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Al Qaeda Operative Taken to New York City for Trial; Disney Set to Release new "Oz" Movie; Date of Papal Conclave to be Announced Today; Clinton, DOMA is Unconstitutional

Aired March 8, 2013 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law caught and brought to New York under a shroud of secrecy. Controversy now surrounds what supposed to happen next?

Plus, some more details on how that lion killed a young woman. It turns out that wild animal wasn't where it belonged.

Also, former President Clinton urging the Supreme Court to overturn a law that he, himself, signed when he was in the White House.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Holy Dow! Wall Street out of the door. We're counting down to a key report about jobs now less than two hours away.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, forget the right to bear arms. One small town in America is about to make it mandatory, a gun for every house and every family.

Plus, a first look at Hollywood's risky bet on a brand new "Wizard Of Oz." Is the Yellow Brick Road paved with box office gold?

O'BRIEN: Lots to talk about this morning. The mom who found her seven-year-old daughter's diet list. Did you hear about this? We'll chat with Dara-Lynn Weiss. You remember, she's a woman we had on the show talking about her own daughter's struggle with obesity.

The actor and comedian, Tommy Davidson, is going to joins us. And actress, Abbie Cornish, will be with us a little bit later this morning.

It's Friday, March 8th, and "Starting Point" begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, a developing story we're watching for you. In just a few hours, Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law will be appearing in a New York City courtroom. He was captured in Jordan within the last week. His name is Suleiman Abu Ghaith. He faces arraignment at 10:00 a.m. in federal court in New York City on charges he conspired to kill Americans. Let's go to our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti in Manhattan this morning. Susan, walk us through how he was caught and the controversy over his appearance in court this morning.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad. Of course, you know, it appears he was caught at least in part through the use of intelligence. As we know there is supposed to be cooperation between the United States and other countries when terror suspects like these are caught. However, there are questions about that as well as where and how Abu Ghaith should be tried.


CANDIOTTI: This photo puts Suleiman Abu Ghaith squarely in the Al Qaeda inner circle. He's to the left of his father-in-law, Usama bin Laden, along with top lieutenants Iman al Zawahiri and Muhammed Atef. Following the 9/11 Abu Ghaith was out front as a spokesman for the terror organization, appearing in videos and making ominous statements, quote, "We have the right to kill four million Americans with chemical and biological weapons."

Abu Ghaith is also believed to have been at Usama bin Laden's final stand at Tora Bora in December of 2001 before escaping into Pakistan. He had lived in Iran since 2002, mostly under house arrest and is said to have arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara early last month, traveling on a forged Saudi passport. He checked into a luxury hotel and was detained. Iran refused him to take him back according to Turkish sources.

After several weeks in limbo Turkey decided to deport Abu Ghaith to the country of his birth, Kuwait, but Kuwait didn't want him back either. Eventually Abu Ghaith was transferred to U.S. custody and secretly flown to New York to face trial. Some Republicans argue that makes him an enemy combatant who should be tried by a military commission at Guantanamo.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: We are putting the administration on notice. We think sneaking this guy into the country, clearly going around the intent of Congress when it comes to enemy combatants, will be challenged.

CANDIOTTI: But the Obama administration says it is trying to close Gitmo, not add to its prisoners, and that trying Abu Ghaith in New York won't jeopardize national security.

PETER BERGEN, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's the sort of case it would be easy to try in New York. New York federal court has 100 percent conviction rate for Al Qaeda crimes.

CANDIOTTI: His indictment unsealed Abu Ghaith now stands accused of one count of conspiring to kill Americans and allegedly recruiting others to do the same. In court documents, prosecutors quote him saying this after 911, "The storms will not stop, especially the airplane storms," warning Americans not to board any aircraft and not to live in high rises.


CANDIOTTI: If he had been taken to Gitmo for debriefing and trial by a military commission, there are a lot of questions about how much useable intelligence he may still have after apparently being out of the loop living in Iran for so many years. Soledad? O'BRIEN: Susan Candiotti for us this morning, thank you.

Another story we're watching for you this morning, could the Dow end the week with another record high? Stock futures are higher ahead of the opening bell this morning and the anticipation is building for the February jobs report which is due out in roughly 90 minutes or so. Christine is following both of these big headlines for us this morning.

ROMANS: These things matter to your money. One, if you are an investor it's very, very important. The Dow Jones industrial average is up nine percent so far this year. You would take that kind of return in a whole year. Maybe two years. Instead we have had it so far this year.

Everyone is asking what happens next. It may depend on the health of the job market or at least this data this morning. At 8:30 we'll get a read of the jobs market. We're looking for 170,000 jobs created in February. That's the consensus from economists surveyed and an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.

