Return to Transcripts main page
PAULA ZAHN NOW
New Iraq War Strategy Draws Criticism; White Supremacists in the U.S. Military? Bill Bradley: Life After Work
Aired January 11, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And hi, everybody. Appreciate your joining us as well.
Across America, racism and intolerance lurk just beneath the surface. Every night, we're finding and talking about these hidden secrets, bringing them right out in the open.
Tonight: As the Pentagon goes ahead with plans to add more soldiers and Marines, we uncover racism in uniform -- a former Marine's shocking allegations about white supremacists in the U.S. military.
Also, teaching intolerance -- a gay teacher goes to court when her school says no to a club that would fight discrimination.
We are also covering tonight's top story, the buildup in Baghdad. Will it bring victory in Iraq or even more chaos? That question is being debated all across the country tonight. And a lot of Americans are coming down against the president's plan to send some 20,000 more U.S. troops to Baghdad. According to one poll taken after the speech, 61 percent of the public opposes that troop increase.
But the president isn't backing down. And he found a sympathetic audience today among some people who are most directly affected, Army troops at Fort Benning, Georgia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a different kind of war, in which failure in one part of the world could lead to disaster here at home. It's important for our citizens to understand that, as tempting as it might be, to understand the consequences of leaving before the job is done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: The president says, if U.S. troops leave now, radical Islamists could take over Iraq and topple moderate governments throughout the Middle East.
The president's message may have gotten a warm welcome in Georgia, but top members of his administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, ran into a buzz saw of skepticism and outright hostility on Capitol Hill today.
As congressional correspondent Dana Bash reports, it's coming from both Democrats and Republicans.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the moment she sat down, unrelenting criticism.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I believe the president's strategy is not a solution, Secretary Rice. I believe it's a tragic mistake.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: I have not been told the truth. I have not been told the truth over and over again by administration witnesses. And the American people have not been told the truth.
BASH: Across the Capitol, the secretaries of state and defense came to sell the president's Iraq plan, and were greeted with hostility and exasperation -- what was unprecedented, how scornful Republicans were...
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out.
BASH: ... Republicans who think Mr. Bush is flat wrong to send more troops into what they call a deepening civil war...
SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I have gone along with the president on this, and I bought into his dream. And I -- at this stage of the game, I don't think it's going to happen.
BASH: ... Republicans who say increasing U.S. troop levels has been tried before...
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I'm not convinced, as I look to the -- the plan that the president presented yesterday, that what we're seeing is that much different than what we have been doing in the past.
BASH: ... and Republicans joining Democrats in questioning whether the Iraqi prime minister can or will do what it takes to stabilize his country.
REP. JOHN M. MCHUGH, (R), NEW YORK: I just have my doubts the Iraqis will show up. The track record isn't there.
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If, at the end of the day, they don't keep the commitments that they have made to us, as I indicated before, we would clearly have to re-look at the strategy.
BASH: Under heated questioning from lawmakers, including five presidential hopefuls who sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bush lieutenants were forced to admit there are no guarantees this latest plan will work. SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: What leverage do we have that would provide us some assurance that, six months from now, you will not be sitting before us again, saying, well, it didn't work?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Senator, the leverage is that we're not going to stay married to a plan that's not working in Baghdad.
BASH: And not one of the 21 senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, including 10 Republicans, came out in favor of the president's plan today, that -- it certainly was a little bit different in the House. There was some support there.
And, to be sure, there is some high-profile -- high-profile Republican support in the Senate. For example, John McCain says he is very much in favor of sending more troops to Iraq.
But, Paula, today was certainly an early indicator that Democrats could get what they want when they put all of this for a vote on the floor of the House and the Senate. They are going to put a resolution there to say that they oppose the president's plan. And they're hoping to get at least more than a handful of Republicans on their side .
ZAHN: But, to be perfectly fair here, that resolution, at the end of the day, doesn't carry much weight, does it?
