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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

1000 Days in Iraq - Are We Near a Turning Point?; Iraq's Success; Tallying the Fallen; Iraq Security; Her Child or Her Country?; Protocol of Death; Living in Tents While FEMA Trailers Sit Empty; New Book Investigates Secretive Catholic Society Opus Dei; No Clemency for Stanley Williams - State Prepares for Execution; A Chilling View Inside at Death Chamber in Texas; 'Time' Magazine's 2005 Year in Pictures

Aired December 12, 2005 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: 1,000 days since the war began, but are we near a turning point? Some evidence it could be happening.
ANNOUNCER: With the fate of an American president on the line and thousands of lives at the center of tough questions here at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000 more or less

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But where did the president get that number? 360 investigates.

In four hours, Stanley "Tookie" Williams is set to be executed in California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency. Live from San Quentin, 360 has the latest on the battle to save him.

And "Keeping them Honest," months after Katrina, still living in tents while FEMA trailers sit empty.

This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Turning Point in Iraq." Reporting live from Baghdad, Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in Baghdad and we are live from Iraq all this week on 360. Today is the 1,000th day since the war began in Iraq and this week may mark a turning point. There is some evidence it already has marked a turning point. Historic elections to take place on Thursday. As I said, we will be here all week.

First, let's get you up to date on what's happening at this moment. The Supreme Court has denied a stay of execution for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. The decision came down earlier tonight. The founder of the Crips gang and convicted killer is set to die by lethal injection four hours from now. We're going to have a live report later from San Quentin.

Today President Bush tried to build support for the mission here in Iraq. In a speech, he compared the struggle to the birth of the United States. He also admitted progress in Iraq is difficult, saying the transition to a free society is coming with challenges and setbacks.

And in Baghdad, here voting began Monday for Thursday's nationwide elections. Only prisoners that have not been charged with a crime are eligible to vote today, also people in hospitals. That means Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants will not be casting ballots.

And another powerful earthquake hit Pakistan and Afghanistan today. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. After the preliminary magnitude, 6.7 quake. Just two months ago, a major quake in the region killed an estimated 73,000 people.

One of the things we wanted to do when we came to Iraq was get a sense of really what is happening on the ground. You hear so much from politicians, whether it's Republicans or Democrats, back in the United States their view of what's happening. We wanted to see it for ourselves.

There's also so much -- I think it's often easy for reporters to get caught up in the daily death toll, the bombs and the bullets. We wanted to look at what actual progress has been made here on the ground, and there are some signs of real progress. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Sometimes lost in the headlines from Iraq, the daily death toll, the lack of reliably clean water and regular electricity, the fears of security are positive signs -- signs of progress. Iraqi forces for instance, plagued with low morale and limited training -- they are improving.

The U.S. says its trained, equipped and engaged some 150,000 Iraqi forces, though even U.S. commanders question the readiness of many units.

KEN POLLACK, SABAN CENTER AT BROOKINGS: What we're seeing is that more and more of these units are able to function in combat alongside American units, and actually contribute in a meaningful way to the counter-insurgency campaign. That's a very big step forward from where we were in the past.

COOPER: Freedom of the press. It didn't exist during Saddam's reign. Today there are nearly 200 Iraqi newspapers, 30 Iraqi television stations and 80 radio stations, though many are affiliated with particular groups.

POLLACK: A free press is a critical element of any democracy. One of the best ways to get at a horribly corrupt system is to have a free press that will go after it and find out about the corruption and expose it to daylight. So the fact that you now do have a real free press in Iraq is very important of a long-term health.

COOPER: The economy. Iraq is still plagued with poverty, but it is experiencing economic growth. U.S. officials say 30,000 new businesses have opened and more goods are in shops, thanks in part to a thriving black market.

Unemployment estimates range from 27 to 40 percent. Still very high, but down from 60 percent, soon after Saddam's fall in April 2003.

And consumer technology is exploding. There were no cell phones before the war, now there are 3 million. And internet subscriptions have rocketed from less than 5,000 to more than 147,000 now.

POLLACK: There are some things that are going better now than they were before, and it's one of the reasons why most Iraqis remain hopeful that the future will be better than the past.

COOPER: And perhaps the most important sign of progress of all -- elections. A majority of eligible Iraqis are expected to vote this week in free elections -- the greatest hope for ensuring more progress in the future.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: While successes like those are some of the things President Bush has been highlighting in his recent speeches on Iraq, today, however, he did something different. He discussed casualty counts with American and Iraqi, stating that more than 2,000 U.S. troops have died, of course, while more than 30,000 Iraqis have lost their lives in the war. The latter number isn't official, the White House was quick to point out. They say the president got it from reading newspapers and other media. Where does a number like that come from, you might wonder. CNN's Gary Tuchman investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael White is not the only person who uses his laptop at Starbucks. But what he does with the laptop is rather out of the ordinary.

