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Pistorius' Ex-Girlfriend Testifies; 30,000 Russian Troops Now in Crimea; Masked Men Attack Journalist in Crimea; California to Introduce Bill to Ban Killer Whale Shows; Changing Minds on Medical Marijuana;

Aired March 7, 2014 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: International observers blocked, a U.S. warship on the way and discussions showing no sign of progress. Is the crisis in Ukraine at a breaking point?

The young woman Oscar Pistorius dumped for Reeva Steenkamp on the stand at his murder trial, she talks about his guns, his anger and his fear of intruders.

And "Black Fish" backlash, after the CNN film, new legislation on the table that would ban performances by orcas at places like SeaWorld.

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Michaela Pereira is off today. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West.

Those stories and more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

And there are fast-moving developments @ THIS HOUR on the ground outpacing Western efforts to force Russia to withdraw its forces from Crimea.

Just a short time ago, 43 European military observers were blocked from entering Crimea. This is the second straight day they have been stopped at a checkpoint managed by pro-Russia gunmen.

Hours earlier, Russia sank a second of its old navy ships to completely seal off a Ukrainian naval base. That blockade means several Ukrainian naval vessels are trapped. They are completely out of service.

Meantime, in Moscow, the parliament gave its support to Crimean lawmakers who want their region to split from Ukraine and join Russia.

Crimeans will vote in a referendum nine days from now. Russian lawmakers say no sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe will reverse their support.

All that despite an hour-long telephone conversation between President Obama and President Putin. The White House said that Mr. Obama pressed for direct talks between Kiev and Moscow and withdrawal of Russian forces from Crimea. Both sides say that aides will now continue negotiations.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7 percent in February, but the jobs report did beat expectations. One-hundred-and-seventy-five thousand jobs were added in February.

It was a good month to be an accountant, an architect or i.t. person. The strongest hiring came in those areas.

So, why the higher unemployment rate? People were feeling better about their chances of finding work and they re-entered the labor market.

The ex-girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius, the woman he left for Reeva Steenkamp, testifying today about their relationship, she said the "Blade Runner" carried a gun all the time and slept with it nearby.

She also says he thought he heard suspicious sounds at night, back when they were together.


SAMANTHA TAYLOR, PISTORIUS' FORMER GIRLFRIEND: Oscar woke me up and asked me if I had heard it.

I said, it must have just been from the storm. There was a storm that night.

And, so, he got up with his gun and he walked out of the room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that the only occasion or were there other occasions?

TAYLOR: There was probably one or two occasions where he woke me up to ask me if I had heard something, my lady.


BERMAN: Now, Pistorius claims he shot and killed Steenkamp in the bathroom because he thought she was an intruder.

Court, back in session on Monday.

The Army's top, sex-crimes prosecutor, now, himself accused of committing sexual misconduct at a sex-assault prevention conference.

An Obama administration official says the Army is looking into claims that Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morse groped a female lawyer.

This is the latest of several high-profile allegations in what some officials say is an epidemic of sexual assault in the military.

Fears of a serial killer stalking the Washington, D.C. suburbs, people in Alexandria, Virginia, being told to be on their guard, authorities have linked bullets from three unsolved killings in that area, the most recent happened last month, a music teacher shot and killed after she answered a knock at the door.

The FBI has sent in a profiler to help detectives get an idea of just who they are dealing with here.

Let's get more now on our top story, the ever-escalating crisis in Ukraine. For the second straight day, international observers are turned away from entering Crimea, which is really the epicenter of this crisis, right now.

Our Anna Coren is there, and with us from Philadelphia is Charles Kupchan. He was director for European affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

And, Anna, I want to start with you on the ground there. What's the latest you are seeing from the Russian troops or the pro-Russian militias on the ground there, now essentially occupying Crimea?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are getting unconfirmed reports, at least from the Ukrainian defense ministry, that there are something like 30,000 Russian troops now here in Crimea.

We were out at a military base yesterday, and we certainly saw hundreds of soldiers, obviously not wearing the Russian uniform. There was no insignia whatsoever. But they were flying the Russian flag and they had Russian license plates.

And Ukrainian commander at this particular military base told us that 700 Russian troops had arrived last week.

We're getting reports that there are only going to be more in the coming days, obviously, in the lead up to the referendum.

We are counting down to the referendum which will take place on the 16th of March, which will allow the citizens of Crimea to decide if they want to stay with Ukraine or break away and become part of the Russian Federation.

