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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Authorities Suspect Arson in Deadly California Fire; Father in Madonna Adoption Controversy Speaks Out

Aired October 26, 2006 - 22:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening again, everyone.
We have breaking news tonight: a fast-moving inferno, hundreds on the run, firefighters working, and dying, to stop a wildfire authorities now say was no act of nature.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Crime scene and killer all in one -- why police now call this wildfire the creation of a murderer, and how four heroes gave their lives trying to stop it.

Holding Iraq accountable for not getting its act together, asking about benchmarks -- he says back off.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Take a look at it. Relax. Understand that it's complicated, it's difficult, but it will get worked out.

ANNOUNCER: The battle over a word, benchmarks, and the growing consequences in American lives.

Plus: the Madonna adoption mess. First, he did. Then, he didn't. Now what? We journey to Malawi to get answers from the father who gave the Material Girl his flesh and blood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Sitting in tonight for Anderson, and reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here's John King.

KING: We begin tonight with breaking news, not the biggest fire they have seen this year in Southern California. It is, however, one of the fastest moving. And, for the men and women who risk their lives fighting them, it's now one of the deadliest.

Four have died already trying to stop this one. Now there is word this fire was arson, and whoever set it is a murderer.

This is all happening not far from Palm Springs, where CNN's Chris Lawrence joins us now with the latest -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, right now, they are fighting this fire on two fronts.

One thousand firefighters are on the ground, trying to push the fire back from the front line. And a smaller team of investigators is looking into what they are calling a clear case of arson.

Earlier today, four members of a five-man crew were killed, when their position was overrun by the fire. Now, they were in a town west of Palm Springs, trying to evacuate residents and protect a home. One firefighter tonight told me, from what he understands, the Santa Ana winds whipped up, changed direction, and pushed the fire into a grove of eucalyptus.

That eucalyptus has oils that can cause the fire to just explode into what he calls a splatter. He believes that the fire just simply surrounded them and overwhelmed them. He called it a fire -- fireman's worst nightmare -- John.

KING: And, Chris, what evidence is it that has investigators already saying they are certain this fire is arson?

LAWRENCE: Well, one official told me that these fire investigators are highly trained to be able to read the burn pattern and trace the fire back to its area of origin.

He told me that it was set in alignment with the wind, with the slope. And that fire, he said, was basically set to go.

KING: And, Chris, we're seeing these amazing pictures about -- of the extent and the scope of this fire. What type of evacuation, what extent of the evacuation are we talking about tonight?

LAWRENCE: Two towns have been evacuated. And there is a group of anywhere between 400 and 1,000 people that are being sheltered in an R.V. park. They are holed up there, hunkering down. And they have got a strike team of firefighters protecting them.

They were not able to get evacuated in time, so they're going to have to ride it out tonight. And, hopefully, once the fire moves on, then -- then, they will be allowed to leave.

KING: Chris Lawrence on the scene for us in Palm Springs -- Chris, we will check back with you a bit later in the newscast.

Moving on now, though, to Iraq -- four Marines and a sailor killed there today -- 96 so far this month. Hard to imagine, but, even with so many Americans now dying, the story today at the Pentagon was more about words than lives, about the meaning of words like benchmarks for measuring Iraqi progress, and a timeline for bringing troops home.

At one point in his briefing, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, even said it depends on what the meaning of the word it is. He also said, back off.

CNN's Barbara Starr was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made it clear: This news conference was all about the midterm elections, less than two weeks away.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, it's a political season. And everyone's trying to make a little mischief out of this, and -- and -- and make -- turn it into a foot -- political football, and see if we can't get it on the front page of every newspaper.

STARR: The secretary was, as they say, reframing the debate, saying benchmarks for progress in Iraq don't mean deadlines and punishment for not meeting them.

RUMSFELD: You're looking for some sort of a guillotine to come falling down if some date isn't met. That is not what this is about. So, you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated; it's difficult.

STARR: Mr. Rumsfeld also seemed to reframe the administration's explanation of what the Iraqi government has agreed to, just two days after the U.S. ambassador to Iraq had laid it out.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Iraqi leaders must step up to achieve key political and security milestones on which they have agreed.

QUESTION: And have they agreed to establish this process by the end of the year, as I think Ambassador Khalilzad said?

RUMSFELD: No.

QUESTION: They haven't agreed?

RUMSFELD: Well, they're still in discussions. One would have thought they might have announced that if they would decided all of that.

