Friday, March 30, 2007
Echoes of 1979 in today's crisis
A blindfolded U.S hostage paraded by his captors in the compound of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran.
My assignment was to write a piece on the Iran hostage crisis. Not the current crisis, but one from long ago, 1979.
Sixty-six men and women, members of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps and civilian employees, were doing their jobs at the U.S. embassy when a group of students cut through the locks on the embassy gate and took them hostage. The students were angry because the now-deposed Shah of Iran traveled to the U.S. for medical treatment, and they wanted him put on trial in his own country for crimes against the Iranian people.
The hostage-takers released 13 of their hostages within a couple of weeks, then another several months later. But for 52 people, the next 444 days of their lives became a nightmare.
Today, detained British sailor Faye Turney is shown here on the Arabic language network Al Alam.
Jimmy Carter was the U.S. president at the time. He tried diplomacy. He froze Iranian assets and banned oil sales. When that failed, he ordered a rescue mission, "Operation Eagle Claw," which was a tragic failure. Two military helicopters were stuck in a sandstorm, another crashed on take-off after the mission was aborted. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed.
In the end, the Algerian government brokered the deal that freed the hostages. The plane that carried them home took off just moments before Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president, starting all sorts of conspiracy theories. Carter went to meet the freed hostages in Germany as Reagan's emissary. The hostages were given a ticker-tape parade through the streets of New York.
It's hard to say how the current crisis will end. What struck me, though, as I researched this story, was the incredible sameness of the images: the confused and terrified look on the faces of the people held captive and the apparently coerced "confessions" broadcast throughout the media.
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Thursday, March 29, 2007
Iraq withdrawal deadline: The tricky part
U.S. troops conduct a foot patrol through southern Baghdad last week.
Meeting a deadline to pull out of Iraq is no small feat. Regardless of how much some people may want it and putting aside the question of whether it is a good idea, the numbers tell the tale of its difficulty.
The Pentagon says right now about 143,000 American troops are there, and soon that number will be pushed up to 160,000. And the military does not travel light. There are tens of thousands of airplanes, helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles, strykers, you name it, spread all over the country. Sure, there are concentrations of troops and equipment in Bagdhad and Al Anbar province, but everyone will have to come home, and that means some will come from every corner of that country.
Military analysts say many thousands may well fly out of Bagdhad's airport, but most will get out the same way they got in: overland through Kuwait.
But here's the tricky part. All along the way, former military leaders say, American troops can expect to be dogged by insurgents trying to drive up casualties even as the United States withdraws. And that's why some of those same military minds say this is a terrible idea. Some accept the notion that withdrawal may be the right plan, but they say announcing the deadline is simply a dangerous folly that no one in war can afford.
Sure, it's the same argument we've heard all along, but now it is getting closer to a test of reality. So what do you think? Is the idea of a deadline dangerous? Or is it the only way to make the politicians in Washington get serious about ending the war?
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Parents seek shock treatment for son
Except for a few words, Bradley Bernstein, 48, can't speak. He often beats himself bloody in the face and eyes.
At age three, Bradley was diagnosed with autism and severe mental retardation. His parents, Fran and Bob Bernstein, say they've tried everything: restraints, psychotropic drugs, you name it. The only thing that gets Bradley to stop hitting himself, they say, is an electric cattle prod.
When their son, who they call their "baby," is hurting himself, they zap him with an electric jolt from the prod. This has been going on for nearly 40 years. Even the attendants at Bradley's various group homes around the Chicago area have been using the prod. (Watch Randi Kaye's piece on the cattle prod treatment
But last year, the state of Illinois made it illegal to use electric shock treatment in a group home setting or community facility. So Trinity Services, which owns the group home where Bradley lives, has stopped using the prod.
"Our mission is to help people live full abundant lives. I don't think you do that with cattle prods," said Art Dykstra, Trinity's executive director.
Bradley's parents sued Trinity, hoping to force them to use electric shock again, but the case was thrown out because the treatment is against the law. The Bernstein's say Bradley can still be shocked, due to a 1987 agreement with the Illinois Department of Mental Health which allowed for this treatment.
"We feel we were chosen to have Bradley and to give him what he needed in his life. He's a sick boy, a sick man, and we need to be there for him, and someday we won't be around. I have to make sure while we're here that he gets taken care of," Fran Bernstein told me through her tears.
