Friday, December 01, 2006
Spy murder mystery: The medical questions
Besides the Pope's trip to Turkey and President Bush's quick visit to meet with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki, the dominant story of the week has been the poisoning of the former KGB agent in London. That mystery just keeps deepening.
As British security agents continue their investigation, we now know of others who were also contaminated by the exotic murder weapon -- the radioactive isotope polonium-210 -- including Alexander Litvinenko's wife.
We are preparing an hour-long special on this to air Monday at 10 p.m. We'll have reports from London, the United States, Italy and Russia. But the story that most intrigues me right now will come from our "360" MD, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Any good murder mystery -- and this is a good one -- spends much time examining suspects and motives. But in this story, perhaps the strange murder weapon itself could prove to be the most fascinating angle. And that's what Sanjay, with his tremendous medical expertise, will examine. Consider some of the questions he'll explore:
1. Why use polonium as murder weapon? Clearly, there are many ways to poison or kill someone, most far less risky and perhaps even more effective, so the mystery is, why use it? Is it 100 percent effective? Does the agonizing nature of the death send a message?
2. Polonium (that concentration, anyway) is extremely rare, so perhaps they figured toxicology and pathology reports would not screen for it, would not find it?
3. How in the world did the docs figure out what it was? What kind of medical and toxicological screening would you need to ferret out the polonium?
4. What is the risk to the assassin? Today's news reports indicate there is a good chance the assassin got it on him or herself. What is the assassin's risk factor?
Our teams are working through the weekend on this. So if you have thoughts or advice on these questions, please "blog" us. We'd love your help.
Hot sauce for FEMA
We first got wind of more problems with FEMA's Gulf Coast reconstruction effort from the office of Lousiana Senator Mary Landrieu. What her people told us was depressingly familiar -- that beset by mistakes and indecision, FEMA was trying to back out of commitments it had made to relocate some flood-damaged schools to higher ground.
When we got down to Iberia and Vermillion parishes, about two hours west of New Orleans in bayou country, we got an earful from local school officials.
Turns out FEMA had spent the last year assuring them that they'd get new schools, then turned around and took it back. Apparently the schools weren't damaged enough to satisfy one of FEMA's rules. Rather than relocate, they'd have to rebuild in the flood zones.
The problem is at least one district, taking FEMA's original promise at face value, had already bought some land. Another district was well into the planning stages when FEMA put the brakes on.
As you can see by our report, the locals weren't about to let FEMA off the hook, and neither was Landrieu. The upshot -- FEMA is now looking for ways to make good, and those kids, who have been basically camping out in foster schools for a year, may end up wth their new schools after all.
Take a look at our report (viewable above), and if you know of any other instances where FEMA is trying to pull out of commitments made, let us know. We'd also love to get your tips for other "Keeping them honest" stories we should chase ... on any subject. We'll check them out.
Hot Links: Stories we're following today
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Does media = pack animals?
If anyone ever accused the media of behaving like pack animals, they would be right. Big news events like the Amman summit are like our watering hole. Every major news network seems represented here, and even though Amman is a big, bustling Arab city, nearly all of us are broadcasting from exactly the same hotel ... on the same floor ... with the same backdrop.
Watch all the newscasts tonight and you'll notice the newly annointed "most popular mosque in the world" over everyone's shoulder. To the right of Anderson's anchor position, there's Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson broadcasting from room balconies right next to each other. I doubt they have adjoining rooms.
New York City is seven hours behind Amman, and that time difference keeps everyone's schedules running nearly 24 hours a day over here. When Anderson goes off the air at midnight ET, the sun here is rising. That means people, and their stories, are waking up.
We usually have a lot of adrenaline built up just after the show, so we'll immediately go out and start working on the next night's story, but morning quickly turns to afternoon and that means our colleagues in New York are waking up ... and we have yet to sleep. The lack of rest catches up with everyone, but ultimately we all feel lucky to be here, to see and report on how this important story unfolds.
We'll all talk about the stories on the plane ride home. Everyone's probably booked on the same flight.
The other side of the Muslim world
It's been a day of startling imagery, and not-so-startling diplomacy.
In Istanbul, Turkey, where we spent the start of the week, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Blue Mosque. He is only the second pope ever to set foot inside a mosque, and while this trip has lacked much of the pageantry and passion of a John Paul II papal trip, it was historic and important.
I read your comments earlier in the week about what you wanted and expected to hear from this Pope in Turkey, and I'm curious to hear how you think the trip went. Will it improve relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church? What about between Christians and Muslims?
One of the things I think we really saw in Turkey was a side of the Muslim world we rarely focus on. The extremists so often dominate our coverage that it's easy to think they are the majority of Muslims, when certainly that is not the case around the world, and especially not in Turkey.