MICHAEL WHITE, FOUNDER, ICASUALTIES.ORG: I spend a good deal of time tracking casualties coming out of Iraq.

TUCHMAN: White, a software engineer for a wireless company in the suburbs of Atlanta, has undertaken the grim task of developing a website to count and track deaths in Iraq -- all of them. It's called icasualties.org.

WHITE: We take the job seriously and try to keep a honest and true total.

TUCHMAN: The numbers are considered so accurate, that news organizations check their numbers with his.

(On camera): Basically, here at your kitchen table, at Starbucks, you are authoring a website that is seen all over the world, with people relying on your figures about casualties in Iraq?

WHITE: Correct.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): White developed the site because he says he didn't want people to forget the troops who were dying. He combs news articles and gets items e-mailed to him from around the world as he tries to confirm U.S. military deaths and injuries.

(On camera): Doesn't the Pentagon have accurate numbers?

WHITE: They do, but their numbers are usually about a week behind.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): He also keeps totals of other nations' troops, and American contractors who are killed, and does his best to keep track of Iraqi civilians.

(On camera): Now here you have an empty minibus loaded with explosives that blew up, three civilians in Iraq killed, Baghdad clashes, one civilian killed. Not only do you have your information on site, you establish links also?

WHITE: Right, correct.

TUCHMAN: So if you would go onto your site to do some -- investigate how many Iraqi civilians have died, what number would you have seen?

WHITE: Around 30,000.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Such talk is usually avoided by the White House, but on Monday morning, President Bush was asked how many Iraqis have been killed during the war.

BUSH: I would say 30,000 more or less have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis.

WHITE: It's finally nice to have an official word said.

TUCHMAN: The White House does say the president was not offering official word, just repeating media estimates.

This husband and father admits he is no fan of this war, but rejects accusations his website is antiwar propaganda.

WHITE: I have the driest website around when it comes to talking about casualties from Iraq, that there's no way that those numbers don't mean anything. They really hit you hard.

TUCHMAN: As they do to many people, no matter how they feel about the war. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well there's been some extraordinary developments here in Iraq over the last several days. Reports that some insurgents are telling Al Qaida in Iraq, the foreign terrorists, not to interfere with the upcoming elections. That, of course, is a big change from the elections last year when all insurgents warned all Iraqi's to stay away from the polls.

In a moment I'll talk with "TIME Magazine's" Michael Ware about that battle between Al Qaida and Iraqi insurgents.

Coming up, though, on 360, in the U.S., Stanley "Tookie" Williams, now just hours away from death. California's 12th execution in nearly 30 years. Coming up, we'll show you Williams' final day on death row. How it began and how it's going to end.

And it's a lightning rod within the Catholic Church. A secretive group with a Latin name, Opus Dei. You might have read about it about it in the DaVinci Code. Is it really a cult? Or simply a victim of misinformed hype? Coming up, a 360 fact check.

Across American and the world, you're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: An extraordinary report out of Iraq that Sunni insurgents here are actually telling foreign terrorists, Al Qaida in Iraq, not to get involved, not to interfere in Thursday's historic elections. We're joined now by CNN's -- by "TIME Magazine," I should say. Maybe someday CNN's, Michael Ware.

Thanks very much for joining us. You spent a lot of time with these insurgents. Is this for real? Why would Sunni insurgents be telling Al Qaida in Iraq, don't interfere with the elections?

MICHAEL WARE, TIME MAGAZINE CORRESONDENT: Anderson, this is a two phases of this war. There's a homegrown insurgency, a war of liberation, if you will. And then there's the imported holy war, or terrorist war. And here we see them clash. The homegrown insurgents have a political agenda. They want to see a political dimension to the insurgency emerge. They've told their fighters, they've told their supporters, go and vote just like you did on October 15 for the referendum. And just like the referendum, they've been saying to Zarqawi's people, just sit down for one day, sit down. So unlike the January election, during the referendum, Anderson, we saw not one Zarqawi attack or suicide bombing because he was told to back off.

COOPER: But, I mean a year ago in the January elections, they were talking about, you know, the streets running red with the blood of anyone who voted. Do the Sunni insurgents feel they made a mistake in doing that?

