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CNN Newsroom

Aired October 23, 2001 - 04:30   ET


SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Shelley Walcott.

MICHAEL MCMANUS, CO-HOST: And I'm Michael McManus.

More than 2,000 postal workers in Washington, D.C. are being tested for anthrax exposure. This, after it was revealed that two of their co-workers tested positive for the inhaled form of the disease.

WALCOTT: That's right. And adding to the anxiety, officials said Monday that two other workers at the Brentwood postal facility may have died from anthrax.

Rea Blakey has more on these cases from the nation's capital.


IVAN WALKS, D.C. CHIEF HEALTH OFFICER: We have two postal workers who work in the Brentwood mail facility that have expired.

REA BLAKEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stunning news, to the hundreds of Brentwood postal workers who lined up at D.C. General Hospital for precautionary treatment and testing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was really shocking. It's very shocking.

BLAKEY: Public health officials strongly suspect anthrax.

DR. DAVID SATCHER, SURGEON GENERAL: It does seem highly probably that those two deaths were related to inhalation anthrax, based on my discussion with colleagues at CDC.

BLAKEY: At least two other postal workers from the Brentwood facility are hospitalized -- troubling news for employees like Melvin Thweatt, who can't understand what he calls the delay in testing postal workers.

MELVIN THWEATT, POSTAL WORKER: They knew it came through the building. Before they go to the Capitol, they have to come to our building anyway. And they're better safe than sorry. They should have closed it there and then said all clear.

BLAKEY: He says workers concerns about the anthrax-laden letter that passed through Brentwood and went to Senator Tom Daschle's office were ignored by post office management.

THWEATT: No one said nothing. Keep working, keep working.

BLAKEY: Postal service spokesperson Debbie Willhite explains that the Centers for Disease Control had advised there was no immediate need for employee testing. All that changed when a postal worker reported flu-like symptoms and was hospitalized Friday.

DEBORAH WILLHITE, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE: The initial thought was that there would be no way that anthrax would not -- would present itself, out of a sealed envelope.

BLAKEY: Rea Blakey, CNN, Washington.


WALCOTT: Since the first case of anthrax turned up earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been under the public spotlight. Members of the United States House Terrorism subcommittee toured the CDC in Atlanta, Monday, and they said it could use a few improvements.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer brings us a closer look at the facility and the crucial role it plays year round.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether it's a deliberate attack as with anthrax or the outbreak of a slow and silent killer such as HIV, the Centers for Disease Control is America's defense. In its extensive Atlanta headquarters, the CDC investigates thousands of reports from doctors and epidemiologists always on the lookout for emerging disease.

The federal government created the CDC in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center and its mission has expanded far beyond communicable disease. It fights tobacco use and obesity, teaches children to wear a helmet while cycling, shows parents how to raise children less prone to violence.

Many of the world's top medical experts work for the CDC. They're sent to small towns in the United States to help local health departments deal with a variety of disease outbreaks, meningitis for example. They also travel overseas in search of new strains of the flu. And when new or rare diseases are found, doctors worldwide turn to the CDC to figure out which microorganisms they're dealing with.

The CDC is one of two known laboratories in the world that keep samples of smallpox. These germs are kept in the deep recesses of CDC buildings. After working in level four containment suites, lab workers take a toxic shower in case any microbes are stuck to the suit.

The CDC also maintains the national pharmaceutical stockpile, a huge collection of drugs and vaccines. After the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the CDC says it delivered tons of medical supplies within seven hours. It was the first test of the CDC's stockpile system, an organization created in the aftermath of World War II on the front lines of America's new war.



ANNOUNCER: Mariesa Boyer from Akron, Ohio asks: What can we, as citizens, do in this time of heightened concern?

MIKE BROOKS, FORMER FBI COMPUTER TERRORISM TASK FORCE: Be aware of what's going on wherever you are whether you're at your office, whether you're on the street, whether you're at a shopping mall, know what's going on.

Be a little more cognizant. Be vigilant about what's going on around you. If you see a suspicious package, let someone know. If you're at the mall, let a mall security person know. If you're on the street, you see a police officer, let them know. Pick up the phone, dial 911. And when you're at your office, you should know your surroundings. If you see something that doesn't belong there, let someone know about it.

