Friday, March 02, 2007
Smell of fresh cut lumber follows tornado
Military helicopters evacuate the injured from the high school after the tornado struck Thursday.
The news media hasn't been allowed inside the tornado-ravaged school building here in Enterprise, Alabama. But I can say that every public official who goes in there and comes out seems absolutely stunned that more people weren't hurt.
As I look around the school yard and see all the twisted metal and snapped trees, it seems to me that the evidence is all around us that if anybody had tried to leave the school and been caught in the open or in their cars by this tornado, then they probably would not have had a chance.
When I drove here today, I passed through a neighborhood behind the school. There was that telltale smell I always encounter when I am on the scene of a tornado -- the smell of fresh cut lumber. This is due to the chainsaws that always show up on the scene almost immediately to take down shattered trees and clear tree limbs off roads.
There were also a number of cars with flat tires, which is typical. When roofs peel off buildings during a tornado, you have nails and sharp pieces of metal all over the place. People drive over those and flatten their tires.
One government official said that this looks like an F3 or possibly F4 tornado. What struck me is that he said one rarely sees tornados this strong and this big this far south. He said this tornado was 200 yards wide.
The school was a direct hit, and still, officials are saying that the school was probably the safest place these kids could have been.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Victim describes 'Zodiac' serial killer's attack
Bryan Hartnell says he was stabbed eight times, allegedly by the Zodiac killer.
There's nothing quite like Hollywood to bring attention to historical events. Big stars and multi-million dollar marketing promotions make us pay attention. Case in point: Zodiac, a film opening this weekend starring Jake Gyllenhaall and Robert Downey Jr.
Zodiac is the nickname of a serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco area beginning in late-1968. There are scores of books and Web sites devoted to the case, and it seems natural that a movie would eventually focus on it as well. Tonight, we profile one of the Zodiac's victims, Bryan Hartnell.
Hartnell was just a college kid at the time, attending Pacific Union College, just north of San Francisco. For the past four decades, he's tried to stay out of the spotlight and has succeeded in doing so, until he decided to discuss his tragic ordeal with us.
Hartnell says the sky on the day he was attacked was beautiful, the kind you might see in a postcard of San Francisco with the glistening bay and Golden Gate Bridge. So when he ran into his old girlfriend at the school cafeteria, he thought it would be a nice if they could take a drive together and get caught up on their lives.
They wound up at the edge of a scenic lake in a remote private area. They were laying down on a picnic blanket and gazing at the clear blue sky when a man suddenly approached and pointed a gun at them. He was wearing an eerie costume: a black hood and black shirt with a white symbol on the front that looked like crosshairs on a gun sight. (It would later become the Zodiac's trademark symbol.)
What happened next is one of the most horrific crimes you can possibly imagine. Hartnell was stabbed 8 times; his companion, Cecilia Shephard, between 10 and 20. She died a day later at the hospital, but was able to give a description of the attacker before she died. Hartnell, however, never saw his face. Investigators say it was one of the most brutal attacks they've ever seen. They believe the Zodiac used a knife, so passersby wouldn't hear the sound of gunshots.
Following the attack, the Zodiac killer calmly walked away leaving intentional clues as to his identity. He wanted to make it clear there was a serial killer on the loose. His next victim would be a cab driver in the heart of San Francisco.
These days, Hartnell, 57, works as a probate attorney in Southern California and is married with children. With the film's release, he thought now seemed like the appropriate time to come forward and tell his story. (He says he served as an unpaid consultant on the film.)
Those familiar with the Zodiac already know how Hollywood's version of the killer's story ends: the Zodiac has never been caught. What makes the story so interesting is the hunt for the killer and the Zodiac's headline-grabbing antics: he wrote several letters to newspapers taking credit for his crimes and also included cryptograms or ciphers that he claimed would shed light on his identity. The Zodiac craved attention. He's certainly getting his wish now.
