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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

War and Politics; Al Qaeda Threat; Afghanistan Reality Check; Grappling with Gators; Gone too Far?; Cause & Effect?; Debut Day

Aired September 5, 2006 - 23:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ...battlefield, where the outcome of this struggle will be decided.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Not long ago the president said al Qaeda was bruised and battered. So what has changed other than the upcoming elections?

They rushed to Ground Zero to help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICH VOLPE, FORMER NYPD DETECTIVE: Right now I'm below 40 percent function in both my kidneys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now thousands are sick, some dying. But is Ground Zero really to blame for making them sick? A 360 investigation.

And a big day for Katie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR: I don't think people necessarily want an anchor who is, good evening, tonight on the "CBS Evening News"...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And for Rosie, too. Did their debuts live up to all the hype?

Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. In this hour we begin with President Bush's fiery reaffirmation of how he sees the war on terror and how the country should fight it.

New polling shows that not every voter agrees. And with Election Day growing closer, the administration is now campaigning hard to restate its case and to restate it firmly.

More on how it's playing in a moment. First, CNN's Ed Henry and what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly five years after vowing he'd get Osama bin Laden dead or alive, President Bush acknowledged al Qaeda remains a major threat to the United States. Taking the extraordinary step of quoting bin Laden's own words to associates to again try to make the case that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He calls it a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam. He says the whole world is watching this war and that it will end in victory and glory or misery and humiliation. For al Qaeda, Iraq is not a distraction. From their war on America, it is the central battlefield where the outcome of this struggle will be decided.

HENRY: This is a page ripped right out of the Karl Rove playbook that helped Republicans win in 2002 and 2004. Play on Americans' fears of another terror attack.

BUSH: Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lennon and Hitler before them. The question is, will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say? We're on the offensive. We will not rest, we will not retreat and we will not redraw from the fight until this threat to civilization has been removed.

HENRY: But this time the president may be playing right into the hands of Democrats who contend his policies have made the country less safe.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: They've run this play one too many times. It's the same speeches that they've given before. All the speeches in the world do not change what's going on in the ground on Iraq. And, as we've heard here, the ground in Iraq is not a pleasant place.

HENRY: In fact, a new CNN opinion research poll suggests the public is no longer buying the president's claim that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. Only 45 percent of Americans say Iraq is part of the war on terror. While 53 percent say it's not.

Undaunted, the president pushed forward to also link Iran to the threat from al Qaeda. In making the case, the international community cannot let Tehran get a nuclear weapon.

BUSH: Like al Qaeda and the Sunni extremists, the Iranian regime has clear aims. They want to drive America out of the region, to destroy Israel and to dominate the broader Middle East. To achieve these aims they are funding and arming terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Which allow them to attack Israel and America by proxy.

HENRY (on camera): At the outset, the president said he did not want this series of speeches to get wrapped up in the mid-term elections. But part three comes Wednesday and focuses on dealing with detainees at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, a politically explosive issue.

Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Our political round table now. CNN's Candy Crowley joins me and "Time" Magazine Columnist Joe Klein, along with CNN's Bill Schneider. Appreciate all you being with us.

Candy, what do you think the president is trying to accomplish with these speeches? I mean, this speech really is not all that new. It's kind of a redux of the speech he made a year ago.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not all that new is gracious. Look, he is talking to the people who he needs to come out. You know, the key to mid-term elections, get your people to come out and vote. They're very worried that Republicans are discouraged. This is to remind Republicans what they liked about George Bush. Here's the choice, we can protect you better than they can. So that's what this is aimed at.

COOPER: Actually, Joe, can the president with a straight face, though, say that this is not a political speech?

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: No. And the big problem here, logically, is he's setting out this huge problem, the new Hitler and so on. And he doesn't give the second half of it which is, and therefore I am going to do this. And therefore we're going to change our policy in this way. And therefore we're going to put more troops into Iraq. He doesn't say any of those things, which leads you to believe that it is just a political speech.

COOPER: Bill, I mean, you've been looking at these poll numbers, the latest CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, 76 percent of Americans are angry with how things are going in this country, just 21 percent are content. How does that compare to past years around this time and can these speeches really do anything about it?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have that question going back to 2000. This is far higher than we've seen in any of those years. That's the last six years. I imagine if the question had been asked in the early '90s, that was when people were really angry. Then they were angry about the economy and that anger lasted for years. They threw out the Republican president, the first George Bush, then they threw out the Democratic Congress. There were term limits passed, Ross Perot emerged. There were angry voters everywhere then. Now there still are, but they're angry about lots of things. Iraq is one of them, but the sleeper issue in this election, I would believe, is the economy. There are lots of people who are very angry and very anxious about the economy.