Knowing what's going on around you I think is the best defense we can have.


MCMANUS: We look to Afghanistan now where U.S.-led air strikes are in their third week. Fighter jets dropped bombs Monday along the front lines north of Kabul. Taliban leaders are accusing the U.S. of genocide, saying more than 1,000 Afghans have died since the air strikes began. As the U.S. military continues to pound Taliban front lines, it's begun making contact with the opposition Northern Alliance.

Satinder Bindra has been covering the story. Here's his report.


SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first known face-to-face meeting on Afghan soil between U.S. Army officials and the commanders of these Northern Alliance troops took place near Mazar-e-Sharif.

The strategic northern Afghanistan city has for several days been surrounded by over 10,000 troops loyal to Uzbeki warlord General Rashid Dostum.

GENERAL BARYALAI, NORTHERN ALLIANCE (through translator): A group of American commanders came and they met General Rashid Dostum and then they went back quickly.

BINDRA: It's believed U.S. forces flew in by helicopter from the neighboring country of Uzbekistan. At their meeting, senior army commanders from both sides discussed the military situation on the ground and the defense needs of these Northern Alliance forces.

(on camera): In what's being interpreted here as an American campaign to provide more help to the Northern Alliance, U.S. planes have been bombing front line Taliban positions. Anti-Taliban forces on these front lines want more such targeted attacks. They say that will help Northern Alliance ground troops to surge across these lines and surprise the Taliban.

(voice-over): For all these new signs of cooperation, Northern Alliance forces say the U.S. has not yet given them any arms. Senior Alliance commanders also say the U.S. should be aware of their sensitivities. U.S. ground troops are not welcome.

BARYALAI (through translator): We have been fighting against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden for six years, and we have not invited U.S. forces to push them back and we have no intention of doing so.

BINDRA: The Alliance would like to take Kabul and Mazar alone and fears U.S. troops would turn Afghan public opinion against them. It's still not clear if there'll be any more face-to-face meetings between both armies, but Northern Alliance commanders say they're now in regular touch with U.S. forces through satellite phones.

With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan just a few weeks away and winter approaching fast, both the U.S. and Northern Alliance troops are under pressure to make some military gains quickly.

BARYALAI (through translator): Nobody can forecast when a place will be captured, but it is a fact that the Taliban are getting weaker.

BINDRA: Weaker maybe, but for all these military maneuvers and their soldiers prayers, the fact remains the battle in Mazar has settled into a stalemate and the Taliban still control the main prize, Kabul.

Satinder Bindra, CNN, Ay Khonum, northeastern Afghanistan.


ANNOUNCER: Teachers, make the most of CNN NEWSROOM with our free daily classroom guide to the program. There you'll find a rundown of each day's show so you choose just the program segment that fits your lesson plan. Plus there are discussion questions and activities and the guide highlights key people, places and news terms. Each day find hot links to other online resources and previews of upcoming desk segments.

It's all at this Web address where you can also sign up to have the guide automatically e-mailed directly to you each day. It's easy. It's free. It's your curriculum connection to the news. After all, the news never stops and neither does learning.

MCMANUS: Since September 11, many opinions on the attacks and their aftermath have been shared with family, friends and co-workers. We decided to capture some of those thoughts with students from two Atlanta area high schools specializing in international study.

Here's what they had to say.


MCMANUS: I'm Michael McManus with CNN NEWSROOM, and we have gathered students from two area high schools. These students have various backgrounds that I think is going to help us in understanding what went on. We have students with various ages as well as religions. We have Muslim represented, we have Jewish represented. We also have students with roots in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Japan and, of course, the United States, so this is really going to give us a broad spectrum of thoughts and feelings as this discussion develops.

And, Lauren, let's start with you. You have a story to tell. Where were you September 11 and what did you do?

LAUREN: I was in first period at school. It was about 8:45 when we found out and we turned the TV on immediately and we were glued to the television the entire day. The entire school was in the first period for first and second period, and we had discussions in class. No lessons were really taught. The teachers were very understanding. We had class discussions. It just -- it was -- it was a very -- it was a somber day, but it was very helpful for us to be able to talk about it right when we knew what it found out.