Bomb's impact still felt two years later
Editor's note: CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman uncovers the "The Lion in the Village" tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360," 11 p.m. ET.
A wounded soldier is carried from the mess hall in Mosul, Iraq, after the December, 2004, attack that killed 22.
Suicide bombings, once virtually unknown in Afghanistan, are happening with increasing frequency. In Iraq, the supply of men willing to blow themselves up to hurt the Coalition troops seems almost endless.
And now, I am convinced, one terrible event may have been a critical catalyst for all the suicide bombings that have followed.
For the past couple of months, producer Amanda Townsend and I have been investigating the suicide bombing that rocked a military mess hall tent in Mosul, Iraq, just over two years ago. That blast killed 22 people and injured 69 people, among them soldiers and civilians, Americans and Iraqis. But just as important, it may have shown the insurgents just how hard they could hit the Americans if they were cunning and patient enough.
Our investigation unearthed parts of the still secret military investigation, and among the findings:
- Military Intelligence had discovered not one single clue before the bombing to suggest an attack was in the works, even though the insurgent group behind it, Ansar Al-Sunna, was well-known, and extremely active in the area.
- More than two years after the blast, investigators say they still don't know for sure who the bomber was, or how he got through guards at the base gate, past hundreds of soldiers on the base, and into the heart of mess tent undetected.
My desk and shelves and the floor of my office here a few blocks from the Capitol are covered with the record of this bombing. Endless, shifting piles of interviews, soldiers' notes, letters, diary entries, photos, satellite images and official reports. And for weeks I have gone through them over and over again, often until four or five in the morning.
It is not just a matter of looking for facts. It is a matter of looking for the complete story of a terrible day. In the process, we have uncovered never before seen video and accounts of courage that show American soldiers doing their best while faced with the worst. We are calling our story, "The Lion in the Village." (Watch soldiers describe what happened that day
With the help of TAPS
, a wonderful and compassionate organization for military families who have suffered a fatality, I have been visiting with the families of one particular group hit very hard in the blast: The Strykers from Ft. Lewis, Washington.
They were, and are, one of the great success stories of the war. The Strykers, who use a new state of the art vehicle made for urban combat, have proven remarkably skilled at pursuing and punishing the insurgents. And six of them were lost in that one terrible moment: William Jacobsen, Julian Melo, Jonathan Castro, Lionel Ayro, Robert Johnson, and Darren VanKomen.
And I hope, through all the sad, late nights; the tearful talks with their loved ones; and the somber visits to their graves, we have found a sense of who they were, why they served, and how they came to die.
As I noted
in our previous special, "Ambush at the River of Secrets," perhaps one day we will really know all the goods and bads, the rights and wrongs of this war. What I know right now is this: courageous Americans are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan every day, every moment, doing what asked of them. It would be unforgiveable to forget these brave souls. I wish we could tell all their stories.
For now, however, I hope you'll join me for an hour to remember and honor at least a few.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Are you concerned about Iraqi refugees in U.S.?
Remember when President Bush told us we should fight the terrorists abroad so we don't have to fight them at home? Why then, is the United States opening the door to 7,000 Iraqi refugees this year, some of whom, analysts suggest, could pose a security risk?
Security Analyst Clark Kent Ervin told me that while he thinks the odds that these refugees would do harm are low, "there is a security risk, of course. It took only 19 people to perpetrate 9/11, so among the 7,000 Iraqis we're talking about here, it certainly is possible that a given person could be a terrorist."
How will the Department of Homeland Security properly vet thousands of refugees hoping for asylum in the United States? How realistic is it that someone could pose as a refugee and make his or her way to U.S. soil with intent to cause harm?
Strict screening measures will be put in place: the State Department identifies refugees, then the Department of Homeland Security screens them by interviewing asylum seekers, checking their family histories and even their friends, all part of an effort to make sure they don't have any terrorist ties or plans to harm American citizens.
For what it's worth, Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, seems more concerned about the United States' southern border than anyone we let in from Iraq.
