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Saudi Arabia Builds a Wall To Keep Out Extremists; Muslim "No- Go Zones" Debunked; Shots Near Vice President's Home Americans Buying SUVs as Gas Prices Fall; Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Aired January 19, 2015 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Saudi Arabia is building a wall, a ginormous wall. Look at the plans: it's 600 miles long. There's more than one person in America who finds this rather ironic. The Saudis, they say, are responsible for the rise of terrorist extremists and now they're building a wall to keep them out. Critics say the Saudis indoctrinate children with hatred, fund terrorists, yet enjoy the friendship of Western allies.

Senator Richard Burr summed it up.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You have to quit funding terrorism. You have to quit teaching this to your youth. We've got to make sure that we're after the same future that they are.


COSTELLO: Senator Burr went on to say if Saudi Arabia is not willing to truly help, then there ought to be some type of ramification.

With me to talk about this, CNN global affairs analyst Bobby Ghosh and Terry Strada. She lost her husband in the 9/11 terrorist attack. Welcome to you both.

Bobby, I think "The Daily Beast" put it best and I'm going to read you excerpt from one of their articles. "The Daily Beast" says, "Intolerance is Saudi Arabia's greatest export. The country's highest religious authority called to burn down all churches in Arabia. Saudi textbooks called Jews the descendants of apes and pigs. Christians are forbidden from wearing crosses, building churches, or bringing in Bibles. How does the world react? Total surrender and utter appeasement. Diplomats pay lip service to human rights while tens of billions in dollar in arms are shipped to the kingdom of hate."

Do you agree or is that too strong?

BOBBY GHOSH, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No, no, it's not too strong and nor is it particularly new. But it's very rare to hear a senior American politician like Sneator Burr actually come out and say what he has. Most American politicians are very equivocal when they talk about Saudi Arabia. There's too much bowing and scraping. And, yes, they are the world's largest producers of oil, but they are the world's exporters of this hateful ideology, and they use the wealth from the oil to make that export possible. They reach out to poor communities around the world, poor Muslim communities. They send preachers out preaching this doctrine of Wahhabi or Salafli Islam in which everybody who does not agree with their particular interpretation. And that includes all Muslims who don't agree with their particular interpretation is an apostate or deserves the worst kinds of punishment.

COSTELLO: Terry, you've been fighting to get the administration to declassify 28 pages of the 9/11 Report. You believe it will prove that the Saudis funded the 9/11 terrorists that attacked our country. Do you believe the Saudis have a hand in the extremism that's happening today?

TERRY STRADA, 9/11 WIDOW: Absolutely, yes, I do believe they had a hand in all of what's happening in the world today, the reign of terror that we're witnessing around the world. Back when 9/11 happened, the question was, did these actors act alone? Did Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda act alone? We were told there were no state sponsors of the attack of 9/11. And that is simply not true. Yes, Saudi Arabia funds terrorism and I was very happy to see Senator Burr come out and say that we need to start to take a closer look at the funding of terrorism. That's what we've been saying all along.

And in these 28 pages, as we've been told, over and over again, it points a strong finger to Saudi Arabia and the role they played in funding the 9/11 attacks. Not just in funding them, but in putting in place in our country and around the world, you know, operatives and cells. These sleeper cells that were in our country back before 9/11 that brought the 19 hijackers to our country. We have no reason to believe they had been taken down, that they don't still exist today and that we do need to take a much harder look and stance on terrorism funding.

COSTELLO: Bobby, something else I want to bring up. Saudi Arabia beheaded 10 people in the last two weeks. They're determined to flog and flog again Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for launching a website that suggested a peaceful discussion about religion. Eight U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Saudi officials. I'll read part of it. Quote, "at a time the world is wrestling with violence in the name of religious intolerance, such example of state sanctioned violence helps legitimize the extremist view that violence is a justified response." Do you think that this is a tipping point or will America continue to depend on Saudi Arabia's friendship?

GHOSH: Well, it's not just America, it's the world. Even Saudi Arabia's contribution is a big reason why oil prices are so low. They've kept their production output very high instead of cutting it back in response. And even though the United States is becoming more and more self-sufficient in oil, there are large economies around the world, China, India, Europe, Africa, that depend very heavily on Saudi oil or depend on Saudi to keep the price of oil down. So Saudi Arabia is both an easy target, it's easy to criticize when a country has rules about public flogging or public beheading, it's an easy target. At the same time, it's impossible to really sanction against them because they're so critical to the economies of much of the world.

