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Twelfth Thanksgiving in Afghanistan for Troops; Blackwater's War; Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; Volunteers Prepare Meals for 4,000 in L.A.; Stranger Pays Mom's Layaway Bill

Aired November 28, 2013 - 11:30   ET


BANFIELD: Welcome back to "LEGAL VIEW". I'm Ashleigh Banfield. On this Thanksgiving Day, we all have something to be thankful for, don't we? And one of the most important, perhaps these people on your screen, the American men and women who are serving in the Armed Forces to the tune of about 47,000 of them who in Afghanistan.

The ones you are seeing in the video are getting a hot Thanksgiving meal today. But until a few days ago, they thought this might actually be their last Thanksgiving in this country, where Americans have been fighting and dying in a war that's lasted more than a decade.

But the agreement to bring them home may have hit a bit of a snag. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has this report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Thanksgiving!

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over) It's the 12th Thanksgiving in Afghanistan for U.S. troops.

1ST SGT. BRIAN SHENK, U.S. ARMY: This is 1st Sgt. Brian Shenk with the 58th Signal Company at 101st Airborne Division, stationed in JCOP (INAUDIBLE) (ph) in Northern Afghanistan. I would like to give a shout out to my beautiful wife, Amy (ph), and our three awesome children, Deanna (ph), Clayton (ph) and Ethan (ph).

STARR (voice-over): Once more, thinking about home.

SPECIALIST KALEB CHARRON, U.S. ARMY: I'm Specialist Kaleb Charron, stationed here in Masla Sharif (ph), Afghanistan. I just want to wish all my family back in Missouri happy holidays.

STARR (voice-over): This holiday season, commanders were looking forward to a new agreement with Afghan president Hamid Karzai that would have kept just a few thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

But after a meeting with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Karzai is now refusing to sign the very deal he helped negotiate. In an Afghan news channel interview, Rice made clear U.S. patience may be at a breaking point. SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: If the agreement isn't signed properly, what I said to the president is we would have no choice. We would be compelled by necessity, not by our preference, to have to begin to plan for the prospect that we will not be able to keep our troops here.

STARR (voice-over): After 12 years of war with Afghan corruption still rampant, billions of dollars in U.S. aid, more than 2,000 troops killed and more than 19,000 wounded, why shouldn't all the American troops just come home?

VALI NASR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Americans are very right to be frustrated with Karzai, but frustration is not national security policy. Frustration is not foreign policy.

STARR (voice-over): Some in the administration believe without a U.S. presence, Al Qaida will return. Iran's influence may grow and Afghanistan will become a radical haven.

NASR: If things fall apart in Afghanistan then much of what we've gained can unravel. We may find ourselves having to go back in again.

STARR (voice-over): For now, however, U.S. troops are thinking about coming home.

SGT. TYLER BAXTER, U.S. MILITARY: Hi. I'm Sergeant Tyler Baxter and this is my father.

MSGT. RICHARD BAXTER U.S. MILITARY: Chief Master Sgt. Richard Baxter.

TYLER BAXTER: Coming from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Just wanted to wish our family at Ft. Leavenworth, Missouri, a happy holidays.


BANFIELD: And our Barbara Starr joins us live now from the Pentagon.

Could you make this crystal clear, Barbara, please?

What is going on with President Karzai? Are all of these elders who are getting into the fray now making new demands that were never in the deal to start with?

STARR: Well, Karzai is certainly making new demands that weren't in the deal from the U.S. point of view. He wants all the Afghan detainees in Guantanamo Bay released back to Afghanistan. He wants promises about how the U.S. military will operate in Afghanistan. He is throwing a lot of wrenches into all of this.

So where does it leave things right now? Oddly enough, if there is no agreement, all the U.S. troops pack up and come home by the end of next year. But that's not really what the administration wants. They want to leave up to 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops there with a security agreement about how they will operate for all the reasons you heard.

You know, the worries about Al Qaida, the worries about Iran causing trouble in Afghanistan, but a lot of people say it's been 12 years. Is it time for the troops to finally come back home, Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Well, since I have you, and you have all this international acumen, I want to tap you on the China new development, the controversy over the no-fly zone that they've just imposed in the East China Sea.

So America threw one of its bombers through there for a show of a not- so-fast force and then all of a sudden we have the Japanese and the South Koreans following suit as well.

Curious if we know what China's next move is because if they're not bluffing, doesn't it mean that there could be some military action?

STARR: Well, this is the thing. This is what people are trying to assess right now. Did China overplay its hand? U.S., Japan, South Korea, flying through this restricted zone and not obeying the new Chinese rules. The Chinese so far not doing anything about it. But here's what's coming next week.