COOPER: What about immigration?

SCHNEIDER: Immigration is there, too. That's an issue that's got a lot of Republicans angry. Because Republicans also say they're angry. They're just angry about different things and immigration is certainly one of them.

COOPER: Candy?

CROWLEY: Well, I mean the interesting thing about the anger is, I mean, the Republicans are much praised for their turnout machine. They can really get voters out. But angry voters trump a turnout machine any time. I mean, that's very dangerous for Republicans when you see that much anger out there because anger gets you to the polls.

COOPER: Joe, what about the Democrats? I mean, can they -- do they benefit from this? I mean, you know, you look at those poll numbers. It's not as if people are, you know, in love with the Democrats either.

KLEIN: Well, you know, the Democrats never fail to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. But in this case, the one thing that those three issues that Bill laid out, Iraq, immigration and the economy all have in common is George W. Bush. This is an election about George W. Bush. And even many Republicans are angry about him on immigration, as Bill said. And that's going to suppress the Republican turnout.

I don't think the Democrats have to do all that much to have to offer very many alternatives. They can just say, we're not him.

COOPER: Do you agree with that, Candy?

CROWLEY: Well, yes, there was a great line from a Republican strategist who said, you know, the good news for Republicans is, Democrats don't have a plan. The bad news is, they may not need one. It's good enough to just not be a Republican at this point.

COOPER: Bill, you look at the numbers, you think that holds true?

SCHNEIDER: Well, yes. I mean, look, there's an old saying, you can't beat something with nothing. Well, you know what? You can beat something with nothing. If people are really angry at something, which is what they've got, they'll vote for something else, even if they're not sure what it is. They voted for Jimmy Carter, they weren't sure about him. They took a big chance in 1980 when they were really angry at Carter, they voted for Ronald Reagan, which a lot of people were very frightened of. Yes, you can beat something with nothing.

COOPER: Joe, do facts on the ground in Iraq have to change in order for this president to get some sort of relief from the situation there?

KLEIN: Yes, between now and November. And I think that the only way facts on the ground are going to change is for the worse.

But one thing we should remember in talking about this, we're not talking about one election, we're talking about 34 Senate races, 435 House races. And those are influenced by the quality of the candidates in each of the districts, so that if you have a really terrific Republican candidate, he or she can overcome it.

But the national trends, especially when you have a huge issue like Iraq and the others on the table, tend to have more sway in a year like this.

CROWLEY: And that's true. I mean, the saving grace for Republicans may be that they not only have an effort in a lot of these districts to make it just, you know, me against this guy.

COOPER: To localize it.

CROWLEY: Right, to localize that. It's not just that. It's that these guys really know how to run campaigns. A lot of these are veterans of the political campaign trail in these threatened districts. And they've known this for some time. So, you know, if they're not ready for this, then they probably don't deserve to be in office because they've been told since January that they're in big trouble.

SCHNEIDER: The real threatened groups here are the Republicans in the northeast. I've gone to a lot of their constituencies, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and these are mostly moderate Republicans who are facing a very hostile electorate. They're not angry at say, Lincoln Chaffey or Christopher Shays personally so much as they are angry at Bush. And suddenly they're waking up and saying, wait a minute, this guy is a Bush supporter. How can I vote for him?

It's the same thing that happened to southern Democrats in 1994 when a lot of their long-time supporters woke up and said, he's a Clinton supporter. Off with his head.

COOPER: Interesting.

KLEIN: You know, I was just at a Shays meeting where people were just praising him for being bipartisan and a moderate and the great Congressman that he is. I went up to them afterwards and said, are you going to vote for him? They said, no, we did last time, but this time we have to vote Democrat to win the House of Representatives and block the president. So there is an awful lot of sophisticated, strategic voting going on, at least in the northeast.

COOPER: Interesting. Joe, Bill, Candy, appreciate your expertise, thanks. Interesting.

Today, President Bush said in no uncertain terms that al Qaeda remains a threat. The question is how big a threat do they really pose beyond the hype? Why is the president changing the way he talks about the terror group? We'll talk about that ahead.

And Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin couldn't resist the call of the wild. In the end, it cost him his life. Coming up, meet another man who wrestles alligators just for the thrill of it. Why he is willing to risk his life.

All that and more on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: For al Qaeda, Iraq is not a distraction. From their war on America, it is the central battlefield where the outcome of this struggle will be decided.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, in his speech today, President Bush made clear that al Qaeda remains a serious threat. A message that doesn't entirely mesh with what he said not so long ago. Remember about the terror group? Well, tonight we ask what has changed since then?

CNN's Kelli Arena tries to figure it out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A crippled organization, most of its leaders in custody or dead. Its base of operations destroyed. That's how the president has described al Qaeda in the recent past, barely mentioning Osama bin Laden's name until now.

BUSH: Bin laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lennon and Hitler before them.

ARENA: Now, the president is talking about how al Qaeda and terrorists inspired are successfully using the Internet to recruit and train, how their influencing western born citizens to join their cause, and how they nearly pulled off another 9/11-style attack.

BUSH: Most recently they attempted to strike again in the most ambitious plot since the attacks of September the 11th. A plan to blow up passenger planes headed for America over the Atlantic Ocean.

ARENA: Is al Qaeda running scared or should we be? What's changed to turn what the president described as a battered organization into a serious threat? Well, part of the answer is that plot to blow up airliners.

Just before it was revealed last month, two top government counterterrorism officials privately said that they didn't think al Qaeda was capable of a large-scale attack. Analysts suggest that plot served as a wake-up call.

BRUCE HOFFMAN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I think there's a very good saying that sums it up, and that's the more things change, the more they stay the same. And I think whatever optimism we might have had has certainly been challenged in the past month.

ARENA: Some see politics at play here. That the closer we get to the mid-term elections, the more the specter of a potent and dangerous al Qaeda suits the president and his party.

(On camera): But whatever the motivation, analysts say that the new and more alarming rhetoric may be closer to the mark than the old, we're winning message.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen has reported extensively on Osama bin Laden. He met with him, and his ties to Afghanistan. He is in Afghanistan tonight, joins me now from Kabul.

Peter, you just heard Kelli's report. I mean, which is it? Is it al Qaeda is on the run, is a weakened organization or that they are, as the president is talking about now, sort of on the rise?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think it's both. I mean, you know, this is not like a mafia crime family where if you arrest all the top members of the crime family, it goes out of business. Al Qaeda has taken tremendous hits, 75 percent of its leaders captured, killed, top leaders like bin Laden, Ayman al- Zawahiri on the run.

On the other hand, the London attack of July 7, 2005, that killed 56 people, in my mind very clearly an al Qaeda operation. We've had 17 audiotapes and videotapes from bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri this year, demonstrating that they don't seem to be feeling the heat of the war on terrorism. The suicide attacks in Afghanistan, which have gone off the charts this year, certainly have an al Qaeda role in it. And this organization has regrouped. It is feeling able to do operations thousands of miles from its base on the Afghan/Pakistan border. It's not the pre-9/11 organization that attacked us five years ago, but it is certainly back in business.

COOPER: If that is true then, I mean, by the president's definition of this war, this is a war without an end. I mean that no matter what steps you take, no matter who you arrest, there's always going to be somebody out there plotting and trying to plan, isn't that -- I mean, doesn't it seem like there's no end in sight to this then?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, there's one thing that al Qaeda and the U.S. government agree on, which is this is going to be a long war. The Pentagon officially calls the war against terrorism the long war. And bin Laden, himself, has said this is going to go on for generations. And unfortunately, I think both are right. I mean, it's not like al Qaeda suddenly is going to decide, hey, the United States is great, I love George W. Bush. We're going to turn out, you know, throw away our weapons. I think that this group is very serious, very determined.

And we've seen terrorism figures, Anderson, really explode in 2003. It was the worst year since 1982. The numbers doubled in 2004. They went off the charts in 2005. I think 2006 will be the same. And, so, you know, unfortunately, the al Qaeda ideological virus has really spread. Bin Laden has been somewhat successful.

COOPER: It's amazing. I read something I think you had written, I want to just verify this is true, that Pakistan has not arrested a Taliban leader since 2001? BERGEN: That is, unfortunately, correct, according to U.S. military sources, Anderson. They have done very little and not only very little on the Taliban, but there are a number of other militias alive with the Taliban run by a guy called (UNINTELLIGIBLE), another guy called Julildan Harkani (ph) . The same is true for these militias which are also operating, headquartered in Pakistan, operating inside Afghanistan.

