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Boston Burial Controversy; Syrian Crisis Escalates; Interview With New York Congressman Steve Israel; Syria: More than Just a Civil War?; Collins and First Lady to Team Up

Aired May 6, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: No takers as of yet for the remains of an accused terrorist in Massachusetts. I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, for two weeks, no one's claimed his body. And now cemeteries for miles are rejecting the shot-up, run-over body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Does everyone deserve a burial?

The world lead, Israel accused of launching air strikes on Syria with Iran encouraging retaliation. Will the U.S. be dragged into another Middle East war?

And the money lead, how much would you pay to keep watching all those cat videos? YouTube is getting ready to make some channels become pay-per-view.

I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

In the national lead, new information just in on the Boston bombings. He's one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's college pals. And now Robel Phillipos, accused of lying about the disposal of items from Dzhokhar's room, has been released from custody in a hearing that just wrapped up about an hour ago. The prosecution and defense agreed to allow the 19-year-old to be released on $100,000 bond with conditions that he will remain in his mother's custody and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Phillipos faces a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted. Law enforcement says the 19-year-old lied repeatedly about the disposal of fireworks and a laptop from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's apartment, one allegedly conducted by two other students from Kazakstan. They remain in custody.

Meanwhile, questions continue about whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev deserves a grave. Right now, it's proving difficult to find a place to bury the dead terror suspect who is accused of killing three people and maiming so many more near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and later of course killing an MIT officer.

Three weeks after the bombing, his body still lays in a funeral home in Worcester, Massachusetts. His uncle, the same one who called him a loser if he was guilty, arrived over the weekend to prepare the body for burial.


RUSLAN TSARNI, UNCLE OF SUSPECTS: I'm left alone to deal with this matter. And I also stress that Tamerlan Tsarnaev has no other place to be buried. There's no other place who would accept his body.


TAPPER: Cemeteries in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, they want nothing to do with his corpse. The undertaker who picked up Tamerlan's body says he's looked for plots in those three states and no takers.


PETER STEFAN, FUNERAL DIRECTOR: Well, at this point, any outcome will be better than nothing. We do have to bury the person, regardless of what he did. As I said earlier, this country, we bury the dead. Funeral directors have done this for years. They continue to do it.


TAPPER: And now he's facing a huge backlash from locals.

One protesters held a sign saying, bury the garbage in a landfill. This is not the first time we have been left with an evildoer's body after a tragedy. Even Osama bin Laden was buried at sea, a soggy burial, but a burial, nonetheless, so his grave wouldn't become a shrine for jihadists.

President Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, is buried in the Dallas area. That's the city where the shooting took place. Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, is in an unmarked grave. And the homegrown Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh was cremated after his execution.

No one seems to know where those ashes were scattered.

Joining us is now Imam Talal, founder and executive director of the Islamic Institute of Boston. He's upset that these cemeteries are rejecting Tsarnaev's body.

Imam Talal, thanks for joining us.

I want to read how you described Tamerlan Tsarnaev recently -- quote -- "I would not be willing to do a funeral for him. This is a person who deliberately killed people. There's no room for him as a Muslim. He already left the fold of Islam by doing that. In the Koran it says, those who will kill innocent people, they will dwell in the hellfire."

So, if you're not willing to do it, why are you upset that others are also not willing to do it?

IMAM TALAL EID, ISLAMIC INSTITUTE OF BOSTON: Thanks for hosting me. It's -- I would not put it that I'm upset. But I'm concerned. And you have to distinguish between not giving the person proper rituals and proper burial. I think that this person now is in the care of his family and we have to respect their wish.

And this is America. I would see leaving the body without burial as an attempt of mutilation. And we don't want to get into that issue. And also suggestion of cremating the body is not something that I would recommend and I would not support also as well.

This is the time to honor the wish of his family. And if no one is able to help, I would like to turn to our governor and to see if he can help with that issue. And, if not, I will turn to President Obama, our president, because he is responsible for that as well.

TAPPER: Now, Imam Talal, you don't favor cremation because it's against Muslim law. That is often what is done with killers. John Wayne Gacy, I believe he may have been cremated. I'm pretty sure Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer, was cremated. That cannot happen for religious reasons to Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Where would you -- if you could -- if you were in charge of this, where would he be buried?

EID: You have -- as I said, that the issue is not giving rituals.