A lot of you have been asking, wait, investors are doing well here. Companies are doing well, $1.7 trillion in corporate cash in the bank. They have good earnings but American workers aren't necessarily feeling it. And it's true. Productivity gains have really favored companies, not necessarily workers. Workers are getting squeezed. On the top line there you have 200 percent increase in productivity. The bottom line is worker compensation. Look at that, the difference. We feel as though we are running in place even as you see investors --

O'BRIEN: Because we are.

ROMANS: -- investors very doing well. In this report I want to be looking closely to see if there is foreshadowing of sequester, public sector jobs cuts. And there was a snowstorm last month. We'll see how that affects the numbers.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you. We expect that in 90 minutes or so. We are also learning more about how a lion killed a young woman who was interning at a cat haven. John has a look at that and the day's top stories for us. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN: Good morning, Soledad.

New details this morning about the young intern who was killed by a 350-pound African lion at a California animal sanctuary. According to the coroner, 24-year-old Dianna Hanson died quickly from a broken neck. And there was no blood when she was attacked by the lion she absolutely adored. Ted Rowlands is live from Dunlap, California, with the latest developments on this. Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The coroner says investigators believe that couscous the lion was able to use his paw to get out of a small cage used to keep lions out of the main enclosure while it is being cleaned. They say he got out of the cage and was able to then attack his victim, 24-year-old Dianna Hanson. You mentioned the coroner's report. They believe that this was such a quick attack that even in the report he went to the length to say he didn't believe Dianna Hanson suffered at all. As you can imagine, that is comforting to her family.


PAUL HANSON, SR., DAUGHTER KILLED BY LION: There was no blood. They think it was a quick death followed by just some injuries of a lion that was probably just playing too hard. And also she was so happy. Her last two months there with the internship at Cat Haven were the happiest of her life.


ROWLANDS: John, it is truly amazing to listen to her parents, the way they have talked about not only what happened to their daughter in this facility here. They have complete support for the facility and they have talked about how much their daughter did love her job here. John?

BERMAN: They are really speaking with unbelievable strength, Ted, absolutely. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Happening now in these parts, winter whiteout, much of the northeast hammered by the powerful and all too persistent winter storm bringing with it strong winds, rain, coastal flooding, and, of course, snow. That is a snowy New York City you are looking at now. These are live pictures of the slushy mess. We could see three to five inches today. Boston could get up to a foot of snow. The heaviest snow will fall in New Hampshire, eastern Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Jurors at the Jodi Arias murder trial will not be back in court until Wednesday. They spent two days peppering the defendant with hundreds of questions about her boyfriend's murder, including why her version of event changed three times and why she can't remember some of the most gruesome details.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can you say you don't have memory issues when you can't remember how you stabbed him so many times and slashed his throat?

JODI ARIAS: Well, I think that I have a good memory. And June 4 is an anomaly for me. I don't think that I have memory issues that are any different from another average person.


BERMAN: Arizona is one of just three states that allows jurors to question witnesses at a criminal trial.

So several Florida beaches are open again this morning after thousands of sharks prompted life guards to close them. These schools of sharks are migrating up the coast as the water with starts to warm for the summer. This happens every year which is scary to think about. Deerfield Beach was one of the closed shorelines because of the shark sightings.

So another close encounter today. Scientists say another asteroid, this one the size of a football field, will whiz past earth this weekend. This is happening just days after a smaller rock made a closer fly-by. The new asteroid will miss earth by some 600,000 miles on Saturday. This is roughly the size of the meteor you may remember, the one which exploded last month over Russia. That fireball detonated before astronomers knew it existed. More than 1,500 people were injured, mostly by flying glass. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Thanks.

Let's talk about Oz, the great and powerful gamble, big budget prequel to the classic story opens today. Disney has a lot riding on this year's first blockbuster movie. CNN's Nischelle Turner has more on that in Austin, Texas for us this morning. Good morning.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. There is a reason why I'm here in Austin, Texas, talking to you about "Oz, The Great and Powerful." Not that I wouldn't want to come to Austin and tell you about this, but we are here for "South by Southwest" where music, film, and technology collide. Over the next ten days you could call Austin, Texas, the Land of Oz, the great and powerful, because all things powerful are here.

Disney is betting big on the film. They are putting a lot of money into it. There is a lot riding on it. But I would not call this a remake. Disney calls it more a reinvention.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no place like home.

TURNER: Classic lines, classic footwear. "The Wizard of Oz" is beloved. According to the library of Congress more people have seen the 1939 musical than any other film. Now 74 years after Dorothy left Oz, Disney is revisiting the yellow brick road with "Oz, the Great and Powerful," billing it as a prequel.