WARE: Well, as I was talking to one of my senior strategists just yesterday, this is a man very much within the inner circle of one of the most powerful factions. It's a response to two things. One is he said, yes this is answering to the constituency, listening to our people, to our community who want to vote. But that's again, the Baathists and the independent fighters, the Nationalists -- they were telling me back in 2003 that they saw that this was a two-track war with a political and a military front. They talked about HoChi Minh Chegwa Vara (ph), and they talked about Ching-Fang (ph), very much like the political process in Northern Ireland. COOPER: And so, I mean, there is this -- is this tension between the two -- I mean, for a long time -- I remember when I first came here, I was talking to you. They were talking about, you know, trying to drive a wedge between the nationalists and these foreign terrorist. I mean, is -- is that still possible? Is there a tension? Is there a space between them?

WARE: I mean, this has been a marriage of inconvenience. It's very much odd bedfellows, secular Baathists and homegrown Iraqi nationalists working together with both foreign and Iraqi Islamists, who want to bring about a very different kind of society here in Iraq. However, they have a common enemy right now, so they are working together. This schism, this tension has always existed. But what we've seen is the Iraqification of Zarqawi's organization. As his foreign leaders have been killed or captured, Iraqis have risen up. And they find it much easier to talk to their old friends from the Republican Guard.

COOPER: So if the U.S. withdrew or, you know, to some extent, stepped back their forces, would that take away the fight from some of these nationalists insurgents?

WARE: Very much. The sole cores, the motivation, is to resist the occupation. And as the top Baathists have said, and as the top Iraqi Islamists have said, the association of Muslim scholars say give us a time table for withdrawal. Be genuine about your intent to support us and empower us and we will stand up to Zarqawi for you. U.S. military intelligence is looking for exactly this. This is why Ambassador Khalilzad and U.S. military intelligence says they are bringing back the Baath party because they are against Zarqawi and together they can route him out from Iraq, they believe.

COOPER: "TIME Magazine" Michael Ware. Michael, always good to talk to you.

WARE: Thank you.

COOPER: All right, stay safe.

He hustled over here. It's not an easy thing to do at this time in the morning. So we do appreciate it.

You know, more than a third of Americans killed in Iraq this year were members of the National Guard or Reserves. And as the war stretches on, one problem for the military is keeping enough boots on the ground, as the military would say. A lot of the troops are now on their second or even their third tours of duty of here. Many others who never dreamed they'd be called up or preparing to deploy, people who left active duty years ago, even decades ago in some cases. Some of them are single parents. CNN's Mary Snow has the case of one lady.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside her Medford, New York home, Patricia Arndt puts up Christmas decorations, even though she plans on putting her house on the market next week. She says she's trying to put up a good front for her 13-year old son, Shane.

PATRICIA ARNDT, MOTHER CALLED FOR DUTY: Operation Iraqi Freedom.

SNOW: In October, the 43-year old single mother learned she was being called up for duty in Iraq -- 20 years after she was last an active duty soldier. The Army wants her to go in February.

ARNDT: Shocked. I never thought -- especially after all these years, especially with my rank, and especially my status -- it's equivalent to a first sergeant.

SNOW: Arndt is a master sergeant. She first enlisted in the Army in 1982. After serving four years of active duty, she entered the Reserves. Last year she was switched to the Individual Ready Reserve, a unit she refers to as the "Just in Case" unit, since they are usually the last to be called to fill vacancies.

The U.S. Army says some 110,000 former soldiers have IRR status, and it's called up about 5,000 of them for duty in Iraq. Arndt is appealing for an exemption. She says the Army isn't giving her enough time to get everything in order.

ARNDT: It's a moral dilemma for me. Because I love my son. I love my country. It's tough. You know, and to have to choose between the two, it's not an easy decision.

SNOW: The Army is considering her appeal. It says so far it's granted about 40 percent of IRR members a delay or exemption. In a statement, a spokesman says, quote, "We clearly understand that this puts a strain on families, particularly single parent families. But, also clearly all soldiers, even single parents, are volunteers and have a duty to protect the nation."

Patricia Arndt says her greatest worry is what will happen to her son if she's overseas for 18 months because she doesn't have family who can care for him.

ARNDT: I wonder what's going to happen to him? Where's he going to be? What's going to happen in 18 months at 13? Is there -- because he didn't have me there to support him, that he's going to fall the wrong way -- I'm worried. Because I don't know what's going to happen, you know, where he's going to go.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: If Patricia Arndt isn't given an exemption, she will find she is not alone in her situation. A U.S. Army spokesman says eight percent of active personnel are single parents -- Anderson.

COOPER: Erica Hill, thanks very much. Oh -- sorry. I'm sorry. I apologize. Erica Hill from "HEADLINE NEWS," coming up next with some of the other stories we're following tonight. That was Mary Snow, of course. Hi Erica. I'm a little dazed and confused right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, the time change, things are a little off, we'll let is slide. And I'll let you off the hook and give you some headlines.