At his group home, when Bradley starts abusing himself, Trinity workers restrain him and give him a drug to calm him down. Bradley's parents still use the cattle prod as needed when he visits them at home. The new law does not prevent that. They say the electric shock is more humane than restraints and drugs.
I actually let Fran Bernstein shock me when I interviewed the family this week. It was painful for a split second, far worse than the shock you get from simple static electricity. The zap from the cattle prod is 4500 volts. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I can see how it might make Bradley forget he was hurting himself and switch to another activity.
The executive director of The Arc, the largest advocacy group for people with mental retardation, calls this type of treatment "torture." What do you think? And who do you think should have the legal right to decide Bradley Bernstein's treatment? His parents or the state of Illinois?
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Jesuit priest hired prostitutes for sex
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- From the moment I dropped the DVD into my computer and pressed play, I was mesmerized by Father Jim Jacobsen.
Father Jim is a Jesuit priest who was sent to tiny Alaskan villages to spread the love of God. It turns out Father Jim spread a whole lot more love than my God would approve of. And it's all captured in a five-hour taped deposition where the priest actually confesses his sins.
As a priest, Father Jim was sworn to celibacy. Under oath, he swore to tell the truth. Here's just a snippet.
Attorney: OK, so that your testimony was that your best estimate was that you had five sexual affairs while you were in Alaska?
Father Jim: Right
Attorney: And is that still your testimony today?
Father Jim: I would say maybe seven. I would change it to seven.
Later on, we learn Father Jim is not very good at estimates. And if you count all the prostitutes, the number gets even higher. Father Jim says he probably can't count them all.
I've nicknamed him "Don Juan of the Yukon," but that makes light of the women now coming forward to say this retired priest was a rapist, a predator and a sex addict. Father Jim denies he raped or forced sex on anyone.
The kicker to Father Jim's story is that he left behind four big surprises in Alaska. They are big surprises because they're all grown up now. It turns out Father Jim is also father Jim, and his four kids want to know where he's been all their lives.
Monday, March 26, 2007
No victory too small for Simon Cowell
Simon Cowell, the "American Idol" judge, doesn't seem troubled by his success.
I went to meet Simon Cowell in a house in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. It was one of those open floor plan homes with a fireplace, a pool, and a view that stretched for miles. When I walked in, I complimented him on the beautiful house.
"Oh, no, this is just a place I use for meetings," he said matter-of-factly.
I guess I should've known. It was a really lovely house, but it was pretty small by Cowell's standards. Let's just say he lives large. He divides his time between luxurious homes in Los Angeles and London, and has thriving businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.
When I started doing research about Cowell for this interview, I had no idea how big a figure he'd become in the music industry. His perch on American Idol is probably his most visible job, but it actually accounts for just a fraction of Cowell's enormous income.
He reportedly earns about $30 million a year as a judge on "American Idol," but he earns even more than that on a similar show in England called the "X Factor," which he created. He also has a deal with Sony/BMG that is reportedly in the neighborhood of $100 million and he gets a cut of every release from every Idol artist worldwide. As he will happily tell you, that means he sells more records than Bruce Springsteen.
Simon Cowell may seem mean to some viewers of American Idol, but in person he is actually very friendly and disarmingly honest. He likes being a celebrity. He likes the notoriety, the attention, he likes the money and the power, and he's not ashamed of that one bit. Nonetheless, Cowell doesn't seem to take himself too seriously, and I find that refreshing for someone who is so successful. He can laugh at himself. I know it may not seem like much, but there are a lot of celebrities who can't even do that. (Watch Cowell discuss one couple's unusual offer
For this segment, I spent a weekend interviewing Cowell in Los Angeles. I also hitched a ride with him and Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest on a private plane to Las Vegas. Cowell and Seacrest spar a lot on "American Idol," but in real life they seem to be genuine friends, though they are intensely competitive with one another. Cowell told me that while he is happy for Ryan's success, he insists he is physically pained anytime he hears that Ryan has made a lucrative deal.
For me, the highlight of the weekend was racing Cowell at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Cowell likes to race high-speed go carts, but this was the first time either of us had been in Indy-style cars. We both got up to 175 mph, but as Cowell will quickly tell you, he beat me by a second or two.
"I could have gone faster," he assured me when he took his helmet off after the final lap. We both laughed, but I know he wasn't kidding.
See you tonight.Editor's note: Anderson's "60 Minutes" interview with Simon Cowell will air on tonight's "360" at 10 p.m. ET.
Cowell: Couple offered 100K to critique sex