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North Korea Cutting Off South Korea Hotline; Justices Weigh Federal Marriage Law; Pope Francis will Not Move into Papal Apartments; Oral Arguments in DOMA Wrapping Up; SEALs Dispute Who Shot Bin Laden

Aired March 27, 2013 - 12:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes. And welcome to our viewers both here in the United States and right around the world.

MALVEAUX: So, we are beginning in Washington. Anticipation, of course, building outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Right now, inside, lawyers should be wrapping up a second day of arguments over same-sex marriage. At issue is a federal law that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

HOLMES: What it does is prevent same-sex partners, though, from receiving federal benefits. We're going to take you live to the high court for the latest developments and the social and legal showdown as it plays out.

MALVEAUX: Syrian opposition has opened its first embassy in Qatar. Earlier this week, the Arab League formally recognized the group as the sole representative of Syria. Now, this is a move to diminish the power of President Bashar al Assad's government. The Arab League will also allow its members to supply Syrian opposition forces with weapons.

HOLMES: Now, Russia, which gives Damascus both military and political support, perhaps predictably blasted that decision.

To Pakistan. The killing of a teacher causing more outrage over attacks aimed at keeping girls out of school. This teacher was shot on her way to an all girls school in Pakistan's north western tribal district.

MALVEAUX: It is just a very disturbing story. Her death has led to a petition demanding more government protection for girls and teachers. And as you might know, this case bringing back the memories of the assassination attempt just last year against that 14-year-old girl Malala Yousafzai. She was a champion of girls education.

HOLMES: Let's begin in North Korea where leaders are threatening South Korea with words and actions again.

MALVEAUX: Today, the north announced that it is cutting off a key communication line with South Korea. It is a hotline that both these countries use to monitor traffic to a shared industrial complex.

HOLMES: Yes, the North also delivering a new warning to South Korea's leader, telling her to, quote, "watch her tongue" when talking about Pyongyang. This, of course, just the latest in a series of threats by North Korea's leadership this week. Some of them directed squarely at the United States.

MALVEAUX: So we're following this from all angles. Matthew Chance, he is live on the phone. He is in the South Korean island of Yongyong (ph), I believe, Youngpyong (ph), and the national security expert Jim Walsh is in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Matthew, let's start off with you.

You certainly are in a place where there is a lot of concern about what is taking place. Tell us why this is so dangerous that you have a key hotline, a communications line, that has now been severed.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I think it's significant in the sense that there aren't that many channels of communication that exist between North and South Korea, particularly between their militaries. But this is a cold nation line essentially to oversee the transfer of South Korean citizens into an area called the Kaesong industrial zone, industrial complex, where factory and businesses set up factories and use mainly North Korean workers, in fact. And so it may have an impact on them.

But, you know, apart from that, the movement itself won't have any wider implications I expect. But if you take it within the context of the broad spectrum of actions and threats that have been coming out of North Korea, particularly over the past couple of weeks, then it looks much more significant and it really underlines, you know, just how tense the situation has become on the Korean peninsula.

HOLMES: Let's bring in Jim Walsh now, a security expert who's actually been to North Korea.

North Korean dictator, Jim, Kim Jong-un, his threats, they -- well, what, they've included warnings of a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S. and South Korea. He releasing video showing imagined attacks on Washington and Seoul. Declared that the armistice that halted the Korean War was invalid. I mean pretty extreme stuff, even by North Korean standards, and in a pretty short period of time. What's your take on this? Do you think he is calling the shots?

JIM WALSH, MIT SECURITY STUDIES PROGRAM: Well, there's some debate about that, Michael. There are some people who think that he's in charge. Other folks think maybe his uncle's in charge. It's just impossible to know.

