(CNN Student News) -- October 3, 2007
Blackwater USA - Examine the role of private U.S. security contractors in Iraq.
Goin' Around the World - Meet a traveler who's circumnavigated the globe under his own power.
Queen for a Day - Discuss a Missouri high school's non-traditional homecoming queen.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CARL AZUZ, CNN STUDENT NEWS ANCHOR: Welcome to a brand new edition of CNN Student News, your commercial-free source for news for the classroom. From the CNN Center, I'm Carl Azuz.
AZUZ: First up today, a congressional committee is looking at the role some Americans are playing in Iraq. Now, when we talk about the people who are providing security in the Middle East nation, we're usually discussing the U.S. military. But obviously they're not the only Americans who are there. About 25,000 security contractors are working in Iraq. The U.S. government pays these private firms to protect people and buildings in dangerous areas. One of these organizations, Blackwater USA, has come under fire recently. And yesterday, the company's owner testified to Congress. John Lorinc has more on the controversy surrounding Blackwater.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LORINC, CNN REPORTER: Is Blackwater trigger-happy? That's how some critics refer to the private security contractor that does a lot of work for the U.S. government in Iraq.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CALIFORNIA), OVERSIGHT CHAIRMAN: Is the government doing enough to hold Blackwater accountable for alleged misconduct?
LORINC: Here's what's at issue: There was a shooting last month in Baghdad, in which several Iraqi civilians were killed. Blackwater says its employees, on escort duty for American diplomats, were responding to an insurgent attack. The contractor's top gun went on the defensive on Capitol Hill, saying he believes his company acted appropriately.
ERIK PRINCE, BLACKWATER CEO: An incident occurs typically when our men fear for their life, they're not able to extract themselves from the situation, they have to use sufficient defensive fire to get off the X, to get off that place where the bad guys have tried to kill Americans that day.
LORINC: Virginia Congressman Tom Davis pointed out there's not a lot of hard, historical data on contractor performance.
REP. TOM DAVIS, (R-VIRGINIA): So it's impossible to know if one company's rate of weapons-related incidents is the product of a dangerous cowboy culture or the predictable result of conducting higher-risk missions.
LORINC: And there's a bigger picture to all this: Is the U.S. government relying too much on private contractors? And, could the military do the job at a lower cost? For CNN Student News, I'm John Lorinc.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AZUZ: So who are these private security contractors that are working in Iraq? And how much are they being paid for the work that they do there? Don Lemon gives us some background information on Blackwater and other contractors in this Fact Check.
DON LEMON, CNN REPORTER: They are civilians, many highly trained, just out of the military. The driving force for most: combat and high salaries, up to $200,000 a year for some. These guns for hire are employed by private security firms in the United States and abroad. Their bosses are fighting tooth and nail for the biggest share they can get in a $2.5 billion global industry. Blackwater USA is the most controversial right now, but it's just one of nearly 30 security firms with some 25,000 contractors on the ground in Iraq alone. They've also operated in Afghanistan and such other far-flung places as Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone. About 7,300 security contractors are working for the Pentagon, guarding key fixed locations and other jobs. In addition, some 1,200 security contractors from Blackwater and two other U.S.-based security firms are working for the State Department, providing security for diplomats. Critics brand them as mercenaries who conduct businesses outside established military rules of engagement or the laws of their host country. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the contractors allow U.S. troops to focus on combat operations.
Word to the Wise
AZUZ: A Word to the Wise...
circumnavigate (verb) to go completely around something
AZUZ: In this case, the thing in question is the globe. People have circumnavigated the Earth in ships, planes, balloons; Phileas Fogg even famously finished the feat in 80 days! Ok, that one was in a book. But Neil Connery introduces us to a globetrotter whose circumnavigation took a lot longer, and with good reason: No planes, trains or automobiles allowed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL CONNERY, ITN REPORTER: The country Jason Lewis left 13 years ago is a very different place to the one he's returned to. In 1994, John Major was prime minister Wet Wet Wet's single "Love is All Around" was number one and the average house price was 50,000 pounds. After all the challenges that Jason has overcome on his grueling journey, powering himself around the world using his own strength, there were just a few more obstacles to navigate around as he headed into Dover.
JASON LEWIS, ADVENTURER: I can see the White Cliffs of Dover over there; I'm basically peddling toward them right now. And, um, this sort of theoretical, theoretical place on the map that I've been peddling towards for all these years, England, is now in my sights, and it's getting bigger by the hour, by the minute. It's very exciting.