"If I were trying to get into the United States and I were al Qaeda or a terrorist, I think I would work my way into people working their way across that southern border, rather than trying to get qualified through an intense vetting process for a small number, a relatively small number of people that would be coming from Iraq," he said.
The Federal Government has been under a lot of pressure to accept more refugees from Iraq. In the last four years, the United States has taken in fewer than 500 refugees of an estimated 3.5 million Iraqis who are displaced. Syria and Jordan have taken the bulk of those who have left Iraq.
Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council finds the security concerns absurd. "This isn't an insurgent forgiveness program. We need to give time to have security screenings take place. We shouldn't look with paranoia; we should look with empathy," she said.
No doubt this is a debate that will grow stronger. This year, the number is 7,000, but as many as 20,000 Iraqi refugees could arrive in the United States next year, according to the U.S. State Department. Are you concerned?
Exile from polygamist sect sues to see mom
Johnny Jessop turned 18 years old in December, so his childhood is officially over. But for all intents and purposes, it was over when he was 13, when he was forced to leave his family and fend for himself. And now, he's filed a most unusual lawsuit; one in which he doesn't seek money, but rather his mother.
Johnny is one of the "lost boys" -- teenagers who were part of the polygamous religious sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and kicked out by the church's so-called prophet Warren Jeffs. Jeffs is now in jail awaiting trial on charges of being an accomplice to rape by arranging the marriage of an underage girl to a man.
Johnny hasn't lived with his mother, Elsi Jessop, in five years, and hasn't even talked to her in the last two. But he tells us he loves her, and knows she loves him. But Johnny doesn't know where his mother is. The lawsuit asks that Jeffs be compelled to put Elsi in touch with her son.
Johnny grew up in the heart of Jeffs' kingdom, the border town of Colorado City, Arizona, in a household with a father married to two wives. He has 13 brothers and sisters that he knows of, most of whom are still in the church. He was never close to his father; only his mom.
It is widely thought among outsiders that whatever is decreed by Warren Jeffs is faithfully followed by his supporters. That's why, at first, Johnny sent a letter to Jeffs in his jail cell asking him to please get him in touch with his mother.
When Johnny received no response, the decision was made to take legal action. The lawsuit alleges that Jeffs has kicked out teenage boys he deems unworthy and who are creating too much competition for the limited number of men needed to continue practicing polygamy.
Johnny has lived a tough life since he was banished as a child. He has lived by himself at time and with friends at others, and gotten into minor scrapes with the law. Things have gotten better over the last couple of years. He is housed by a foundation in Salt Lake City that helps "lost boys." He has a job and hopes to get his G.E.D. But he hopes more than anything that he can be reunited with his mother.
Interview with a so-called 'lost boy'
Editor's note: Johnny Jessop, 18, is suing polygamist leader Warren Jeffs to force him to locate Johnny's mother. Jessop, a so-called 'lost boy,' says he was kicked out of his polygamous home at the age of 13. He believes Jeffs knows his mother's whereabouts. CNN's Gary Tuchman interviewed Jessop for tonight's show.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Ex-CIA agent: Iraq war harmed al Qaeda hunt
Relatives carry the body of an Afghan man killed during a suicide attack near the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.
In the wake of today's suicide attack at a U.S. base outside Kabul that killed more than 20 people and apparently was aimed at disrupting Vice President Dick Cheney's trip to Afghanistan, we are going to examine the dramatic rise in suicide attacks in Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
To help us sort through these developments, we will be joined by former CIA officer Art Keller, who hunted members of al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2006. His job was to gather intelligence about the terrorists from his post on a Pakistani army base. With blonde hair and blue eyes, Keller had no chance of going undercover; he was a spy-master, not a spy.
Speaking out for the first time, Keller explains how the Taliban and al Qaeda are merging and how they learned successful techniques from the war in Iraq.
"Iraq is really a training ground. Tactics from Iraq have migrated, especially the employment of IEDs and suicide bombers again," Keller says. "They see what's effective."
