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Bergdahl Back in the U.S.; Crisis in Iraq: U.S. Promises Help; Severe Storm Threat; Spurs on the Brink of the NBA Title

Aired June 13, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. The American soldier held captive by the Taliban for years finally back in the United States. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl touching down in Texas just hours ago. We are live with what is in store for him today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Iraq in crisis. President Obama now promising to help the country take out the terrorists who have been destroying their cities, but what can and should the United States do now? We're live in Iraq with the very latest.

BERMAN: And severe storm threats across the country bringing fierce winds, look at that, baseball-sized hail, and dangerous, dangerous flooding. Indra Petersons tracking what's coming today, and yes, throughout the weekend.

ROMANS: Oh, my.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday the 13th, June 13th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Up first, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl back on American soil this morning. Bergdahl arriving just hours ago at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He spent the past week and a half in a U.S. military hospital in Germany. That was after his release from Taliban activity.

This stop in Texas is the final phase of Bergdahl's reintegration after five years as a prisoner of war.

CNN's Martin Savidge live in San Antonio for us.

So, now we know he's back on American soil for the first time in five years. Tell us what you know.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Christine.

Quite a remarkable moment. Bowe Bergdahl landed in the middle of the night, according to the U.S. military. He would have flown from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio. Once his military aircraft touched down, then he would have been transported to the building that sort of looms in the background behind me here.

That's the San Antonio Military Medical Center, and it's there that there is a section of that facility set aside for him, and he will continue his recovery process.

Let me just read you a portion of the state that the Army put out, and it says this, "Our focus remains on his health and well-being. Secretary Hagel," obviously, the secretary of defense, "is confident that the Army will continue to ensure that Sergeant Bergdahl receives the care and the time and the space he needs to complete his recovery and reintegration."

Of course, reintegration really that awkward word, but what it means is his return home, his return back to the United States, and most important, the reunion with his family.

And that's the big question people have -- how is it going to happen, and most especially, when is it going to happen?

Typically, it would take place inside of a hospital room in the building where he is right now. The question is, when? And it should also be pointed out that the Army knows after years of studying former POWs, it is this reunion with the family that is the most emotionally overwhelming part of the entire return process. It's handled very carefully. And the first time they meet is likely to be only for a few minutes -- Christine.

ROMANS: Only for a few minutes. Do we know when that meeting's going to take place? Are they going to allow that to happen in private and we'll know after? Have we heard anything about when that meeting can happen?

SAVIDGE: Yes. You can bet, Christine, it's going to be done absolutely in private. This is a very carefully controlled kind of reunion. The one thing you do not want is any kind of surprise. That's what I've been told by psychologists here.

So, all of this has been carefully rehearsed. We should point out that the team that is taking care of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been rehearsing for five years now for this return, meeting every six months, practicing for a week at a time. That included everything from transporting him from where he landed to all the way through to what it will be like when he's finally released from this facility, but there is no timeline, and that is the one thing the military stresses.

ROMANS: Remarkable. That's a really interesting detail. Thanks, Martin Savidge.

Meantime, the Obama administration has quietly freed five detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan. Officials say a Frenchman, Kuwaiti and 10 Pakistani prisoners will return to their respective home countries at end of May. Some 38 non-Afghans remain at that detention center, the only ones still in custody in Afghanistan. Many have not been charged with a crime. BERMAN: Now to the other crucial story developing this morning. The

crisis in Iraq. American contractors have been evacuated from a base there as the security situation worsens. Islamic militants have captured now much of that country's north and are threatening to take Baghdad.

President Obama says it is clear that Iraq will need more U.S. help in this fight against the Islamic state of Iraq in Syria. That is the name of the militant group. And every option is being considered, except, the White House says, American boots on the ground.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My team is working around the clock to identify how we can provide the most effective assistance to them. I don't rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter.


BERMAN: This is such a delicate situation. While this is happening, there are reports that Iran is coming to the aid of Iraq, sending elite fighters in to help put down the Sunni insurgency.

CNN's Arwa Damon is following these developments. She is in Iraq in the Kurdish region of Erbil.

Arwa, what are the latest developments this morning?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, ISIS most certainly continues its occupation of Iraq's second largest city of Mosul, where we are right now, not too far away from the border between this autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and central Iraq. We saw refugees continuing to flow from Mosul into this area, saying that they were not necessarily fleeing from ISIS, but out of fear of Iraqi military air strikes.

Some people even going back, though, saying that even though is fighters were roaming the streets, they felt as if the situation was stable, safe enough for them to be able to return back home. ISIS continuing to try to push forward in various other strategic parts of the country as well.