And we're starting tonight with a contrite President Bush. And speaking with NBC's Brian Williams, the president said federal authorities, quote, "fell down on the job" of responding to Hurricane Katrina. And to the extent that the federal government was ineffective, Mr. Bush said he himself was responsible.

Condolences today to the family of Rigoberto Alpizar -- condolences from the head of the Transportation Security Administration, the boss of the air marshals who shot and killed Mr. Alpizar at Miami International Airport last week. TSA Director Kip Hawley called the death regrettable, but justifiable given the facts of the case.

In New York, a case of life imitating auritor (ph) -- the pulp fiction, that is. Police have arrested Actor Lillo Brancato, Jr., in connection with a burglary and shootout that left one of New York's finest dead. Brancato once played a minor role on the Sopranos.

And you can call them killer whales -- actually they're choking on killer chemicals. According to a new study out today, killer whales, or orcas, are loaded with pesticides, flame retardants and PCBs, full of chemicals because increasingly so is the ocean they swim in.

Not the most uplifting story to end on, Heidi. Sorry about that.

HEIDI COLLINS: No. Usually you have much happier stories.

HILL: All right, I'll try for later with happier.

COLLINS: All right. Thank you, Erica.

Right now, a developing story. Stanley "Tookie" Williams is now less than four hours away from death. You are looking now live at a picture from outside San Quentin Prison. There you see where there are several people gathered -- those folks holding a vigil, obviously against the death penalty. At 3:01 Eastern, 12:01 a.m. in California, Tuesday morning, he is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection inside the prison. About an hour ago, though, the Supreme Court denied his appeal. And his last day alive will be governed by rules and procedure. From his final steps to his final breath. CNN's Brian Todd reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even before "Tookie" Williams woke up on Monday, according to a prison official, all of the more than 600 other prisoners on San Quentin's death row have been in tight lockdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ultimate punishment is being carried out and we try to keep it structured.

TODD: Williams is allowed visitors for most of the day. Then, at 6:00 p.m., Pacific time, he's moved to a special death watch cell, next to the execution chamber; 11:30 p.m. Pacific, he's given a new pair of blue jeans and a new blue work shirt to wear; 11:45, the first group of witnesses is led to the witness viewing area of the death chamber; 11:55 p.m., media witnesses are escorted in. At exactly midnight, Pacific time, final calls are made to see if any last minute stays have been ordered. 12:01 a.m., three guards lead Williams into the green execution chamber. Williams is helped into the modified dentist chair, and the three guards secure his arms and legs. The guards leave the room. Then, a medic and an assistant enter and attach a cardiac monitor and needles into each arm. Williams is free to say any last words. Then, from behind the chambers walls and out of view of the witnesses, three buttons are pushed in succession, releasing the chemicals that will kill "Tookie" Williams.

A prison official would not comment when we asked if just one person would push the buttons. But one expert says in other executions in the U.S., that job, like many others in this process, is often handled by different people.

RICHARD DIETER, DEATH PENALTY INFORMATION CENTER: No one would have the ultimate responsibility for certain that they had killed a human being. And there's a long history of this in our executions.

TODD: Once a doctor determines that Williams is dead, the curtains close between the chamber and the witness area. A prison official writes up a short notice that the execution is over. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: I want to show you those live pictures once again outside San Quentin prison. You see it there on your screen. This would end up being the 12th execution in the state of California since the death penalty was reinstated back in 1976. We will keep our eye on this story for you. And closer to the top of the hour, we'll check back in, inside San Quentin prison with our Ted Rowlands, who is covering this story for us, and give you the very latest at that time.

Meanwhile, the protocol for death; and in the Gulf region, what's the protocol for life? August 29, the storm hits. December 12, these people are still without a home to speak of. The federal government promised trailers and well, here they are. So why can't anyone use them yet? We're "Keeping them Honest," next.

And they say they seek holiness as part of an organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. But that's definitely not the picture some former members draw. They claim it's a cult. Copus Dei, God Works. What is it really? 360 next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Even as we're here in Iraq all week, we have not forgotten the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We have not forgotten the continuing disaster that exists in New Orleans and the Gulf.

In New Orleans today, a federal judge told FEMA that Hurricane Katrina evacuees still living in hotels must be allowed to stay one extra month. Their deadline has now been pushed back to February 7. But 15 weeks after the storm, what about the thousands of Katrina victims who have been waiting and waiting for FEMA to replace their destroyed homes with trailers? In St. Bernard Parrish, Susan Roesgen reports that it is an ongoing struggle for residents who are just trying to get one of those mysterious trailers. And where FEMA is concerned, trying to keep them honest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLENE CONRAD, KATRINA SURVIVOR: As long as he's with me, he's my rock.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESONDENT (voice-over): Wayne and Charlene Conrad just wanted to live again in their own home. So they are. Sort of. After weeks of waiting for a FEMA trailer that has never arrived, they decided to buy a tent and put it up in what's left of their living room.

