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Nidal Hasan Gets The Death Penalty For Ft. Hood Shooting Rampage; President Obama A Civil Rights Leader?; A-List Marriage Over?; Civil Rights Superhero

Aired August 28, 2013 - 16:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman.

In national news, the man who killed 13 people in the worst mass shooting rampage on a U.S. military post in history got exactly what he said he wanted all along. A military jury recommended the death penalty for the Fort Hood murderer Nidal Hasan. It just took two-and- a-half hours to decide his fate. The jury was no doubt swayed by one emotional outpouring after another from the family members who lost loved ones in this heinous attack nearly four years ago.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live at Fort Hood where the sentencing came down less than two hours ago. Ed, any reaction from the victims' families yet?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, in just a few moments, we're about to hear from some family members that wanted to speak with reporters. In the next couple minutes or so that process will begin.

But inside that courtroom when the death sentence verdict was read, family members kind clutched one another. Some of them wiped away tears and they held on to each other quietly as that verdict was read. Nidal Hasan had no reaction, sat there stoically as that verdict was read.

And he has basically stood on the sidelines as this entire court martial death sentence has come down the pike over the course of the last four weeks. This is -he hardly participated throughout much of this trial, only asking a few questions, speaking briefly at the very beginning to admit that he indeed was the shooter and that the evidence would show that.

The prosecutors really went after him this morning, taking their last time to speak to the jury and spoke poignantly in snapshots in each of the 13 victims, talking about the struggles and pain that each of these individual families have been talking about. There was a lot of question about how Nidal Hasan wanted to be seen around a martyr around the world for carrying out the attacks on these soldiers. But the prosecutor ended by telling the jury that Nidal Hasan would never be a martyr because he has nothing to give. He is a criminal, a cold- blooded murderer. "He is not giving his life, we are taking his life." As you mentioned, it only took about two-and-a-half hours for the jury to reach that verdict. John?

BERMAN: Sentenced to death. All right, Ed Lavandera at Fort Hood for us. I really appreciate it, Ed.

I want to bring in former Army Sergeant Howard Ray. He joins us now on the phone. He was awarded the Army commendation medal for his actions that day at Fort Hood. He was credited for saving the lives of six soldiers and three civilians.

Howard, thanks so much for joining us. A little while ago, you told my colleague, Jake Tapper, that you thought Hasan deserved the death penalty. So, now that he's received that sentence, how do you feel today?

SGT. HOWARD RAY, U.S. ARMY (on the phone): Well, as a survivor of this atrocity, as an individual, I feel absolutely wonderful that justice has indeed been served. And more importantly, I think, this should serve as a reminder to this criminal, this murder, Nidal Hasan that no, he will not die a martyr. And indeed he will die as a result of our wonderful federal prosecution that was done in this case.

And I think that as a survivor also, I think that the victims are also looking at this as a victory, because now we can move forward with getting the compensation and things that these victims so righteously deserve.

BERMAN: You mention that he wanted to die or he wants to die a martyr and he did receive the death sentence right now. How do you feel about the fact that this seems to be exactly what Hasan wanted all along? He offered no defense for himself; he just sat there as the prosecution delivered this case.

RAY: Well, I think at the end of the day, you know, of course, he wanted the death sentence, but he wanted it for another reason. He wanted it for his own selfish religious ideology, and I thin it's better that we focus on what has happened today. I think we should focus on the idea that it's the victims that are receiving the justice, and that he's not getting what he wants out of this decision from the jury.

BERMAN: Howard, does this bring any closure to you? Or will there not by closure until the penalty's is carried out?

RAY: Well, I think this is something that will be ongoing, and has been ongoing for four years now. It will bring some closure, knowing that a jury found that he should die as a result of his acts that he committed, murdering 13 men and women that day and an unborn child. But I think it's one of these things that it doesn't ever really go away. But it does help start putting the pieces together.

BERMAN: Howard Ray, thank you so much for joining us by phone. As always, we prefer the focus be on the heroes like you rather than the people who perpetuate these atrocities. Thank you so much.

RAY: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. BERMAN: Coming up, as Americans around the country celebrate the anniversary of the March on Washington, our next guest says the commemorations are ignoring the real problems that are affecting black Americans. That's next.

And did you ever go to a movie with a friend, and you can't agree on anything about the film? Find out who teared up while watching "The Butler" and who's calling the movie a bunch of lies?


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper today.

The Politics Lead: President Obama's speech to thousands on the National Mall today on the 50th anniversary on the March on Washington. It both paid tribute to those who gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and cast a hopeful eye towards the future.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They dared to dream differently, to imagine something better. I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose stirs in this generation.

