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Claims of a Massacre; Israel Strikes Lebanon; School Shooting Heroes; "I am Chelsea Manning"

Aired August 23, 2013 - 05:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Allegations of a chemical weapons massacre. U.N. investigators are trying to determine if the Syrian government poisoned its own people. We'll take you live.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hail to the hero. The school employee who helped prevent tragedy at an elementary school explains how she talked down a gunman.

HARLOW: A soldier convicted of leaking government secrets to the world now revealing a shocking secret about himself.

ROMANS: All right. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans, in for John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. Happy Friday. It is Friday, August 23rd, 5:00 a.m. on the East Coast.

ROMANS: Nice to have you here, Poppy, on this Friday.

HARLOW: Good to be with you.

ROMANS: All right. Let's begin this morning in Syria and the increasing calls for an investigation into what rebels are calling a massacre. They say more than 1,300 people were killed when they claim the Assad regime used chemical weapons in an attack just outside Damascus. And the Assad regime insists this did not happen.

Arwa Damon is following the situation for us in Syria from nearby Beirut.

Arwa, what can you tell us?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, the calls remain for that investigation to take place. As far as we are aware, that U.N. team that is already in country has not yet been able to access the site. The French have really upped their rhetoric, saying that if it does, in fact, that this was a chemical attack, use of force needs to come into play at this point.

The U.S. is fairly muted in its response, condemning what's happening, but saying that they want to wait for the results of an investigation. Interestingly, though, the Russians right now are also calling for what they are describing as being an objective investigation. They are, perhaps, one of the key players that could potentially pressure the Assad regime to facilitate the U.N. team already in country arriving and being able to conduct this job at the site of those most recent devastating, horrific attacks, Christine.

ROMANS: Well, Arwa, Russia is actually calling on the Syrian government to allow investigators to see the site of the alleged attack. Might that make a difference?

DAMON: It possibly could. This is a government whose actions, though, have continuously defied any sort of logic or reason. They are, however, among Syria's current key allies. At least those of the Assad regime continues to rely on.

So, they potentially hold a pretty significant amount of sway over the actions of the Syrian government, especially on such a sensitive issue.

ROMANS: You know, Israel has called it lip service and wants more decisive action than just an investigation. Might that country make a move?

DAMON: Well, that is always a possibility, although not necessarily one that is going to be the wisest in terms of the ripple effect that that could potentially cause in the region, given the dynamics between Israel and a various number of different entities here, namely Hezbollah.

That being said, though, Israel has unilaterally struck at targets in Syria in the past. So, that is also is not an option that is off the table. But again, it's a real wait and see scenario. When it comes to the crisis in Syria, it really is the time for these key players to put their national interests aside, perhaps, find a shred of humanity and come together to find a solution to this devastating crisis that's unfolding there.

ROMANS: So, what can the international community do at this point? We've heard the hand wringing, we've heard the condemnations of the Assad regime, but what can they actually do?

DAMON: Well, at the very least, if no one wants to talk about taking action inside Syria, they could start really pouring money into the various NGOs that are trying to deal with the refugee crisis that has been unfolding. That aside, key players can begin to get together, put their political disputes aside and assess how they can pressure the various groups over which they have influence inside Syria to try to find some sort of a resolution.

That being said, it is a disaster that is unfolding. No matter any nation does, the war is not going to end quickly, nor anytime soon, and that needs to be factored in as well. This is a long term crisis that is going to have a massive changing, colossal changing on the Middle East. And if force is what it is deemed that's going to be necessary, which is what the opposition is calling for force, force might not end the crisis, but it might shorten its duration.

That is why some people are calling for the key players to step in and do whatever they can to at least help the opposition and at the very least create something of a no-fly zone, safe space for all of those who are inside Syria, trying to just stay alive. ROMANS: As we have seen again and again from crisis to crisis. Sometimes, countries putting their own interest aside can be -- take a very, very, very long time as the crisis worsens.

Arwa Damon -- thank you so much, Arwa.

HARLOW: We'll have much more from President Obama on the situation in Syria. Our Chris Cuomo interviewed him. That interview coming up at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

Also in Lebanon this morning, there is word of an airstrike by the Israeli air force. Israeli defense forces saying they went after a militant target in retaliation for a series of rockets fired at the Israeli side of the border. Those rockets caused damage, but thankfully, no casualties. An al Qaeda-linked militant group claimed responsibility.