Keller says the war in Iraq has shortchanged the U.S. effort to go after al Qaeda in Pakistan.
"I think a great deal of the resources have gone to Iraq," Keller says. "I don't think it's appreciated that the CIA is not really a very large organization in terms of field personnel. So we do not have infinite amounts. And if you do a couple larger deployments, that uses up a lot of people, because we also have the rest of the world that we have to keep an eye on."
Keller will also help us analyze a wave of new videotapes obtained by CNN from al Qaeda and the Taliban. Those tapes chart the mounting mayhem that the militants are causing both in Afghanistan and in the wild tribal regions of western Pakistan.
"They didn't believe in suicide. They believed that was a sin against Islam," Keller says. "And now, there are waves and waves of suicide bombers being dispatched. So a very strong cultural prohibition has been eroded."
Hope, despair for Amazon rainforest's future
Editor's note: Jeff Corwin, a wildlife biologist, toured Brazil with Anderson Cooper as part of 360's "Planet in Peril" series. He earlier blogged about having stripes painted on his arms by some Amazon residents.
Alas, after two weeks, the black rings of herbaceous dye are beginning to fade from my arms, although the stigma of resembling a rabid zebra still seems to linger. I leave Brazil both encouraged and concerned about the future of the biologically rich habitat contained within her borders.
Hope comes from the selfless investment of time, energy and resources put forth by a talented community of Brazil-based scientists and conservationists from a variety of institutions, whether educational, private organizations, and government, all of which are committed to securing rainforests and their wildlife for future generations. Brazil's role in conservation is critical, since around 70 percent of the Amazon (roughly 40 percent of all tropical rainforests on earth) is in Brazil, according to a study in Futures, a policy journal.
Yet, I can't help but feel despair for the situation as a whole. The fact remains that 20 percent of Brazil's rainforest has been cut down over the past 40 years, according to National Geographic, and on average more than 9,000 square miles of this incredibly important habit is felled annually, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The major drivers of rainforest destruction are homesteading, cattle ranching, mining and logging, with many of the resulting products exported abroad.
Why does all this matter? Because tropical rainforests are navels of life for our planet.
This habitat takes up around 5 percent of our planet's surface, but it contains between 20 and 50 percent of the world's total number of species, scientists say. This life, whether in toxins used by plants to repel herbivorous consumers, oxygen generated via photosynthesis, hydrological and temperature regulation through the metabolic activity of plants and trees, benefits us greatly. The Amazon alone is estimated to contribute roughly 20 percent of the earth's oxygen.
Rainforests are also natural regulators of global temperature, atmosphere and oxygen production. This habitat can be looked upon almost as a barometer measuring the overall biological health of our planet.
One reason we came to Brazil is to put a face on all the facts and figures I've cited. It's those faces I'll remember most: A rehabilitated sloth finally tasting freedom, a rare pied bare-faced tamarin orphaned by poachers, all the scientists and forest rangers risking life and limb to protect Brazil's remaining rainforest, and the image of an indigenous community whose cultural survival is forever liked to the rainforest they inhabit.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Insurance report draws big response
Our report on auto insurance claims in minor impact crashes has literally flown across the Internet since we first aired it. What has struck me is the sheer number of people who have contacted CNN regarding their experiences. (Read Drew Griffin's initial report on insurance company practices
They are almost all identical: minor crash, a person experiences some pain or minor injury, which has led to years fighting to have their claims processed, or mostly, the injured person has just given up and gone on with their lives, deciding it is not worth the aggravation of having to hire an attorney.
We reported that some of the major auto insurers have saved billions of dollars with a policy know as "delay, deny, defend:" delay handling your claim, deny you were hurt and defend their decision in drawn-out court battles. Industry spokespeople say it's not true.
These billions of dollars used to go to pay doctor bills, therapy for injuries and lost wages from all that time off work after an accident. My goal now is to find out where that money went. The journey continues.