CONNERY: Jason's journey began at the age of 26, when he set off on his 46,000 mile trip from Greenwich. He cycled across Europe in his bid to become the first man to circumnavigate the planet using only human power, crossed the Atlantic in his 26-foot pedal boat Moksha and traveled across America on roller blades. Yesterday, the 40-year-old arrived in Dover, having set off from Cape Gris Nez, near Calais; the last leg of his journey, which he'll complete by peddling up the Thames.
LEWIS: That simple idea of circumnavigating the world, using only just the power of the human body and mind and spirit, has always fascinated me. You know it's been done by sailing boats, of course, and motor boats and everything like this, but no one has done it just using their own body.
CONNERY: There are still a few days left to make it to London, but for now, Jason is relieved to be near journey's end. So, after 13 years, Jason Lewis finally arrives back in Britain after his epic, solo-powered global circumnavigation. Much has changed while he's been away, but at least he's come back to find the British weather is, well, pretty much the same. Neil Connery, ITV News, Dover.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AZUZ: Time for the Shoutout! Whose ship was the first to sail around the world? Think you know it, shout it out! Was it: A) Ferdinand Magellan, B) Vasco Núñez de Balboa, C) Christopher Columbus or D) Leif Eriksson? Three seconds on the clock -- GO! Even though Ferdinand Magellan didn't survive the voyage, one of his ships did, so he's credited with leading the first circumnavigation of the globe. That's your answer and that's your Shoutout!
AZUZ: Turning from travels to traditions now. Every autumn, Homecoming sweeps through high schools across the country. You might even be in the midst of it right now. Among the dances and football games, there's usually a queen to be crowned. Well, Kelley Hoskins of affiliate KPLR takes us to a school in Missouri where the Homecoming Queen looks more like a king.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLEY HOSKINS, REPORTER: Today, University City High School held its traditional Homecoming parade and football game. But when it came time to announce the title of king and queen, the tradition changed.
ANNOUNCER: Aaron Zaggy, the 2007 Homecoming Queen.
AARON ZAGGY, HOMECOMING QUEEN: One of my friends came up to me and he said, "Why don't you run for Homecoming Queen?" I was like, "OK." And if you knew me, I'm a joker, so it was all for fun.
HOSKINS: Aaron entered the contest with the support of his classmates and parents, never expecting to win.
ZAGGY: I just hung up a couple of posters and just had fun with it.
HOSKINS: The University City School Board agreed to allow Aaron to run because they thought it was just a school prank. But after the votes were in and tallied, Aaron was the official winner by 21 votes. They now say that it's a lesson learned to all voters.
DEPHNE DORSEY, UNIVERSITY CITY HIGH SCHOOL: A lot of these seniors are going to be voting in next year's general election, and so the lesson that they are learning is that whatever you do at the voting polls could have a lasting impact.
HOSKINS: Jennifer Bracy was Homecoming Queen twenty years ago and is upset the board allowed Aaron to actually run.
JENNIFER BRACY, UNIVERSITY CITY HIGH SCHOOL ALUM: There is a fine line you should draw, and the leadership needs to take a stand. And it should not have gotten this far. This is a total humiliation on the school district.
HOSKINS: Jehmela Wilson ran for Homecoming Queen against Aaron and says she will not allow the outcome to spoil her senior memories.
JEHMELA WILSON: You can't get mad about it. People voted for it. Apparently, people thought it would be funny. So they voted, and it is what it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AZUZ: Three opinions offered in that report. And now, we want to hear yours. Should Aaron be the Homecoming Queen? Remember, he was elected, but he's also a guy! So log on to CNNStudentNews.com, head to our blog and shout out your comments today!
Before We Go
AZUZ: In New Bremen, Ohio, they take their giant pumpkins very seriously. Of course what they do with those pumpkins isn't quite as grim, unless this happens to be your car. Two years ago, they baked the giant gourds into the world's biggest pumpkin pie. And last year, they used the enormous edibles to do some remodeling work on a few volunteered vehicles. So what idea did they float for this year's festival? A boat race of sorts. Hollow out some giant pumpkins and attach boat motors, and you've got yourself a Great Pumpkin Regatta, assuming the racers can keep their vegetation-based vessels afloat.
AZUZ: And that's where we sail on out of here for today. But we'll see you again tomorrow for more CNN Student News. Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm Carl Azuz. E-mail to a friend