MCMANUS: Now did anyone else have some problems or issues? I mean this was just a story on monumental terms as -- in terms of tragedy. Did anyone have any problems dealing with it or did anyone really enjoy talking with someone about it?

KENNETH: I remember I had several friends who had family members who they believed to be in the area of the disaster and that was an ordeal going through that. They couldn't get in touch with family members. They were in the middle of school. Other members of their family were at work so they couldn't get in contact with them, and it was -- it was a really emotional experience not knowing -- someone was going through something so bad and you couldn't do anything to help them.

MCMANUS: What happens in your head when that goes on? I mean just the not knowing part...

KENNETH: I don't know what...

MCMANUS: You try to call them. I'm sure your relatives tried to call. The phone lines were obviously all jammed.

KENNETH: It's a sense of helplessness more than anything. You just want to hop a plane and fly right up there to see -- make sure everyone's OK. And I didn't have anyone directly who lived in New York who was affected by it but all my friends were. I had several friends who were just crying in the office and trying to call their parents and sitting in the rooms watching television because the whole school just shut down. And I wanted to help them, not -- there was just nothing we could do, just sit there and talk to them.

MCMANUS: Well let's move over to this side of the room. Rabbia, could we maybe get your thoughts on what your class did on September 11?

RABBIA: I remember when we found out I was in second period. And we were supposed to be doing projects and the other group was supposed to be evaluating teachers. But one of my friends came and said they couldn't do it because they were watching a movie on New York, and I guess she thought it was a movie. And then so my teacher turned it on and we started watching it and then just the whole day we just watched TV. We didn't really go through anything and our teachers explained what was going on and that's about it.

MCMANUS: Rabbia, you're Pakistani, you're Muslim, and since this has happened there has been some racial profiling or even racial incidents that have happened. Have you or any of your friends or family experienced this?

RABBIA: No, we haven't experienced anything because where we live it's very diverse and then everyone's very understanding so.

MCMANUS: Has -- have any of you experienced that? I know we have -- you all have roots in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and Sudan. Being Muslim, I'm sure there has been some challenges that you've had to face.

HALIMA: I haven't had any problems directly, but I had some friends who said that people were saying things to them and trying to offend them. And people are blaming them for what happened, you know saying that they were involved or you know their ancestors or you know -- you know the people that did this were their families or whatever but nothing directly at me.

MCMANUS: Halima, being Muslim, having maybe a different -- some different background as some other -- as the other students represented here, what are some of the solutions then to this racial profiling and these racial incidents going on around the country?

HALIMA: I think it's just a misunderstanding. People just need to understand each other. And if we all just took the time to -- People most of the time they just start throwing blames and start accusing people. Most of us here, especially, we had nothing to do with this. We just -- you know people are, you know, getting offended because, you know, the people that did this are Muslims or you know or whatever. But it's that -- to me it's not fair that people are doing that. And I think if people just took the time to understand that then we wouldn't have as many problems, people would realize that, okay, you know they were here when we were here, you know. And so that we're not the ones to blame for this and everything will be okay. It's just a misunderstanding.

MCMANUS: Majir, have you and your family discussed what has happened and have your parents basically discussed this with you or your teachers? MAJIR: Well, after the September 11 thing it's like really affected me because like after the bombings and stuff, I have relatives in Afghanistan and we don't really have -- we're not in contact with them so we don't know if they're okay or not, you know. So it's affected me in many ways. And because I'm Muslim, they don't really look -- they don't think that I'm Muslim because I don't wear a scarf, you know. But they ask my why don't you wear a scarf and I'm like, well, if Taliban they were forcing people to wear scarves, I don't believe I should wear a scarf because it's a way of like me getting back at them, you know.

MCMANUS: Majir, I'm sure you hear students in school when they talk about this we should just bomb them all. I've heard some comments like that. And obviously your feeling is a lot different, you actually have flesh and blood over there, you have a family, you have friends. I'm sure you take this -- that a little bit differently.