But I think you put it exactly right. Both in terms of the extremeness of the statements and the pace of the statements, they've certainly increased these last couple of months. And, you know, and as you said, by standards of North Korean rhetoric, which are pretty bad. You know, they say pretty intense things. If I take any comfort in this, and I don't, the comfort I take is that most of these provocations have not been North Korea directly poking South Korea. It's a missile test or it's a statement or it's -- that they're not going to honor an agreement. There hasn't been any direct confrontation. I think that's good. But what worries me, and we heard a North Korean official say this today, this may be the dumbest thing I've heard all year -- it's only March -- but it may be the dumbest thing. He was quoted today as saying, "war could break out any minute, so there's no need for military-to-military communication." You know, actually, it's the opposite. If there is a chance of war, not by design but by accident, the two sides need to be communicating so that something small does not grow into something big.

MALVEAUX: Matthew, I want to bring you back into the conversation here because Jim brings up a really good point, and that is, what is the prospect here of war? I mean you have the South Korean president calling on the North this week to abandon its nuclear ambitions and then you've got the North that's responding saying, watch your tongue, you're not going to tell us what to do.

CHANCE: Yes, well, I think the prospects of a confrontation between North Korea and South Korea in some kind of minor way is a lot more credible than the idea of North Korea carrying out a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States. Obviously that's something its threatened. But, of course, it has an actual track record of attacking South Korea as recently as 2010 on this island, Yongpyong, where I'm speaking to you from right now. Four South Korean citizens were killed in an, you know, an unexpected, unannounced artillery barrage of the small fishing community here, which caused, of course, absolute outrage in South Korea and around the world.

But, you know, I think there's another problem as well, which is that a lot of these threats that we're seeing coming out of North Korea at the moment, they're coinciding with a sort of genuine insecurity that North Korea has. You know, at the moment, there's a massive U.S./South Korean military exercise that's been going underway and will continue until the end of April. There's 40,000 troops involved from both sides, from both of those allies. We've (ph) seems B-52 bomber flights make passes over the Korean peninsula, and admissibly (ph) over South Korea, not over North Korea. But all of that has really angered North Korea and it's really made it very suspicious as well. I mean we know these are war games. We know these are military exercises. But you get the sense that North Korea really does suspect that they could be used as a front for an invasion of North Korea by the United States and South Korea.

It is a hermit kingdom. It is cut off from the rest of the world. It does have a very strong sense of paranoia. And it's always, in the past, over decades, you know, upped the ante, upped its rhetoric when it came to times of, you know, military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. And it's doing just the same now, but it's doing them in a much more intensive way.

HOLMES: Jim, we'll finish up with you. Of course we had the U.S. announcing that agreement with South Korea to firm up plans in case North Korea does follow through on its threats. Really sort of putting the U.S. in a position of responding even to the smallest action that might take place. What is the U.S. position? What is the priority for the U.S.? They've got 28,000 troops based there. And I think a lot of people don't understand the geography there. Seoul to the DMZ, that ain't far.

WALSH: No, it isn't. And, you know, the deal is, if there was a war -- let's say there was a full blown war. North Korea would lose. They would lose even if they simply fought South Korea and the U.S. wasn't going to be in it. And the U.S. will be in it. So -- but the problem is, they will lose, but in going down, that -- those 10,000 artillery pieces near the border will take a piece of Seoul -- they'll take a piece of Seoul with them.

So they don't want to start a war they're going to lose. And we don't want to start a war that would cause chaos on the peninsula and would have our troops in danger. So the U.S. mission here is to reassure our ally, South Korea, tell them that we've got your back and try to promote stability, try to make sure there isn't a war.

Now, the nature of that agreement you referred to this week, very unclear. Not a lot written about it. Not a lot publicized about what it obliges the two sides to do. But, you know, Matthew was talking about that shelling, that island shelling where he is now reporting from. South Korea made a series of changes in its military doctrine after that in response to that. A more forward leaning doctrine. No more tit for tat. We're going to strike you back three times harder. Those sorts of things.

MALVEAUX: All right.

WALSH: So we're having the pace of provocations happening faster. We have new leadership in all these countries. So I don't think there's going to be war on purpose, but I do worry about an incident escalating. And that's sort of where the stage is set.

HOLMES: That's the thing, somebody -- yes, somebody with an itchy trigger finger and it getting out of hand. Jim, thanks. Jim Walsh there. Also, Matthew Chance on the line from Pyongyang (ph).