We are in Amman, Jordan, again tonight, covering this day of diplomacy. If anyone expected something new to come out of the meeting between President Bush and Iraq Prime Minister al-Maliki, then today would have disappointed them.
While there continues to be talk of stepping up the training of Iraqi security forces, there does not seem to be any new plan or strategy. We learned more details about what the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group is going to propose, but again, the prospects for major change seem to be slim right now.
We'll be covering all the day's developments tonight. We'll also discuss Iraq and the Middle East with former President Jimmy Carter. See you tonight from Amman.
Hot Links: Iraq pullback
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Debating Iraq: Send more troops?
If this were poker, this would be the interesting part: You've got your cards, the bets are climbing, and you've got to decide whether to raise or fold.
That is essentially where the United States stands now in regard to increasing the number of troops in Iraq.
On one side are proponents, like Senator John McCain, who have said doggedly for several years that the force of 140,000 or so troops in Iraq is simply not enough to stabilize the country and ensure lasting victory. History is on their side. According to the Brookings Institution, if we look at the kind of force it has taken to stabilize other countries after war, Iraq probably requires a minimum of 400,000 American troops.
The problem is, we just don't have that many extra troops sitting around.
Some critics say at best America could put 20,000 or 30,000 more pairs of boots on the ground in Iraq, and that, they say, might ... might ... be enough to stabilize Baghdad.
Still, some close observers of the war say it is worth trying. Get Baghdad to settle down, and expand outward, they say. Use the extra American soldiers and Marines to establish a bulkhead of security and build on it.
Like I said, if we were talking about poker, this is would be the interesting part. But this is not poker. We are talking about American lives; the commitment of some of our best and bravest young people. We are talking about a country's future.
So what would you do? Would sending more troops to Iraq make a positive difference or just raise the stakes?
Honor killings persist in modern Turkey
Hot Links: Military options in Iraq
During tonight's 11 p.m. hour, we're going to take a look at a series of plans for U.S. military involvement in Iraq, ranging from increasing the U.S. military's presence to beginning a pullout. Below you will find links to a handful of stories about these proposals:
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Hot Links: Honor killings
Monday, November 27, 2006
Pope's Turkey trip spotlights religious tensions
Tonight we are broadcasting from Istanbul, one stop on Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey. Istanbul is a fascinating place, a city where East and West meet, literally. It's the only major city that sits on two continents. One side is in Europe, the other side Asia.
I'm sitting in a modern hotel right now listening to the call to prayer echoing from a nearby mosque. The oldest cliche in the news business is to call a place a "land of contrasts." It's a silly term, but I understand why writers fall back on it to describe this place. Ancient and modern, Islamic and Christian, democratic and autocratic -- it all exists side by side in Turkey, sometimes uneasily.
Though its track record on human rights is often criticized, Turkey is a stable, pro-western democracy that is officially secular. For some time now, the country has been trying to become part of the European Union, but it seems increasingly clear that some European countries have major concerns. Turkey is a poor nation by European standards, and it's 99 percent Muslim. Many Europeans are already concerned about assimilating their own Muslim minorities. The prospect of having some 70 million more Muslims entering the EU seems overwhelming.
Before he was Pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger didn't support Turkey's bid for EU membership. His argument was that Europe is based on commonly held Christian beliefs, not simply geography. Combined with his recent comments about Islam, it would be easy to see why many here would be concerned about his visit. But what is actually surprising is how few people here seem disturbed by the Pope's presence.
An Islamist party called for a demonstration in Istanbul on Sunday. They expected more than 100,000 protestors, but only about 20,000 showed up. There are some extremists here to be sure. I just spent the morning with an Islamist lawyer who is defending a number of Turks accused of participating in a series of terrorist attacks in 2003 that killed more than 50 people.
As we were putting the microphone on him, I couldn't help but notice the gun he was carrying on his waist. During the interview, he called Osama bin Laden a freedom fighter and explained why suicide attacks were justified under his brand of Islam.
He and the men he represents hate the secular government of Turkey. They say the current prime minister was put in power by an alliance between the Pope and Israel, or maybe it was the Pope, Israel, and America -- I can't remember for sure (I'll have to check the tape) but you get the point.
His beliefs do not reflect the majority of Muslims in Turkey, but they do explain some of the tensions that exist here. The question is: What will the Pope try to do during his visit? Will he try to mend fences, and focus on the commonalities between Islam and Christianity, or will he respectfully talk about the differences? While many people here don't seem all that interested in his visit, they will be watching and listening closely.
What do you think the Pope should focus on while in Turkey? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.