MAJIR: I think the reason why they say that is because they don't have an understanding of what happened, who did it and stuff. So people say like we should bomb the whole country, but I don't think they shouldn't do that you know. And I think America's done a good decision to like bomb the Taliban and stuff, you know, but -- because like they're the reason why it happened, you know, and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization. So I don't think there's -- at first when they were like they were going to bomb the whole country, before everything started I was like kind of -- kind of like hurt me because like I have family over there and stuff, you know, so.

MCMANUS: We've all been talking about this -- these racial profiling. It was -- it was actually talked about before all these events happened. Have any of you in discussions with your friends and family talked about that or been involved personally with that?


Well, I mean let's move into another topic. Let's talk about bioterrorism. Seems to be the second wave of what has gone on here since September 11. I want to get your feelings on the science of it. I mean are you nervous? Are you scared? Are you -- are you upset when you open letters? I mean are you really nervous about what's been going on post-bombings and post-hijackings?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not really nervous about it, and I don't worry about opening mail because the thing -- where it's been happening has been mostly like the large like TV stations and the large organizations. Like doing it -- I know that before it gets to me it's going to go through someone else's hands, which is kind of selfish sounding, but I know that by the time it probably gets to me it's either going to be caught by then or it won't -- or like it'll be -- it'll be cleaned. So I'm not really that worried about it. But I think -- I think where we live I don't think it's going to be that big of a problem for us. I know that if it starts to go like nationwide, I think then I'll start getting to worry about it. But right now in the first stages of it, I'm pretty confident that we're going to catch who's ever trying to hurt us and I think we'll get -- I think we'll get through with it.

MCMANUS: Let's get some other reaction, I mean are you guys scared? These letters could go to anyone, anywhere. They seem to be targeting media organizations right now, but you know this is the type of thing that hits home directly because it's affecting people at their own offices, at their own desks.

HALEY: Actually coming here today to the CNN headquarters was the first time that I had thought about it because somebody as I was walking out the door they said don't open any mail, you know. And you kind of think it's funny but you think about this has really been happening in places, not necessarily here but in other cities in America, and so this was really the first time that it had even come close to affecting me personally, so it was interesting.

MCMANUS: Let's move on to some military reaction. As you know, there have been retaliatory attacks in Afghanistan since this has happened. The United States is, along with several other countries, are attacking al Qaeda and its network of terrorism cells, which many happen to be in Afghanistan. What's your reactions, all of you, to the attacks that have been going on?

HALEY: I think for me personally I'm -- I have no family there, I don't know anybody in that area of the world and so for me it's something that I watch on TV. You know you see the newscasts of bombings and images like that but to me it's something going on, you know, at the other end of the world so.

MCMANUS: Robert, what about you, what do you think of these attacks? Do you think it's solving the problem?

ROBERT: I think it's pretty necessary. I mean personally I can't really voice my opinion because it's not affecting me. I mean I'm not 18, I haven't had to sign up for a draft or anything. But I mean I think that that's the only way that we'll be able to put a stop to terrorism is getting rid of the terrorists camps and bombing the terrorist cells, stuff like that.

MCMANUS: Does anyone disagree with Robert?

HALIMA: I don't so much disagree, I just think that I've been reading all these e-mails from these newsletters that I get saying that -- you know talking about how these people had their families -- lost their families because you know a bomb hit their, you know, villages or whatever. Particularly this one guy, he lost four -- his four daughters, his son and his wife in a bomb. And I just think that, okay, yes, it's a good idea to fight terrorism but at the same time it's -- you know it's affecting people's lives, you know.

Once again no civilians are, you know, dying and having to suffer because of, you know, something they have no control over or something they had nothing to do with and I don't know the whole -- the whole thing is just pretty sad. I was just -- you know I was shocked about I keep reading all these things from people that -- who have lost families or who are in danger or who have lost their, you know, only way of providing for their families, their farms, so whatnot. And I think that's pretty sad that these people have to pay a price for something they didn't do.

MCMANUS: Kenneth, how do you feel about that? I mean there are other families there, there are mothers, fathers, children, and in going in, no doubt some civilians will die. The Pentagon has said that. So what do you do?