BASH: It's -- it would be a non-binding resolution, a symbolic resolution. What Democrats say is, that would be a first step, a message they hope they can send to the president. They're not ruling out some of the real powers that they have, like, for example, blocking funding for -- for troops and for the -- for the troop increase.
But they're certainly not saying that they're going to use that kind of power, at least -- at least not yet -- Paula.
ZAHN: Dana Bash, thanks so much.
So, in the face of all of this skepticism, how does the president persuade the nation to follow his lead?
With me now is David Frum, a former special assistant to President Bush. As the president's speechwriter, he is the one who came up with the line "axis of evil."
Welcome back. Always good to see you.
DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: So, why would the president deliver a plan that goes against the will of the American public, what appears to be the majority of the members of Congress, and now even members of his own inner circle?
FRUM: Because the president has to play not just for the opinion of the moment, but for the opinion of tomorrow and the opinion of the future.
It is often the case that the polls of today, or Congress -- the Congress of today invites you to do something, that, if you were to do it, would make you far more unpopular in the future.
If the United States leaves Iraq in a careless, thoughtless way, without due preparation, there are going to be consequences that are going to arrive in this president's term, that are going to arrive certainly by -- you know, he's going to live for 20, 30, 40 more years, we all hope, after he leaves -- leaves the presidency. And he's going to have to account for that, and say -- and people may then say to him, well, gee, we didn't think enough on the way in, and we also didn't think enough on the way out.
ZAHN: But you have got to concede, this president has a severe credibility problem when it comes to the American public.
That was made loud and clear on the night of the -- the midterm elections. And look at these latest polling numbers now -- the majority of the American public saying they don't like this plan. Sixty-one percent are against the idea of sending more troops to Iraq. Thirty-six percent, though, back the president's plan.
Is there anything the president could have said more specifically last night that would have won back some of this confidence he has lost?
FRUM: Well, I -- I think that the speech last night does take a big step.
It was a credibility-boosting speech. The president, very candidly, explained what's happened over the past year-and-a-half, that some extremists in the Iraqi Sunni community committed atrocities against the Shiite majority, in an effort to provoke a reaction. They succeeded. They committed heinous crimes, not just the attack on religious sites, but also bombings of schools.
And they got a reaction. Shiite militias formed and began to commit atrocities against the Sunnis. And it is that spiral of violence that the United States and coalition partners have to stop.
So, he was very candid about that. He was very candid about how difficult it's going to be. That's why he needs more troops. And I think he also invited Americans to consider: If you don't like my plan, what is the alternative?
Because to leave means to step away, and to allow that civil war in Iraq to -- that people have been talking about so much actually to break out on a massive scale, with a lot of dead, a lot of instability for the region. And I think those Democrats who are casting that non- binding resolution, they want to be on both sides of this issue.
ZAHN: Of course, a lot of folks do that are running for reelection in 2008...
FRUM: Well, you have to give the president this.
ZAHN: ... and potentially running for president.
FRUM: The president is only on one side of this issue.
ZAHN: Yes, exactly.
Let's talk about your originally coining the phrase "axis of evil," referring, of course, to Syria and Iran and -- and North Korea. Now, here we are, some six years later, and there is still no high- level direct contract -- contact between the United States and at least Syria and Iran.
Do you have a problem with that?
FRUM: Well -- well, in fact, there have been all kinds of direct contacts with -- with -- with both.
I mean, with Syria, unfortunately, in the immediately aftermath of 9/11, Colin Powell went to Syria to meet with the -- the ruling family, and to say, you have nothing to fear from us. I don't know why he did that, but he -- why he felt that was a good idea, but he did.
And there have been all kinds of back channels with the Iranians. But, you know, the Iranians are communicating with the United States in a way that resonates loud and clear. They are putting weapons into Iraq that are killing American soldiers. The deadliest of the IEDs in Iraq come from Iran.