Change does not come from Washington but to Washington. The change has always been built on our willingness, we the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship. You are marching!


BERMAN: Joining me now to talk about the president's speech and the day as a whole, columnist for "The Washington Post" Clinton Yates, host of NPR's "Tell Me More" Michel Martin, and columnist for "USA Today" Dewayne Wickham. Thanks for being here, guys.

Michelle, let just me start off, general reaction to the president's speech. Some people thought he may give a more personal speech, talk about what this day means to him. We didn't really hear that so much.

MICHEL MARTIN, NPR HOST: With all due respect, John, I don't think it was about him. I don't think the day was about him. I think he had the grace to recognize that. I think the sound bite you picked to introduce this segment was absolutely the right one --

BERMAN: Thank you.

MARTIN: I think that people feel that perhaps the president is being a little too cool for school, but I think that he was reflecting his philosophical and firmly held belief that movements really are about the people and not about individuals like him.

BERMAN: Clinton, you wrote a terrific piece about the fact about your father, who was in Washington 50 years ago, skipped the speech. Didn't go to the speech; he went to work instead for perfectly valid reasons right now, but I think he was 19 at the time.

It made me wonder, what do you think 19-year-olds today, 19-year-old African-American young men, what did they want to hear from the president today? And did they hear it?

CLINTON YATES, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think that gets to the point you made about being made more personal. I think you probably wanted to hear something that made you think, hey, this is for me. This country is for me. I think that was a big part of what he was trying to explain when he brought up the fact that the goal of the civil rights movement wasn't just to make more blacks millionaires, it was to give people opportunities. And not everyone is trying to be a millionaire. There are some people that just want to know they have a shot in this society. And that was something that I don't know he addressed as well as he could have, but he did make an attempt to go there.

BERMAN: He did. He talked about economic disparity, talked about the fact that there's still a long way to go in spite (INAUDIBLE) by some of these measurements.

Dewayne, again, you wrote a very interesting piece. Critical in a way of the last week about some of these commemorations. Saying they miss their mark, they're not talking about the issues that you think are most important to African-Americans. Please explain.

DEWAYNE WICKHAM, COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Well, I think they spend too much time talking about things of the past. They talked about Trayvon Martin, who was a tragic case. But we kill in this country 8,000 African-Americans, most of it black-on-black crime. That's a catastrophe that has to be addressed.

MARTIN: But can I just speak on that for a minute. Talking to this question of the president speaking in personal terms. I think we all know he has paid a very heavy political price when he's chosen to do that. I think your question was about young African-American men. I think he's done that repeatedly in recent weeks and months. I think his comments about Trayvon Martin where he has spoken very personally about that, he's paid a price with that with a certain group of people, particularly a certain group of white conservative pundits who apparently have not appreciated his remarks.

But I think I can say with some conviction that a lot of the people he was speaking to, young African-American men and the people who love them, have very much felt he has spoken to their pain and their concerns very directly. This is not the only occasion.

BERMAN: Well, but there are people, not just whites, critics who you point out, who do say the president should be speaking more about race. Colin Powell said as much over the weekend.

MARTIN: No, my point was white conservatives, a number of white conservatives pundits have criticized the president for speaking about race. They say he shouldn't be talking about it at all. And I understand there are other people -- Colin Powell is an interesting person to be making this point, has said he should talk more about. I think we all know that the president has to walk a fine line on this.

BERMAN: Did he walk that fine line, or did he miss the point?

MARTIN: Just to answer your question before I cede the floor, I will say that I think the president was doing what progressives have been trying to do for decades, which is to link the destinies of white less advantaged people with African-American less advantaged people or people of color who are less advantaged. To link their destinies, to point out in which they have shared destinies, in which the country has a shared state in improving the lot of life of all people in this country -


WICKHAM: The president went to a place where visionaries spoke, to commemorate what he had said. His vision, change vision, was the vision of a visionary, someone who looked into the future and hoped for the best. The president's job today was to talk really politics. He delivered a political message. He tried to translate the vision into political terms.

YATES: I liked it when he brought up the iron curtain and apartheid. In using those two struggles, indicating those two words alone, he made the point that look, the problem with American society is big. I think that a lot of people overlook it. When you talk about apartheid and the iron curtain, you have to take it more seriously. He broadened it out.

BERMAN: There is another speaker, another president who addressed politics directly. Bill Clinton in a way tied Martin Luther King to what's going on in Washington right now.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Martin Luther King did not live and die to hear his heirs crying about political gridlock. It is time to stop complaining and put our shoulders against the stubborn gates holding the American people back.