COSTELLO: That must frustrate the heck out of you, Terry?

STRADA: It frustrates me, yes, and I don't agree with it completely. I think there are things we can do. Right now, besides releasing the 28 pages, we have legislation that we're trying to enact. JASTA (ph), the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. American citizens should have the right to hold accountable in a U.S. court of law those that were behind the attacks, those that give the financial aid, that give the logistical support. So there are things that we can do. We can go -- citizens can go to They can go on to this website and they can call their congressman, they can call their senator, they can say, please, read the 28 pages. Why haven't you read the 28 pages? They're critical to our foreign policy going forward. The American people, the American citizens, the world has a right to know the role that Saudi Arabia plays in funding terrorism. And we can do things to punish them. We can, you know, make them compensate for the damages they've done, either to our country or to the citizens that were harmed and hurt, like my family. So there are things we can and must do and we need to do them sooner than later.

COSTELLO: Bobby, I saw you nodding through some of that. Do you agree?

GHOSH: Well, I have -- it's hard to argue against that. Yes, absolutely, we should do more. Our politicians should have more spine. But if you look at their campaign contributions, I think you will find some Saudi fingerprints in some of the more important politicians in this country. I have -- I'm incredibly sympathetic to your position, but as a professional cynic, I'm not convinced that that will actually happen. I do hope that I'm wrong in this.

STRADA: I hope you're wrong, too, and -- very much so.

COSTELLO: Bobby Ghosh, Terry Strada, thanks to you both. I appreciate it.

STRADA: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM. If the idea of so-called Muslim only zones in Europe have been totally discounted, even called idiotic, why did a Louisiana Republican governor repeat the claim this morning while in Great Britain? We'll talk about that, next.


COSTELLO: Potential presidential contender Bobby Jindal was in London, England, today talking about Islamic extremism. The Louisiana Republican governor continued to make controversial and totally discounted claims that Muslim immigrants have created so-called "no-go zones" across Europe, places where Sharia law rules and non-Muslims are not allowed. A falsehood that thee British prime minister called idiotic.

According to an online copy of the speech, Jindal said the following, quote, "in the west, non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can without regard for the laws of the democratic countries which provided them a new home. It is startling to think that any country would be allowed, even unofficially, for a so-called 'no-go zone'."

Let's talk about this with CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter. He joins me now.

This is interesting because first it's been totally discounted. An American politician is still talking about it. And Fox News apologized for saying such a thing at least four times.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Something really rare on Saturday, we saw this series of apologies on Fox because "no-go zones" have been a narrative on Fox and in rightwing media for a number of days now. Really ever since the initial attack in Paris on January 7th. There's been a lot of talk about this idea. And as you said, it's been largely discredited. France's ambassador to the U.S. wrote on Twitter, he said, yes, there are dangerous neighborhoods in France just like there are in the U.S., but it's because of crime, not because of Islam. And then he wrote one more as well. He was criticizing Fox, I think, in this tweet. He said, "I love these self- proclaimed experts who speak about an imaginary country they call France/" He called these fairy tales.

And that's my personal impression of it too, Carol, is the further away from France or England or Belgium they are, the less, you know, the less clear it is. But I think we can actually play one of those apologies. I think it's worth looking at because they were very serious about this apology.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A correction now. Over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France. Now, this applies especially to discussions of so-called "no-go zones," areas where non-Muslims allegedly aren't allowed in and police supposedly won't go. To be clear, there is no formal destination of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion.


COSTELLO: Well, to Fox's credit, they apologized, right? Strongly, right?

STELTER: Yes, I've got to give them credit for that. Yes, very strongly. But there's a little concern that it plays into this narrative that presents Muslims as the other, as inherently dangerous or -- and that's, I think, where you're getting at with Bobby Jindal as well, there's already criticism of his speech online as he's preparing to give it today.

COSTELLO: Well, you have to wonder why he's giving that speech. Doesn't he listen?

STELTER: I -- well, hopefully we can ask him. I do think there's sometimes a connection between the rhetoric we hear on television and from politicians and then the behavior we see out in the real world. Over the weekend, there was a pro-Islam event happening in Texas and there were hundreds of protesters and it got kind of ugly at times. There were some signs held up that I was embarrassed to see from people essentially saying, go home, leave the United States. Now, that's not necessarily something new, but it is something troubling to see and you've got to wonder sometimes if the rhetoric we hear on television is connected to that.

COSTELLO: I think it is. Brian Stelter, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

STELTER: Thanks.