Iran is sponsoring Hezbollah. It's sponsoring terrorism. It was Iran that has -- has been the major funder of Hamas, a Sunni Palestinian terrorist group. They sent those arms...
FRUM: ... to the Palestinian Authority, to Yasser Arafat.
So, they -- you know, there are ways of communicating other than words. Terrorism is also a language. And the Iranians are very good at using it.
ZAHN: We have got to leave it there tonight.
David Frum, thanks.
FRUM: Thank you.
ZAHN: Appreciate your joining us.
The president's plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq means a new burden for thousands of military families. For the first time since the National Guard and Reserve were mobilized after 9/11, the Pentagon is removing the 24-month limit on active duty.
And, today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said some Guard and Reserve troops who already served will be called back again sooner than expected.
And, as Keith Oppenheim found, that's placing a growing strain on Guard and Reserve families.
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Where's dad? Yes, that's dad.
(voice-over): Twenty-month-old Anna Fox can easily identify her father, Jared, in a photograph. But the truth is, she mostly knows him from pictures.
For nearly two-thirds of her young life, Sergeant Jared Fox has been gone, serving as an engineer with the U.S. military in Iraq.
(on camera): How are you doing?
CONNIE FOX, WIFE OF U.S. SOLDIER: I'm doing OK. I -- I stay strong, because that's what our family needs.
OPPENHEIM (voice-over): For Jared's wife, Connie, staying strong is about to get tougher. That's because Jared is a member of the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade. And Connie just learned, Jared's yearlong stay in Iraq will be extended by up to four months.
FOX: With the military, whether you're only part-time or full- time, you have always got to expect the unexpected.
OPPENHEIM: Indeed, Connie's devotion to the military is evident in ribbons and decorations around her home.
(on camera): You accept this, but the pain of separation is just below the surface?
FOX: Definitely. It's always there. You know, you're -- you're a single parent with a -- with a husband. And, some days, it's like, why isn't he here? But you have always got to remember, he's -- I'm very proud of my husband. And I'm -- you know, he's a soldier. That's what he does. And he's good at it.
OPPENHEIM (voice-over): Last March, Sergeant Fox and other troops in his brigade left for Iraq with the expectation they would come home a year later. That would have been this spring. But, with new orders from the Pentagon, homecoming will have to wait until fall.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL KEVIN OLSON, MINNESOTA NATIONAL GUARD: Keep in mind that these are citizen soldiers. These are established citizens that have jobs, that have -- that have careers, that have established families, that are going to school.
OPPENHEIM: The change in plan has been all too much for Tim Pawlenty, Republican governor of Minnesota, who has been critical of the president's plan to send more troops, and especially upset the Minnesota Guard is staying longer.
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: It's not the general understanding that our soldiers had or that their families had. It puts a very significant additional burden on them. It's unexpected. And it's extremely frustrating.
OPPENHEIM: Connie Fox manages her frustration by focusing on the positive. She thinks back to when Jared came home on leave during Thanksgiving and her daughter, Anna, recognized daddy.
FOX: Seeing her just go straight to him at the airport.
OPPENHEIM (on camera): Knowing that that's her father?
OPPENHEIM: That's great.
FOX: Completely worth it.
OPPENHEIM: Mmm-hmm. You got -- you got to keep your eyes on the prize when he comes back.
FOX: That's right. Just waiting.
OPPENHEIM (voice-over): Keith Oppenheim, CNN, Foley, Minnesota.
ZAHN: What a smile.
Coming up in a minute, we are going to in-depth on exactly what is different about the president's plan this time around.
Also tonight, we continue our commitment to expose the hidden intolerance across America -- in just a little bit, violent racism among the U.S. troops who defend freedom all over the world.
And, then, a little bit later on, a controversy we have been covering all week long sparks a very unusual protest. These people are outraged at parents who stunted their daughter's growth because she's severely disabled. We will tell you what they want.
ZAHN: And we continue with our coverage of tonight's top story, the president's plan to send some 21,000 more troops to help stabilize Iraq.