ROESGEN (on camera): I like the "Do Not Disturb" sign.

CONRAD: Yes, how do you like that?

ROESGEN: This is where the master bed is, just barely big enough for the two of them. The house has no power, except in the kitchen. That's where they boil the water to help each other take a shower.

CONRAD: Pours it over me. I suds up. Then, when it's time to get the soap off, he pours it over me again. So that's how we take our bath.

ROESGEN: Charlene and Wayne have tried to make living here as nice as possible for themselves and for another couple -- longtime friends, who set up a tent in the Conrad's house too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Outdoor life is not my thing, but.

ROESGEN: Both couples are waiting for FEMA trailers.

CONRAD: You call, and you call and you call and you call. And it's busy. And then finally when somebody does answer, it's a recording. You got to press this button. I don't know anymore what to do. I really and truly don't. All we're asking is that we get a trailer.

ROESGEN: If Charlene would like to see some FEMA housing, she could go to Arkansas. These are mobile homes purchased by FEMA for Katrina victims that haven't been distributed to anyone. And one of these wouldn't fit in the Conrads' driveway anyway. But a smaller travel trailer would. And even more incredible to some people in St. Bernard, 1,400 travel trailers are sitting in their own backyard, empty. The Parrish ordered them from a private contractor just days after the hurricane. But they're not being used because FEMA hasn't given the Parrish the money to pay for them.

LARRY INGARGIOLA, ST. BERNARD PARRISH: They won't pay for the trailers. If they don't pay for the trailers, I can't put the trailers out. Parrish Homeland Security Chief Larry Ingargiola says he talks to FEMA reps three and four times a day and can't get FEMA to fork over the money. FEMA says it's not to blame. A FEMA spokeswoman in Washington, Nicole (ph) Andrews, says, "We agree that it is time that people forced from their homes more than three months ago have a place to call home." So far, she says, "FEMA has provided rental assistance for more than 500,000 families and housed more than 40,000 in travel trailers."

INGARGIOLA: We are ready for the trailers in St. Bernard. We are ready.

ROESGEN: People in St. Bernard are trying to come back. A few people have FEMA trailers, but 15-20,000 don't. That includes the Conrads -- still waiting for a trailer, sleeping in a tent, camped out in their living room instead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: The FEMA spokeswoman told me tonight that she'll look into the problem. In the past FEMA has said that the local governments have fumbled the ball by not having the proper hookups to power lines and sewer lines. But in St. Bernard Parrish, Anderson, that's not the case -- as the guy said, they're ready.

COOPER: It is so frustrating. Susan, thanks for that. Coming up next on 360, why have an estimated 80,000 Romans Catholics joined Opus Dei, is it god's work, they're doing, as they say? Or is it more secretive, much darker, like described in the best selling book, "The Da Vinci Code". Some new perspective in a new book about Opus Dei.

And convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams, just hours away from death. The co-founder of the Crips gang about to be executed. We'll take you live to San Quentin Prison.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And good evening again. Welcome back to 360, live from Baghdad, where it is already Tuesday morning, and so a milepost; 1,000 days into the struggle for this country's soul. We'll report on the milepost all day -- all this week, and tomorrow. And all this week we're spreading out throughout the country, getting the facts on the ground, seeing it for ourselves.

First, though, Heidi Collins has a look at some of the other developments we're following at this moment -- Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN NEWS ANCHOR, 360: Thanks, Anderson. Stanley Tookie Williams, the man behind the brutal Los Angeles gang called the Crips, a convicted murder of four people, who became -- while waiting on death row -- and eloquent opponent of gang violence -- has run out of appeals. Williams is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at one minute past midnight, Pacific Standard Time.

The governor of California and the supreme court, both declined to stay his execution earlier today. Live pictures, you see there, outside of San Quentin Prison. Those the main balloting does not begin until Thursday, early voting is already underway in Iraq's first fully constitutional parliamentary elections since Saddam Hussein's government fell in 2003. Among those permitted to cast ballots today, were hospital patients, soldiers, and prisoners.

Hurricane Katrina evacuees will not be evicted from the hotel rooms in which they have been living, at least not until February 7. A federal judge in New Orleans today ordered FEMA to keep paying the tab for this type of housing for another month. The agency has tried three times already to turn the evacuees out of the hotels in which they have been put up.