And throughout all of this, John, we have been seeing the Iraqi military forces disintegrate, abandoning their positions, allowing ISIS to take over not just territory, but also ammunition, weapons and military vehicles. Reports that some of those vehicles are being moved to the front lines in Syria as well.

Underlying all of this, John, are Iraq sectarian tensions. The predominantly Shia government viewed as being -- are trying to oppress the Sunni minority. That is by and large one of the key reasons why an organization like ISIS has been able to gain so much territory, because even though it has been in the spotlight, there has also been a re-emergence of various other significant Sunni insurgent groups that were active here during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The situation we have right now described by one Iraqi politician as being utterly catastrophic. The consequences of not being able to bring security here under control will not just have ramifications for Iraq but for the region as well. ISIS has its roots in al Qaeda in Iraq and now has managed, following the U.S. troop withdrawal of Iraq, capitalizing on what's been happening in neighboring Syria to not just become an entity that controls territory inside Iraq, but in Syria as well.

Trying to resolve this crisis, though, John, will not come about by use of military force alone. There has to be some sort of political reconciliation between the various Sunni and Shia fighters. It's not just Iran also that's being brought into the mix potentially at this stage. We're also hearing various reports that Shia militias inside Iraq are being called to arms as well.

This country very much on the brink of yet another very bloody chapter.

BERMAN: Of course, there are reports as well of the Kurdish militia, the Peshmerga, has taken over the oil city of Kirkuk.

A lot going on right there, ramifications already. Our Arwa Damon reporting live from inside Iraq fro Erbil. Arwa, thank you very much.

So, as ISIS, that group that Arwa was talking about, the al Qaeda- inspired group, continues to advance. Iraqi politics on the front burner in Washington. House Speaker John Boehner really slamming the president for what he calls "taking a nap" on Iraq, accusing the president of ignoring gains made by the terrorists.

Now, Republicans are calling for air strikes against the militants. The Iraqi government calling for much of the same.

Hillary Clinton is now also weighing in. The former secretary of state says she is surprised by how effective ISIS has been.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not just a Syrian problem anymore. I never thought it was just a Syrian problem. I thought it was a regional problem. I could not have predicted, however, the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create an Islamic state.


BERMAN: As the secretary just noted, ISIS, this group, has been operating in Syria for some time, now crossing over and operating quite effectively in Iraq as well. She added, what is happening in Iraq is a dreadful, deteriorating situation.

ROMANS: Yes, and oil prices up big, John, this morning. Again, oil prices up big time. We'll watch that very closely. Texas Republican Peter Sessions dropping his bid to replace Eric

Cantor as House majority leader for the good of the party. Sessions released a statement saying a fight for the leadership post would, quote, "create an unnecessary and painful division within the Republican ranks." House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, is the front-runner to succeed Cantor, who lost his primary race and is stepping down as majority leader July 31st.

BERMAN: Officials investigating new claims that border agents have mistreated unaccompanied children caught crossing into the U.S. illegally. Some 47,000 young migrants, mainly from Central America, have been apprehended since October, many now houses in makeshift holding centers in allegedly dire conditions. The new complaints cite interviews with more than hundreds of youth who say they were deprived of food and medical care.

ROMANS: All right. The U.S. government is poised to sell off tens of millions of dollars in Bitcoin seized from the illicit Web site Silk Road. Officials say the site was a major conduit for drugs and contraband. The announcement of a partial auction set for this month triggered a sharp drop in Bitcoin's value. Bidders must submit proof of identity and a $200,000 deposit to the Justice Department.

Time for an EARLY START on your money this morning.

European stocks are lower right now. Asian stocks ended the day mixed. Futures up slightly after a pullback yesterday. The Dow fell about 100 points by the close.

Growing concerns worldwide about violence escalating in Iraq, that's driving oil prices higher. Crude oil futures above $107 a barrel right now, the highest price since last September. If the conflict in Iraq comes to a very bad conclusion, if you have this ISIS group advancing on Baghdad, it's going to be very difficult for the oil market. Conflicts in Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela are already hurting supply.

Iraq is the second biggest producer in OPEC, produced 3.3 million barrels of oil a day. If that takes a hit, we'll see prices skyrocket.

And, of course, this could translate into higher gas prices. Experts tell us we could see a jump of 20 cents or more at the pump in the next few weeks, already playing out there.