Top officials of the administration keep on insisting that the president's new strategy really is new. Well, we want to go a little deeper than that tonight.
So, we asked senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre to show us how this plan differs from past troop and strategy adjustments, and its prospects for success.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new Iraq strategy is a last-ditch effort to secure Baghdad by correcting the two biggest failings of the old strategy: too few troops in the Iraqi capital, both U.S. and Iraqi, and too much political interference that has allowed Shia extremists to act with impunity.
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The Iraqi military will be in the lead in these operations. Another is that no parts of the city will be immune, that -- that there will be no more calls from government offices to Iraqi or U.S. forces who have detained someone who is politically connected, demanding that they be released.
MCINTYRE: The strategy calls for putting an Iraqi commander in charge of Baghdad and dividing the city into nine sectors. Each would have an Iraqi brigade in the lead, several thousand troops, backed by a U.S. battalion, several hundred troops.
The Iraqi army and police would clear neighborhoods with U.S. help. But, unlike the last plan, U.S. troops would stay and help keep the peace.
While some American troops are already moving into Baghdad, the Pentagon stresses, the full deployment of more than 17,000 U.S. soldiers will be gradual, so there is time to determine if the Iraqis are really doing their part.
GATES: ... I think within a couple of months or so, whether this strategy is, in fact, beginning to bear fruit. It's going to take a while.
MCINTYRE: And it won't be hard to tell. If violence drops, the plan is working.
Gates says, the U.S. will be quick to adjust if the strategy fails. But no one in the administration is willing to say what would be next.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, I don't think you go to plan B. You work with plan A.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: But that's not a plan B. That's a very critical issue here.
RICE: You work -- you work with plan A, and you give it the possibility of success, the best possibility of success.
MCINTYRE: The Pentagon says, the plan was devised by U.S. military commanders, including generals like George Casey and John Abizaid, who, in the past, opposed sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.
GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I have been the one who said, frequently, do not send extra troops just to do what the troops there now are already doing.
MCINTYRE (on camera): The new plan hinges on fresh Iraqi promises to move thousands of Iraqi's best and most reliable troops from around the country into Baghdad, and to free them to go after whoever is responsible for violence, even if that includes political allies of Iraqi prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.
ZAHN: And, tonight, as we have been doing for quite some time, we are also shining light on America's hidden secrets, bringing intolerance out into the open, including violent racism in the ranks of the U.S. military.
Coming up next: a one-time Marine who says there is a secret society of white supremacists just below the surface.
Plus, an unexpected development in a story we have been bringing you all week long -- we will tell you what brought these disabled activists out in the open today.
ZAHN: You have seen how the demand for more troops in Iraq is increasing the burden on military families. It is also straining the military itself.
And, today, the Pentagon said the president will authorize 92,000 more soldiers and Marines over the next five years. Now, that may force the military to lower its standards more than it already has to attract recruits, a problem some claim is indirectly fueling intolerance and hate.
Kyung Lah found one former Marine who is bringing the problem of racism out into the open.
T.J. LEYDEN, EX-WHITE SUPREMACIST: This is suburban USA.
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): T.J. Leyden lives quietly now in a cul-de-sac, raising five sons. He's a little out of place, especially when he rolls up his sleeves.
LEYDEN: Where it says "skin," it used to say "head" on this arm. So, when you saw me from behind, it would say "skinhead."
LAH: This was T.J. Leyden 20 years ago, a full-fledged neo-Nazi, attacking blacks and Asians -- each attack marked with a tattoo on his body.
LEYDEN: These were earned for stabbing.
LAH (on camera): You stabbed somebody? LEYDEN: Mmm-hmm. I have stabbed three kids in my lifetime, and I had three sets of bolts for the three stabbings.
LAH (voice-over): But Leyden craved more, a place to sharpen his violent skills. The place he chose was the U.S. Marines.
(on camera): Why did you want to learn infantry?
