Thursday, September 21, 2006
Safe at home, for now
Less than ten minutes before I met Private First Class Justin Watt, military attorneys privately pulled him aside to remind him not to talk about the case that put his name in headlines. That gesture suggested how important Watt has become to the Army's investigation and prosecution of five soldiers who are suspected in a disturbingly violent crime in Iraq.
The incident happened earlier this year where Watt's company of the 101st Airborne patrolled and manned checkpoints in the Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. In a place where violent acts are commonplace, this crime was particularly brutal and disturbing. An Iraqi family had been murdered in their own home, the 14 year old daughter was raped, shot in the head and her body was burned. Watt was horrified to learn the killers could have been some of his own brothers in arms.
Reporting the soldiers was not easy to do. Watt, like his fellow soldiers lived and died by an unwritten code of loyalty and trust. His father Rick told me that Justin was so committed to his "brothers" that he turned down a chance at a holiday leave and once refused to come home for his grandfather's funeral. At a military hearing last month Watt said he came forward after hearing stories about what had happened from members of his platoon. He testified 'If you have the power to make something right, you should do it.'
After his testimony Watt reported back to the 101st. He and his parents were concerned about retaliation from within the ranks. Watt had put himself in the uneasy position of wondering if the soldier he was trusting to watch his back might harbor some resentment or feelings of betrayal. Already serving in some of the most arduous conditions in Iraq, this kind of problem could easily get him killed.
My crew and I were just a few feet away Wednesday morning when Watt came home with hundreds of other weary soldiers who have completed their tours in Iraq, to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and into the arms of his parents.
Tonight on 360 you'll see the love and support Justin is getting from his family, and their relief that he is safe at home, while they wait and wonder what the two years he has left in the army might bring.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
It's an odd kind of President's Day at CNN today. President Bush and Iranian President Ahmadinenjad. Wolf Blitzer talked to President Bush for the Situation Room, and later tonight on 360 Anderson interviews Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In his interview, Wolf asked Bush the straightforward question: Why not just meet with the Iranian president since they were both in New York? If averting a nuclear standoff is so important, and who thinks it isn't, then why don't they simply meet face-to-face? Anderson will get Ahmadinejad's reaction to that, and will ask him about his speech to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday.
It looks like the two leaders are a long way from meeting face-to-face, so our two interviews, shot just hours apart, are as close as we're going to get to them addressing each other directly.
Though he has been far more strident in the past, calling for the eradication of Israel, for example, Ahmadinejad was unflinching in front of the United Nations. Bush says you've got to assume he means what he says. In a world at war, every word counts. What do you want to hear from Iran's president tonight?
Monday, September 18, 2006
A twisted, savage murder
If you don't know the story of the Black Dahlia murder, you need to ask yourself this: Do I really WANT to know?
The reason that Los Angeles crime buffs still obsess over this unsolved murder after 59 years and the reason it still inspires books, movies, conspiracy theories and Web sites is this: The murder was so twisted, so bizarre, so savage, that once you've heard about it, you can't forget it.
Here is the sanitized version: On January 15, 1947, the body of 22-year-old aspiring actress Elizabeth Short was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. The body had been cleanly cut in half at the waist and drained of blood; she had been beaten and tortured, perhaps for several days, and her body was mutilated in unspeakable ways. If you must know more, there is plenty on the web; you can try lmharnisch.com
For tonight's story for AC360, we spoke at length to a retired LAPD detective who believes he has solved the crime, and has convinced a lot of people he is right.
Even that part of the story is twisted: Steve Hodel believes the killer was his father, a prominent doctor who died in 1999.
Hodel came to this conclusion only after the father died and left behind a small photo album containing two mysterious pictures, Hodel believes they depict Elizabeth Short. There is more: his father was trained in surgery; many believe it would have taken a surgeon to cut the body in half so cleanly, and his father's handwriting closely matches that on notes the police received in the 1940s from a main claiming to be the killer. The father's specialty was venereal disease, and because he treated LA's most prominent citizens, he was untouchable, just the kind of man who could get away with murder, the son says. He lays out his case in a widely praised book, 'Black Dahlia Avenger.'
When Hodel's book came out in paperback in 2004, James Ellroy who wrote 'The Black Dahlia' in 1987 said in the book's foreward, 'Now we know who killed her and why.'
But for reasons he won't now discuss, Ellroy has changed his mind, and made it clear he no longer endorses the Hodel theory. When I went to hear Ellroy speak in Los Angeles last week, he started his talk with these words of warning: 'One topic is forbidden: Who really killed Elizabeth Short. It's un-provable across the board. I will not discuss it under any circumstances.'