Well, the Catholic group, Opus Dei, has had its share of image problems. Convicted spy Robert Hanson, was a member. And in the best-selling novel, "The Da Vinci Code", the group is portrayed as downright sinister. Even it's name, a Latin phrase sounds mysterious. Well, it's perhaps the most controversial group within the Catholic Church, and now it is the subject of a new book, which we'll get to in just a moment. But first, some background. Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The search for a deeper faith has lead an estimated 80,000 Roman Catholics into Opus Dei, a controversial organization, prominently placed on the plot of the religious thriller and "New York Times" best-seller, "The Da Vinci Code".

The book paints a picture of a secretive organization, whose members follow a strict routine of prayer, study and often self flagellation. Some former members say they were victims of mind control, caught in a cult-like atmosphere.

It was as if our daughter had died, and yet she was still alive. Her eyes looked dead. It was as if she was there, but she wasn't there.

My emotions had basically been squashed, when I was in there. And it was kind of an eerie thing. I could sit there and watch them crying and, you know, their hearts completely broken, and have a cold face.

LOTHIAN: Religion experts say the group is in many ways a mystery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's because they're basically a secret, clandestine organization. Now, they will probably deny that. But if they do deny it then they have a heck of a PR job to do in the public forum.

LOTHIAN: Opus Dei, which means God's Work, was founded in 1928, by Spanish priest Jose Maria Escriva (ph). Fifty-four years later, thanks to Pope John Paul, the group became affiliated with the Catholic Church. (On camera): Opus Dei says it has sometimes been misunderstood. It denies accusations of mind control. Part of the group's web site is devoted to clearing things up. While they admit members do practice various acts of self denial, their mission statement focuses on seeking holiness and transforming the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They would prefer Catholic people, lay people, to bring their faith into the workplace, into the marketplace of life. Now, what could be more admirable than that?

LOTHIAN (voice over): A conservative arm of Catholic Church, promoting its spiritual devotion but dogged by a history of controversy. Dan Lothian, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: So, where does fiction end and fact begin? Journalist and CNN Vatican analyst, John Allen attempts to answer that question in his new book, "Opus Dei". It's based on more than 300 hours of interviews with insiders and former members of the group. I spoke to John Allen a little bit earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: So, John, many of us have only heard about Opus Dei from the "Da Vinci Code". Explain to us exactly what it is.

JOHN ALLEN, AUTHOR, "OPUS DEI", NAT'L. CATHOLIC REPORTER: Well, you know, in the "Da Vinci Code" it is this kind of sinister cult-like force, that dispatches mad albino monks to slay the enemies of the church. That's not reality.

In reality, Opus Dei is a group that was founded in Spain in 1928, with the purpose of teaching lay people how to sanctify their work. The idea being that whether you're a TV host or you're a barber or you're a truck driver, whatever, the details of that daily work, is your personal pathway to holiness and also your opportunity to change the world. So that is the kind of official focus.

Now, critics will say, is that that is a kind of smoke screen and the real agenda of Opus Dei is to acquire wealth and power to advance their own agenda, whatever that might be.

COLLINS: But the group is certainly secretive. Some people would still call it mysterious. I mean, Opus Dei, uses whips and spikes. What's the purpose?

ALLEN: I think more than mysterious, this is an example of how Opus Dei has preserved a practice that actually has a deep history in Catholic spirituality, but has been largely abandoned by most Catholics today, and therefore is no longer understood.

What they do -- there are two things. One is called the Cillus (ph), which is a barbed chain that you tie around your thigh and you wear for two hours a day, except Sunday. The other is the Discipline, which is a small cloth whip that you use against the back, once a week, during the length of time it takes you to say a prayer, like the "Our Father". The logic for both is the same. First, to remind you of the physical consequences of sin. Secondly, to remind you of the suffering of the world. And third, to identify with the suffering of Christ on the Cross.

Now, as I say, great saints of the church, past and present, St. Francis, St. Dominic, into the 20th century, with Mother Teresa, have done this. But because in the Catholic Church in the modern age, it has largely been set aside out of fears that it can be pushed to excess. It is something that I think most Catholics, to say nothing of the average person on the street today, simply has a hard time understanding.

COLLINS: Well, talking about mainstream average people, I mean, Opus Dei actually did become a little bit more mainstream with Pope John Paul II, correct? I mean, why do people join? What do they get out of it?

ALLEN: Well, you know, this again is one of those cases where it depends on who you talk to. If you talk to Opus Dei members, what they will say, and having done, you know more than 300 hours of interviews for this book, in nine countries, I'm convinced, for the most part, they're telling the truth.

What they'll say is the appeal for them was first of all, that they didn't have to become a priest or nun to be deeply serious about their Catholic faith. They could stay where they were, keep doing the work they're doing, but see it in a new light.

COLLINS: So they can actually walk in off the street, just proclaim that they're Catholic and say I want to become a member of Opus Dei?