SAM RAIMI, DIRECTOR, "OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL": It sets up a lot of things that happened in the story we are familiar with.

TURNER: The new Oz is not a musical. What it lacks up in show tunes it makes upper for in effects. Disney is betting heavily on the gamble, spending an estimated $200 million just to produce it.

What's at stake for the studio?

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN, PRESIDENT, HOLLYWOOD.COM BOX OFFICE: For them this is a big deal. This is iconic property and they have a lot of money on the line.

TURNER: Major money and creative hurdles. While the Oz books by L. Frank Baum are in the public domain, Warner Brothers owns the rights to the Wizard of Oz film. So several story elements like Dorothy's ruby slippers, are off limits to Disney. DERGARABEDIAN: The Disney lawyers had to be on set to say, you're getting too close to the ownership of Warner Brothers. So we have to be careful of that.

TURNER: Will Disney's interpretation of the land of Oz alienate fans of the Hollywood classic? Not according to James Franco, who plays Oz.

JAMES FRANCO, ACTOR: We pay respect to a lot of the aspects that people expect and love about the world of Oz, and that's mainly taken from the books. Then there is a fresh take on some of the characters. So you're getting, you know, enough of the old and enough of the new.

TURNER: So while you won't see a tin man or scarecrow in this Oz, the yellow brick road is still in place along with the witches. And Disney hopes the land of Oz can once again turn movie magic into box office gold.


TURNER: And by box office gold, this is what they are betting on for this opening weekend for the movie. Tracking is coming in at about $75 million to $85 million opening this weekend. That is a very big number. If it happens, Disney will be smiling really big. The studio will be happy with that. There are reports this morning because of the tracking numbers that Disney is already planning a sequel to the prequel. That's already in the works, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Nischelle Turner, thanks.

Some breaking news this morning. We want to update you on breaking news this morning. It turns out at the Vatican the cardinals will vote today to pick a date for the Conclave. We are told they will announce today at 1:00 p.m. -- I'm presuming their time -- they will announce the date of the conclave at that time. Prior to that announcement they will be meeting to vote on exactly what the date will be. We are watching the story for you. We'll chat later this morning with John Allen who is watching the Vatican for us. More on that ahead.

Also ahead, back to the top story, the son-in-law of Usama bin Laden headed to a New York City courtroom in just a few hours. We'll take a look at why some lawmakers say he should be at Gitmo instead.

And former president Bill Clinton doing something you may not expect a former president to do -- he's publicly coming out against a law he signed. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll explain that ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We begin with breaking news. You are looking at a live picture at a press conference out of the Vatican. They are telling us that they will be picking the date of the conclave that will pick the next pope. We are told they will announce that date in roughly five and a half hours or so at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. Let's get to Ben Wedeman, he's covering the Vatican for us this morning. So, Ben, any clues at this point about this date?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: No actually. We understand from Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman for the Vatican, that at 1:00 p.m. eastern time, 7:00 p.m. Rome time, they will make an announcement regarding the date of the conclave, but what that date is, we still do not know. It has to wait for next week at some point. Many Vaticanisti, the veteran Vatican watchers, are saying they expect it perhaps to begin on Wednesday, but we'll have to wait for the official announcement on the precise date. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Ben Wedeman, and that official announcement on the precise date will come at 1:00 p.m. eastern time. We will be carrying that for you live. Thanks, Ben. He's at the Vatican. The Vaticanisti, I have never heard that phrase before, those who watch the Vatican closely.

Let's get right back to our top story this morning, the capture of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and the controversy over the fact that he was brought to New York City instead of being tried at Guantanamo Bay. Some Republicans including the Senator Lindsey Graham, say that Suleiman abu Ghaith should not get the privilege of a trial here in New York.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: We believe firmly that Gitmo, there is no substitute for it that Congress will agree upon that it is the right place to put an enemy combatant for interrogation. And at all possible trial. We believe that the administration's decision to bring this person to New York City if that's what happened without letting Congress know is a very bad precedent to set.


O'BRIEN: Let's get to CNN contributor and former homeland security adviser Fran Townsend. Nice to have you with us this morning, Let's talk about the significance of his arrest.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUROR: Look. You know, this goes back to the feeling that you can't hide forever. We are never going to forget those who planned the attack, those who supported the attack. And so, there is a message to others in the world. From a strategic perspective, I think it's an important capture.

On the other hand, as a tactical matter, the day to day running of al Qaeda, this guy has been on the bricks, if you will, under house arrest inside Iran.

O'BRIEN: So he may not have a lot of valuable, current information.

TOWNSEND: Correct.