MALVEAUX: We're also following an important story here in the United States. The Supreme Court now wrapping up a second day of hearings. This is an epic culture war over same-sex marriage. Everybody paying very close attention. Today, of course, the focus is on a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex couples.

HOLMES: Now, the law is known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA as it's become known. It applies to federal taxes, things like Social Security, pensions, other sorts of benefits.

MALVEAUX: Shannon Travis, he is outside the Supreme Court.

I know there's a lot of anticipation and excitement on both sides really. A lot of people as they wait for them to wrap up the arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Give us a sense of the mood, of whose out there and what are they anticipating? SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, there's a lot of anticipation right now for anybody who's streaming out of those front doors, Suzanne. We've been seeing a few people. But right now, as we wait, fire and brimstone just a few feet behind me is a crowd of protesters. They are pro-same sex marriage. Basically speaker after speaker coming out railing in favor of same-sex marriage. Obviously today we're seeing protesters, but not as many as yesterday. Yesterday, Suzanne, we had both sides of the street out in front of the Supreme Court lined with people. Not as much today. And another thing that we notice, there are opponents of same-sex marriage out here protesting, but certainly not as many. They seem to be outnumbered by those that are in favor of, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Shannon, we're going to get back to you in a little bit once they come out of the Supreme Court for those arguments.

And we also want to note as well what could be the biggest case of these two. You've got two former rivals who are teaming up to take on the same-sex marriage fight to the Supreme Court. And our own Gloria Borger, she got exclusive access to this power team as they prepared their case. That is the special "The Marriage Warriors: Showdown at the Supreme Court." It is Saturday night, 7:30 Eastern, on CNN. Pretty cool.

HOLMES: Yes, that will be worth watching.

And here's more of what we're working on this hour for AROUND THE WORLD.

Simple living. That seems to be the motto of this new pope.

MALVEAUX: Yes, he's actually giving up the Vatican's palatial penthouse apartment with more than a dozen rooms, views of Rome, for just a simple two bedroom flat.

HOLMES: Exactly. He's not living large, that's for sure.

Also, a dispute among Navy SEALs over just who fired the shots that killed Osama bin Laden.

MALVEAUX: And, a heroic bus driver in China rescues his passengers as a lamp post smashes through the window.

HOLMES: (INAUDIBLE). We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, to AROUND THE WORLD. A strong earthquake shaking Taiwan today causing buildings to sway and, as you see there, crack.

MALVEAUX: Well, so far, no reports of major damage or deaths from this magnitude 6.1 quake.

In eastern China, a bus driver is being called a hero after he helped his passengers survive a horrifying accident. All of it captured on surveillance video.

HOLMES: Take a look at this. The driver approaching another accident scene when that, a light pole, crashes through the windshield. He ducks just in time. Stops the bus. And as soon as he gets out from under the pole, he gets to work helping passengers get out safely.

MALVEAUX: That is unbelievable.

HOLMES: That is.

MALVEAUX: So the driver's spleen was ruptured, but he's expected to be OK. He managed to stop the bus and get all those passengers out. Unbelievable.

HOLMES: What a hero.

MALVEAUX: Pope Francis rapidly becoming known as the "people's pope."

HOLMES: Yeah. He takes the bus, as we've reported here. He pays his own bills, stopped the newspapers the other day and he wears shoes that are from Mexico.

MALVEAUX: His old shoes.

So he's breaking quite a bit of tradition. Doesn't even stop there. The Vatican announced today that the pope will not move into the papal apartment for now.

We are joined by senior Vatican analyst John Allen. John, this is pretty cool. I mean, right? He's in an apartment and he's not going to move to the big palatial place. He's just going to stay in a two- bedroom flat, is that right?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: That is right. And I think the first thing we should say about it is this is not some grand scheme hatched by a cabal of p.r. advisors about how to get the world to fall in love with you.