BERMAN: President Obama getting a clean bill of health, at least physically. The White House releasing the results of the president's physical last month. His doctors say Mr. Obama's overall health is excellent and expected to stay that way for the rest of his time in office. Perhaps his only vice, says the doctor, chewing nicotine gum. The president does that since he stopped smoking. President takes vitamin D to treat a mild deficiency. People outside a lot take vitamin D, and occasionally uses ibuprofen to treat plantar fasciitis in his foot, which can be very, very painful.

ROMANS: Thursday was President Bush's 90th birthday and he celebrated the milestone as he did at 78th, 80th and 86th, with a mile-high skydive. His first ever jump came when his plane was shot down over the Pacific in World War II.

At sea Thursday, the Navy super carrier that bears his name sent a special birthday greeting for the 41st -- that's so cool -- for the 41st president.

BERMAN: You know, we should tell you, we have a big special on CNN. I think it's Sunday night, "41 on 41." It's great stuff on President George H.W. Bush. Make sure you watch that. It's fascinating.

Twelve minutes after the hour right now.

Breaking news overnight. We now know what Donald Sterling's plan may be to keep the Los Angeles Clippers in his hands, and it involves a team of former FBI agents. Wow. We'll explain that, ahead.

ROMANS: Plus, the World Cup kicking off with violent protests in the street. One of CNN's own getting caught in the chaos. We're going to take you there.

BERMAN: And severe storms barreling across the country, and Indra Petersons is tracking what you need to worry about this weekend. That's next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

A big section of the U.S. still facing the threat of severe weather today and throughout the weekend. A line of storms rolled through parts of Texas Thursday, heavy rain and hail.


BERMAN: Look at that. That's at least the size of a tennis ball, maybe the size of a baseball. It fell so hard in the town of Abilene, it actually broke this windshield. Woo, that's nasty.

ROMANS: It's good business for the body shops.

BERMAN: Always looking for the business angle. A possible tornado was also reported in Texas.

ROMANS: Only the business angle if nobody's hurt. That's important.

Thunderstorms that brought and torrential rain left parts of Washington County, Maryland, under water, closing roads and forcing evacuations in the town of Clear Spring.

BERMAN: I know what you're all thinking, what's going happen now for the weekend?

Indra Petersons with the forecast.


You know, it's early in the morning, people are asking if they see rain outside in the northeast and no one is happy about this, but good news is it is making its way out, but, of course, we still have Friday to get to.

Yes, we're looking at showers throughout the day today and even in through the overnight, and that's going to be out there for the next 24 hours, a couple inches especially out through the Northeast. But again, by Saturday it moves out.

Want to see it in the baby version? Through you go, warm front and cold front. First in the morning, lighter showers behind the warm front.

Once you see the cold front make its way through, you'll see heavier showers, but notice day by day, you want to spell it out? It gets better. Saturday morning, maybe some clouds, but especially in through Father's Day, beautiful in through the Northeast.

Into the Southeast, same thing, but keep in mind, there's another side. Look at all the humidity behind the warm front. Once you get behind the cold front, you talk about the humidity going down. So, not only is it going to be dry out there, it's not going to have that sticky factor.

Notice about 60 percent humidity, almost 70 percent as you go through the afternoon-evening hours. By tomorrow, a lot drier. We're going to see that drop where it should be. So, very comfortable as we go through the weekend.

Southeast, keep in mind maybe the U.S. Open forecast, yes, you get some scattered showers, but even there, too, it does improve. I don't know if that helps your golf game, but either way, it looks better out there. Conditions will be improving.

And, of course, through the weekend, we'll watch the threat for severe storms, especially through Sunday. That's a hotspot for Father's Day. But overall, nice for a lot of fathers out there celebrating.

ROMANS: What am I going to get him?

BERMAN: You've got to get on that! Tick, tock, tick, tock.

PETERSONS: Should have done it a long time ago.

ROMANS: I'm taking suggestions, please, @ChristineRomansCNN.

BERMAN: All we want is more sleep, and beer.

ROMANS: Oh, and a hammock?

BERMAN: And a hammock!

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight, Donald Sterling on the offensive. According to multiple media reports, the L.A. Clippers owner has hired a legal team that includes former FBI agents to investigate NBA officials and his fellow owners.

Sources say the primary targets are former commissioner David Stern, current NBA Chief Adam Silver who hit Sterling with a lifetime ban and a $2.5 million fine for racist comments. Sterling is suing the league for $1 billion, trying to block the clippers sale.

BERMAN: At least he's being friendly about the whole thing.