ROMANS: A shadowy Iranian military base long thought to be part of the country's nuclear program has apparently been paved over. Satellite pictures reviewed by the Institute for Science and International Security show large parts of the base, south of Tehran, are now covered with asphalt, raising even more suspicion about just exactly what is going on there. U.N. inspectors have been trying to get into that base for years to check on its work.

HARLOW: And former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in a military hospital this morning. He's under house arrest. This is after a court ordered him released from his jail. He served two years in prison.

Mubarak had been in prison for more than two years as he faced charges that he directed the killing of protesters against his rule in the days before he was ousted from power. He still, though, faces a retrial on those charges.

ROMANS: In this country, the American soldier who slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians in pre-dawn raids on two villages last year, he is apologizing for the first time. But Staff Sergeant Robert Bales couldn't explain to a military judge why he did it. He described the killing as an act of cowardice behind a mask of fear. Bales pleaded guilty in June and a jury now must decide if his life sentence should include an opportunity for parole.

HARLOW: Also, we are still awaiting a verdict in the trial of Fort Hood -- the Ft. Hood massacre, the trial of suspect Nidal Hasan. Jurors deliberated for three hours on Thursday, asking the judge if they could review testimony from the police officer who shot Hasan and ended that 2009 rampage that left 13 people dead and 30 others wounded. They will pick up where they left off later this morning. Hasan is acting as his own attorney and he does face the death penalty.

ROMANS: Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller says there does not appear to be any imminent attack plan against the U.S. After the threat against U.S. embassies overseas last month, Mueller told CNN intelligence officials continue to monitor the situation carefully. And it may be that any planned attack has now been postponed.

And he said if the U.S. had its disposal (ph) before September 11th anywhere near the amount of intelligence now being collected, at least part of the September 11th attack might have been prevented.

HARLOW: And now to this amazing story. The story of a school bookkeeper in Georgia who averted a tragedy by staying calm as the man with a gun invaded her school. But who was helping her keep her calm during those moments?

As Martin Savidge tells us, it was a 911 operator grateful for partner she got to work with.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was an amazing moment only on CNN. For the first time, Antoinette Tuff, the coolest, calmest hero you've ever heard meets the 911 operator who had been the other voice at the end of that emergency call.



SAVIDGE: Kendra McCray said, like everyone else, she was in awe of tough.

KENDRA MCCRAY, 911 OPERATOR: She is a true hero. I'd say that she missed her calling.

SAVIDGE: McCray said she was deeply afraid for the woman who was face-to-face with a mentally unstable gunman.

MCCRAY: I was terrified.

SAVIDGE: The two women recalling for Anderson Cooper the horror of that day.

MCCRAY: When she said he's right here at the door, and it's like I can see him through just her words.

SAVIDGE: But their fear was never evident in the 911 call that has riveted America.


ANTOINETTE TUFF, SCHOOL WORKER: Ooh, he just went outside and started shooting.

SAVIDGE: Tuff (INAUDIBLE) the man's first shot was into the floor a few feet away.

TUFF: He actually took the shot to allow me and the other person that was in there to know that this was not a game and that he was not playing. And that this was serious.

SAVIDGE: She also knew the lives of 800 students hung in the balance.

TUFF: You start seeing all this movement and he actually went to that door with the gun drawn to start shooting. And the media person was there and he looked him dead in his face and started drawing his gun up.

So, I started talking to him. I said come back in. Stay in here with me. Don't go anywhere. Stay in here.

SAVIDGE: And so began one of the most frightening and fascinating negotiations ever recorded.

TUFF: He said to tell them to back off. He don't want the kids. He wants the police. So, back off.

SAVIDGE: The scariest moment Tuff says was watching the man methodically load the gun.

TUFF: He had bullets everywhere on top of magazines. So, I knew when he made the last call that he was going to go because he loaded up to go.

SAVIDGE: Yet instead of feeling fear or anger, Tuff says she felt compassion, recalling her own personal heartaches, even contemplating suicide.

TUFF: I had been in that situation. I had been in that devastating moment when all of the things happened to me. So, I knew that that could have been my story.

SAVIDGE: Just before her CNN interview, Tuff got another surprise, ironically, over the phone, from the president of the United States.

TUFF: That was President Obama. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

He just wanted to let me know that him and his wife and his family was very proud of what I had did and everybody wanted to thank me.

SAVIDGE: Tuff gives all credit to her faith, believing her role was part of a heavenly plan.

TUFF: I feel like I helped somebody in need, that God was able to use me. It was an honor to be able to be used.