COSTELLO: Police and the Secret Service looking for the person who opened fire from a vehicle near Vice President Joe Biden's home in Delaware Saturday night. Neither the vice president nor his wife were at the house at the time, which is several hundred yards from the road where the gunshots were fired. CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is here now with some new details.

Good morning, Joe.


Authorities are trying to be as precise as possible with their language on this. What they think they know is that the shots were apparently fired from a car passing Vice President Biden's house on Saturday. It was almost 8:30 at night. The vice president was not in the residence. Secret Service agents were not able to find any evidence that the rounds actually even hit the house. We do know that multiple shots were fired. They were heard by Secret Service agents that were on site and those shots, apparently as you said, were fired from a distance away.

Any suspects? No. There was a guy on the scene who apparently got locked up for resisting arrest at the time, but authorities say that did not have anything to do with the shooting. We also know that the vice president, as well as President Obama, were both briefed on the situation. So that investigation is ongoing, Carol.

COSTELLO: Is it possible that the gunman did not know that was Joe Biden's house?

JOHNS: Just anybody's guess, you know, at -- these things happen from time-to-time and it's very difficult for Secret Service or police to get a handle on it if they can't find rounds that actually hit the house. What was different here is that agents on scene actually heard the noise of the shots, so they know the shots were fired. But as to the motivation, anybody's guess at this stage. COSTELLO: All right, Joe Johns reporting live for us this morning.

Thank you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, gone are the wallet-wrenching days at the pump. Big trucks and SUVs, they're back. But could a new purchase come back to haunt you? Christine Romans is here.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Carol, how quickly we forget, right? As gas prices fall, the sales of big, big trucks and SUVs are rising. I'll tell you what it means for your pocketbook.


COSTELLO: Indonesian investigators looking into the crash of Flight 8501 say they have found no signs that a terrorist act brought down the plane. That's according to Reuters. Investigators say they have listened to the entire flight recording and heard nothing, nothing to indicate foul play or an explosion A preliminary report on the crash could be ready by next week; the full report , though, could take a year.

They were once written off the map: oversized gas-guzzling SUVs, but it seems more Americans are now rekindling that old flame. And no it's surprise what's fueling that -- cheap gas prices. The national average is now just pennies away from hitting the $2 mark. Filling up across the country, you're looking at an average of $2.06. That's according to AAA. Wow. But are consumers jumping the gun with buying these big giant SUVs? Christine Romans has been looking into that.

ROMANS: Carol, they are buying the big trucks and the SUVs once again. How quickly we forget. These low gas prices are saving the typical driver about $550 this year. But instead of pocketing that money, drivers are going bigger.


ROMANS (on camera): So this is what's coming off the lot.

(voice-over): Gas prices are plummeting, down more than $1.50 a gallon since the summer peak in June. And those low prices are sending people shopping for trucks and SUVs.

(on camera): Big trucks, SUVs are back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big cars are back. Our truck market, which includes the SUVs, has really picked up over the last six months.

ROMANS (voice-over): SUV and crossover sales jumped almost 12 percent this year. Even stronger sales expected this year.

STEPHEN CANNON, CEO, MERCEDES-BENZ USA: There's a love affair with SUVs in the United States.

ROMANS (on camera): This is 2015 Suburban. This has a 31-gallon gas tank. Today, to fill this up, $62 at $2 a gallon. A year ago, it would have been $112. That's a very big difference in the economics of driving a very big car.

(voice-over): What's not moving, smaller hybrid and electric car sales fell 8.8 percent last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The heat is off the hybrids; the heat is off the smaller cars at this moment.

ROMANS (on camera): How come, do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the majority of the population, they need a larger car.

ROMANS (voice-over): But is the rush to go big shortsighted?

(on camera): How short is our memory for gas prices?

TOM KLOZA, ENERGY ANALYST: You know, that disturbs me. I think that when you purchase a vehicle, you should do it responsibly. And it is irresponsible just to sort of want to drive in this big huge thing. And it will come back to bite us in the keister at some point down the road.

ROMANS (voice-over): Still, these SUVs are not the pre-recession gas guzzlers. The average SUV is 26 percent more fuel efficient than those sold eight years ago.

MARK FIELDS, CEO, FORD MOTORSS: Customers, no matter what size of vehicle they want, they want great fuel economy.

CANNON: The bottom line is that, whether gas prices move up 50 cents or a dollar, people are still buying SUVs.

ROMANS: Still buying SUVs as memories of high gas prices fade into the rearview mirror.