STARR: But Rumsfeld, who was so confident throughout his press conference, seemed to struggle at one point.

(on camera): Is it the job of the U.S. soldier to step in between Sunni and Shia violence, to step into civil unrest in that country?

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to try to characterize it and begin, at one end of the spectrum and go to the other end of the spectrum and say when is it or is it not appropriate for U.S. military personnel to be involved in the conflict.

STARR: The secretary said the mission for U.S. troops remains unchanged: to help Iraqi forces take hold and stop the violence, a mission that has yet to be accomplished.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Mission not accomplished on the ground, despite heroic efforts by American forces in Baghdad and all across Iraq. They are facing IEDs and snipers gunning for them. More and more, though, they're also caught between warring militias gunning for one another.

CNN's John Roberts now with the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade, with the violence spreading.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Baghdad may be its center of gravity, but the black hole of sectarian violence is quickly swallowing up towns and villages across Iraq.

In Saba al Boor, north of the capital, half the town's 50,000 people have fled in the face of mortar attacks from a Sunni militia aiming to drive out the Shiites.

Colonel Jim Pasquarette is trying to make it safe enough for them to come back.

COLONEL JIM PASQUARETTE, U.S. ARMY: The sectarian issue encompasses my whole area. It's a very -- I have got the Sunni and Shia all mixed together here. And it bother -- it worries me more than the actual insurgency.

ROBERTS: In Gumera (ph), a Sunni town, the problem is Shiite militias.

"The government doesn't control the militias," this man says. "If we go out, we will be detained by the militias."

Another Sunni claims he was kidnapped by a Shiite militia. He has deep marks from where his wrists were tied, and shows us burns, he says, where he was tortured with a hot iron.

The scars from sectarian violence are everywhere here -- in one place, a Shiite farming village razed to the ground by Sunni gunmen -- in another, a religiously mixed town, now virtually deserted after militias made it their battleground -- the only holdouts, farmers who can't afford to leave their livestock behind.

"Young people sit home all day," complains this man. "They can't go to school. They can't go to work."

Preventing attacks is the key to lowering the temperature here. So, Lieutenant Colonel Rocky Kmiecik works contacts, like Shiite tribal leader Haidr Mohan (ph), for the latest local intelligence.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL ROCKY KMIECIK, U.S. ARMY: Haidr Mohan (ph) just got a report that there is a mortar tube set up, based to fire in Husainiyah. They are waiting for the U.S. patrol to move out of the area, before they start shooting.

ROBERTS: Kmiecik's team swarms into the nearby Sunni town of Qudas (ph), looking for the mortar. In a greenhouse, they find four men with AK-47s and ski masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the weapons were loaded and ready to fire. The weapons were on fire, so, all they had to do was press the trigger.

ROBERTS: This town of Qudas (ph), which is a Sunni town, has been the site from which many attacks have been launched against the nearby Shiite town of Husainiyah. It's not known at this point if any of these men were involved in any of those attacks, or, in fact, were planning an attack in the near future. But they do seem to be more heavily armed than your average greenhouse worker.

(voice-over): The task to end sectarian violence is complicated by fierce support for the local militias, the only force, they believe, that will keep them safe. After this arrest the entire town turns out to plead the gunmen's innocence and argue for their release -- business as usual for this American patrol.

KMIECIK: We hear that every time, whether the guy's been putting in an IED, whether we have caught him red-handed with kidnapping victims in his home bound and tortured. It's -- it's usually the same story.

ROBERTS: The same story, just another chapter, with everyone wondering how it will end.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And, John, it was the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry you were with, not the unit we identified earlier. Wanted to fix that.

From your experience there, and what you are hearing from the troops, is this sectarian violence, is it hit and run, episodic, or is it deeply ingrained in these communities?

ROBERTS: So far, John, it doesn't seem to be deeply ingrained in these communities. It's militia against militia.

And, as long as it stays at that level in these small towns and villages north of Baghdad, the military believes that it may be able to deal with it by working certain pressure points. But the commander of the 1st Brigade that I was out with, Colonel Pasquarette, told me -- he said, if it continues its downward spiral, to the point where it becomes family on family, that will be very disturbing. And that's a point at which this whole thing could be lost -- John.

KING: A fascinating look at the incredible challenge facing the U.S. troops.

John Roberts, for us in Baghdad -- John, thank you very much.

And more now on the problems with staying in Iraq, or with leaving. Has it now become a catch-22, a no-win situation either way?