And I also said I don't him to be buried with the Muslims. That's one issue. But now we are talking about a human being. This human being needs to be buried, regardless. Where? This is -- if I'm in charge, I will find a way. But I'm not in charge. This is something that the governor should look at, too.

Since cemeteries are refusing to accept burial, then the governor should step in and make sure that this person will get proper burial, not because he's Muslim, not because of anything, but because he's a human being. And the human being is honored. God honored the human being, and consider the body as sacred and human life is sacred also as well.

TAPPER: All right, Imam Talal, thanks so much for sharing your views, as always.

EID: Thank you.

TAPPER: The digital world just got a little bit more dangerous. Earlier today, this video was uploaded, a shot across the bow in a whole new battle on guns.

Can your H.P. printer do that? And by that, I mean print a 3-D pistol called the Liberator, one that can fired on what looks to be the set of a Quentin Tarantino movie. That's Cody Wilson, head of Defense Distributed, an organization whose sole purpose is to create a 3-D gun printing and then share that technology with the public.

And he's fulfilling a promise he made right back here on THE LEAD back in March.


CODY WILSON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, DEFENSE DISTRIBUTED: Well, to have a printable gun, it's my intention to have that done by the end of this month. We're at the end of March now. So, it's my intention to have it done at the end of April.


TAPPER: So, is this a happy marriage of high tech and the right to bear plastic arms?

One member of Congress is not celebrating. Democratic Congressman Steve Israel joins me here in Washington.

Congressman, thanks for joining me.

You have introduced legislation that would ban these types of guns. How realistic is that? These printers, they're out there, they're legal. Do you really think you can ban them?

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, I don't want to necessarily ban the guns. I don't want to make it easier for criminals and terrorists to bring plastic guns through metal detectors onto airplanes.

Jake, I just came from New York, stood in line at La Guardia Airport in front of the metal detector. The metal detector is a good idea. You don't want bad guys bringing guns. But as we just saw from that video, that metal detectors may be obsolete technologies now that you can actually make a plastic gun and bring it on a plane.

TAPPER: So, what is your solution?

ISRAEL: My solution is to simply extend something that has been on the books for 10 years, the Undetectable Firearms Act, that says that you cannot manufacture and transport weapons that cannot be picked up by metal detectors.

It was common sense in 2003, when George Bush signed the law. It is now urgent sense now that the 3-D printers are actually manufacturing these plastic weapons and now that the law is expiring at the end of this year.

TAPPER: Is this a genuine threat? These printers cost about -- I have heard estimates from $8,000 to $13,000. Do you think people are really going to follow in his footsteps and print these kinds of guns.

ISRAEL: Look, the printers themselves can be transformational technologies.

I'm all for 3-D printers and I'm all for the economic benefits that they will provide. I'm also for common sense. The cost of these printers is reduced quickly. It's getting easier and easier to make these weapons. We shouldn't make it easier for terrorists and criminals to bring these plastic weapons onto planes. It's just that simple.

TAPPER: Well, it's commonsense. But, correct me if I'm wrong, it doesn't seem like there's a lot of appetite for gun control legislation, whether it's metal guns or plastic guns. Is this something you think you actually could get passed?

ISRAEL: Well, I'm going to try. I can't think of any single argument that makes sense that we should not extend this law that George Bush himself passed.

TAPPER: I heard Pat Toomey say that and Joe Manchin say that about their expansions of background checks.

ISRAEL: I think the more people see videos like that and the more people who actually go on planes and want to be safe, the greater the chances of passing this bill.

TAPPER: All right, well, thank you so much for letting us know about it, Congressman Israel.

ISRAEL: Thank you.

TAPPER: Our world lead, Israel has reportedly taken matters into its own hands without giving the U.S. a heads-up, we're told. Will possible retaliation mean all-out war in the Middle East?

Plus, he made headlines when he became in the modern era the first openly gay player in big professional team sports. Now Jason Collins is getting recruited by the White House. What's he doing with Michelle Obama? Our sports lead is coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our world lead, 42 Syrian soldiers are dead from reported Israeli airstrikes. That's according to a Syrian opposition group. These strikes seemed to be aimed at preventing weapons from being transferred to the militant group Hezbollah, which the U.S. State Department considers to be a terrorist group, sources tell CNN's Barbara Starr.