But, certainly, John, tensions are rising here, and any dissent, any dissent whatsoever, any voice other than that of pro-Russian supporters, is really knocked down, straight away.

BERMAN: That seems like a much higher number than we have been led to believe of the number of troops in Crimea.

We also have video I should tell you about that shows a group of masked men attacking a freelance journalist in Crimea.

In the video, you see them wrestle this journalist to the ground. They point a gun at him. They steal his phone. You can see it happening right there.

The journalist told CNN he was using the phone to video the armed men after he watched them steal equipment from a TV crew.

So, Anna, are you seeing any evidence now of a crackdown on journalists? Have you experienced anything like this?

COREN: There certainly does seem to be a crackdown on the media. We know about the TV stations that have been shut down because they're giving a message other than the pro-Russian message. So, that has happened over the last 24 hours.

But that journalist that you refer to, that Bulgarian journalist, he witnessed these paramilitary, masked, armed men basically taking away TV equipment. He took a couple of photos.

One of them came up to him, forced him to the ground, put a gun to his head, took his camera, took his phone. So, this is a really worrying trend if you like.

We had our own experience yesterday insofar as the hotel that we've been staying at told us that we could no longer broadcast, that we had to shut down our operation straightaway or we would be kicked out.

So, obviously, there is pressure being applied, whether it be from the local militias or whether it be from the Crimean government that was self-elected a week ago, which, as we know is extremely pro-Russian. They want to see this region return to the Motherland.

But, definitely, as I say, John, there has been a crackdown on any dissent taking place here

BERMAN: All right, Anna, thank you.

I want to go to Charles Kupchan, right now. So, Charles, Ukraine's prime minister this morning issued a stern warning, saying that separatists and other traitors, your actions are unlawful.

He's calling people who want to split from Ukraine and go to Russia, separatists and traitors, this as their Crimean lawmakers being welcomed as heroes in Moscow, this as we are nine days from a referendum where Crimea might very well vote to become part of Russia.

Again, the leaders in Ukraine calling them traitors. This, to me, seems like there are some irreconcilable differences here. No?

CHARLES KUPCHAN, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: No question about it, we're not in a very good spot because, in Crimea itself, we seem to be moving quite rapidly toward session, a declaration of independence and a move toward reintegration with Russia.

The leadership in the Duma, the Russian parliament, has indicated they would welcome that move.

Here in the United States and in the European Union, we're kind of putting together increasing, escalating sanctions to tell the Russians that's a no-go.

These two sides, right now, are irreconcilable.

I think the good news is this is probably not going to lead to bloodshed in the sense that it's hard to imagine that Ukraine would attack the Crimean Peninsula too keep it inside the country, and that's simply because the military balance between Russia and Ukraine is very lopsided.

But right now, we seem to be headed down a quite dangerous road.

BERMAN: Let's hope it does not lead to bloodshed.

But, Charles, does it create an awkward situation for the United States, now in a position of having to argue against the right to self-determination?

KUPCHAN: In general, the U.S. stands by self-determination when it occurs in a consensual way. So, for example, Czechoslovakia split up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but that was done consensually.

In Canada, Quebec held a referendum about separation. It was voted down, but that was done in coordination with the government in Quebec and the Canadian government.

In Yugoslavia, secession occurred with consensus, and what did you get? Bloodshed in the Yugoslav area of the Balkan Peninsula for the better part of a decade.

What's worrying about what's happening in the Crimean Peninsula and Ukraine is there is no constitutional structure for this declaration of independence, and as a consequence, we may be heading toward an outcome that leaves the peninsula in limbo, technically, part of Ukraine, but Russia sees it as part of Russia.

And then where do we go? Maybe something that looks like Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Russia has recognized them as independent. The rest of the world sees them as part of Georgia. And then we have to live with that ambiguity.

BERMAN: Of course there is an irony here, too. The Russians have been no supporters of self-determination in the past, themselves, so a lot of irony here.

Charles Kupchan, great to have you with us. Anna Coren, in Crimea, thank you so much.

Later this hour, we'll speak military strategy. Is there one for Ukraine? I will be joined by retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, as a U.S. warship now heads to the region.

And ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, the famous orcas, the killer whales, the highlight of so many trips to SeaWorld, new legislation to ban the show. So, is this the "Black Fish" backlash?


BERMAN: "Black Fish" backlash, just hours from now a California lawmaker will unveil a proposed bill to put an end to SeaWorld San Diego's famous "Shamu Show."