Joining us now from Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to Fort Bragg, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Peter, let's begin with the op-ed essay you wrote in today's "New York Times," where you say this: "A total withdrawal from Iraq would play into the hand of the jihadist terrorists. Al Qaeda's most important short-term strategic goal is to seize control of a state, as part -- a part of a state somewhere in the Muslim world."

How much of a foothold now, based on your reporting and analysis, do -- do foreign terrorists have in Iraq? We know about the civil strife, the sectarian violence, but how deep of a foothold do the foreign terrorists have?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they are few in number, John, maybe 1,500, but they have had a disproportionate effect on what happened on the ground. They got the United Nations to pull out.

Ninety percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq are conducted by foreign fighters. They have had a major strategic impact on the way the war is conducted. And their strategy is to create a mini- Afghanistan in central Iraq, from which they can regroup and basically re-launch attacks -- John.

KING: And, in the months since the death of their onetime leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, are they making more progress? Has there been a regrouping? Have there been any setbacks, as the administration had hoped?

BERGEN: Well, you know, I think the violence figures, the violence -- speak for themselves.

You know, every benchmark that has happened, including the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, more violence has followed. So, you know, I think the fact that we're seeing 100 Iraqis a day being killed, on average, doesn't speak to Zarqawi's death having any effect, really, on -- on the violence there.

KING: And walk us through this catch-22. I don't know of a better way to put it.

On the one hand, the administration's own national intelligence estimate says that the United States' presence in Iraq is incurring -- encouraging jihadists, incurring, perhaps, the next generation of people to consider, if not join, the jihad. And, yet, as you say, if the United States leaves, al Qaeda or some other foreign terrorist group could have a state, and a state with a lot of oil, as a base of operations.

How do you get through this?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, I think we have least bad options.

I mean, we basically have an F option or a D-minus option. It's a very unpleasant situation to be in. But I think a total withdrawal would be the -- the F option. That would hand over parts of central and -- western Iraq to Sunni militant jihadists, who would create their own state. A D-minus option is withdrawing significant numbers of troops to tamp down the insurgency, but remaining in sufficient strength that we prevent a Sunni militant state emerging in central and western Iraq -- John.

KING: You have seen what has come out in recent days, the administration talking about new benchmarks, new goals, some call it a timetable -- or at least a hidden timetable -- for getting the Iraqis up to speed to do a better job with security, which has been one of the fundamental challenges for the past three-plus years.

But is there anything in that that deals with the terrorist threat, or is that simply a calculation, a formula to eventually bring U.S. troops out?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, John, I think that -- I think our moment to tamp, damp down the civil war, or create a real democracy in Iraq, seems to have come and gone. I think we need a very minimalist definition of our national security interests in Iraq, and it's to prevent al Qaeda and like-minded militants regrouping and launching attacks against the United States from the heart of the Middle East.

It's not a very pleasant situation to be in, but I think that's where we are.

KING: And, Peter, we're discussing the challenges for the United States -- 144,000 troops in Iraq right now. What are the responsibilities of the neighboring states?

There have been pressure from the United States on Syria, pressure on Iran, saying, stop meddling in Iraq. The president has talked, at times, about Saudi Arabia and others in the neighborhood must do more to try to put to rest the jihadist movement, and especially the targeting of Iraq.

What do the neighbors have to do?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, Saudi Arabia may be providing up to 50 percent of the foreign fighters conducting suicide attacks in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia is planning to build some kind of fence that might draw down those numbers. We know that, after the -- after the midterm elections, that the Iraq Study Group, headed by Jim Baker, is going to come out with recommendations. Those recommendations are likely to be that we need to start talking to Iran and Syria to deal with this problem.

Certainly, by not talking to them, that hasn't got us very far.

KING: Peter Bergen, you make your statement as a matter of fact. You say the United States must stay for now, or the terrorism would get worse. But it is also a question in the election, of course, here in the United States.

If the United States were to begin a phased withdrawal, as you say, how could -- as the Democrats say, I mean -- how could that be done in a way that also deals with the terrorism problem? Or can it be, in your view?

BERGEN: Well, I'm not a military strategist, John, but I think we need sufficient U.S. special forces to remain there to deal with the militants.

We need to keep bases in central and western Iraq to prevent the Sunni militant jihadists from creating a mini-state. I don't know what numbers there are -- they -- that -- that are -- those -- those would be. In Afghanistan, we have something like 20,000 American troops going after al Qaeda and Taliban. Afghanistan and Iraq are roughly the same size. They have roughly the same populations.