O'BRIEN: All right. So then, when you hear from Senator Graham that he thinks it's wrong to do it in New York City, for a couple of different reasons. One, he feels Congress was bypassed. He also thinks it should be done at Gitmo. Walk me through the difference, not only in the trial, between a New York City courtroom and what would happen in a military tribunal, but also what kind of interrogation they could be doing around the trial.

TOWNSEND: Well, it's interesting because it's clear the executive branch, right the president on down, made a conscious decision in the way they went about the capture that this was going to a federal courthouse. Right? So clearly the intelligence agencies -- ours, the CIA -- would have been cooperating with our allies around the world, tracking his movements.

Once he was gotten, once he was captured, right, from Jordan, and moved to the United States, it clearly was turned over to the FBI and he came into the custody of the FBI. Including any of what we call pocket litter, any information he may have had on him. They would have flown with him to be able to talk to him. Anything he would have said would have been admissible in a federal district court in a civilian trial. There was a conscious plan and decision about how we handled him.

He gets certain constitutional protections. He has a right to a lawyer, he has a right not to speak against himself. All those sort of constitutional protections in a civil court, and there is a reasonable debate, Soledad, this an individual who was part of the planning and the core of al Qaeda prior to 9/11 and right after it. He reiterated those statements and threats to the United States. He could be righteously be considered an enemy combatant and put into a military tribunal. He would have a lawyer there, he'd have a lot of the similar rights but the process by which he would be tried, it wouldn't be a civilian jury. The rules that apply in an enemy combatant trial are different. It's more accommodating to the battlefield situation in which an enemy combatant is typically taken from. I would like to say, remember, the executive branch, the way they captured him --

O'BRIEN: It was done intentionally.


O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, Fran Townsend. Thanks, appreciate that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, former President Bill Clinton trying to change something he did in his White House, explaining why he did in the first place. Our STARTING POINT team heading in to talk about DOMA and much more. You are watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning, Howie Kurtz is the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," Washington bureau chief for "Newsweek/Daily Beast." Lauren Ashburn is a contributor at "The Daily Beast" and editor in chief of "The Daily Download." John Berman sticks with us as well.

A surprising op-ed, I thought, in "The Washington Post" this morning the former President Bill Clinton urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which in fact he signed into law back in 1996. Here is what the former president writes.

"The justices must decide whether it is consistent with the principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all, and is therefore constitutional. As the president who signed the act into law I have come to believe DOMA is contrary to those principles and in fact, incompatible with our constitution."

The high court is going to hear arguments on DOMA coming in three weeks. It is interesting. A lot of what his op-ed is about is how times have changed and the strategy behind which he thought it was at the time a good idea to sign DOMA into law.

LAUREN ASHBURN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "DAILY DOWNLOAD": We haven't had a hundred years of women's suffrage, and I think that he's entitled to change his opinion, and that it is a good thing for the country to evolve the way he thinks it should evolve.

HOWARD KURTZ, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "NEWSWEEK/THE DAILY BEAST": This is so politically convenient on Clinton's part.


KURTZ: He signed -- there is no risk to him now. It's become the mainstream position of the Democratic party. You know what I didn't see in this op-ed? I was wrong, I'm sorry, I misjudged it.

ASHBURN: He doesn't need to say he's wrong.


O'BRIEN: Here's what he said, "When I signed the bill I included a statement with the admonition that the enactment of the legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He makes the point that more than 500 members of Congress sided with him at that point as if to say everyone was thinking it back then.

ASHBURN: Bit 51 percent of the American people feel that gay marriage should be legal. He is going along with public opinion.

O'BREN: That's not your issue is.

KURTZ: No, I mean I understand you couldn't have done this in 1996. Gay marriage would have been unthinkable, politically. That's not where the country was. Bill Clinton is the guy who signed the law and really ticked of his liberal base that said marriage is between a man and a woman.

To write an op-ed now and say, well, gee --

ASHBURN: He's a leader of the party, Howie. Whether or not people like it, he still has a lot of support and he's helping out President Obama.

KURTZ: There is zero risk in this for him. You'll admit that.

ASHBURN: Politically, okay.

O'BRIEN: Of course it's political.

BERMAN: There are a flood of amicus briefs coming in for the Supreme Court case.

KURTZ: And many Republicans signing on.


KURTZ: That's a different situation (ph).

O'BRIEN: We have to take a break. Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, Washington's forced budget cuts, one week since the anti- climactic countdown. What's happened to the doom and gloom report and what hasn't happened? John Berman takes a look at that.

Also, a mom stumbles upon this: her daughter's diet list. Her daughter is 7 years old. We'll talk to a woman who put her own 7- year-old diet and talk about the pressures for young girls and weight.

That's ahead on STARTING POINT, we're back in just a moment.