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Obama Close to Decision on Syria; Lung-Transplant Recipient Recovering; Nidal Hasan Jury Begins Sentencing Phase; Church Not Allowed to Feed Homeless.

Aired August 26, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The pressure's mounting on President Obama to take military action against the Syrian government. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Mr. Obama asserted that he may be close it making that decision. The urgency was made maybe a whole lot more clear this morning when snipers opened fire on a U.N. vehicle carrying U.N. weapons inspectors to the site of an alleged chemical attack in Damascus. Happened in a suburb of the city last week. There were no injuries in this morning's sniper shooting, but no word on who is responsible for it. Activists say the U.N. inspectors later reached the site and did check the area with doctors.

Our Chris Lawrence is covering this developing story.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bombs are falling


LAWRENCE: The accusations flying. Now the pressure's on President Obama to defend his red line on chemical weapons which rebels claim killed more than 1,000 people in Syria.

REP ELIOT ENGEL, (D), NEW YORK: We cannot sit still. We've got to move and we've got to move quickly.

LAWRENCE: U.S. and British officials claim Syrian forces shelled the site of Wednesday's attack so much it corrupted any evidence the U.N. might find this week.

A U.S. official tells CNN, behind the scenes, multiple international sources have already collected evidence from that site. The official says the sources took tissue samples and other evidence shortly after the attack. And it was being analyzed in secure locations.


LAWRENCE: That's why the White House tone changed so quickly from Friday's "get the inspectors in" to Sunday's "it's too late to be credible." And it's why an administration official sounded so confident in saying, "There is little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians."


LAWRENCE: The president's newly updated options include cruise missiles launched from one of four Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea or jets firing weapons from outside Syrian airspace.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are prepared to exercise whatever option if he decides to employ one of those options.

LAWRENCE: Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.


BANFIELD: For more on this very fast-moving story, our Wolf Blitzer joins us from our Washington studio, anchor of "The Situation Room."

Wolf, if there were ever need for a "Situation Room," it's right now. Do you have any ideas from your sources on what President Obama is doing today given this most recent news?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: I think it's clearly a crisis. I don't know if he's going to be making a final decision today, tomorrow, later in the week. But the clock is clearly ticking. My suspicion is that he will wait for to see hear from observers. They'll submit a report to the United Nations. The Security Council will get the report. The president will see it. Russia will protect the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad with a veto in the U.N. Security Council. The question is, will the U.S., the Europeans, others like Turkey get involved even without the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force. And that's a major dilemma.

BANFIELD: It is a dilemma. He hinted to our Chris Cuomo about laws and the issue of laws and that it's complicated and the United Nations has a use of force against member nations, part of its charter. Is that something that the United States would be willing to just forego?

BLITZER: The U.S. was willing to do it during the Clinton administration in 1999 when Russia at the time protected the -- in Serbia and Croatia and the whole war in Bosnia. They protected the Kosovoers and Serbs from a U.S.-led NATO air strike. There was no U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force because the Russians didn't allow it. NATO went ahead and did it anyway. A lot of people are looking at that experience as perhaps a model for what could happen this time. Who knows what the legal justification would be. If the president decides that the U.S. should send cruise missile strikes into Syria as the U.S. and NATO did in Libya a couple years ago, they did have an authorization approving use of force. But I'm sure he could find legal precedents out. I don't think that would be a big problem. The big issue is does the Obama administration really want to get involved militarily in Syria right now.

BANFIELD: And can I just ask you -- I'm not sure if anyone knows the answer to this question. But, for Russia and its intransigents, is it a political intransigence, how it would be seen by the world, or is it bigger than that in terms of financial need for Syria? Because you know, in the Korean War, they just boycotted the Security Council. That allowed the United States to go forward without that veto that Russia might have actually presented. Could that happen this time, or is Russia really dug in, they need Syria?

BLITZER: They're very, very aligned with Syria. They've been a strong supporter of the regime of President Bashar al Assad. They'll be -- by all indications, President Putin, the foreign minister, Sergei Lavlov, all of the statements I've seen are down the line support for the Assad regime. I don't see a change, Ashleigh, in the position of the Russian government.

BANFIELD: I watched these pictures, I'm sure as you did, coming in from Syria of the results of the chemical weapons attack on all those civilians, the children, the mothers holding their children, people falling, dying where they fell, and I was eerily reminded of Fallujah, in northern Iraq, the Kurds who were bombed in 1988. The pictures look identical. These are the Syrian pictures. But the other pictures look identical. The United States used that in the case against going to war against Saddam Hussein, that he had bombed his own people with chemical weapons. Albeit, you know, a long time after the fact. But is this something that we might see repeated, this argument, just like the one that we had in Fallujah?