I think you are looking at 20,000 to 40,000 troops to prevent the Sunni militant jihadist state emerging in the heart of the Middle East -- John.

KING: CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen for us tonight in Fayetteville, North Carolina -- thank you very much, Peter.

BERGEN: Thank you.

KING: And a much different battle of sorts: the struggles of international adoption, brought to light this week with Madonna's efforts to adopt an African boy. Coming up, the biological father of the boy speaks out.

Plus, this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want me to tell you about the first time I did it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the best time is in the fall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like to do it in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When was it? What year?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of personal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I told everybody. I had such a big mouth about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's not what you think. They are talking about the first time they voted. Move over, soccer moms. The "Sex and the City" voters are turning heads this election. Coming up: why it's so hard to get them to the polls, and why that could cost the Democrats.

This is 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's the bottom line and simple math in every election: To win, you have to get out the vote on Election Day. Soccer moms and NASCAR dads have had their time in the spotlight. In past elections, both were considered a big catch.

But, this year, the voter many are chasing is single, female and young. She's also among the least likely to vote.

Here is CNN's Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maryanne Randazzo is 27 years old. She has never voted before, and won't this year either.

MARYANNE RANDAZZO, WAITRESS: I don't feel like it's going to change -- change my life.

BASH: She's just too busy working at her father's pizza parlor in suburban Philadelphia.

RANDAZZO: Just because I'm stuck in this place. I work six days a week, 60 hours-plus. So, honestly, it's because I really don't have time.

BASH: And politics turns her off, especially the negative campaign ads.

RANDAZZO: It bores me. I flip the channels, to be -- to be honest with you.

BASH: Maryanne is one of a jaw-dropping 20 million unmarried women who did not vote in 2004. That's 41 percent of single women, compared to 29 percent of married women who didn't go to the polls.

Now a nonpartisan group is hoping these ads will get their attention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want me to tell you about the first time I did it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the best time is in the fall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like to do it in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's cool.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sexy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a beautiful thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PAGE GARDNER, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, WOMEN'S VOICES, WOMEN VOTE: Even though 20 million did not vote, 27 million did. So, they are a potent political force. And they are the fastest growing demographic we have in this country.

BASH: In 2004, they were dubbed "Sex and the city" voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SEX AND THE CITY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So, which district do you vote in?

SARAH JESSICA PARKER, ACTRESS: Whichever one is near Barney's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: But most single women are nothing like Carrie Bradshaw.

GARDNER: Half of them make $30,000 or less. Thirty-six percent move every two years. So, it -- they have very difficult lives.

BASH: Nonpartisan grassroots group are working to get out the single-female vote, going door to door with information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, November 2 is when it's going to be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: November 7.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, November 7. I'm probably not a good candidate for this, because I'm not really into politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you're the perfect candidate.

ANNA GREENBERG, POLLSTER: If you look at polls this election cycle, they're most likely to say the country is going on the -- in the wrong direction. They hate the war in Iraq. They feel like the economy has not helped them over the last five or six years. So, I think you could expect unmarried women, if they vote, to vote pretty Democratic.

BASH: Back at the pizza parlor, Maryanne says she would vote Democrat, because of the war and:

RANDAZZO: Health insurance, it's going -- I know I have -- I'm on my own health insurance. It's -- it's so expensive for just a single female.

BASH: But she's not even registered to vote, and the deadline has passed -- maybe next time.

Dana Bash, CNN, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Maybe next time. Now, getting out of vote isn't cheap, no matter who your core voters are. This will be the most expensive midterm election ever.

Here's the "Raw Data." According to the Center For Responsive Politics, candidates and their political allies will spend a record $2.6 billion on midterm races and to pad the war chests of incumbents not on the ballot this year.

For comparison, $2.6 billion is also what Americans spent last year on chewing gum. And, according to the Congressional Research Service, it's less than half the estimated cost of the Iraq war per month.

And up next: Andrew Sullivan on the issues driving people to vote and to not vote.

Then, later: He gave up his child to adoption and Madonna. Then, the circus began. Did he really mean it? Did he know what he was signing when he signed the adoption papers? And what does he think about it all now?