Vice President Joe Biden is going to the region. The trip was already planned. The stops will be China, Japan and South Korea. And the White House is making very clear that Biden will sit down with the Chinese and ask them very directly what are their intentions, what are they doing here?

Why do they have this zone and what are they planning to do about it? The concern, of course, is that as this goes on and countries fly through this area, eventually will the Chinese military react? Will they scramble jets?

It could cause an accident. It could cause miscalculation. Unless this is sorted out, the tensions aren't likely to ease any time soon.

BANFIELD: We'll keep an eye on that.

And Happy Thanksgiving to you, Barbara. It's nice to see you.

STARR: You, too. Take care.

BANFIELD: Appreciate you working on the holiday, too.

I want to now turn to what I can only describe as one of the more uplifting developments I've ever seen in a story that I had never seen, so horrible.

Dr. William Pettit lost his wife and two daughters in a terrible murder in their home. It was a home invasion in Connecticut in 2007. And today, have a look at this, something extra special that Dr. Pettit has to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. One of the cutest babies ever born.

This is courtesy of his second wife, Christine. She gave birth to their son, William Pettit III last weekend and she's sharing a photo with all of us of the adorable little guy. And you know what, thank you, Christine, for doing that. Because we are all sharing in this story and we're so happy for your happiness. What a picture. So far, so good for a comet now zooming towards the sun. The big question, will it survive as it flies around the sun 730,000 miles above its surface? Believe it or not, that's close. All of that is happening today. And if it makes it around, you, yourself, will be able to go outside, look up and see it soon. If it all goes well, the comet will make its closest approach to the Earth the day after Christmas. Happy Boxing Day.

Just ahead, he turned a band of civilian warriors into a billion dollar war-time business and says Benghazi never would have happened had his men been on the job. Erik Prince, one of the most secretive people out there, the man behind Blackwater, firing back at his critics and finally coming forward, going on the TV and answering questions. And I got to talk to him. That's next.



BANFIELD: Civilians paid by the U.S. government to wage war effectively, but not to talk about it, and paid handsomely as well to the tune of somewhere around $1 billion.

But when that war goes bad, who takes the blame?

With contracts that are in the thousands of pages outlining every detail, including a strict no-comment policy, it's pretty tough to give your side of the story if you can't talk at all. But now those thousand-page contracts are getting a little older. And one military contractor is telling his side of the story.

And he's saying the U.S. government not only left him behind, it backed the truck over him, too.

Joining me now live is Erik Prince, who is no ordinary former military contractor. You probably know him well. He's the founder and former CEO of Blackwater, also known as the -- you changed the name of Blackwater. He is the author of the new book, "Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror."

Are you now allowed to talk? Is that what this is about? You can finally -- you're released from the deal that said --

ERIK PRINCE, FORMER CEO, BLACKWATER: The State Department contracts expired a long time ago. I was really waiting on -- there was one case pending against them of the former executives of the company; that was resolved. The government's case fell apart, and they walked free. And now the book is out and I'm telling my story.

BANFIELD: And yet I saw somewhere there's 55 pages of material that would have been in this book, had the CIA not gotten their hands on it and said, I'm sorry, Mr. Prince, you might not be able to say that.

PRINCE: There's an extra healthy dose of black ink there that blacked out those pages. But Max Boot came in and did a great job in summarizing with the last chapter of the book, does a good job from the open source of characterizing what the company did and the full spectrum of what we signed up for.

BANFIELD: You are one controversial character. You've been in the news a lot lately and I know you know that, even though you live part- time overseas in Dubai. But you've taken it on the chin. People characterized you as the contractors who were wild, wild West, willy- nilly, guns a-blazin', be damned that there were civilians around.

Is that fair?

PRINCE: Yes, that's just not an accurate characterization. Like you said in your intro, we performed with 1,000-page contracts, very clear what you will do, what you will not do from the State Department. We did 100,000 missions. No one under our care was killed or injured. And less than one-half of 1 percent of those missions was there a discharge of firearms by the guys. So diplomatic security matters. If we had we been on the job in Benghazi, I think the ambassador would have been safe.

BANFIELD: I'll get there in a minute, trust me. That is on my list to ask you about.

But you can't just say that. I mean, there was a significant incident that got a lot of headline, a lot of ink, a traffic circle in Iraq in 2007, 17 civilians shot, killed. And now, Justice, the Department of Justice has reopened this issue and actually looked at the charges of manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter for four of your employees.

PRINCE: They're still coming at them a third time. Federal judge has already thrown the case out at least once already.

BANFIELD: Are you saying this is political?

PRINCE: It's very political at this point. Absolutely.

BANFIELD: But how am I to believe that when you are such -- you are a hard core conservative, you've never hidden those political views. And as soon as the Obama administration took over, that's where you say everything changed. But things were ugly during the Bush administration, too.