COOPER: I mean that boggles the mind.

BERGEN: Well, you know, the Taliban, after all, which were a large degree of Pakistani creation, and they're keeping the Taliban on the table as a strategic option. You know, the U.S. military may withdraw one day. This is their backyard for Pakistan. They want to keep the Taliban option open. They backed the Taliban in '96. When it took Kabul, it was one of the very few governments that recognized the Taliban. They have, you know, ties with them going back more than a decade now -- Anderson.

COOPER: How do you mean that they want to keep it as a military option? What benefit does Pakistan get by having the Taliban still alive?

BERGEN: Well, let's say 10 years from now the U.S. military pulls out and NATO pulls out. I mean, I think in a Pakistani view, and I'm not, I'm quoting U.S. military sources here, this is just a strategic option they want to have on the table. They've always had this idea of strategic death, meaning if India attacks them, they want to have Afghanistan as a place that they can retreat to. And this has been sort of a Pakistani strategic doctrine. And keeping the Taliban alive is part of that doctrine.

I think it's very short sided. I don't think it helps Pakistan in the long term. Certainly the U.S. military is not happy with this. Certainly our allies who are fighting here in Afghanistan, the British, the Canadians, they're not happy with this, have expressed their displeasure privately to Pakistan. General Musharraf has done a pretty good job on other fronts in the war on terror. But in this case, the feeling is that he has a lot to do.

COOPER: Fascinating. Peter Bergen, appreciate it. Thanks.

Moving on now. People around the world are mourning tonight the sudden death of Steve Irwin, a man, of course, known for his daring antics. Conservation was his true passion, he says. Ahead on 360, we'll have more on the life and the death of the crocodile hunter.

We'll also meet one Florida man who wrestles alligators just for the thrill of it. Why he does it, ahead.

Plus, how far is too far? Are animal reality TV shows pushing the envelope a bit too much just for ratings?

That and more, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE IRWIN, CROCODILE HUNTER: And this isn't some joint ego trip, uh-uh. It's just that I got to get the camera. I've got to be right in there. I have to get right fierce smack into the action because this day has come with the audience. You need to come with me and be there with that animal. If there's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the beach, on the western side of Tasmania, I want to share it with you because if we can touch people about wildlife, then they want to save it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that was the crocodile hunter, the late Steve Irwin, talking about his life's passion, preserving wildlife and videotaping it.

Today his body was flown to his hometown of Beerwah, Australia. He was killed just yesterday when he was stung in the chest by a stingray, while shooting a documentary off the Great Barrier Reef.

Not surprising, given all of his fans, there has been a huge outpouring of emotion from mourners all over the world, especially in his hometown. Those are the images you're seeing right there. All day long, people young and old have been dropping off flowers and messages, leaving notes for Steve Irwin, for his family.

Earlier tonight on "LARRY KING," Steve Irwin's longtime friend and Manager John Stainton talked about the shock of finding out how his friend died.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN STAINTON, STEVE IRWIN'S MANAGER: He was as good under water as he was on top of the land. He loved the water. He was a very accomplished diver. He was comfortable anywhere there was wildlife. He was fine. He's been diving for, I don't know, 10, 15 years, with sharks, with everything that would kill you in the water. But I never thought he'd take a hit from a stingray.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Irwin became known as the crocodile hunter to his many fans because he handled and wrestled crocodiles. It often seemed like a crazy, dangerous stunt that few in this country would dare to take on. But as CNN's John Zarrella found out, there is one Florida man who has been grappling with alligators now for years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eddie Snyder admits it. He's a bit crazy.

EDDIE SNYDER, ALLIGATOR WRESTLER: All right, if you guys are ready, I'm going to do that and let go of his bottom jaw. ZARRELLA: It's a weird twist on the saying, using your head. For 16 years Snyder has been handling and wrestling alligators, a skill he learned from the Seminole Indians. You may not agree, but Snyder sees what he does and what Steve Irwin did as similar.

SNYDER: If I start touching him, he's going to feel a lot more threatened.

ZARRELLA: Unlike Irwin, there's no conservation message here. The people come here to watch Snyder handle an eight footer named Floppy, for some of the same reasons they watched Irwin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what's exciting about it. To see someone handle a dangerous animal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think people are entertained by seeing people flirt with danger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was cool.