We will ask him when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The adoption controversy -- you know, that one. What does the father really think about giving Madonna his son? We travel all the way to Malawi to ask him -- coming up on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: He may be the most powerful person in the world, but has President Bush gone too far?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOAZZAM BEGG, FORMER DETAINEE: Once you take this road, and once you go down this road, you are actually making the world a less -- much less safe place, because if that's what the Americans are going to do around the world, then, they must accept repercussions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Join me in the next hour as, we look at how the Bush administration is redefining presidential power. It's part of CNN's investigation of America's "Broken Government." That's right here at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

First, though: more on who is likely to vote this Election Day, who isn't, and just why.

Blogger and author Andrew Sullivan sat down with us a bit earlier. He's on the road, promoting his book, "The Conservative Soul," which, without putting too many words in his mouth, is what he believes this election, at least partly, is about. That's the big picture. But we begin with turnout and the so-called "Sex and the City" vote.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Andrew Sullivan, I want to begin with the subject of Dana Bash's report we just heard, which talks about this giant pool, millions of unmarried, single women in the United States, who, potentially, could be a huge swing voting bloc, and, yet, they feel ignored by both political parties.

The polls show, if they voted, they would be likely, at least this year, to support the Democrats. But why is it the Republicans and the Democrats aren't targeting these voters, aren't doing more to get them?

ANDREW SULLIVAN, AUTHOR, "THE CONSERVATIVE SOUL: HOW WE LOST IT, HOW TO GET IT BACK": Well, I think they lead very tough lives.

You know, many single women are juggling jobs. Some of them have children. And I think the ugliness of this campaign -- you know, when they switch on the TV, and they see these really vile and vicious ads -- it's enough to turn anybody off. And I think it particularly turns women off, who are more likely to want to see less conflict-driven ads, and more substantive ads, appealing to their real concerns and issues.

KING: Evangelicals, traditionally, the rock of the Republican base -- in this -- there's one recent poll, though, that shows only 57 percent of evangelicals say they plan to vote Republican for Congress. That would be down, if true, from 78 percent in 2004.

If that turns out to be true, how damaging could that be, how devastating, for the Republican Party?

SULLIVAN: I think way more devastating than people realize, because you realize that the -- the Bush-Rove strategy was part gerrymandering, so that they brought more rural and evangelical voters into swing districts, like they did in Texas, and, secondly, to appeal directly, through evangelical messages and religious messages, to these voters.

And, in those marginal seats, in those gerrymandered seats, the margin of victory is still very small. If you see a real drop-off in rural votes, then, I think you could see many of these quite tightly held races suddenly all start falling.

I mean, that's -- the -- the Bush-Rove strategy has never been to persuade the suburban middle. They have concentrated on mobilizing and organizing the rural evangelical base. That is the critical element of their victories. If that disappears, then, I think what we're looking at national polls right now may be underestimating the possibility for -- for many more seats to fall to the Democrats than we're even anticipating right now.

KING: From your perspective, if there is a damage to the Republicans this year, is it potentially helpful in the long run to the party, do you think?

SULLIVAN: Well, yes, I actually think that it would be good, in many ways, for the Republicans to lose this year, because I think it would force people to really think, what is this party for?

You know, a lot of suburban and moderate Republicans think that the party should be about balanced budgets, and limited government, and prudent foreign policy, all the old Republican issues, not same- sex marriage, and abortion, and all the issues that we use to gin up the rural vote.

I think rural voters are much more invested in this war than other people, partly because they have sent many more, disproportionately, of their sons and daughters to this war. See, I don't think it's just the social issues. I think it's the war, the feeling their commander in chief may have let them down. They have lost sons and daughters. Not only that -- many of their friends and loved ones are coming back with terribly serious injuries.

If they begin to believe this war is not working, that it was in vain, or even that they were misled about it, then, I think you won't just get a low turnout. You may actually get rage in the heartland about what they've been told, and that could be fatal for the Republican Party.

KING: Andrew Sullivan, as always, appreciate it very much. Thank you.

SULLIVAN: It's great to see you, John.

KING: From politics to Madonna's personal mission. We know what she has to say about the adoption controversy. But what about the child's father? Tonight the interview you'll see only on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Now to the adoption plan making headlines around the world. Madonna went to Africa and returned with a 1-year-old boy she wants to raise as her own. She said the child's biological father gave her his blessing. Here's what she told Oprah Winfrey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADONNA, ENTERTAINER: This is a simple man who comes from a village who has nothing. And suddenly he's sieged by the media of the world. And they have spun things out of control, and you know, brought nothing by chaos to his life. I did think his first reaction is the true reaction and that is, thank you for giving my son a life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But is that true? There are reports the father did not want Madonna to adopt his son. Tonight he talks to CNN and sets the record straight.