LEYDEN: I wanted to learn combat skills.
LEYDEN: To be able to bring it back out and teach my friends.
LAH: For the movement?
LEYDEN: For the movement, for the war that was -- that was coming.
This is a picture of, actually, me standing right outside my barracks door, tats across my back, "skinhead" down the back of my arms. There's nobody in the military when I was in that I could tell you that did not know I was not a white supremacist.
LAH (voice-over): Leyden made no secret of his beliefs, hanging a white supremacist flag from his locker. He approached young and impressionable Marines, and brought them into the neo-Nazi movement.
LEYDEN: You know, a good soldier, a good Marine with a rifle, they can do a lot of damage to a lot of people.
LAH (on camera): And what was the goal of the movement, then?
LEYDEN: To destroy the United States of America.
LAH (voice-over): Leyden left after two years with an honorable discharge, then taught what he learned to the white supremacist movement in Southern California and Idaho in a group called Hammerskin Nation.
But his children were growing up.
LEYDEN: This is Thomas.
LAH (on camera): Now, what is he doing, little Thomas there?
LEYDEN: White power salute, giving the sieg heil.
LAH (voice-over): The turning point came one afternoon, watching cartoons on TV.
LEYDEN: Some of the characters in the show are black. So, Tommy went over, turned the TV off, turned around and said, "Daddy, we don't watch shows with (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on it." Now, my initial impression was, I was very happy, very proud. But, then, I started thinking, you know, who he was going to grow up to be. And I just didn't like that outcome.
LAH: Leyden was so disturbed that, 10 years ago, he not only left the white supremacist movement; he turned against it completely.
LEYDEN: So, a skinhead girl, she comes running up to you, practically crying.
LAH: Leyden now consults for police agencies and the military, teaching commanders how to weed out extremists. Leyden says there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of white supremacists now in the military, learning combat skills, with taxpayers picking up the tab.
LEYDEN: They want to destroy this country, and we are teaching them how to do it every day.
LAH: The Defense Department says the military is aware of possible gang and extremist activity in the military, but denies it is a growing trend.
DAVID CHU, UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They are very watchful for this issue, because, again, it is not -- these behaviors are not acceptable.
LAH: But Leyden claims the need for troops in Iraq is so great, recruiters have compromised their standards.
CHU: We're not accepting people of -- quote -- "lower quality," in terms of we're doing it only for numbers.
LEYDEN: My little guy.
LAH: Leyden says he's been given a second life, a chance to raise his youngest in a multicultural place.
LEYDEN: Before, I would have been like, how can we get rid of that black family? How do we get rid of that Asian family?
LEYDEN: You know, how can we get them out of the neighborhood? Instead of, like, you know, I'm glad they're here.
LAH (on camera): Or walking down the street with an Asian reporter.
LEYDEN: Exactly, yes.
LAH (voice-over): Leyden has gotten rid of some of his tattoos, but not all of them, a permanent brand from a world he left behind, a world that he worries is growing more powerful.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.
ZAHN: We're going to bring in tonight's "Out in the Open" panel to talk about all this.
Deborah Rowe is a talk show host at WLS Radio in Chicago and on DeborahRowe.com. Sirius Satellite Radio host Michelangelo Signorile joins us again. And Errol Louis, a columnist for "The New York Daily News," is back with us all, as well.
DEBORAH ROWE, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you.
ERROL LOUIS, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Thank you.
ZAHN: Now, I don't know about the rest of you. When I heard T.J. Leyden use his statistics, that we're talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of these white supremacists sort of lurking beneath the surface in the military -- in addition to that, we now know that Aryan Nation graffiti has been found in Baghdad.
How terrifying is this to you? And how concerned should the government be about...
LOUIS: Well, we should all be concerned about it.