ZARRELLA: The reptile's reputation makes watching Snyder perform all the more intriguing. This year alligators have been responsible for three fatal attacks in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need her out quickly.

ZARRELLA: This one killed a jogger west of Ft. Lauderdale. They are found regularly in backyards and even under cars.

Even experienced trappers like Todd Hardwick (ph) have almost been done in by a gator's nearly inescapable death roll. The danger, the exhilaration are exactly the reasons 21-year-old Caleb Goodman (ph) started tangling with alligators six months ago.

CALEB GOODMAN, WRESTLES ALLIGATORS: I didn't think I'd have to wrestle him.

ZARRELLA: Goodman says while Irwin's death was a freakish accident, it served as reminder.

GOODMAN: It is kind of a wake-up call. Just, you know, pay attention to what you're doing.

ZARRELLA: Advice he got and took from his teacher, Eddie Snyder.

(On camera): I guess the key is you never get overconfident, right?

SNYDER: Yes, that's how you get bit. Is by getting too confident.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Snyder has been bitten countless times. The fingers he lost were not from a gator bite, they were from a shotgun accident. But the injury makes him doubly careful to protect his good hand.

SNYDER: Every time we do get bit, it's scary.

ZARRELLA: Scary. But at the same time, thrilling. Which is why they do it and why the people come to watch.

John Zarrella, CNN, Davey, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So, let me get this straight. He blew off several of his fingers with a shotgun and now he's got one good hand left and he's wrestling alligators. There you go.

Steve Irwin's untimely death has many wondering if some of these so-called animal reality shows are going too far, pushing the boundaries of nature just to lure viewers.

CNN's Ted Rowlands takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Discovery Channel," "Animal Planet," "National Geographic." The biggest names in an increasingly competitive game of capturing animals for your television entertainment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see, I am just feet away.

ROWLANDS: On the big screen movies like "Grizzly Man" show what most would consider unthinkable. A man filming himself within arm's reach of wild grizzly bears. That man, Timothy Treadwill (ph), a self-proclaimed activist, educator and amateur filmmaker and his girlfriend were attacked and killed by a grizzly bear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He ultimately weighs 539 pounds.

ROWLANDS: On stage, Las Vegas Illusionist Roy Horn, of Siegfreid and Roy, knows the dangers of mixing entertainment with animals. In 2003 he was left in critical condition when a white tiger mauled him during a show.

Now, the latest victim to fall while the cameras were rolling, Animal Conservationist, TV Host and Star of the MGM move the "Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin.

ANNIE HOWELL, DISCOVERY NETWORK VICE PRESIDENT: He brought education and knowledge about the natural world to so many people who never had access to that kind of information. And he did it in a very entertaining and fun way.

ROWLANDS (on camera): While few if any would argue Irwin's expertise in the animal world; others are left concerned, wondering, is competition for an audience driving people into a wildlife danger zone.

(Voice-over): British Wilderness Expert and Television Host Ray Meer (ph) says TV's demand for sensation pushed Irwin to be too daring, telling Reuters, quote, "He clearly took a lot of risks and television encouraged him to do that...it's a shame that television audiences need that to be attracted to wildlife... dangerous animals, you leave them alone because they will defend themselves."

IRWIN: 16-foot great white shark.

ROWLANDS: According to Nielsen data, animal programming with inherently dangerous content like "Discovery's" shark week, yield better than average ratings. When Herzog's "Grizzly Man" premiered on the "Discovery Channel," it drew 1.7 million viewers, a great audience for cable television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to "Going Wild."

ROWLANDS: Still others in Irwin's line of work, like Jeff Corwin, believe their jobs have greater purpose than just ratings and definitely understand the risks involved.

VOICE OF JEFF CORWIN, HOST, "THE JEFF CORWIN EXPERIENCE": Well, the reality is that there's always a risk when you work with wildlife. And you do your best to take precautions, you know. As for myself, I want to make sure that when I'm doing hands on work with wildlife, we have a legitimate reason behind it.