CNN's Jeff Koinange reports from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a tiny village tucked into a tiny corner of Malawi lives the father at the center of the storm over Madonna's adoption.

First, he said Madonna could adopt his son. Then confusion and now, well, went to find Yohane Banda to see precisely how he got so mixed up with one of the world's most popular celebrities.

(on camera) Hello? Hello. How are you?

(voice-over) We were told he had moved out of his house after being hounded by the world's press.

(on camera) Looking for Yohane Banda.

(voice-over) And that we might find him in another village staying with his sister. It was 10 miles away. We found him sitting outside, sipping tea with her.

(on camera) How are you? Yohane? Good to see you.

(voice-over) Surprised to see us but did want to clear up the confusion.

YOHANE BANDA, BIOLOGICAL FATHER (through translator): I give my son David to Madonna with all my heart, and what has happened does not reflect the truth of the matter. I give David away, and he now belongs to Madonna.

KOINANGE: This is a complete about face to what he'd said just days earlier, when he insisted he didn't realize by signing the adoption papers he was giving his 13-month-old away for forever.

BANDA (through translator): I was forced to say things I didn't mean. That agreement with Madonna in court was correct but after the agreement some people from NOGs and other organizations came to me asking me questions and forcing me to answer contrary to what I had agreed with Madonna.

KOINANGE: He says he felt pressured from the NGOs, the nongovernmental organizations, and other groups told him it was a huge missed opportunity, that he should profit from the $3 million Madonna is alleged to have contributed to orphanages in Malawi.

But Banda says it was never about money and insists he made no money from the adoption. He simply wants what's best for his son. But when asked if the Malawi government forced him to change his story, Banda becomes defensive.

BANDA (through translator): No one in the government has forced me to say anything. This is my doing.

KOINANGE (on camera): Any regrets? BANDA (through translator): There are no regrets, because we want the child to be taken care of and should grow to be a healthy and happy person. His siblings died, and the fact that he is alive and will remain alive there will make us happy. If he stays alive long enough and comes back to visit us, that would be well and good. But my end was not to benefit from anything. It was for the child's benefit

KOINANGE (voice-over): Banda, who says his two other sons died of malaria before they reached their second birthdays, says his only living son is now better off than he would have ever been in the orphanage. In fact, he used our camera to speak directly to Madonna.

BANDA (through translator): Madonna, whatever is happening, maybe it's because you are famous. That's why all these things are happening. Please be strong and don't give up the fight. My David will be a good son to you.

KOINANGE: As for the pending court case scheduled for Friday by a group of human rights groups, arguing that Malawi's adoption laws should be enforced for all without exception -- that would have required Madonna to live in the country for at least 18 months -- Banda says...

BANDA (through translator): I'll show the court what we agreed with Madonna stands, and whatever controversy surrounds the aftermath, it was nothing related to the agreement with Madonna.

KOINANGE: The controversy over Madonna's African adoption isn't likely to end any time soon, and neither is a father's love for his only surviving son, now someone else's child.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And Jeff Koinange joins us now from Malawi's capital.

Jeff, amazing work, a great interview. It is being heard around the world tonight. Tell us, though, is this his final answer? What next?

KOINANGE: It's the final answer from the father, John, but what happens next is in less than four hours time, the high court here in Lilongwe convenes to decide whether Madonna adhered to proper procedure. It's a case being brought about by an alliance of 67 human rights groups, who argue Malawian law forbids adoption by foreign nationals, including celebrities, John.

KING: Jeff Koinange, thanks again, Jeff. And great work. Keep it up. Thank you so much.

And for Madonna, her adoption plans are far from final. But for one couple, who went to China, their dreams were answered. Their emotional story, coming up.

And later, shifting the balance of power. Has President Bush changed the rules? We'll take a look as our "Broken Government" special continues tonight at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More than familiar faces, Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Meg Ryan. Like thousand of ordinary Americans they adopted a child from another country; in Jolie's case, two children. Other couples, of course, are hoping to adopt. For many that means taking a trip halfway around the world.

CNN'S Carol Costello has one family's journey of a lifetime.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mary and David Youtes could not be happier. They have four beautiful girls, three of them triplets, all adopted from China.

MARY CHILDS, ADOPTED CHILDREN FROM CHINA: We wanted to be parents. We chose China because we love China, and we basically had adopted the country as our, you know, country away from home.

