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Ben Jealous Talks March on Washington; Syria is "Problem from Hell"; Ft. Hood Jury Considers Sentence for Hasan; Teen Pulls Off Upset at U.S. Open.

Aired August 28, 2013 - 13:30   ET


BEN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: Many coming from across the river in the southeast, where the average family income is about $21,000. It occurred to me that Dr. King would be very unsettled by the fact that, yes, while we have a smaller percentage of people in poverty, we have a bigger number of people in poverty 50 years later. And when you see a worker who is only make $7.25 who really works at- will in every way, who is risking everything to fight simply to get the minimum wage to where it should be, if it had been pegged to inflation When it was created it would be $15 today. Being less than half of that should be unacceptable to all of us.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Ben, talk a little bit about this. You wrote an op-ed in the "Wall Street Journal." You said, "We're engaged in new battles that Dr. King was likely to even have anticipated and we find ourselves re-fighting some of the old civil rights battled we thought we had won." What do you mean by that?

JEALOUS: Well, look, all of us expected that the Voting Rights Act, which had just been reauthorized six years ago with the support of 98 out of 100 U.S. senators would continue to persist at least for decades more. And that, Dr. King understood was the pillar of our civil rights protection, because your right to vote is the right upon which your ability to defend all of your other rights is leveraged, and here we are fighting to restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, and really the act itself. And I think you would be surprised by that. I think Dr. King would also be surprised that our country, the land of the free, has become the world's largest incarcerated. That's something that's ramped up in the years since. I think he would also be disappointed that the minimum wage, which such a focus of activism of that era, has been left to rust, if you will, over the years, has been left to rust, if you will. Now, because it's not been tied to inflation, it's worth so little that a family could work -- a mom could work 60 hours and still need to go access public assistance plus two or three jobs because she is still far below the poverty line for the size of her family.

MALVEAUX: Right. So, Ben, I'm sure there's a lot of economic circumstances that Dr. King would look at, as you mentioned before. What do you think he would make of Barack Obama, the first African- American president?

JEALOUS: First of all, I think he would be hugely proud. And really, frankly, take pride in everything he did to tear down those Jericho walls so we could see a person of color become president. I think he'll be proud of what this president has done to get health care to millions of people, both a leading cause of premature death and a leading cause of bankruptcy in many communities across this country. I think he'd be proud by the way that this president stood up for wall street -- excuse me, stood up for Detroit and made sure that we saved the car manufacturers and all the jobs that went with it.

MALVEAUX: All right.

JEALOUS: I think he would also be questioning about why there aren't more people from Wall Street who have gone to jail at this time. But I think he would be very proud, and perhaps have some questions as well.

MALVEAUX: Ben Jealous, thank you, as always. We appreciate it.

Ahead on NEWSROOM, as the U.S. considers military intervention in Syria, our security analysts with a lot of experience in troubled spots calls this the problem from hell for the United States. We'll be talking to Peter Bergen up ahead.


MALVEAUX: Crisis in Syria has increasingly become a U.S. problem. It is a big problem. Our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, summed up some of the issues in an op-ed on our website He writes here -- I'm quoting -- "Whoever ultimately prevails in this fight is hardly going to be an ally of the U.S. It's an ungodly mess that makes even Iraq in 2006 look good. It is, in short, a problem from hell."

Peter Bergen is in our D.C. bureau.

Peter, you don't mince words there. Clearly, this looks like it's going to be a big problem for the United States and the allies. We have heard from U.S. officials who said, look, this is not about regime change here. We do not want a long-term investment. So what does the Obama administration gain if it was a surgical strike against Syria?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, as the guarantor of international order, the United States cannot let stand the large scale use of chemical weapons. I think that's just a fact. It is sort of in a quandary because they don't want to actually overthrow Assad. A post-Assad Syria would look potentially even worse. The most effective groups on the ground are allied with al Qaeda and the others are aligned with Iran, Hezbollah, et cetera. But they do want to hand Assad more than a slap on the wrist. So it's a matter of calibrating the response somewhere between regime change, but also more than a slap on the wrist.

MALVEAUX: Peter, how is it not more than just symbolic here? You bring up a very good point here. If Assad stays in power, you hit these different targets here, can't he just build up his arsenal again so he would hit his own civilians with chemical weapons once again if he still remains in power? BERGEN: I think the theory of the case, Suzanne, is that, given enough time, the other elements of the Syrian opposition, which are now getting various kinds of help from the United States, may build up to the point where they can actually overthrow Assad themselves. You know, which, of course, is a gamble. Right now, the moderate, quote/unquote, "elements of the Syrian opposition" are some of the least affected, which is why regime change is off the table here.

MALVEAUX: Would it be potentially more dangerous with regime change? I mean, let's say you did have the rebels, the Syrian rebels, the opposition, they take power, would there not be some sort of power vacuum, where, you mentioned, there is al Qaeda, there are the radicals there that do not see peace as an option with the United States, or even with their neighbors.

BERGEN: Yes. The day after Assad goes could be a situation where al Qaeda-aligned groups control good chunks of the country, and this is a country -- the neighbor, Israel, is in the middle of the Middle East, is attracting thousands and thousands of foreign fighters, including a small number of Americans and a small number of Europeans. But this could look like Afghanistan in the 1980s, except worse. That's a worst-case scenario. But it's certainly a scenario that planners have to think about.

MALVEAUX: And you talk about one of the options. You say that U.S. action against Syria could actually look similar in some ways to what was done in Kosovo. You had President Clinton really jumping in two years or so after that conflict had erupted. How would that work? Would it be beneficial?

BERGEN: Kosovo turned out to be 78 days of air campaign, so I don't think we'll see anything like that. Kosovo was a NATO operation.