The legislation would ban using killer whales from aquatic theme park shows, really of any kind.

State assembly member Richard Bloom says he was moved to draft the bill after watching the CNN Documentary, "Black Fish." So many people saw it. So many people were moved about it.

SeaWorld has not commented.

Joining me now to discuss this, our Tory Dunnan and HLN host Jane Velez-Mitchell.

Tory, I want to start with you. Explain this bill to me. What exactly would this proposed law do?

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, so, John, first of all, it's really important to put all this into perspective, because note the fact that SeaWorld does have this major presence in San Diego, California.

Let's talk a little bit about what this proposed would do. It would reportedly prevent SeaWorld from using killer whales in shows, that's the big headline, as well as potentially ban captive breeding and then positively prohibit the import and export of killer whales.

Now, reports are that Bloom was, indeed, moved into action after ...

DUNNAN: prevents SeaWorld from using killer whales in shows. That's the big headline, as well as potentially ban captive breeding, and then possibly prohibit the import and export of killer whales.

Now, reports are that Bloom was, indeed, moved into action after watching the documentary "Blackfish". And SeaWorld, of course, has dubbed this all as propaganda, calling the documentary, "grossly one- sided."

So, John, of course I have to mention I reached out to SeaWorld and a spokesman tells me they haven't seen the specifics of the legislation yet. But once they do, they plan to issue a response a little bit later on in the day.

BERMAN: We know there is a lot of legislation that gets to the table. Any sense this has a real chance of passing?

DUNNAN: John, I mean, it has really been called a bold proposal at this point. I mentioned sort of the impact SeaWorld has in San Diego, California. We have got to wait to hear what this state lawmaker has to say later on in the day and then kind of get a temperature check of people and their responses to this. And then we'll just see where it goes from here. But at this point, it is just proposed legislation.

BERMAN: All right, thanks, Tory.

And Jane, you know, this proposal deals with killer whales and orcas. But we know there are other animals that do shows. There are dolphins, there are seals and sea lions. I can never remember which is which. But there are other animals at zoos and in captivity. Would this potentially impact them at some point?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: I hope so. I believe that this is a turning point for the animal rights movement. We are going to start to look at a lot of animals that are exploited for human profit and for human entertainment.

And so, the secret is out now, that these animals are not happy and joyous that they're living tortured, miserable lives. Tilikum weighs in at 1,200 pounds. That would be like you spending your entire life in a bathtub. Don't you think you would get a little agitated, violent and maybe go a little psycho? Of course you would.

These animals in the wild travel long distances. They have highly, highly social lives. They travel in pods of 30. They have a very, very important connection to their mother and often travel alongside their mother their whole live.

To rip them from the wild is obscene. To breed them in captivity is equally obscene. Which is worse? I don't know. It's a toss-up. But -- but now, we're taking a look at this issue. And, really, kudos to "Blackfish" and CNN for putting this on. Because now, the secret is out. People can't pretend they don't know anymore.

BERMAN: What you are talking about seems to go beyond just performance, though. You seem to have some issues with the very idea of animals in captivity, which would include zoos of all kinds.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It would include a lot of things. Right now, there are millions of pigs kept in gestation crates, the size of their bodies never able to turn around. Pigs are highly intelligent. They are more intelligent, some say, than dogs. If you did it to a dog, you would be charged with animal cruelty.

So we have sort of a two-tier system of justice when it comes to animals, just like people. So some animals like dogs and cats, we care about. Other animals, well, not so much.

But I do believe that animal rights is going to be, and it is, the emerging social justice movement of the 21st century. Because we can judge a society by how we treat its most helpless land voiceless. If we can torture an animal, we're capable of torturing a child, a person who has no power, an old person. So this is really a litmus test for civilization.

BERMAN: As we said, they are talking about right now in California is orcas and the performances. But Jane Velez-Mitchell, we always like having you and your passion. Thanks for being here.


BERMAN: Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, he changed the discussion about marijuana in America, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Wait until you hear what he now says about cannabis madness and why he calls our government irresponsible.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Our doctor Sanjay Gupta made news last year after publicly changing his stance on medical marijuana. Since then, lawmakers have followed in Dr. Gupta's new CNN op-ed. He writes, "I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve marijuana. I am not backing down on medical marijuana. I am doubling down."

In his piece, Sanjay says that science showing the benefits of medical marijuana is solid, today more than ever.