COSTELLO: The Youtes, like 8,000 other American couples, chose to adopt from China, in part, because they didn't want to go through what Madonna is experiencing right now.

It isn't like Americans are flocking to Africa to adopt. Very few do because of restrictive adoption rules and local pressure to prevent African children from leaving the country, things even fame can't overcome, as Madonna opined on "Oprah" Wednesday.

MADONNA: If only my wealth and my position could have made things go faster. I assure you, it doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have. Nothing goes fast in Africa.

COSTELLO: But it can't overcome the lengthy adoption process in the United States, either. Or the lack of babies available to adopt. The Child Welfare League of America says only 4,000 were put up for adoption in 2003.

But in China, children are plentiful. Would-be adoptive parents must be at least 30 years old, have no criminal record, be employed, undergo a home study by a Chinese social worker here in the United States and have what China called a substantial income. The cost to adopt? $20,000. The timetable, 12 to 18 months.

(on camera) It sounds like China has this very organized system of adopting babies out of their country, which seems kind of odd, frankly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean seems like a big export industry?

COSTELLO: It does.

CHILDS: If you look at it sort of as en masse phenomenon, you know, you do get that impression.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Mary says the process may sound a tad cold, but it quickly warms up.

(on camera) So you see the baby for the first time. And you're holding your baby in your arms for the first time, and what are you feeling?

DAVID YOUTES, ADOPTED CHILDREN FROM CHINA: There's a lot of crying.

CHILDS: Yes. On both parts. Parents are just, you know, so overwhelmed with emotion that suddenly this responsibility is into their arms.

COSTELLO (voice-over): When the new family gets back home, life gets crazy. Not only are they suddenly parents; they now have children who look nothing like them or often nothing like their neighbors. It's a struggle, not only to make the kids feel as if they fit in, but to honor their ancestry, as well.

CHILDS: Right now, she's at the stage where she just wants to be like every other kid. She wants to be American. She loves football and cheerleading. And I want her to be -- you know, to feel that way. But we also want her to be aware that when people look at her, they see a Chinese face.

COSTELLO: The Youtes say it helps that they've carefully chosen where to live. Tenafly, New Jersey, has a large Asian population. In the end, though, with all of the challenges, adoption gave them what they wanted most: a family.

CHILDS: It's a blessing. And they are wonderful, wonderful children, and we couldn't love them more.

COSTELLO: Carol Costello, CNN, Tenafly, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Just a heartwarming story. The Youtes' experience obviously was a joyous one. But how can other couples find success with international adoption? We'll talk to an expert who has the facts and everything else you need to know.

Also, another late development in the fires that have already taken four lives. We'll go back to Southern California where a state of emergency has just been declared.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tonight we've shown you two very different international adoptions, one involving Madonna, the other a New Jersey couple who adopted four children from China.

No matter who the parent, is each story is unique, but the challenges can often be the same.

Dr. Jane Aronson is an expert on adoption medicine. She's the founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation and has herself adopted children from Vietnam and Ethiopia. I spoke to her earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Dr. Aronson, I want to begin with the question that many might ask, given all the attention on Madonna and other international adoptions. The number of overseas adoptions has doubled between 1989 to 1999. Yet there are about 120,000 children in foster care here in the United States.

Why go overseas when there are so many children here in the United States that could use the help?

DR. JANE ARONSON, FOUNDER, WORLDWIDE ORPHANS FOUNDATION: Well, I think that it's not a matter of making a decision either/or. I think that people get attracted to international adoption because of their feelings about culture, their feelings about their roots.

And also, I think that the politics come into play, and that is that there have been many case of children adopted domestically, where the birth parents have been able to take custody of the child after what appeared to be a final adoption.

Those were celebrated cases, though there may not be a lot of them. There were enough of them to frighten people into thinking that it might be better to go overseas. It might be safer.

KING: You have personal experience in this regard, adopting one child from Vietnam, one from Africa. Did that go smoothly, or are there pitfalls to these procedures?

ARONSON: You work hard. That said, John, you know, it took me probably, you know, nine months to a year for each of the adoptions. There's a lot of paperwork.

Quickly, just to tell a story, I had to write down for child abuse clearance where I lived over the last 25 years. You know, who remembers all those details? They put you through hoops.

You have to have paperwork. You're fingerprinted many times, and you have to have birth certificates notarized. But you know, you work through it. You have other people. You have a lot of compassion with other people who are doing the process, and you get to it, and there's a great outcome.