BANFIELD: How can you assert the blame is only because of political henchmen?

PRINCE: Draw the comparison. In October 3, this year, in Washington, D.C., there was a 34-year-old woman, American citizen, got into a traffic altercation near a federal building. Secret Service agents opened fire on her. Eventually, she was gunned down, killed for a traffic violation up near Capitol Hill with her baby in the back of the car.

Now if those are contractors that pulled the trigger, you can imagine the hue and cry that would have gone on but they were uniformed members, uniformed employees of the federal government. And they're somehow --

BANFIELD: I hear your point. One woman.


PRINCE: She was innocent, unarmed.

BANFIELD: Sure; 17 --

PRINCE: Well, actually that's another inaccuracy. There were 11.

BANFIELD: Well, that's a discrepancy in the numbers. Many are reporting 17, many report 11.

PRINCE: We, the company, hired the former prosecutor, chief prosecutor of Iraq, the guy that prosecuted Saddam Hussein himself to go and meet with each of the families to find out who was aggrieved and to pay the salacia (ph) payments under the direction of the State Department to figure out what happened.

And many of those people who sought medical care, those family members when they went to a U.S. facility, there were bullets originating from an AK-47 that came out of them, not necessarily from a U.S. weapon.

BANFIELD: I want to get you back to Benghazi. You slipped it in there quickly and now I want to ask you about it, why weren't you contracted to protect -- you're so certain that there would have been no death, no mayhem had you and your company been protecting -- sold the company, but why, perhaps, were you not?

PRINCE: There was a fail at many levels there, from depending on a local security provider, basically a local militia, which I believe sold out the mission there.

The federal agents that were assigned there were obviously in an inadequate number to prevent the kind of attack. There were a number of plans deficient. And on top of that, even the quick reaction force or some other force that could have come in from the outside. I know for a fact there was a C-130 with Army Special Forces guys on board, blades turning, going to fly in from a training mission in Croatia to Benghazi. And they were turned around by the National Command Authority. That is not in the tradition of America to leave people hanging like that.

BANFIELD: And there's some discrepancy as to whether that happened as well. The administration will often say otherwise.

Listen, there is another --

PRINCE: I know people who are in that community yet and I know it to be true. They were on the airplane, ready to go. And they were turned around.

BANFIELD: You are a fascinating fellow and there's a reason we've been chasing you down for years. Thank you. The book is called "Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater." Erik Prince, thanks for joining us. Nice to meet you, finally.

PRINCE: Finally.

BANFIELD: After much concern and worry, a Thanksgiving tradition took to the air this morning. A little lower, though, it seemed, than usual. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, a little chilly. A little chilly, indeed. A little windy, too. That was a big worry. But they marched right through Manhattan. Spectacular. We're going to be live out of the street, give you the full report next.

FIRST CLASS JAMES GRAVES, U.S. MILITARY: First Class James Graves (ph) stationed in Kata Soleil (ph) in Doha, Qatar. I want to wish my wife, Arkita Graves (ph) and family back in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a very happy Thanksgiving. I wish I could be there with you. But unfortunately, I'm not.

But I want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, say I love you. And at the same time, I wish you a very happy anniversary, Baby. I love you.


BANFIELD: Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloons are flying high. That's great news because it was real touch and go.

The thing is, if you look really closely, see how close they are to the marchers? Yes, they were lowered because the police said the winds just required this, keep them low, keep them safe.

There was a concern they'd be grounded altogether by the wintry storm that Mother Nature cooked up for Turkey Day today. The leftovers, however, bitter cold, gusty winds, not enough to break the tradition, though.

And another tradition, Jason Carroll hits the concrete for us at Macy's Day Parade. Hey, I heard from a little bird you apparently stage all of your live shots in front of Snoopy because there's some penchant you have for that adorable, little creature?


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Who told you that? That is actually true. I do love Snoopy, I have to admit it. And look, I'm not the only one. Obviously Snoopy led off the parade this year, he was the first Snoopy, Woodstock, the first giant helium balloon to head down Central Park West.

And as you say, all the balloons were a little lower than normal but at least they were out here. Some of those that we saw, SpongeBob SquarePants was out here, Hello Kitty, another one of the giant helium balloons. Some of the newcomers, like the one from "How to Train your Dragon," but everyone that we spoke to out here today seemed to have a really good time. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: You guys came all the way from Alabama?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alabama! Lower Alabama!

CARROLL: And what does Lower Alabama like about the parade so far?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything. The balloons.

CARROLL: There was some concern the balloons might not make it, but they did. And favorites that you saw?


CARROLL: SpongeBob? He's one of my favorites, too. Now you guys are coming in from Oklahoma?


CARROLL: What are you thinking so far?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's great, awesome.

