Friday, November 17, 2006
'Comic Relief' on Katrina, politics and Mickey Mouse
This video is from tonight's "360" and features the comedians of "Comic Relief" -- Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. They got together with Anderson to discuss politics, comedy and why they are raising money for Katrina victims. A full hour with these comedians airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET.
Hot Links: Combat Hospital
The 11 p.m. hour of tonight's "360" will be devoted to a CNN special report on the U.S. military's main combat hospital in Iraq. The following link contains brief bios of the hospital staff, some video clips from the special report and an audio slideshow. One word of caution: Viewer discretion is advised.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Jihadist spied on al Qaeda for western governments
The man I'm interviewing, "Omar Nasiri," keeps his real name a secret. He does so, he says, in order to protect himself from all the people he's double-crossed over his years as a Western spy and a jihadist.
We meet in a small upscale Parisian hotel. It's comfortable, but Nasiri is not. He's come to tell me about his new book "Inside the Jihad," which is about his life spying inside al Qaeda.
We couldn't film his face, because although he claims to support a global jihad, or holy war, to drive the United States out of Iraq and Afghanistan, he says he has sold so many jihadi secrets to French, British, and then German intelligence agencies that he believes most jihadists would kill him if they could.
Our interview is fragmented. He needs to smoke -- a lot -- and his publisher tells me he's still raw emotionally. My questions, she says, probe events he still hasn't come to terms with, like a bombing in Algeria that killed more than 40 people, including women and children.
Nasiri may have driven the explosives that were ultimately used in the bombing from Europe to Morocco, but he can't be sure. The GIA, an Algerian militant group, was directly responsible for the bombing.
Nasiri is clearly conflicted. He's the only jihadi I've met who likes booze.
I wanted to understand him, get at his motivations. He spied, he says, to protect his family. Algerian militants had moved into his family's home in Belgium at the invitation of some of his brothers. They planned attacks from there and stored weapons in the house.
Nasiri figured that if the house got raided his mother and younger brother, who he says was not aligned with the militants, would wind up in jail, so he started spying to forestall a raid.
But that was in the beginning. Once he proved his worth, the Moroccan borm Nasiri says French intelligence officials sent him to infiltrate al Qaeda's Afghan training camps.
He says he's met senior al Qaeda leaders, although not Osama Bin Laden, and trained on explosives, poisons and combat. And he has a warning for the West -- pulling out of Iraq won't stop the global jihad.
He doesn't sound angry, more like someone who thinks he's handing out useful advice.
Hot Links: Vietnam, comics and Katrina
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
U.S. filmmaker describes Iraq imprisonment
Cyrus Kar, an Iranian-American, traveled to Iraq in the middle of the war to shoot a documentary about Cyrus the Great, the Persian conqueror. But the Los Angeles-based filmmaker came back from Iraq with a very different story than the one he set out to tell.
A few days after arriving in Iraq, Kar got into a taxicab that was later stopped at a checkpoint and searched. Iraqi police found three dozen washing machine timers. Those, as you know, are widely used in Iraq to trigger IEDs or roadside bombs. Kar says he didn't know the timers were in the cab and that he has no idea how they got there. He says the cab driver later admitted they were his.
Kar was arrested by Iraqi Security Forces and then handed over to U.S. troops. Even though Kar showed his U.S. passport and his Navy veteran's card to the U.S. troops, he was still taken to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and then to Camp Cropper, where he was thrown into solitary confinement for nearly two months. (Camp Cropper, by the way, that's the same prison where Saddam Hussein is being held) Kar told me American troops referred to him as the "American Terrorist" and nearly suffocated him by putting a hood over his head. Also, he says he was left to bake for hours in a cage in 120 degree heat.
Here is Kar's question: Why did it take the U.S. government and the FBI 55 days (53 of them in solitary) to figure out Kar was innocent? He is now suing U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking military officials for violating his civil rights. It's the first case of its kind.
The Pentagon says Kar was "treated fairly and humanely in accord with the Geneva Convention." Kar begs to differ.
Hot Links: Iraq solutions, Al Qaeda issues
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Cooper on homeless Iraq veterans
Hot Links: Iraq, Katrina
Monday, November 13, 2006
Mother fears driving America's streets
Take a minute and imagine what it must feel like to think every piece of trash on the side of the road or every discarded soda can could be an improvised explosive device. Such is life for a mother of two I met recently in suburban Illinois.
Keri Christensen served in Iraq with the Army National Guard. She has been back for a year and still panics when she takes her kids for a ride in the family minivan. Keri's job in Iraq was to haul tanks and heavy equipment from Kuwait to Iraq. She had to scan the roads regularly for roadside bombs to help keep the convoy safe. That fear has stuck with her.
She says she was diagnosed in Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. As many as one in seven soldiers returning from Iraq could have it, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Keri and her husband Brian told me she didn't have any mental health issues before deploying to Iraq. But she says that since she's been back she's had imaginary conversations with her husband, run for cover at the sound of a neighbor's nail gun (he was doing home construction), and burst into tears during fireworks at Disneyland because it reminded her of explosions in Iraq.