While the Syrian government says these strikes open the door to retaliation, an Israeli general says that there are -- quote -- "no winds of war."

I want to bring in Hala Gorani, CNN International anchor and correspondent, and Josh Rogin, who has a brand-new job as a senior correspondent for "Newsweek," Daily Beast.

Thanks for joining us.

Josh, congratulations.


TAPPER: I want to play for you guys something that the ambassador, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, said to me on Friday when I asked him about -- at this point it was just reports that there had been some strikes by the Israelis against the transfer of these weapons.


MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: We have a very clear policy. If the Syrian regime tries to transfer chemical weapons or what we call game-changing weaponry to terrorist organizations, particularly to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel will not remain passive. We're very serious about it.


TAPPER: That's about as close to an acknowledgment as you're going to get from an ambassador before news like this breaks.

Do you expect this to escalate?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think that at this point, Israel expects it to escalate, because when you look at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to China that went ahead as planned, he didn't even mention what's going on in Syria right now on his first day in China.

So, it seems as though they're taking some preventive measures in the part of the country where they think there might be retaliatory strikes, not from Syria, but from Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon, which is significant, by deploying their Iron Dome system -- Dome system in that part of the country. So, I don't think the expectation is for an immediate, imminent escalation to a region wide situation at this point.

TAPPER: Josh, people like you and me and Hala have been parsing something that President Obama said a few weeks ago, the red line, where there was a story in "The New York Times" over the weekend saying it was an ad libbed red line.

But let's go back and take a listen to what the president actually said when it came to chemical weapons used by the Syrian regime.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.


TAPPER: So we're told now that aides were surprised when he laid out that red line. But he laid it out anyway. Does it matter?

JOSH ROGIN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NEWSWEEK/DAILY BEAST: It does matter. Words matter. When you set red lines, people believe them. And when you don't uphold them, people lose faith in your credibility to uphold them.

We saw President Obama last week say that, oh, Syria has crossed several lines. Now, he's sort of walking back from the red lines.

The overall problem is just getting worse. It doesn't really in the end matter what the lines are. What matters is what the U.S. response will be. That's what we're all waiting to see.

TAPPER: And, Hala, we've heard from a United Nations official that there are reports, not conclusive ones --

GORANI: Right.

TAPPER: -- that the rebels may have used --

GORANI: That's complicating --


TAPPER: Exactly. May have used --

GORANI: After we've heard from Israel and other Western countries that they believe the regime has used chemical weapons, now, all of a sudden, we're hearing the possibility, that wait a minute, it could be the rebels.

TAPPER: And what are you hearing about that?

GORANI: Well, Carla del Ponte, the human rights investigator for the U.N., made this statement on Swiss Italian television. Today, the U.N. came out with this statement that was very short saying, hang on, this is not conclusive. It sounded as though the U.N. was sort of taken aback, surprised by this Carla del Ponte statement.

So, there is some confusion at the U.N. I mean, that's the impression they're giving outside observers at this stage.

ROGIN: Right. What my administration sources tell me is the State Department and the White House don't believe the Syrian rebels have the capability to produce these weapons nor do they have them in their possession. I mean, we're talking about complicated weapons that are complicated to deliver, complicated weapon systems. And the Syrian opposition simply, probably doesn't have the ability to do that, probably.

The most likely scenario was that was the regime that used these weapons on at least two occasions, maybe four occasions as recently as last week.

TAPPER: I'm told now that CNN correspondent Fred Pleitgen is in Damascus. Fred, can you hear me?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I certainly can, Jake. We're having trouble with the line here. But I think we're good now.

TAPPER: So, what are you hearing from Damascus? What's the latest there?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, I can tell you that over the past couple of days, the Syrian regime is angry, first of all, of course, at these air strikes that went on. One of the things that happened is we were basically sleeping from Tuesday -- from Saturday into Sunday night. And, then all of a sudden, the night just absolutely erupted, and it was several initial explosions and there were secondary explosions that went on for well over an hour.

And that seemed to indicate to us that some sort of major installation had been hit, probably some sort of ammunition depot. And , then what happened is that the Syrian state television put up a banner saying that Israeli rockets hit a research facility. But people living in the vicinity there say that they felt the wave, the blast wave in their houses more than a mile away. So, clearly, it must have been something much bigger. The Syrian government is absolutely angry.

