, and that some school leaders killed young boys and made them disappear.

STRALEY: It is important to find all of the boys that were buried there. I mean, they're practically crawling out of their graves crying out, help remember me.


BALDWIN: Help remember me, he says.

Ed Lavandera, what a story.

When will we be hearing from the state of Florida today with regard to releasing the findings from the investigation?

LAVANDERA: Well, the Florida State Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing the findings that these anthropologists have put together, and the Department of Juvenile Justice in Florida says they will continue to work with the families to give them access.

But it's a real big question mark as to what happens next. Family members of these deceased students would have to request, I believe, exhumations and then courts would have to rule on that as well. What is interesting is that the state of Florida has been trying to sell this property. This reform school was closed long ago, and it's no longer a reform school. But family members of these former students have kind of tied everything up right now in the legal process, so that sale of that property is being blocked so that some of this work can be done here in the months, if not years ahead.

BALDWIN: Wow. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

A daring rescue to save a captured American and a Navy SEAL from the famed SEAL Team Six is killed during this operation -- what we have learned about this attack next.


BALDWIN: Those who know him and know his work say Dr. Dilip Joseph is a hero. And as this video explains, Joseph and his organization, this organization, it's called Morning Star Development, bring basic supplies, medical care, to rural Afghans, and many are young children.


DR. DILIP JOSEPH, RELEASED: A lot more we can give away. When it goes to a place like Afghanistan, it makes a difference between life and death.


BALDWIN: But, last week this doctor from Colorado was the one who need saving, after kidnappers abducted him and these two Afghans as they were on their way back from a medical clinic in the Kabul area. The kidnappers, either smugglers or members of the Taliban, there are conflicting reports, they released the Afghans, but for 11 hours after that, the doctor remained a captive.

And then a team of the Navy SEALs rescued Dr. Joseph in a mission" "The New York Times" is reporting that left six people dead. Among the victims, Nicolas Checque, one of the SEALS and a member of SEAL Team Six. You know the group. These are the same people who took Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May of 2001. But we don't know if Checque was actually part of that mission or not.

Today, Morning Star staffers, they're far from joyous here, as the statement online reads -- quote -- "Our relief in the safe rescue of Mr. Joseph is now tempered by our deep grief over the loss of this true hero. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and his fellow team members. We want them to know that we will always be grateful for the sacrifice and that we will honor that sacrifice in any way we can."

Dr. Joseph's family also expressed their thanks. He is supposed to return to Colorado Springs later this week. More Republicans are calling -- joining the call, I should say, for higher taxes on the wealthy. Coming up, we will speak with one. Hear what Senator Olympia Snowe has to say next.