BLITZER: I think there's no doubt that there's -- everyone agrees that the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent. In 1993, there was the United Nations convention barring the use of chemical weapons. Syria, by the way, one of seven countries that didn't sign that chemical- weapons convention, you know, barring the use of chemical weapons. So they're not in technical violation of that because they never were one of the signatories of the 1993 convention. But there's no doubt that Iraqis under Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in Fallujah, in northern Iraq against the Kurds. They used chemical weapons against the Iranians. There was a long war in the '80s against Iran. The Iraqis used it then. If you listen to the Obama administration right now, there's no doubt in their minds that the regime of President Bashar al Assad is doing exactly the same thing right now, despite all the denials coming from Damascus.

The key question is what if anything is the international community led by the United States going to do. I know that the president is preoccupied with this decision right now.

BANFIELD: I can't imagine -- to be a fly on the wall in these conversations. Thousands of lives hang in the balance.

Wolf Blitzer, thank you.

Again, you can watch Wolf Blitzer on afternoons here on CNN with "The Situation Room."

Thank you, Wolf.

Just ahead, a little girl and her fight for a lung transplant. It pays off. Take a look at Sarah Murnaghan now. She's getting ready to leave the hospital. Such a great story. An exclusive interview with our Jason Carroll coming up next.


Are you about to hear so much wisdom, and all of it coming from an 11- year-old girl. Sarah Murnaghan and her parents fought and changed federal transplant rules to try to save her life. Now after two lung transplants, she is on the long road to recovery and could be going home as soon as tomorrow.

CNN's Jason Carroll sat down with her from her hospital bed for this exclusive interview.




CARROLL: Her voice barely a whisper. Sarah Murnaghan's strength comes in knowing she has made it this far.


CARROLL: Do you feel like you're a tough little girl?


CARROLL: You do?


CARROLL: Can you tell me why.

MURNAGHAN: Because -- every time I face things that I thought were going to be hard and then I've done them.

CARROLL: Sarah survived two lung transplants and can breathe without an oxygen machine.

JANET MURNAGHAN: Where are you at?


CARROLL: The 11-year-old's fight for new lungs changed at least for now, national policy, the so-called under 12 rule. A rule that gave children priority when pediatric lungs were available but not adult lungs. There were moments the family thought they would run out of time.

(on camera): What were those moments like for you?

JANET MURNAGHAN: I mean, terrifying. She said, "I just didn't want to tell you I was dying. I didn't want to upset you."

CARROLL (voice-over): Now Sarah is finally scheduled to go home. (on camera): What would you like to do when you go home?

MURNAGHAN: I would like to play with my brothers and sister.

CARROLL: Her sister, two brothers, and cousins, all waiting.


CARROLL: Sarah has a message of her own about her prognosis.

MURNAGHAN: I'm not going for easy.

CARROLL: You're not going for easy?

MURNAGHAN: No, I'm just going for possible. And what's in front of me right now is possible.

FRAN MURNAGHAN, FATHER OF SARAH MURNAGHAN: She knows it's not easy, but there's so much she can do if you persevere.

CARROLL: It will be a long road to recovery, but she is on her way.

MURNAGHAN: I really know it was a miracle.


BANFIELD: Jason Carroll joins me live. I just -- it breaks your heart to hear somebody say, "I'm not going for easy, I'm just going for possible." She's 11. She's 11.

CARROLL: Yeah. Breaks your heart but inspiring that she has that type of strength and can see so very deeply how this illness has affected her.

BANFIELD: So one of the things I wanted to ask you about, looking at her, clearly she has been through hell. She looks a certain way. She's puffy, her eyes are red, her skin is white. Is that normal?

CARROLL: Sometimes prednisone causes that look of the face. When you look at what she's going through, she still has a lot to go through, a lot of rehabilitation when she gets out. That will take several months. But it's incredible when you think what she's been through versus how far she's come.

BANFIELD: What about the notion of the policy change, how everything has changed in terms of children and their needs for organ transplant. There were many who said this may happen at the expense of another patient.

CARROLL: Not true. Here's what the family and what her parents were always fighting for. They just simply said we want the sickest person at the top of the list. Whether it be an adult. Whether it be a child. That's where the policy stands now. If you've got a sick child who needs a transplant, because of the policy change, they have a better chance. It's a temporary change, only for a year. They will study, look at data to see how exactly the policy should be in a permanent way. But at least for now, at least for now, could be permanent, but at least for now, the sickest person goes to the top of the list.

BANFIELD: Jason, I'm glad you continue to follow her story. It just riveted us. It's wonderful to see her progressing.

CARROLL: Thank you for having me.

BANFIELD: Can't believe she's possibly going home.

CARROLL: She could be going home as early as tomorrow.