ALLEN: Well, it's a little more complicated than that. It is actually, from the first contact to becoming a permanent member it takes you six and a half years. But the point is, you don't have to stop working in TV, or you don't have to stop being a lawyer in order to have a religious vocation. The idea is that you can see that work the same way a priest or a nun sees the work that they do as equally religious, equally valid in the eyes of God.

And the other appeal, I think, frankly, is just the companionship. I mean, the people they met in Opus Dei seemed to them very happy, very calm, very motivated and focused people. Now, what the critics will say is in many cases the reason people join is because they were aggressively recruited by Opus Dei. And that in some cases untoward pressure was applied.

COLLINS: Is it a cult?

ALLEN: Well, you know, if by cult you mean, people who are under someone's sway, that is are kind of engaging in blind obedience to a leaders and who are potentially, you know, a danger to themselves or others. I mean, but if that is your standard of cult, I would have to say that Opus Dei simply doesn't measure up. I mean, I've met hundreds of Opus Dei members in different parts of the world. I didn't get any sense that these people were being manipulated by someone else or had given up their freedom. Quite the contrary, they seem to be very happy with what they were doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: John Allen, our CNN analyst from the Vatican.

A date with death for Stanley Tookie Williams. His appeals exhausted and clemency denied, now this former gang leader is just hours from execution, 360 next, the latest from San Quentin. Plus, the final stop for a condemned prisoner. We take you inside a death chamber. You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A live shot, once again for you, outside San Quentin prison, in California, where Stanley Tookie William is just hours from death. Just a short time ago the supreme court denied a stay of execution for him, accused of killing four people. For the very latest we want to go to CNN's Ted Rowlands who is actually inside the walls of the prison now and can tell us more about exactly what is going to happen over these next few hours -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, Stanley Williams has been moved to the cell adjacent to the death chamber behind me. It's behind this tower that is here, inside the gates of San Quentin, where we are now.

We just got an update, they say that he has refused his last meal, but he is complacent. That is the word they used to describe his demeanor at this hour. They say that he is drinking milk but has not taken any food and refused his option for a last meal.

It is very quiet in here. The prison is in complete lockdown and has been for the entire day. Outside the prison walls, as you mentioned, the crowds continue to gather. There is a peaceful protest for the most part, there have been some skirmishes throughout the evening. Some pro-death penalty folks facing off with the anti-death penalty folks and Tookie Williams supporters. But for the most part it is a peaceful vigil. That is expected to grow in the next few hours as we lead up to 12 o'clock Pacific Time.

Stanley Tookie Williams was sent here to San Quentin in 1981, convicted of four murders. He's been on death row since that time. And this is some video of Stanley Williams here at San Quentin, this very rare video of a death row inmate.

During his time here, supporters say, he made a complete turn around and say that now his life is worth preserving because of the work that he has done from inside the walls here at San Quentin, writing children's books and reaching out to young people, telling them not to join gangs and to take up a life of crime. However, the victims' family members, most of them say that Stanley Tookie Williams was convicted of the crimes and sent to death row and it is time for him to pay that price.

There is still a long shot chance that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could reverse his earlier decision and grant clemency. That is what Stanley Williams' lawyers are hoping for. They've issued another plea for that. But the reality here, Heidi, tonight, is that that is very unlikely and Stanley Williams is expected to die in the next few hours.

COLLINS: Yes, just over three hours. All right. Ted Rowlands, thank you.

California is one of 38 states that have reinstated capital punishment. Most of them carry out the death sentence with a lethal injection. Though the surroundings may differ the machinery of death often remains the same. CNN's Christiane Amanpour was given a rare tour of the death chamber in Huntsville, Texas. Here now is her report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SR. INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: So, we're entering now?

This is the death chamber.

AMANPOUR: Oh, it's shocking to see, for me, for the first time.

At six o'clock he'll be removed from the cell, be brought in here, get up on the gurney. Once he's on the gurney, five officers are each assigned a position around this gurney.

AMANPOUR: And those five people are what you call the tie-down people?

Tie-down team. And they will strap his arms down, they'll strap his ankles down and then they'll put the restraints across the rest of his body.

The IV team will come in. They'll insert two IVs, one in his left arm, one in his right arm. The warden will then give the signal. And they -- uh, the chemicals start flowing.

AMANPOUR: Does he talk to you, when the IV is going in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I make it a point to talk to them, real strong during that point in time.

I mean, we've had fellows who lay here and told lawyer jokes, the whole time somebody was sticking needles in.

AMANPOUR: How long more, do you think you'll do this for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't look at it as a job. I look at it as a ministry. That's the reason I'm here. So, you know, whenever -- as long as the opportunity allows, I'll be here.