Right now, the administration is looking around for what kind of international authorities it can have, with some NATO buy-in, perhaps at least some Arab League criticism of Assad. But it's not a particularly great group of authorizations that they're looking at right now. The U.N. Security Council, that's unlikely to yield anything because Russia and China would be likely to veto any kind of military operation.

MALVEAUX: Peter Bergen, as you summed it up, it's a hellish situation, is what you called it.

Peter, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We're going to be getting your input over the next 24, 48 hours as all of this unfolds.

And also, following this. Ft. Hood, Texas, comes down to this simple question: Will Nidal Hasan, the man who gunned down so many of his Army comrades, spend the rest of his life in prison or be put to death? That next.


MALVEAUX: Right now, at Ft. Hood, Texas, only one question remains: Will convicted mass murderer, Major Nidal Hasan, spend the rest of his life in a military prison, or be put to death for the 2009 base shooting that left 13 people dead, 32 others wounded? Today, the state gave a 45-minute emotional closing argument, calling Hasan, quote, "a criminal, a cold-blooded murder." Hasan declined to say anything, and that fits his pattern. Acting as his own lawyer, Hasan offered virtually no defense at his court-martial. The jury convicted him on all counts of premeditated murder and attempted murder.

We're now finding out that a virus is likely to blame for killing hundreds of dolphins. This is along the east coast. That is according to government experts. This virus is similar to the measles in humans. Right now, experts say there is no way to stop it from spreading. And they urge people to stay away from stranded dolphins as they might be infected.

And ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, an upset at the U.S. Open by a teenager who went through amazing challenges growing up in Haiti. We're going to tell you all about it.


MALVEAUX: This is a big upset at the U.S. Open by a young lady who has overcome quite a lot. This 17-year-old American, Victoria Duval, faced off against the 2011 champion, stunning her in the first round. It's Duval's first win against a top-20 opponent.

Don Riddell joins us to talk about this young lady.

I mean, amazing background here. She grew up in Haiti, and she overcame a lot before she even decided to start playing tennis. What happened?

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS: That's right. She was born in Miami. Her parents are Haitian and they decided to take her to Haiti to raise her. But when she was just 7 years old her, she was at her aunt's house with her cousins when she and her cousins were taken hostage at gunpoint. Quite often, that kind of situation wouldn't have ended well, but fortunately, it did. At that point, her mom decided she was going to bring her to the U.S. and raise her here, by which point she was aspiring as a tennis player, having wanted to be a ballerina. But she decided to pursue tennis.

There's also a tennis connection to something else that was really traumatic in her life, because, in the Haiti earthquake two or three years ago, her father, who was still living there, was actually trapped in his home that collapsed. He managed to crawl out after, I think, about 11 hours, but he was really badly injured.


RIDDELL: He had broken both his arms and legs, seven ribs, punctured lung. A family with connections to her tennis club paid to have him air lifted and treated in Florida. She said last night, if it wasn't for that, he wouldn't be here.

MALVEAUX: She says she would love to see young people -- she said, I want to be a role model, good for other young people when they watch her and see what she does.

RIDDELL: I think she's still enjoying being a kid. She said last night she really is a child at heart, but a warrior on the tennis court. But she's clearly very, very ambitious. She wants to be a biomedical engineer. But I think college can wait for now, Suzanne. She's only just turned professional and, so far, things are going well. She's actually playing mixed doubles later today and then, of course, she's got a second-round match at the U.S. Open to look forward to.


MALVEAUX: What are her chances? What's her likelihood she'll make it really big? That she'll make her mark in tennis?

RIDDELL: You've seen, she's not the first player to have done something crazy and not much happens after that. But to beat the former champion in only her second grand-slam tennis match is a phenomenal achievement. Who knows what can happen after this point? She's a confident young player. She's a great character.


I think we'd all like to see her stick around a bit longer.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, I love her personality. I love her message, too. It's really refreshing.

RIDDELL: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: All right, Don, thank you.

RIDDELL: All right.

MALVEAUX: Appreciate it.

50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr stood in the nation's capital challenging us to be better citizens of the world. Still to come, we're going to take you back to the famous "I Have a Dream" speech.


MALVEAUX: That's it for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

Before we go, I have to go live to the nation's capital where thousands are gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. It was where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr took to the podium to deliver what was supposed to be a four-minute speech. But his ad-libbed message about his dream for a free and just America helped define a movement. Let's listen in to some of what he had to say August 28, 1963.



DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I say to you today, my friends --


KING: -- even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self- evident: that all men are created equal."


KING: I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day --


KING: -- even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream --


KING: -- that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!


KING: I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification --


KING: -- one day right down in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!


KING: I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

(APPLAUSE) KING: This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.


KING: This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that, let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia.


KING: Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!


KING: Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi!


KING: From every mountainside, let freedom ring.


KING: When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children -- black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics -- will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: That famous "I Have a Dream" speech 50 years ago today, on a Wednesday, August 28th, 1963. And hearing that speech is almost like hearing it for the first time each time you hear it. I get goose bumps. And you can't help but become emotional.

The Mall in Washington today is packed with people from all over the country, thousands of people, who made this journey on the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. The National Mall is filled. You can see the Reflecting Pool and the monument in the background. Then over my shoulder, the Lincoln Memorial where we have been hearing performances all day, which will culminate with the president of the United States. The first African-American president giving his speech on the anniversary.

I'm Don Lemon, everyone.

We're going to hear from three presidents this afternoon. Former President Jimmy Carter will speak. As well as former President Bill Clinton will speak here as well. Then, of course, President Barack Obama. Plus, civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the 1963 march on Washington, will deliver his remarks.