BERMAN: I think a lot of people sat up straight when they heard that from the president, because it does seem just addressed at Republicans in this case, but felt a bit like it may be addressed to another person on that podium, President Obama. You hear a lot of complaints about partisanship from both sides in Washington right now.

MARTIN: I was surprised, though -- I mean, there are two other living presidents, President George W. Bush and President George H.W. Bush, had a very strong record on civil rights. Why weren't they there?

BERMAN: Another person who was not there was Senator Tim Scott, the Republican from South Carolina, said he was not invited to come speak. He said this day should be about remembering Dr. King and John Lewis. But there are a lot of conservative blogs right now saying --

YATES: And for what reason? That's another issue.

BERMAN: But there are blogs saying that he should have been there.

MARTIN: He could have been invited because he was in South Carolina --

YATES: He was one of 50 senators, and he's appointed, not elected.

BERMAN: All right, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, in Hollywood years they were married for eternity, now Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas are taking a break. What's behind the split?


BERMAN: Welcome back for THE LEAD, everyone. There was a discussion about why former Presidents Bush, George W. Bush and H.W. Bush, were not there at the commemoration of Martin Luther King's speech today. They were not there because of health issues.

Now, to the "Pop Lead," perhaps it was all that HPV talk a few months ago or he couldn't watching what he and Matt Damon was going on, but for whatever reason the nearly 13-year marriage between Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones may be over. The publicist for the couple confirmed rumors that they are, quote, "taking some time apart to evaluate and work on their marriage."

The couple have managed to survive one storm after another from Douglas' throat cancer diagnosis to Zeta-Jones well publicized battle with bipolar disorder. But they hadn't been photographed together in months and been vacationing separately with their two children.

So "The Butler" the film about an African-American butler who served eight U.S. presidents has been summed up as a bunch of lies, and as well as an acted masterpiece by two very high-profile critics on very different sides of the political aisle. President Obama recently saw the film, which stars his bestie, Opera Winfrey. He praised the acting and the premise of the story, which is inspired by the life of Eugene Allen.

President Obama even admitted to tearing up at one point during the film. But Ronald Reagan's son, Michael, had a far different take. In a scathing review, he accused filmmakers of disparaging the memory of his father and depicting Ronald Reagan as a racist. "The Butler" has been considered an early Oscar contender and was number one at the Box Office two weeks in a row.

Coming up next, he was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 50 years ago and he was on the steps again today. One of the heroes of the civil rights movement is now getting the superhero treatment.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD, everyone. Fifty years ago today, the 23-year-old freedom fighter John Lewis confidently and courageously addressed a crowd of nearly a quarter million people at the National Mall. The now Georgia congressman now hopes to inspire a new generation by sharing his stories from the frontlines of the movement through a graphic comic book trilogy called "March."


VOICE OF REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: In another day and another time there were brave and courageous young feelings that followed the teaching of Gandhi, the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. So when I was beaten and left bloody and unconscious, when I thought I saw death, I was going to die, I never turned to hate. The reason we wanted to write this book is to tell another generation of young people you too can do something. You too can be leaders. You too can change things.

We have this unbelievable audience that brought the world alive, and you can almost feel and tough and smell the action in this book called "March." On the morning of February 27th, 1960, we gathered to hear Will Campbell, a minister who had been run out of Oxford, Mississippi for playing ping-pong with a black man the day before we had gotten word from the Nashville chief of police that anyone involved for the protests would be arrested.

There were some rumors that drop the police did not intend to stop. Campbell said, you attempt to sit in, the business community, the local officials, and their -- will all put back. They will let police and the rough element in the white community come into the stores and beat you, but it is your decision. They said go home, another man said, go home. Another man said, what's the matter? Are you chicken?

No sooner did we stake our seats at the upstairs common than some young man began attacking the group downstairs. We immediately went down to join our brothers and sisters. Violence does beget violence, but the opposite is just as true. Spinning itself, petty -- when there's no fear in facing it. Obedient subsided. Stomping on people, the police conspicuously absent while we were beaten, arrived quickly after the mob wore themselves out. If you do not -- you will be placed until arrest.

I was not afraid. I'm placing you under arrest. I felt free, liberated like I had crossed over. We wanted to change America, to make it something different, something better. There were so many of us to arrest. As they drove us off to jail, we filled every paddy wagon the police had. We started singing "we shall overcome." When my first arrest, the first amendment we were jubilant as we filled the jail cells, and we shall be free.


BERMAN: John Lewis, folks, that man changed America. One person wrote on Twitter he hopes they will be teaching about John Lewis in American classrooms for the next 500 years. The book one is now officially a best-seller, available in stores and online. It is a fantastic read. That's it for THE LEAD, everyone. I'm John Berman filling in for Jake Tapper today. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."