KENNETH: The bombing is a necessary risk and I don't -- I support that. There's no way to get around it, but I feel confident that we aren't hurting civilians. I'm very happy that there is an effort to not hurt the civilians and that it -- the bombing is localized around Taliban training facilities and things like that. And so in that sense it's a relief to know that more innocent people aren't being killed and that we are actually going after the enemy and not randomly bombing just everything, so I support.

MCMANUS: And, Marium, do you support, and if you do or don't, why?

MARIUM: In some ways I do because the Afghan people have been struggling for many years, and if you see their lifestyle right now, they're really poor. I mean they even -- they -- enough food that they find is to survive. I mean they have the clothing on their backs and this is a shock to them. I mean it makes their life harder. If it makes their life harder or they go ahead and their life just ends.

MCMANUS: Marium, the United States people are watching this on television, they're being informed every night by their newspapers, is it different over there? Do these people even know what's going on? Do they know the whole picture?

MARIUM: No, they don't. People over there -- well most people, they don't have televisions or even if they have radios you know it's against the law over there, you can't have them, the televisions, or radios or cassettes, so I'm not sure how people can get information and find out what's going on. So it's really a shock to them.

MCMANUS: Let's discuss religion for a second here. Have you or your friends been to religious services since this has happened and if so, has it helped?

HALIMA: Yes, we normally every Sunday we go to the mosque and that hasn't changed. We didn't go that first week when that happened because people were all, you know, jumpy so we thought it would be -- it would be a good idea to cancel it that week. But after that, we've been going normally just, you know, every weekend or whatever. And yes, that helps. You know it helps to talk about it. It helps to see, you know, how people feel about everything that's been going on and, you know, that helps, you know.

MCMANUS: Let's finally discuss some positive lessons. Has there been something that you've been able to take with you, though how horrible this has all been that actually is going to help you -- Kenneth?

KENNETH: It opens up a discussion on a lot of things, racial profiling, for instance. There are people out -- I have friends who have learned that it is not a good thing jumping to conclusions on stereotypes is not something you want to do. It hurts people. Going to Riverwood with such a diverse community, there's always a learning process going on and so this has contributed to that, you know. We've learned not to make snap judgements on people. Communication has been opened up. It's helped a lot.

MCMANUS: And, Haley.

HALEY: OK, along with they're accepting diversity and knowing that you know other people in the world have feelings and they have family members that are directly affected as opposed to us, I think the patriotism that has been shown, the flags lining the streets. I have a flag outside my house which I can only remember putting up 4th of July. And so seeing that, seeing people driving around with, you know, little flags flying out of their cars and stuff, it makes me feel happy and that after such a terrible incident people can come together and really unite and so it makes me feel proud to be American.

MCMANUS: Marium, have you seen some positive things go on since this has happened?

MARIUM: Yes, as many of the students at our school they come up to me, they go, Marium, say where are you from? You're from Afghanistan, right? I say, yes, I'm from Afghanistan. They will be like I know how you feel because of what happened down here, but really they have said nothing negative. They've talked. I mean it's good to ask questions. Like when they ask questions and I tell them what I feel and the things that are going on in Afghanistan, you know they feel -- they feel it from their side too and they really -- when you ask questions and then they understand what you feel so.

MCMANUS: So there are positive lessons out there I think that we can all take with us. And those are just some thoughts and concerns from students at Clarkston High School and Riverwood High School in the Atlanta, Georgia area. And this discussion, no doubt, continues all over the world.


WALCOTT: It's very interesting, Mike.

MCMANUS: Absolutely, and we will be hearing from those students again soon.

Now we want to be clear on two points we discussed. First, there are no suspects in the anthrax mailings, and second, the Pentagon is disputing claims from the Taliban on the civilian death toll from military action in Afghanistan.

WALCOTT: Now, Mike, it sounds like a few of those students have a personal interest in what's going on right now.

MCMANUS: Absolutely, they really do, Shelley. A few of our students in our group were from Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some have family there as well so they were truly speaking from the heart. WALCOTT: OK, sounds good.

Well, we'll see you back here tomorrow. Bye-bye.

MCMANUS: Bye-bye.




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