I mean, one of the things that we have to keep in mind about all this is what was hit is really the power center of the Syrian military. There are several units of the elite republican guard that are in those military facilities. There is that research center. There's also a big weapons depot there as well.

So the Syrians are absolutely angry at this. And as we've been saying, they are threatening retaliation. At this point, it's unclear how they want to do that. But people here in Damascus are on the edge, the government is on the edge and the military, I can tell you at this point, is licking its wounds, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Josh, this wouldn't be the first time if the Israelis conducted this and it certainly seems like they probably did. But it wouldn't be the first time that the Israelis had actually bombed a site in a local Arab country and there really hadn't been all-out war as a result.

ROGIN: Right. Let's remember that Israel attacked Syria's suspected nuclear reactor in 2007. They attacked another arm shipment to Hezbollah in January and then there was the attacks on Thursday and then probably Saturday. So, that's at least four we can name that haven't gotten a big response.

Let's remember, this is not an Israeli attack on Assad. It's an Israeli attack on Iran and Hezbollah. That's the battle that's going on on the streets of Damascus as increased Hezbollah and Iranian activity forces the Israelis to respond.

GORANI: But this enforces the narrative of the Assad regime. From the beginning, the Assad regime has said these are outside forces working against the Syrian people. And this reported Israeli strike that strategically is on the site of the rebels, ironically now, you have the unlikely bedfellows here, reinforces that narrative, just as the killing and the atrocities continue.

TAPPER: All right. Hala, Josh, and, of course, Fred in Damascus -- thanks so much for joining us.

Josh, congratulations on the new job.

ROGIN: Thanks.

TAPPER: New information just in to CNN about last fall's deadly attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. In an interview with congressional investigators, a former diplomat in Libya, U.S. diplomat, expressed more could have been done to stop the attacks.

Greg Hicks, then the U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, told investigators last month that a show of U.S. or NATO airpower might have been able to frighten off the attackers before they were able to fire a mortar at the CIA annex in Benghazi. Defense officials have disputed that any assets were in place to take any sort of action that would have made a difference.

Hicks also said despite that White House suggestions to the contrary, he thought it was a terror attack from the get-go and that his jaw hit the floor when he saw U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, go on TV and essentially blame the violence on protests against an anti-Islam YouTube video since she was contradicting the Libyan president who had gone on TV that morning and said the attacks were conducted by Islamic extremists with possible terrorist links.

Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the attack along with three other Americans.

We will have much more on this story on tomorrow and on Wednesday, when there will be a congressional hearing.

Next in our "Sports Lead", it's a Kentucky Derby first. Not the come-from-behind win for Orb, but one woman correctly picking the top four finishers. How much did her first-time $1 bet win her?

Plus, "Iron Man 3" topped the box office this weekend. But that wasn't the only recognition the film received. It also struck gold at the golden trailer awards. What's that? Find out in our "Pop Lead". That's coming up.


TAPPER: In the "Sports Lead": luck be a lady. In her first time, ever betting on the ponies, a woman from Hawaii hit a $1 superfecta at the Kentucky Derby worth $28,000. A guy who works for a Vegas bookmaker tweeted the winning slip. For those of you who only go to the derby parties for the mint juleps, a superfecta is when you pick the top four finishers of the race in order. The derby winner Orb was the favorite. So, no surprise there. But the second place horse, Golden Soul, started the day at a 34 to 1 long shot.

After Jason Collins became the first active NBA player to come out of the closet, Michelle Obama, the first lady, tweeted, "We've got your back." Now, the two will be co-headlining an upcoming Democratic Party fund-raiser together. According to "Politico", Collins will help the first lady raise cash at the LGBT leadership council's gala on May 29th.

Collins came out and wrote about the struggles of being gay in the NBA in "Sports Illustrated". He's the first active male athlete in the big four North American sports to reveal that in the modern era.

Though, one should note, as that, that baseball's Glen Burke who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's in the 1970s was out of the closet. But sports reporters didn't want to report about it. As Burke later told "People" magazine, quote, "I think people pretended not to hear me." It just wasn't the story they were ready to hear.

Coming up on THE LEAD, it's not often we hear from the Supreme Court's only African-American member. His reticence rivals some monastic vows of silence. But Clarence Thomas is speaking out about, of all people, President Obama. Find out what he has to say and what our panel has to say about it. That's coming up next.