SAVIDGE: The suspect walked in with an assault rifle, ready to kill, but in the end was no match for a bookkeeper armed with love, backed by a dispatcher who was her lifeline.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Decatur, Georgia.


ROMANS: A bookkeeper armed with love -- I can't get enough of that story.

HARLOW: I can't, either. ROMANS: It's just you hope, first you hope you are never in a crisis like that, then you hope --

HARLOW: You have those instincts.

ROMANS: You are Antoinette Tuff, you know? That you have those instincts.

HARLOW: It was amazing.

ROMANS: It was instincts. It was. I mean, she just somehow knew the right thing to do.

HARLOW: And to relate her personal tragedy, what she had gone through to him. I think that was the moment when she really got him and related to him. It was amazing. Good for her.

Great reunion, the two of them right here on Anderson Cooper.

ROMANS: I love it.

All right. In California this morning, a massive fire moving close to the Yosemite National Park quadrupling in size, to an area bigger than the city of San Francisco and closing down the main access road to Yosemite. Governor Jerry Brown has now declared a state of emergency there.

Right now, the fire has burned 63,000 acres, some 2,500 homes are threatened. And the fire is only now 2 percent contained.

Indra Petersons is watching the forecast for us.

So, could the weather shift and help the firefighters which is a really, really monumental job they've got.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I mean, unfortunately, the big thing is just the extreme terrain in the region. The temperatures aren't too high. The humidity is definitely low.

I want to show the water vapor satellite which shows you some of the moisture in the area. The bulk of the moisture is north of them or east and south of them. So, you can tell how dry it is pretty much in the region. Another way to look at it is the relative humidity itself. Not single digits but definitely not good numbers when you are into the teens, Yosemite about 17 percent. But no red flag warnings.

The good news, winds are generally calm. But, of course, that's on the outskirts within a huge fire like this, they create their own winds. So, those gusty conditions are going to be embedded within that fire.

The main thing we're going to be watching is a lot of moisture kind of moving into the four corners over the next several days. So much that we're going to be talking about flooding potential as we go through Sunday and Monday. The good side of this is that it could maybe creep up toward Idaho where they are struggling with some fires in that region as well.

But mainly, the concern will be the flood threats. Now, where is the all coming from? Well, it's actually from tropical depression 9 way out in the Pacific. So, eventually, as we go through the weekend, we are expecting it to strengthen and then weaken. Of course, the water is very cool in the Pacific.

But either way, we're talking about heavy rain around Baja, California. And then all this moisture should pool into the four corners and we'll be looking at two to four inches of rain possible over those next several days, Sunday, Monday into Tuesday.

As far as the Northeast, we saw thunderstorms yesterday. Now the same line of storms making its way down to the mid-Atlantic and then eventually down to the Southeast. But there's an upside of this. It is the weekend and we are talking about literally beautiful weather almost everywhere.

The Northeast is looking better, even the Southeast. Finally, that's even bigger, probably more important (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: I'm heading south. No rain.


ROMANS: And you can see in the Hamptons, I can't afford to go to the Hamptons. I don't know anybody there. No I don't know.

HARLOW: Going into the Hamptons, enjoy, right?

ROMANS: Yes. Thanks.

All right. Coming up, the U.S. soldier convicted of leaking government secrets to the world creating a new controversy behind bars.

HARLOW: Also, a once rising sports star has fallen. Ex-patriot Aaron Hernandez officially indicted for murder. That's next.


HARLOW: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Just after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified secrets, Army Private Bradley Manning had one more secret to share. He wants to live as a woman and she wants to be called Chelsea. But what does that mean for his future behind bars?

Our Chris Lawrence has more on that.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The battle lines are drawn. Bradley Manning wants hormone therapy and his friends say he needs it.


LAWRENCE: Lauren McNamara chatted online with Manning and testified in his defense. She also transitioned from male to female.

MCNAMARA: To deny someone treatment for this, just because they are in prison, is similar to denying them treatment for depression.

LAWRENCE: But the Army has never provided hormone replacement therapy to any soldier. Prison officials tell us Manning will wear the standard prison uniform at the all male Ft. Leavenworth and he will not receive the hormones he says he needs to transition to a woman.

NEAL MINAHAN, PRO-LGBT ATTORNEY: He would have a better shot theoretically in a federal prison or even in a state prison.

LAWRENCE: Attorney Neal Minahan fought and won the right for one of his clients to get hormones in Massachusetts.

State and federal prisons don't have a blanket ban on the therapy like the military.

Consistent injections can cost thousands of dollars. Taxpayers have been paying for prisoners therapy for years.