ROWLANDS: Whether it was entertainment or education, Irwin paid the ultimate price doing what he loved most.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, tonight, nearly five years after 9/11, a controversial new report finds that a lot of first responders to the attacks now have health problems. The question is did working at Ground Zero cause those health problems? We'll investigate that when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, next weekend, of course, is the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And a new report released today says that seven of 10 first responders who rushed to Ground Zero to help are suffering lung problems, and some have already died. The doctors who wrote the report say that there is no doubt that the toxic rubble at Ground Zero was the cause. What is less clear and far more controversial is whether Ground Zero is to blame for all the other illnesses, including cancer that first responders have developed.

CNN's Randi Kaye investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On September 11th, five years ago, as word spread America was under attack, hundreds of emergency responders rushed to the World Trade Center. Among them, NYPD Detectives John Walcott and Rich Volpe, who arrived at Ground Zero right after the second tower fell.

RICH VOLPE, FORMER NYPD DETECTIVE: I remember you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, number one. I remember constantly coughing and constantly gagging.

KAYE: Rich and John were used to life-threatening situations. They'd been partners in narcotics for more than a decade. Now retired, they're no longer fighting to keep drugs off the street, they're fighting to stay alive.

JOHN WALCOTT, FORMER NYPD DETECTIVE: Right now I'm on borrowed time; 5 percent only live as long as I have.

KAYE: John is battling leukemia; Rich, severe asthma and double kidney failure.

VOLPE: Right now I'm below 40 percent function in both my kidneys.

KAYE: Both blame their illnesses on exposure to toxins like benzene, dioxin and asbestos at Ground Zero.

(On camera): But could exposure even over a period of months make them so sick so fast? After all, both were diagnosed within just two years of the attack. Or it is it possible they and thousands of others who claim Ground Zero made them sick too, were predisposed to these illnesses?

DR. STEPHEN LEVIN, MOUNT SINAI MEDICAL CENTER: I want you to breathe real deep in and out through your mouth.

KAYE (voice-over): Dr. Stephen Levin heads the largest screening program for 9/11 responders at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The program has screened more than 16,000 first responders, half of whom are in need of treatment.

LEVIN: Well, there's no question that people have developed very high rates of respiratory illnesses. By that I mean new onset sinusitis among people who never had sinus problems before. And people who have developed asthma who never had asthma before in their lives.

KAYE: People like Rudy Washington who gets regular exams at Mount Sinai. As Mayor Rudy Giuliani's deputy, he worked seven days a week at Ground Zero, coordinating rescue and recovery efforts. This is the first time he has agreed to be interviewed about his illness.

Since 9/11, Rudy has developed chronic asthma and life- threatening respiratory problems. Also, mysterious spots and scarring on his lungs.

RUDY WASHINGTON, FORMER NYC DEPUTY MAYOR: After two, three, you know whatever exposure you had was done. After the second day or so, we were taken in with smoke, basically, from the fire. That real heavy contamination where you had asbestos, fiberglass and all of that stuff, now which shows up on my lungs. KAYE: Before 9/11, Rudy says he never missed a day of work. But in the years since, he's become a regular at the E.R., hardly able to breathe. But, still, Rudy considers himself lucky. So far, no sign of cancer.

DAVID WORBY, ATTORNEY: This is a list of the cancers.

KAYE: Attorney David Worby says he has more than 8,000 clients who got sick at Ground Zero, including John Walcott and Rich Volpe.

WORBY: 400,000 pound of asbestos, 200,000 pounds of lead, 91,000 liters of burning jet fuel, 125,000 gallons of burning transformer oils. It was the worst toxic waste site ever.

KAYE: Worby says more than 350 of his clients have cancer, 1,000 have severe respiratory ailments. More than 60 of them are already dead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So why then are doctors saying it is still too soon to make the connection between cancer and Ground Zero?

Randi Kaye's report continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Before the break we told you about the thousands of Ground Zero responders who have become sick since working on the toxic pile of rubble in Lower Manhattan five years ago. It's not just lung problems they're suffering from, hundreds have developed cancer. What is in dispute is whether Ground Zero is to blame.

Here again, CNN's Randi Kay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: When al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center, September 11th, 2001, more than 50,000 rescue workers poured through the rubble, searching for survivors, clinging to hope and then cleaning up.

Thousands of those people got sick, some of them are dying, many already dead. Was it the exposure to deadly toxins released when the towers collapsed? Or could it be coincidence that the victims were predisposed to the cancers and respiratory illnesses that are killing them?

(On camera): Consider this, when the towers fell all of the material used to build them and everything inside them turned to dust, which was inhaled by everyone at the scene.