Earlier, I spoke to him about his new documentary and why he thinks it is irresponsible of lawmakers to deny some Americans access to medical marijuana.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is very frustrating. Look, for me as a reporter, I get to look at the guy who's looking at the science, traveling around the world, talking to people, saying, let me challenge you on this science, let look into the labs and all of that.

But the patients out there, especially the parents of these children, I mean, they're incredibly frustrated. They live in their home states where they don't have access to these medications. They see it potentially working for their kids. But they can't get it. So it is really frustrating.

You know, I use the word draconian in the op-ed. And it's not a word I use very often. It's probably an overused word. But I think it perfectly describes this. We feel like we have gone back to the dark ages where politics has trumped science.

BERMAN: There are times when it seems like there's a failure to look at the whole issue. The demonization in cases of pot makes it difficult to have this responsible conversation on a clinicla level, which is why you say in your op-ed we shouldn't even use the word marijuana. Let's call it something completely different.

GUPTA: Marijuana was a pejorative term almost since it was used. Initially it was to conjure up images of these sex-crazed teenagers and reefer madness. And it was for immigrants from Mexico that were coming in. It was the local weed, all that sort of stuff.

Cannabis is the scientific name. And when I've had these conversations with scientists, you know, I get very legitimate scientists who have been, not only studying this, but some have dedicated their life's research to this topic. They call it cannabis. It is the scientific name. It gives it the respect it deserves. And I think -- look, it's a small thing, but I think it goes a long way towards changing the discussion.

BERMAN: And you have spent so many times with so many people in your first documentary and the second one, "WEED 2" for whom cannabis has made a huge, huge difference. What kind of impact? GUPTA: You know, we show the kids with epilepsy. And those are clearly dramatic stories. And, you know, there is a situation now where the American Epilepsy Foundation has come out and said there are 3 million people who have epilepsy in the United States, of which about one-third, 1 million, are treatment-resistant. So modern medicine isn't doing it for them. They're looking for other options.

But look, there's others as well. Because I don't (ph) want people to say this is a rare kid, you know, treatment. Adults with pain, a woman with MS, you know, muscle spasms and the pain so debilitating she was confined to a wheelchair. She is now taking a medication made from cannabis, the whole plant of cannabis in England. That medication is working for her. It's available in 25 countries. The United States is not one of them.

BERMAN: One of the problems right now is the federal law, the code. The FDA called marijuana a schedule 1 substance, more lethal, more threatening. more evil, if you will, than cocaine or methamphetamines. They say those are -- those have medical value. Pot doesn't. You point out this is a real issue. We have some sound bites that I think that illustrates that. Let's listen.


GUPTA (voice-over): The federal government says marijuana is among the most addictive drugs with no medicinal value.

Many serious scientists say they're wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a medicine.

GUPTA: It's the politics of pot hitting policy against patients. Trapped in the middle, sick, qualified people who warrant medical marijuana but can't get it, because it is illegal.


BERMAN: Can't they change this? Can't a stroke of the pen change this problem?

GUPTA: You know, John, are a practical person. I don't know you really well. But we've gotten to know each other.

BERMAN: You would like me if you got to know me.

GUPTA: I'm sure I would, but you are pragmatic, and you look at this and you say the same thing that I do.

This is baffling to me. I mean, there are so many problems in the world. I really have to -- try to understand. I know there are so many nuances here.

There is nothing about this that makes it a schedule 1 substance. A schedule 1 means it is in the most dangerous class of substances, the most addictive, the most highly abused substances and has no medicinal value. Neither one of those statements is true here. This is politics.

You know, 1936, we joke about refer madness. We are calling this documentary "Cannabis Madness." But reefer madness had a huge impact on the way that we view marijuana.

But I don't know what's galvanizing the opposition. It doesn't seem to break down along scientific lines, political lines, religious lines, gender or age. But yet, there is this thrust to not allow this to happen.

BERMAN: Well, this is a very important discussion to be having, Sanjay. And you are driving it, so thank you for that. We really appreciate it.

GUPTA: Thank you, John, appreciate it. Thank you.

BERMAN: Sanjay Gupta.


There is so much more to learn in Sanjay's documentary. It is provocative, informative, and it will be controversial, "WEED 2, CANNABIS MADNESS" premiers Tuesday, March 11 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, a U.S. warship on the move. Russian vessels continue maneuvers. Routine or dangerous games as this crisis in Ukraine rages on?