MINAHAN: It can't be just him stating he wants to get this medication. There needs to be a prescription.

LAWRENCE: But several military doctors have already diagnosed him with gender identity disorder. While he was deployed to Iraq, Manning e-mailed this photo to his sergeant and described her inner struggle over wanting to live as woman.

MCNAMARA: And yet, this was often pushed to the side because the unit was underpowered and they could not lose any analysts.

LAWRENCE (on camera): So, Manning stayed in Iraq and later became the man behind the largest leak of classified material in U.S. history. Legal experts tell us it's that crime and Manning's behavior while he's being held at Ft. Leavenworth that will ultimately determine whether he's paroled. They don't believe his gender identity issues will be a huge factor.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.


ROMANS: Wow, what a twist to that story.

All right. Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez indicted by a Massachusetts grand jury on first degree murder charges. Prosecutors alleged Hernandez and two associates orchestrated the shooting death of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, with Hernandez pulling the trigger.

Hernandez's attorney claims the state case is weak, it is circumstantial and welcomes the chance to prove it at the trial. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL FEE, ATTORNEY FOR AARON HERNANDEZ: There's been an incredible rush to judgment in this case. It has been based on innuendo, misrepresentations of facts. Hearsay and opinion has been represented as fact and as evidence. And it is not.

Aaron Hernandez is an innocent man as we stand here today. He is presumed innocent under our system. He remains innocent under our system.


ROMANS: Hernandez has pleaded not guilty. He's currently being held without bail.

All right. Coming up, all eyes on the NASDAQ this morning after a big technical problem. Half of the stock market stops for three hours, grinds to a halt. The president had to be notified about this. Such a serious, serious situation.

We are going to talk about it, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's "Money Time" this morning.

A dangerous and embarrassing episode in the markets on Thursday. The NASDAQ stock market brought to a halt and Wall Street stopped in its track. It's a problem that's so severe the president and the treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, had to be briefed about it shortly after it began.

Here's what we know: the NASDAQ halted trading for three hours because of a technical glitch, $5.9 trillion worth of stocks affected because of this outage, 3,000 stocks like Apple, Google, literally frozen in time. NASDAQ says it was a connectivity issue related to a brokerage or market maker, the NASDAQ stock price consolidator.

The SEC will meet on the matter, especially the technological vulnerabilities of exchanges and market participants. No question multiple investigations are necessary here. And vulnerabilities might be an understatement. Yesterday as NASDAQ shutdown follows two very public technology glitches.

More than a year, the equally awaited Facebook IPO was a mess, a total and utter mess because of NASDAQ problems, technical problems at the NASDAQ.

And remember back in May, 2010, computer malfunctions were blamed for the flash crash that caused the Dow Industrials to plunge more than 700 points in minutes.

Now, yesterday's NASDAQ suspension marked the longest period of time that trades at the NASDAQ were halted due to technical problems in NASDAQ's history. You know, only half of Americans are invested in the stock market, less than half.

So, they haven't enjoyed this big run-up. They have not built wealth like the big guys have during the last year and a half. And you wonder why. They see stories like this, the Facebook IPO, like the flash crash, like NASDAQ shutting down for three hours in the middle of a trading day and they think it's all one big video game that's, you know, too fast and the game is rigged against them.

It's an embarrassment. It's dangerous. There will be huge investigations.

Now, despite the turmoil in Wall Street yesterday, the markets closed higher. The Dow broke the six-day losing streak. The NASDAQ closed with a gain.

All right. He's back. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn tweeted again yesterday about pushing Apple to increase its stock buyback. He said, "Spoke to Tim, planning dinner in September. Tim believes in buyback and is doing one. What will be discussed is the magnitude."

Tim, by the way, on first name basis. If you are a billionaire, you are on a first name basis.

HARLOW: With the Apple CEO.

ROMANS: It's the Apple CEO.

Icahn's tweet added $4 billion to Apple's worth by the end of the day. Icahn announced recently via Twitter that he had a massive stake in Apple. He is, of course, a legendary activist shareholder. So, when he starts tweeting about your company, you do have dinner with Carl Icahn.

HARLOW: Apple is such a private company. I wonder how Tim Cook, the CEO, feels about the dinner plans exposed on Twitter with the billionaire.

ROMANS: I know, exactly.

But, you know, Apple shares have come up since --

HARLOW: They have, since Icahn.

ROMANS: And there's been a stealth rally now. We'll have to watch and see how this --

HARLOW: Yes, we will watch it.

All right. We'll be right back.