But it's not easy. And there's a lot of people who really get pretty frustrated that we have to go through so many hoops to create a family.

KING: Madonna is in the headlines right now, Angelina Jolie, another celebrity who has had an international adoption in the past and has made news. You treated her daughter, Zahara.

All this publicity, is it a good thing or is it potentially a bad thing for the process and the idea of the thought of an international adoption? ARONSON: The publicity is fantastic when it's positive, you know. When everyone looks at the pictures of the children and people realize that this is a child whose life has changed forever, that the child has the potential for a great, great life, then everybody is happy.

But what happened recently with Madonna is pretty mean-spirited. I mean, there were really very few facts that were investigated correctly. And people were just like, you know, biting her butt. Excuse me for being blunt about it. And it was very unfair. And it led to a lot of wasted time and money.

In my opinion, all of the money and all the time that went into chasing after her criticizing her for something that really was great could have gone into saving literally thousands of children's lives with AIDS in Malawi.

KING: Do the costs vary hugely from country to country?

ARONSON: Yes, they do. I mean, a lot of countries that are far away, like Asia, you might end up with a lot of travel costs. And a lot of the bureaucracy in a small country might require a fair amount of money.

So, there are high-ended adoptions. Like, for instance, I would presume at this point that Vietnam and Guatemala actually are adoptions that might be fairly costly, but an adoption, for instance, in Ethiopia might not be as costly.

KING: Dr. Jane Aronson of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, thank you very much.

ARONSON: You're very welcome.

KING: Straight ahead, new developments from the fire lines in Southern California. State of emergency now in effect. Four people have died. A criminal investigation under way. We'll go live to the scene for the very latest.

Then at the top of the hour, some are calling it the biggest power grab since the Nixon administration. From warrantless wiretapping to detaining people without legal recourse, is the Bush administration going too far? I'll host a CNN election special, "Broken Government: Power Play".

More 360, though, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Another breaking development tonight in the wildfire that's already taken four lives and declared a potential murder scene and more. State of emergency now has just been declared.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is in Beaumont, California, with the latest -- Chris. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as of just a few hours ago, this fire was only about 10 percent contained. So yes, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for all of Riverside County, due to the damage from this fire.

He has also ordered flags to be flown at half staff for the next three days in honor of those four firefighters who were killed in action earlier today.

Right now, the firefighters are fighting this, really, on two fronts. You've got 1,000 people on the ground, literally trying to push the flames back from the front line. One firefighter we spoke with, who was literally standing in front of a wall of fire, told us that, if he could not stop the fire from crossing this road, he would, quote, "Be in a world of hurt."

On another angle, a smaller team of investigators is looking into who may have started this fire. Officials say they are very confident that this was an arson, a fire deliberately set and because those firefighters died fighting this fire, he says the person who started it would be charged with murder.

Now, they say they were able to trace the fire line bas back to its point of origin. They are trained investigators who looked at it and decided that because it was set in alignment with the wind and with the slope, they say that that fire was basically set to go.

Again, we are awaiting a press conference now in the next few minutes. We may get an update on the containment level, perhaps some more information on where firefighters stand at night.

But again, with more wind expected tomorrow, in the day, when that sun comes up, the way those Santa Ana winds have been whipping, it could be another very long, very tough day for the firefighters here -- John.

KING: And Chris, any clues at all on the investigation into the arson? What convinced them it was arson, where it may have begun? Are they keeping those clues tight to the vest, I assume?

LAWRENCE: Because it is now a criminal investigation, they're not saying too much, although the official did tell me his fire investigators are very highly trained. That is what they do. And they're trained to basically, you know, follow a trail, follow a burn line back to its source. At that point they can tell where and how it may have ignited.

KING: Chris Lawrence on the scene for us. Chris, thank you very much.

And tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING", the latest on this California wild fire. The investigation, of course, and the day's other headlines, starting at 6 a.m. Eastern.

Time now, though, for our "Shot of the Day". Meet Iranian Sona Babai. She became a U.S. citizen yesterday at the age of 105. She's the fourth oldest person to get American citizenship. Her son says she still has 20-20 vision, can thread a needle, and needs no hearing aid. Show off!

She says she wanted to become a citizen to show her gratitude to this country for embracing her four children, who live here and run thriving businesses. When asked what she was going to do as a new citizen, she said, quote, "I'm going to vote."

God bless her.

And that's it for this hour. Up next, a CNN special election report, "Broken Government: Power Play".

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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