You know, this just tracks with the man's personality. When he lived in -- when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina, he refused to live in the fairly lavish archbishop's residence and stayed, instead, in a spartan apartment around the corner, so spartan that the story goes he had to leave his stove on over the weekend to keep the place warm because the building turned off the heat over the weekend.

But listen, there are a couple of strategic dimensions to this that are worth unpacking. One, Pope Francis wants to be a pope of the poor, and I think he understands that you can't preach concern for the poor to the world if you are perceived yourself as living in opulence.

The other thing is that this decision to live at the Casa Santa Marta, which is the hotel on Vatican grounds, rather than in the palace means that he's going to continue to be in regular contact with a whole river of people that wash through Rome because that's where people coming to visit the Vatican stay. And so I also think this is a way of fighting being placed in a bubble and making sure that he doesn't become isolated.

HOLMES: Yeah, which was a fear, wasn't it, that this was a man who needs to effect change and he can't do that with the old guard surrounding him?

So, yeah, it sounds like a strategic move as you say.

Now as many -- all of us know, really, this is Holy Week, Easter weekend coming up. Normally the pope would celebrate Holy Thursday mass at the Vatican, but he's chosen to do this differently as well.

ALLEN: Yeah, that's right. Pope Francis is going to be visiting a youth prison where juvenile offenders are housed in Rome. It's about a couple of miles away from the Vatican.

I don't think, Michael and Suzanne, he's going to be taking the bus to that particular appointment because it would mean the thousands of Romans suddenly can't get on a bus. But he'll be driven.

And he's going to do the Holy Thursday liturgy there which includes this highly iconic moment based upon the example of Christ and the Gospels of washing the feet of people around him.

So he's going to wash the feet of 12 young offenders, both men and women, as a symbol once again of the church's concern for the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized in the world.

And all of this, of course, is about to trying to set a new tone for the papacy, one closer to the people and simpler in style.

And as tone-setting exercises go, it's been magnificent, but let's remember, once Holy Week is over, then he has to navigate the hard transition from style to substance, the hard work of actually making choices about governance and there in many ways it's a whole new ball game.

MALVEAUX: And, John, finally here, do you think it will make a big difference in the terms of the church itself? That it will change behavior, the way people actually see the role of the church in serving the poor? The fact that he'll be an example of someone who lives in this kind of humble way of being.

ALLEN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, one thing that is absolutely crystal clear about the Catholic system is that people tend to take their cues from the pope in ways large and small.

So I think this is going to sort of fire the imaginations of catholics around the world about how to in their own way of life demonstrate greater simplicity and greater concern for the poor.

But even in very small ways, Michael and Suzanne, I can tell you I was in a restaurant in Rome last week and I bumped into a very veteran Vatican cardinal, a guy who's been around since the dawn of time who usually likes to go around in his ecclesiastical finery, but he was wearing a very simple set of clothes.

And so I just sort of jokingly asked him what was up with that, and he said, hey, under Pope Francis simple is the new chic. So that's where we are.

HOLMES: Great.

MALVEAUX: Good example there.

I understand now we're getting oral arguments out of the Supreme Court, wrapping up there today, just finished. This, of course, the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA as it's known, defining marriage between a man and woman.

I want to go to our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, outside of the Supreme Court, and Joe Johns, as well.

You guys were both inside. You heard those arguments. What stood out for you? Let's go to you first, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The first thing I thought of when I listened to these arguments is that the court appears to be moving toward an out, if it wants it, on procedural grounds to not fully hit this case. That's the first thing.

The second thing, as to the merits of the case, there was a lot of discussion here about the question of why the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, whether it was trying to create some type of uniformity in the federal scheme on marriage, or if there was something else afoot, namely moral disapproval of homosexuality.

So the court spent a lot of time on that, and I found it fascinating.

Once again it appears this is going to be a hard case for this court to decide. Do you agree, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, they are obviously very deeply split.

But I think DOMA's in trouble and I think it's in trouble because Anthony Kennedy was repeatedly concerned that the Defense of Marriage Act violates states' rights.

Anthony Kennedy, who is, as we all know, the swing vote on this court is someone who is concerned about gay rights, although he said very little, I think nothing about the issue of whether the Defense of Marriage Act violated gay people's constitutional rights.