CARROLL: Having a good time?


CARROLL: What did you think of the balloons?


CARROLL: Any favorites?





CARROLL: A lot of favorites down there. And I know Georgia was down there as well. I'm going to reach over, you remember them, right, Georgia?

What did you -- what did you guys think so far?



CARROLL: (INAUDIBLE) that. Any favorites?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Cirque de Soleil.


CARROLL: Cirque de Soleil is not a balloon.


CARROLL: But that's OK.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Spider-Man was the favorite balloon.


CARROLL: They came from all over the country, in fact, from all over the world. We heard from people who were from Norway, people who were from Canada, from Mexico. And I also, Ashleigh, just thought if we told you about that about my love for Snoopy, it was definitely your producer, Steven Smatiago (ph). He had a good time out here.

BANFIELD: You nailed it. You nailed it. Oh, and by the way, I love the fact that people came all the way from Canada, all the way from Canada. Now that is huge, Jason Carroll. It's probably colder here.

Jason Carroll, live for us on Central Park West. I look forward to the whole thing again next year, my friend. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Check this out. I have got a great story. A young mother with twins and an infant at home, she was saving up for Christmas gifts for the kids, and then guess what? Out of the blue, the unbelievable happened. Wait, wait, it's awesome. Two words, guys, the layaway fairy.

Also I want to share some of our last soldier hellos for this hour.



BANFIELD: In Los Angeles, an army of celebrities and community volunteers has been hard at work preparing a Thanksgiving brunch for as many as, are you ready, 4,000 people, some of their neediest neighbors. Our Stephanie Elam at the Midnight Mission Shelter. She joins us now live.

All right, Stephanie, if you can do it, give me the rundown of what's going to happen today.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, this is what the day's all about, right, giving thanks and remembering everyone in our world, in our community, and giving back. That's what many volunteers are going to come out here, downtown Los Angeles, to do today.

You see they've got all of the tables set up. They're going to be preparing to feed people who are a little down on their luck, need some help and want a good Thanksgiving meal. And that's what they're going to get here today. They're setting up the food. They're cooking. They're going to be leaning all this food down here and there will be celebrities who will be dishing it out. There will be other people who will be coming. They're already cooking. Every turkey that has been made has been made here at the mission, which I should also tell you, going into its 100th year of feeding people. They've been doing this now about 3,000 meals a day, they're saying.

So they're going to be out here today, through the morning, through the afternoon, it's still early here, but this is the idea, to give back, Ashleigh, to so many people in this community who rely on the missions here to feed them.

But of course, everyone wants to have that special Thanksgiving meal and they're going to get it. I hear they're going to have yams and mashed potatoes. They're also going to have all kinds of pie that will be delivered here. Those are donated but most of the food has been prepared right here. So a lot of people waiting to get started and to start eating their Thanksgiving meal.

BANFIELD: And then also, not only a great meal but some pretty famous faces showing up. Have they told you who's going to be there or is it just going to be a surprise?

ELAM: No, we have some names, we understand that Dick van Dyke is supposed to be here, we also hear Lou Gossett may be here later on. The mayor may also, the former mayor should be down here as well. So a lot of people who are famous in Los Angeles and also famous throughout.

BANFIELD: All right. Stephanie Elam, thank you so much, do appreciate it.

We've been talking a lot throughout the hour about people paying it forward. And this next story really fits the bill. A Massachusetts mom of 6-year-old twins and a 20-month-old put some toys away for her kids layaway style at Walmart. Several hundred dollars' worth, and she was going to hope to pay it off by mid-December. And now she doesn't have to. Nice text message. An anonymous donor paid the balance in full.


ALLISON MORAN, STRANGER PAID HER BILL: I hope people continue to pay it forward for people because you never know when you'll be the one that needs the extra help. And I will definitely pay it forward. It just says that there really are really good people still out there.


BANFIELD: Amen to that. You know what? You're real good for joining us today. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. We'll be back again tomorrow. In the meantime, "AROUND THE WORLD" starts right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING) HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, winds were strong in New York, it has to be said, but they couldn't stop the balloons from flying in the Macy's Day Parade. A live report coming up.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank goodness for that.

And despite it being a family day across the country with many people off from work traditionally, well, some retailers, they're staying open, despite nine out of 10 Americans saying they're not going to shop on Thanksgiving. The retail store backlash, that's coming up.


GORANI: If you haven't guessed it already, it is Thanksgiving.

HOLMES: It is?

GORANI: It is. I'm Hala Gorani.

HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company this Thanksgiving Day.

GORANI: Now let's start with what might be turning into a new Thanksgiving tradition, and that is shopping. More and more stores are open today, blurring the line between Turkey Day and Black Friday and hoping to get a jump-start on the shopping.