(Voice-over): Including NYPD Detectives Rich Volpe and John Walcott, partners for 11 years. Rich's kidneys are failing. John has developed leukemia.

(On camera): At any point were you given a mask to wear? VOLPE: Eventually we were, yes. Eventually.

KAYE: How long was eventually?

VOLPE: I would say the first two weeks we didn't have anything.

WALCOTT: It took about three weeks to get a mask and then a couple weeks later they told us it was the wrong filters and then they started issuing masks months and months later.

KAYE (voice-over): New York City declined an interview, citing pending lawsuits, but issued this statement to CNN. "Safety protocols were quickly implemented, including the requirement that respirators be worn, and the City, its contractors and OSHA supplied more than 200,000 respirators to workers."

But many workers, due to the heat and trouble communicating, chose not to wear the respirators. And the soot that was in the air, rescuers brought it home with them.

WALCOTT: We'd take a shower and my shower would look like a barbecue grill. Solid black. And you wake up in the middle of the night, with, in the corner of your eyes and it would drip on your pillow, would be like black liquid. And, you know, same thing you'd like clean your ears out you just, chunks and chunks of black would come out. I mean, your teeth, when you scrub your teeth and you'd spit in the sink and it would just be literally like a barbecue grill.

KAYE: At Mount Sinai's screening center, Dr. Stephen Liven says it's too soon to know if there is a connection between Ground Zero and cancer.

(On camera): How do you explain cancer showing up in World Trade Center workers and rescue crews?

LEVIN: Many, many of the people who responded were construction workers. Before 9/11, many construction workers had exposures to asbestos and other cancer-causing agents. So it comes as no great surprise that cancer will occur in such a group. That's true of the firefighters, as well.

KAYE (voice-over): But how does one explain Red Cross volunteers, utility workers and others who may not have been readily exposed to cancer-causing materials before 9/11, also getting sick?

WORBY: I want to meet these scientists. I want to meet the doctors from Mount Sinai. I want to put them in the room and show them the number of bladder cancers, tonsil cancers, throat cancers, stomach cancers, lung cancers.

KAYE: Attorney David Worby did his own research. He says more than 60 of his clients have died from cancer after working at Ground Zero. And suggests the unique combination of toxic materials could speed up the formation of cancer. But Dr. Levin doesn't buy it.

LEVIN: Cancers that are occurring now are unlikely to be related to the World Trade Center exposures, but we can't say with 100 percent certainty that none is.

KAYE (on camera): Based on your expertise, how long after exposure do you think it would take for someone to develop cancer?

LEVIN: There is generally a minimum of 15 years that has to pass from the exposure to a cancer causing agent to the time you can really diagnose that cancer. And frankly, in most cancer types, that latency period, that delay is more often 20 and 25 years. Is it possible that we could see something in the World Trade Center mix of exposures that could accelerate that? It would really violate our understanding of the biology of cancer, but we can't close our minds to the possibility.

KAYE (voice-over): What do you think? Dr. Levin does say leukemia, which John Walcott has, can show up within five years of exposure. But he wonders if John may have developed leukemia even if he had never worked at Ground Zero. And because Mount Sinai is still waiting on federal funds to study this possible link, it may be years before doctors know whether or not any direct correlation between cancer and Ground Zero can be made.

VOLPE: I have one question for him, where am I going to be in 20 years, when you're done with these, you know, whatever kind of studies you want to do, where am I going to be? Where is John going it be? You know, where are the people that are walking around that are sick, where are they going to be? You know, some people don't have 20 years.

KAYE: While he waits for answers, Rich remains focused on staying strong. Now, only able to lift a third of what he used to. But he's eating well and praying a healthy kidney comes his way.

And, John, after six months of chemotherapy, he has hope. His leukemia is in remission. The days of coaching high school hockey are over, he's too weak. So, instead, he skates the ice with his daughter. In the face of death, family is top priority.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Two American heroes.

Ahead on 360, history made today, in the news business we should say. But first, Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS," has a "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're keeping a close eye on the sixth named storm of the hurricane season. Tropical Storm Florence is still churning in the Atlantic. It is slowly gaining power and could threaten land sometime next week. But just where, well, nobody knows for sure. As of tonight, Florence had sustained winds of around 45 miles per hour. Experts believe it may reach hurricane strength within a few days.