BANFIELD: Thank god. Our best to the Murnaghan family.

Thank you, Jason Carroll, for that.

Coming up, a military jury found Major Nidal Hasan guilty of the Ft. Hood shooting rampage. And right now, they're deciding whether he should die, too, or whether he should just rot in a cell for the rest of his life.


BANFIELD: Sentencing is under way in the trial of the Army major convicted of the Ft. Hood shooting massacre. Right now the victims' family members are speaking in open court facing him with their words. Military jury is going to decide if Nidal Hasan gets the death sentence or spends the rest of his life in prison. He admitted to killing 13 people and wounding 32 others at the Ft. Hood Army post back in '09, but did so in acting as his own lawyer which was odd. Prosecutors could call up to 16 witnesses in a bid to convince the jury to sentence Hasan to death.

Starting next Sunday, police departments in Texas will be allowed to sell confiscated weapons. Think about it. Back on the streets. A new law is going to allow the law enforcement officials to sell the guns to the licensed officials. And big cities like San Antonio and Houston and Austin have decided they will not participate in this because of that fear, putting more weapons back on to the city streets.

Police in Johnson City, Tennessee, say a spiritual disagreement may be the motive in a very strange murder-for-hire scheme. They say Thomas Ken Owens was arrested after he paid $500 for a down payment for a hit on his own uncle. His uncle is a minister and is also a local sheriff's deputy. Owens is a former local news reporter and finished seventh in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee last year. Did I say bizarre? That's really bizarre.

And the next story could have you shaking your head in disbelief. The church group feeds the homeless in the same spot for six years, until this weekend when the police said, you hand out those biscuits and we'll arrest you. It's not a joke. Does the church have any recourse? And what about the city? What's their response to this? Details coming up.


BANFIELD: If you're a strong believer that nothing comes for free, wow, do I have some proof for you. Police in Raleigh, North Carolina, told a church group handing out free meals to the homelessness in a city park that they needed a permit and had to stop immediately or get the permit for $800 per day, thank you very much. If they kept handing out the sausage and biscuits and coffee, they would go to jail. How's that? Police have the law on their side. A city ordinance does prohibit anyone from handing out food in the city parks. Never mind the group's been doing this for six years, the law's the law. How about morality? How about is that law the right kind of law?

I want to bring in Paul Callan and Tara Knight once again to talk law and morality.

So let's talk law, Tara. Why after six years would they say the law is the law?

TARA KNIGHT, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I was thinking about this. I don't know the genesis of this action. Did someone complain? They don't like homeless people in the park. Could it be something like liability? They're worried if someone will get hurt.

BANFIELD: The city has to pay if a homeless guy trips and breaks his ankle.

KNIGHT: Usually ordinances only come with a fine. It doesn't involve jail, but the fine is $800 per day.

BANFIELD: The permit is $800.


BANFIELD: How about the fine?


BANFIELD: We don't know but it was something they would be arrested for, which I thought was surprising.

Paul, there's another side that some people may not see. What about the other side of the coin that you need to protect homeless people from those who may have nefarious goals? Poisoning it, driving them from the city or maybe they're just careless, or maybe they're careless and the food is left out overnight filled with E. Coli and it's dangerous. Could you not also employ that logic?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. That's why we regulate these things. You just can't have not-for-profit groups setting up randomly in parks. I'll give you another example. Let's say the park was next to a kindergarten. They say we're going to feed the homeless where the kids play. People would be up in arms about that. Cities have regulatory schemes where there's a place you can feed the homeless and a place with public parks. All that's happening is they're enforcing the law. Maybe they didn't enforce it for a long time but these are there for a good reason.


BANFIELD: What about this community -- a lot of people might be moving in and noticing this is now happening.

KNIGHT: It's not just that. Churches do this all the time. They're not regulated. These people have been going on their way fine without any problems for so long. I don't understand why all of a sudden it's a big issue.

CALLAN: The police claim, by the way, it was a liability issue. When you get this permit you're supposed to have an insurance company in case somebody gets hurt. And they --


BANFIELD: As taxpayers, how do you like to be on the hook for a couple of million dollars? I broke my hip.



BANFIELD: We'll keep watching this and see what they come up.

Tara Knight, great to see you.

KNIGHT: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Paul Callan, as always, love your insights.

CALLAN: Thank you.


BANFIELD: Oh, yes, they are.


Thanks for watching, everybody. Nice to have you with us. AROUND THE WORLD starts after this quick break.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: A sniper fire hits a U.N. vehicle as it heads to the sight of an alleged chemical-weapons attack in Syria. A dangerous road for inspectors.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Also, she spent years behind bars for the death of her roommate. The conviction was overturned and now Amanda Knox is being tried again. She says she's not going back to Italy.