This morning, trying to unravel a mystery. Who would violently attack Arizona priests? Investigators say they have no solid leads in the shooting death of 29-year-old associate pastor Kenneth Walker. Fifty- six-year-old pastor Joseph Terra is in critical but stable condition. Both were attacked Wednesday night, reportedly in their living quarters at Mother of Mercy Mission Catholic Church.

Parishioners and community leaders are just stunned.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can a person assault a man of the cloth? How can a person take a person's life, especially a priest? It's sad.


BERMAN: Even though he was badly injured, Father Terra was able to perform last rites to his dying fellow clergyman and call 911.

ROMANS: It's so sad.

All right. It is day two of the world cup in Brazil. Things got off to a rocky start. Protesters angry over the $11 billion spent on the soccer spectacle, clashed with Brazilian police in Sao Paulo. Police fired their tear gas into the crowd.

CNN's Shasta Darlington and her CNN crew right in the middle of it.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Things are getting pretty crazy here. There was a skirmish a short while ago. The police fired tear gas. They ended up arresting one person. It looks like protesters want to start to get moving, and there's some pushing back, as you can see. We may have -- if they shoot the tear gas -- got to go. It hit my arm.


ROMANS: Wow! Shasta's OK. She suffered a minor cut on her arm. Her producer was hit on the wrist.

BERMAN: Wow. Glad they're OK.

ROMANS: Yes. BERMAN: Coming up, another San Antonio smackdown. The Spurs just one win away from an NBA title, and they get a chance now to do it at home. Joe Carter has the details in the "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: I've got to say, wow! The San Antonio Spurs look amazing. They just dominated the Heat again last night. Now they just need one more win for their fifth NBA title.

ROMANS: Joe Carter has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

Yes, as good as the Spurs looked, the Miami Heat looked just bad last night. They just don't have that big inside presence, and they've been exposed.

And the Spurs, man, they looked crisp with their passes, efficient with their possessions, and from the opening tip, it was a relentless attack. San Antonio built a 22-point lead, and well, the Miami fans headed for their cars. In game three, the Spurs won by 19 points, last night by 21, back-to-back, dominating road wins. And now with a commanding 3-1 lead, they have a chance to close it out at home.


TIM DUNCAN, SAN ANTONIO SPURS: They're a very, very good ball club. Obviously, they're the champs, and they're going to come out and they're going to show a lot of fire and come with a lot of energy. We're going to use our home court and we're going to come with that same focus that we did in these last two games, and hopefully, close it out at home.


CARTER: Well, they certainly have a good chance, because no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA finals. Game five is Sunday night.

Well, after round one of the U.S. Open, Martin Kaymer has the three- shot lead. The German sunk six birdies yesterday and finished his opening round with a 65. Kaymer won the Players Championship on Mother's Day and is, of course, it looking to win the U.S. Open on Father's Day.

Phil Mickelson, by the way, who finished in second place, six times at the U.S. Open, is striking distance. Lefty shot a 70 yesterday. He's five shots behind the leader.

And trending this morning on, after months of build-up, the world's biggest sporting event is finally under way. Brazil opened the World Cup in their home turf, and well, they gave the home fans something to cheer about. Neymar scored twice in the come-from-behind 3-1 win over Croatia. Brazil, of course, is the odds on favorite to win a record sixth world cup.

Team USA, by the way, plays its first game on Monday against Ghana. But coach Jurgen Klinsmann says winning the World Cup is, quote, "not realistic."

We're going to dive deeper into those comments tonight at 10:30 Eastern on "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS," that's right here on CNN. In addition to that, she'll also be interviewing Mark Messier about the 20-year gap between the Rangers' Stanley Cup appearances, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver will also be on the show.


BERMAN: What a lineup on the news there.

World Cup game interesting yesterday. Brazil not dominant, even winning 3-1.

CARTER: I have to agree with you there.

ROMANS: The early call that was so controversial was just --

CARTER: Yes, that dive definitely turned the game, and Croatia certainly didn't have anything after that.

But I've got to agree with you, too, John, Brazil just doesn't look like the team that should go on to win this whole thing. Obviously, Mexico and Cameroon in their group, got to be licking their chops after what they saw yesterday. Definitely a beatable team.

ROMANS: Definitely beatable.

Joe Carter, we'll be glued to the TV, so much to watch over the next few days.

ROMANS: I know.

CARTER: It is a great sports weekend.

ROMANS: And the last time it was so far away, i had to set the alarm to watch these games.

BERMAN: They did it just for you.

Twenty-seven minutes after the hour.

Breaking news overnight: held prisoner by terrorists for five years. And now this morning, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is back in the United States, arrived just hours ago, and we are there live, next.