ROMANS (on camera): And they are buying cars again, Carol. I mean, that's one sign of an economy that's coming back. One thing to keep in mind, the president passed ambitious fuel economy standards carmakers are going to have to meet in the next decade. Those targets could be difficult to hit if this love affair with SUVs continues. It also puts a lot of pressure on the automakers to make these things more fuel efficient.

COSTELLO: So what is it with these gigantic cars? Because I know that families need the bigger car, but we're talking gigantic ones.

ROMANS: Look, if it doesn't cost you $200 to fuel it up, people feel like maybe they could -- maybe they want the bigger car. It's interesting, because at the dealership we were, the Cheverolet dealership we were, they told us that the big trucks, the commercial trucks are really flying off the lot too, and that's a good sign. That means small business owners and businesses are feeling good enough about things that they're spending $55,000, $60,000 for a really big car or a really big truck. That's a good sign about the economy. But I worry if gas prices go up in a year or two years, people are going to have to spend a lot more money to fill them up.

COSTELLO: Well, then we'll start the process all over again.

ROMANS: Yes, we will.

COSTELLO: As we do as Americans. Christine Romans, many thanks.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The nation pauses to reflect on his legacy in the middle of today's modern civil rights movement. Remarks from Vice President Joe Biden next.


COSTELLO: All right. Let's head out to Yemen right now because there's some disturbing information coming out of that country. The presidential palace is now under attack by rebels, rebels who are backed by Iran. Now, the government is of course unstable here and these rebels are trying to topple the government altogether, which would make it very difficult for the United States and other countries to fight terrorist groups like al Qaeda within Yemen.

Also, the U.S. embassy in Yemen is being guarded by, I don't know, a couple hundred U.S. Marines. They're deciding now whether to evacuate diplomats or not. As far as I know, no decision has been made, but as you can see the violence is increasing in Yemen and things are at a dangerous point. We'll take you live to Yemen in the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM.

Also in the news this morning, arm in arm with slain NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, this week's cover of "The New Yorker" is joining with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy with the modern civil rights moment happening today. Entitled "The Dream of Reconciliation," you can also see the depiction of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown marching behind the late reverend. But can these two struggles really be reconciled? In the wake of social media and a growing generation gap, what does the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. look like today?

"Saturday Night Live" tackled the issue this weekend.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a big movie that came out this week about you. It's called "Selma" and it looks great. Like, historical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I would pay 50 cents to see that. I guess that one will be nominated for a lot of Oscars, right? Oh, that mountain is getting really high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, man. Come on, what you did in Selma and stuff is still going on today. There were big protests about police violence just this year. Like, thousands of people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's good. And who led these protests? Who speaks for diversity today? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, maybe Macklemore?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Macklemore? Is he another black Hawaiian (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, no. He's from Seattle. He's like the whitest dude on earth. The whitest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mountain! And these protests, did you join them? Like, are you part of the movement?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I definitely protested. It's really easy now. You Just take your phone here. Push in Twitter button, all right. Then type in #iamferguson or #wereallblack, or #blessed and then you're done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how you protest?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my god, that mountain is miles away.


COSTELLO: You have to laugh or you cry. Regardless of what tone may be taken today, as the nation commemorates his life, we take time to look at the progress that's been made in the civil rights movement in this country. That was the theme of an event Vice President Joe Biden is attending this morning.

Here's what the vice president had to say.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know when you send your children, your grandchildren, out into the world, you worry about them. Are they going to be safe? Will they be treated fairly? Will they be respected? Can you trust the world with the person you love so much as you open that door?

That's the prayer of every person, every parent, every grandparent, black and white throughout this nation. When your child walks out that door, you have enough to fear, you have enough to contend with -- the possibility that they may be in an accident, an automobile accident. They may fall victim to an act of crime or hit with a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting from some gangbanger.

But in too many neighborhoods in this country, that fear is compounded by the fear that your child may be presumed to be a gang member, or a suspect, or someone -- someone with authority looking at that child and seeing only a profile, not an individual. And you fear what can happen when your grandchild is seen as a threat instead of a great benefit to society you know that child is going to be.

Dr. King wrote, and I quote, "Men often hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they do not know each other. They do not know each other because they cannot communicate. And they cannot communicate because they are separated."

We have to bridge that separation, particularly society as a whole, but particularly today between police and the community that exists in some places.



COSTELLO: You're looking at Dr. King's crypt in Atlanta. King, who was murdered in 1968, would have been 86 years old today.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.