In western New York, one of the largest manhunts in state history continues. Hundreds of armed state troopers are searching for Ralph "Bucky" Phillips. He's a fugitive who is believed to have shot two troopers, killing one of them. Phillips has been on the run for five months now, after he used a can opener to cut a hole in the jailhouse kitchen and escape.

In Louisiana, the owners of a nursing home where 34 patients died during Hurricane Katrina are suing the government. They claim local, state and federal authorities did nothing to help residents, to help evacuate residents at St. Rita's nursing home. The couple were arrested last year for negligent homicide and are now facing more than 30 lawsuits of their own.

And Warren Jeffs, in Purgatory tonight. Purgatory is actually the name of the jail where he's being held in Washington County, Utah. Jeffs is, of course, the leader of a polygamist church. He was extradited from Nevada to Utah earlier today and will appear before a judge tomorrow. Jeffs is charged with two felony counts of rape as an accomplice -- Anderson.

Erica, thanks.

Today was a big day for Katie and for Rosie. We don't have to use their last names, of course. We know who we're talking about. Did their debuts live up to the hype? We'll take a look next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, finally mark this date on your calendar. Katie Couric took her seat at the anchor desk earlier tonight as the new face of the "CBS Evening News." The reviews are in. Some are glowing, some are not. No surprise there. No matter what is being said, the fact is she is making history and we wish her well. By the way, Ms. Couric wasn't the only closely watched debut on TV today.

CNN's Jeanne Moose takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was a double launch day. Katie and Rosie. Rosie and Katie. Will Katie's future be rosy? It would be hard for it to be as rosy as the hype.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katie Couric makes history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katie Couric.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: with Katie Couric.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katie is on our team now.

MOOS: Even Katie herself made jokes about being plastered on New York City buses.

KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR: I've decided the ultimate irony would be if I got hit by one of the buses with my picture on it because then I could tell them they were really publicizing me to death. MOOS: No, Katie wasn't hit. Will her new newscast be a hit? It began with an introduction by Walter Conkrite.

WALTER CONKRITE, CBS ANNOUNCER: This is the "CBS Evening News" with Katie Couric.

MOOS: They started with a meaty piece featuring access to the Taliban and Afghanistan, but it was a celebrity scoop that had jaws dropping.

COURIC: She's Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Yes, Suri, she does exist.

MOOS: Newscast also featured a segment called "free speech" that lets an invited guest sound off. Morgan Spurlock, director of "Super Size Me" went first.

MORGAN SPURLOCK, DIRECTOR, "SUPER SIZE ME": Today's news has become just like professional wrestling.

MOOS: Future free speechers are expected to range from Rush Limbaugh to Bill Maher.

When it came time to sign off, Katie played other signoffs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good night and good luck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You stay classy, San Diego.

MOOS: And asked viewers to suggest a sign off for her.

Over at "The View," Rosie seemed to enjoy her first outing. The view of both women have been clouded by having had their pictures photo shopped to have them appear slimmer. Rosie ditched her old hair style.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, "THE VIEW": I had that crazy, crazy hair cut that scared America to death. So, you know, it's going to be long from now on and I'm taking my medicine, so everything is fine.

MOOS: Maybe the "CBS Evening News" ratings would be fine if the news did what "The View" did.

BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": Everyone in our audience is going to go on the real cruise.

MOOS: And while Rosie had new hair, the "CBS Evening News" had a new theme song. It was written by the composer who won Oscars for the music in "Titanic." Here's hoping the evening news doesn't hit an iceberg. The show's executive producer was quoted as asking for theme music that must be urgent and serious, yet light.

(On camera): According to the "Wall Street Journal," Katie told the composer she didn't want the theme to have a Manhattan skyline sort of feeling. She wanted it to have a wheat fields blowing sort of feeling. In that case... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the CBS Evening Harvest, with Katie Couric.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And we wish them both well. The other debut today, it's tonight's shot. After much speculation about where she's been and whether she even exists. We have, well you saw it earlier on the evening news, the pictures, Suri Cruise. She and her mom and pop, Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise. In case you don't know, they appear on the cover of the latest edition of "Vanity Fair," set to hit newsstands tomorrow. And Baby Suri is already sporting a full head of hair there. Looks very cute. The baby was, of course, born back in April. Much fan fair. No one had seen her until now. Yada, yada. There she is. Let's move along. OK.

More of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Thanks for watching 360 tonight. I'll see you tomorrow.

"LARRY KING" is next.

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