Keri is getting therapy, but says her condition hasn't improved much. She says she has terrible nightmares and is taking both anti-depressants and sleep aids. Since returning from Iraq, Keri has been fighting her own war at home, which like the one she left behind, has no easy end in sight.
Young veterans struggle to find jobs
"The nation's vets leave one war to fight another one at home," Iraq war veteran Josh Hopper wrote to me in an e-mail. The war at home he was referring to was not the battle to rehabilitate his body from a severe wound, or the fight to restore his mind from psychological trauma, but his war to find work.
Hopper and many other young veterans like him are risking their lives overseas, but once they leave the military, they are discovering that employers back home don't always value their skills. In 2005, the unemployment rate for veterans age 20-to-24 was almost double the rate for non-veterans in the same age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We wanted to know why.
- One former Marine told me some employers saw the years he spent serving his country as "taking a few years off."
- The Department of Veterans Affairs suspects some employers can't see how military experience can translate to the working world.
- A veteran's issues expert even claims that some employers are scared to hire veterans.
In our report tonight, we'll look into what the military is doing to help veterans get jobs and why some veterans say that for many employers -- "Support Our Troops" -- doesn't seem to include hiring veterans so they can support themselves.
Husband, wife receive Purple Hearts
What do you do if you are a husband and wife who are both in the military, who are both going to get orders to go to Iraq, but who also have children? In most cases, what happens is that the couple will make sure they don't go at the same time, so one parent can take care of the kids. And in almost all cases, the Pentagon will oblige, recognizing the hardship involved. But sometimes the issue is more complicated than that.
For tonight's program, we decided to do a story on married parents who went to Iraq at the same time instead of serving separately. And we found a most interesting example. Eric and Heidi Erickson are from Central City, Nebraska. They are both in the Army Reserve and they have three children; boys who are 10 and 4, and a girl who is 8.
Heidi is a gun truck driver and got her orders to go before Eric, who drives a truck that hauls armor. They realized if she went, and then Eric went after she came home, they wouldn't see each other for two-to-three years. But then they thought about the fact that all four grandparents live in the same small town. And if they went to Iraq together, they could both be home in about a year, and perhaps, occasionally see each other in Iraq. So they made the decision to go.
But there was problem -- both husband and wife were wounded in separate incidents.
On a mission to the front lines, Eric encountered massive gunfire. The blasts shattered his eardrums. He did not tell his family back in Nebraska, and although he regularly communicated with his wife in Iraq, he didn't want her to worry, so he didn't tell her either. Meanwhile, 12 days later, when Heidi was driving her truck, a vehicle on the side of the road next to her blew up. The explosion sprayed glass and wreckage, lacerating her face. Heidi too had to go to the hospital, and also told no family members. For weeks, the husband didn't know the wife was hurt and the wife didn't know the husband was hurt.
They both recovered and ultimately went home. Eric first; then Heidi. They had tearful reunions with the children they love so much, and their parents. Just last month, both of them received Purple Heart awards.
Eric and Heidi told us that although it was hard to leave their children, they felt it was the right decision for them because of the care the children's grandparents could provide. Nevertheless, they weren't surprised when their three children told us that not only did they miss their parents, but they were also scared.
We were particularly touched when talking to their daughter Taylor. The little girl had a big smile on her face when we started our conversation. She was so glad her parents were back home and that her life was back to normal. But suddenly, tears just started flowing down her face. I asked her why, and she told us it was because of her memories of her mommy and daddy being away.
Eric and Heidi may have been wounded, but they are still active members of the Army Reserve. And interestingly, they say they both expect to be called back to duty in Iraq. What will they do when that happens? They told me they believe the war is a noble cause, and they say they are ready to serve their country in Iraq once again. I expected that answer from this patriotic couple. But I wasn't sure what they would say to me when I asked if they would both go together again. Their answer was "yes."
The Iraq war's signature injury
I had never heard of a "polytrauma"center until I received some background information on just such a facility in Palo Alto, California.
Just like it sounds, a polytrauma center is for people who have serious injuries on multiple parts of their body, including their brain. There are four polytrauma centers in the United States, and they were created to deal with the horrific kinds of injuries our soldiers are sustaining in Iraq. The truth is that before Iraq there wasn't a huge need for these centers. In past wars, soldiers would have died from most kinds of polytrauma. However, thanks to incredible advancements in battlefield medicine and body armor, seriously wounded soldiers able to survive much more often than in the past.
During my visit to Palo Alto, I met two people who represent what some are calling the "signature injury" of the war caused by the "signature weapon." Both have traumatic brain injury caused by IEDs -- improvised explosive devices. The IEDs are usually hidden and strike without warning. It surprised me that sometimes victims don't even realize they've been badly hurt. Indeed, that was the case of one of the men we profiled. The IED created a pressure wave that rattled his brain against his skull. He eventually returned home not realizing there was anything wrong, until he started noticing he was having problems with his memory.
The federal government sometimes gets criticized for its treatment toward veterans and injured soldiers. However, the center in Palo Alto is a shining example of what the government does well. Its facilities are top notch and the staff is highly competent. Most important, however, the wounded soldiers told me how wonderful they're being treated during their time of need.
Hot Links: Iraq and politics