AMANPOUR: You don't think at some point it will wear on your soul?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has. It has taken its toll. Yes, it has.

AMANPOUR: And for you? How do you look at it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I look at it as a service to the people of Texas. I'm actually performing a service.

AMANPOUR: Do you know how cold that will sound to a lot, a lot of people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think that it's not meant to sound cold, by any stretch of the imagination. I view my job as really being an extension of what the courts have ordered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: That was CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Huntsville, Texas.

Erica Hill from Headline News joins us with some of the other stories we're following right now.

Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWS ANCHOR, HEADLINE NEWS: Hey, Anderson.

A second night of mob violence to tell you about on the streets of Sydney, Australia. Now, all of this follows a rampage there on Sunday, when 5,000 men, who appeared to be drunk, went looking for Middle Easterners. Why? Apparently, they wanted to retaliate following an earlier incident which involved white Australians and what were said to be Lebanese.

Meantime, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, on Capitol Hill today to defend his plan to allow passengers to bring small scissors and tools on board commercial air planes. That is said to go into effect in 10 days.

Edmund Holly (ph) said it is time to remove some stop-gap measures put into place immediately after the September 11 attacks. Flight attendant unions are against the changes.

The Supreme Court announcing today it will consider the constitutionality of the Texas congressional map drawn up by Representative Tom DeLay. Those changes in districts helped Republicans win 21 of the states 32 seats in Congress, up from 15.

The map was the cause of a nasty battle in Texas between Republicans, Democrats and minority groups.

And the breathlessly awaited results are in. Online voting by readers of two dog magazines giving the head pat for best celebrity pet owner of the year to -- British singer Ja (ph) Stone. You see her here without her poodle, Dusty Springfield. It seems that Miss Stone is such a good owner, she keeps her little darling out of the public eye. For the worst celebrity pet owner, by the way, scruff of the neck cuff for Paris Hilton, who turned in Tinker Bell, the Chihuahua, for a ferret. I mean, would you ever trade in your dog a different pet, Anderson? No.

COOPER: I don't understand the whole ferret thing, frankly. I never have, never will. They don't interest me.

HILL: I don't either, but hey -- if they're happy. You know?

COOPER: and the Ferret Owners -- I said the Ferret Owners Association can address their e-mails to EricaHill@cnn.com.

HILL: No, no, no. How about just Paris Hilton.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: All right.

An unforgettable year coming up, in unforgettable images. Coming up, we're going to take a look at "Time" magazine's annual best photos issue. Proof that 2005 has been heart-stopping year to say the least. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're here in Baghdad for obvious reasons, to take in everything that's going on. That's why still photographs are so powerful, because they let you do exactly that. Take it all in. It is December and "Time" magazine has done again, what it does at every year-end. Let's go through 2005, remember what was a very, very hard year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice over): It began with a wave of sorrow; a sea of tarps and dry ice. A makeshift morgue in Pukett (ph), Thailand, days after the tsunami struck. More than 200,000 died. Millions more struggle to understand where their families, their lives and homes had gone; how the ocean that sustained them could suddenly take a way so much.

Weeks later, worlds away, an Iraq woman voted in the first free and democratic elections the nation had seen in half a century. An American soldier patrolled the streets, watched by Iraqis a few feet, yet far away.

All are changed. Some come home with wounds to heal, some will never heal.

We said good-bye to Pope John Paul II, mourned his passing, celebrated his life.

Four thousands in Darfur, however, the suffering continued. A mother struggled to keep her child alive, she was exhausted, unable to go on. So much loss, it seemed at every turn. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was black and very, very smoky. People were panicking.

COOPER: July, London, 52 innocent lives taken when four bombs exploded during morning rush hour. A double-decker bus demolished. As free nations fought terror, one woman in Afghanistan fought for democracy. Running in elections, hope for the future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a national disaster, get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country.

COOPER: In America's South, a natural disaster became a disaster man-made.

In New Orleans there was flooding and death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we need for you to back all the way --

COOPER: And people abandoned. There was compassion and love, but there was also fear and frustration.

Mother Nature left her mark this year. It seemed no part of the world was left untouched. A powerful earthquake in Pakistan left tens of thousands dead. School children crushed in their classrooms. The wounded had to wait for aid and for winter and for hope to return, perhaps in the new year.

This was 2005, a year in pictures sometimes too difficult to look at. A year in which all of us saw heroism and hope, sometimes overcome by disasters and death.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: What a year it has been. We'll have more from Baghdad in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Want to thank Heidi Collins for covering for me in New York. We're going to be in Iraq all week long. Tomorrow we'll take you out on patrol with U.S. troops, hunting down IEDs. Larry King is next.

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