He was clearly very concerned that the Defense of Marriage Act was invading the province of the state to define marriage. That's a state function, usually, and that would certainly be suggesting that he was going to strike down the law.

And certainly the other liberals, the four Democratic appointees, looked like they were going to vote to strike it down. JOHNS: Also -- just one other thing I wanted to throw in and I'd like your opinion, too. Justices Scalia, Alito, as well as the chief justice, Roberts, all asked a lot of questions about whether, if the reverse were in effect -- in other words, if the Congress passed a law that said same-sex marriage was OK for all the states, would there still be a constitutional problem?

TOOBIN: Right.

JOHNS: And the attorneys wouldn't bite. And it appeared to me they didn't want to go there perhaps because there are 41 states that ban same-sex marriage. And it would create a huge political problem.

TOOBIN: Right. I mean that struck me as sort of an interesting hypothetical, but ultimately sort of irrelevant to the issues that were going on.

It is certainly true that the procedural part of the case -- what's odd about this case is that the plaintiff, Edith Windsor, who had to pay a large amount of tax because the internal revenue service doesn't recognize her marriage and the federal government -- whoa! Hello.


TOOBIN: It's fine.

MALVEAUX: Just an umbrella for one of the light stands. That happens from time to time. It's happened to both of us out there.

JOHNS: (Inaudible) at the Supreme Court, though.

TOOBIN: I find I'm thinking more clearly now.

HOLMES: I was going to say, Jeff, certainly for our international viewers, can you outline that take? I think people don't understand the basics here of what this is about.

TOOBIN: Right. OK. We'll sort of take a step back.

Nine states in the United States recognize same-sex marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act is a law by Congress that applies in the whole country, and the Defense of Marriage Act says that the federal government will not recognize those marriages for any purpose under federal law in terms of paying -- you know, filing joint tax returns or Social Security survivor's benefits or burial in veterans cemeteries.

The question in this case is, by failing to recognize, refusing to recognize those states -- those same-sex marriages in those states, does that violate the rights of those people in those same-sex marriages? And that was what the argument was about today.

HOLMES: And in the case before the court, this was about a couple who were married and one partner died, right?

JOHNS: Right. Edith Windsor is 80-some-years-old. She's from New York state. Her spouse died, and she was stuck with a bill for estate taxes of something like $363,000 or so.

So she basically said she wanted her money back and ended up going to court, and that's the genesis of the case.

But it's not just estate taxes. It's 1,000 or so different benefits that you get as a result of marriage that are affected -- affect people in states where they have same-sex marriage.

And the question of course is whether those people ought to be able to get those benefits or not.

TOOBIN: If I could just have one point here, the reason this case is unusual from a procedural point of view is that she's suing and saying, I want my money back.

The federal government is saying, you're right. You should get your money back. DOMA is unconstitutional, and the justices were saying why are we dealing with this case when the two main parties agree with each other? Where is the -- why is this a lawsuit at all? And that was a hard question for the lawyers to answer.

JOHNS: And also important to say the last thing is, and you know this, Suzanne, a small group of members of Congress brought suit because the Justice Department wouldn't pursue this.

And the court spent a whole lot of time here questioning whether that group of members of Congress had the standing to do that. And that is the procedural grounds that the court could at least consider if they wanted to find an out and not reach the merit.

MALVEAUX: Sure. We're going to talk more about this. We have to take a quick break.

I am very curious because I know Edith Windsor herself was inside that building, that she had an opportunity to speak.

I'm very curious as to how the justices responded to her and her very personal story because ultimately it's about the law, but it's about many, many couples and families who are going to be impacted by that decision they make there inside that building.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll have more on the other end.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Killing the most wanted terrorist in the world, Navy SEALs, of course, carrying out that mission against Osama bin Laden two years ago.

MALVEAUX: But not all the SEALs who came face-to-face with bin Laden that night are giving the same account of the shooting, specifically who fired the shots that took down Osama bin Laden.

Brian Todd explains.