The government knows about this. I mean, there was one report to the government, about 320 white supremacists in the military. They prosecuted two of them. There was a big expose in the -- in the Chicago newspapers about -- with -- with photos of gang graffiti, the Crips, the Bloods, the Vice Lords, all over -- all over Baghdad. So, this is a serious problem.
It's a subset, really, of the -- the recruitment crisis that the military is going through, in trying to get enough people to meet all of its commitments around the world.
ZAHN: Which is a very scary thing for all of us to address, when you here people very pointedly saying that the government is compromising its standards because of these recruitment pressures.
ROWE: It is a scary thing, Paula.
But here's the thing. Is it actually a compromise to reach our recruitment standards? Because, in the piece, Mr. Lah (sic), he acknowledged that this was well over a decade ago that he was doing it. It had no relationship to the war in Iraq.
Clearly, there have been individuals, there have always been individuals, and there will always be individuals who have a mind-set that is counter to what is acceptable in society. It is the onus of the government to -- to weed it out, no question.
(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: Are those people drawn to the military? Or is the military a place where they can feel very comfortable spewing their hate? What...
MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The -- the National Alliance, which is one of the white supremacist groups connected to Timothy McVeigh, put on its Web sites, in its magazines, a call for white supremacists to join the military.
Back in '96, under the Clinton administration, they really had created a zero-tolerance policy on white supremacists. But Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks white supremacists, says that they have actually been going lax, the -- the recruiters, because -- and knowingly.
A -- a Defense Department investigator said they knowingly have gone lax on white supremacists. And, after they find out -- people in the military who are white supremacists -- they're being very open about it. They are not throwing them out.
If -- if you're gay, you will get thrown out. If you're a white supremacist, you won't.
ZAHN: How can anybody defend this?
LOUIS: Well, listen, in November 2005, the Army failed to meet its recruitment goal for the first time in 26 years. There really is a serious problem.
Under normal circumstances, you have to recruit 200,000 new people to the military every single year just to stay at -- at parity. Now you have got people who are retiring, people who are not reenlisting, in part because of the -- the -- the real danger of being shipped to Iraq or to Afghanistan. And, so, you're starting to see these recruitment scandals.
ZAHN: Are you accusing the government of knowingly turning its -- turning its back to this?
ROWE: Well, see, I think it's a more complex problem. I think that, like in major cities, we see that, on police departments, there are gang members who are on the police department.
The problem is, unless these individuals are out openly, I mean, in large numbers, organizing, meeting on the military bases...
ZAHN: Yes, very difficult to clamp down on.
ROWE: It's very difficult.
I will tell you this. There -- we had a situation at the start of the Iraq war where there was a young Muslim...
(CROSSTALK) ROWE: ... Muslim man. He turned his weapons on his fellow soldiers and killed them, because he was harboring sentiments against the country. You cannot possibly say in every case where there's someone who has an anti-cultural attitude. You've got to root them out. How do you really do that?
ZAHN: That's a good question. Something we're going to continue to explore here. I want all three of you to stand by if you would.
We've got a lot more to talk about tonight.
There was a very unusual protest today in Chicago. Demonstrators who are also disabled want the medical community to know they are outraged because doctors stunted a disabled girl's growth to make it easier for her parents to care for her and they say easier for her to be comfortable.
A little bit later on a gay teenager takes on the people running her high school because they won't let her form a club to promote understanding. We'll debate that as well. Stay tuned.
ZAHN: Some new developments in a story we've been bringing you all this week, "Out in the Open," it's about the nine-year-old girl whose parents call her their "pillow angel." And while it's captured a lot of interest it's also made a lot of people very angry.
The little girl is severely disabled and her parents decided on surgery and hormones to permanently stunt her growth. They say keeping her small makes it easier to take care of her and improves her quality of life. And today in Chicago disabled activists protested outside the American Medical Association's headquarters.
Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has been following this story all week long. And she joins me now. So, Elizabeth, what is it that the protesters want?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What they want, Paula, is for the American Medical Association to officially condemn the doctors who did these procedures, who stunted her growth so she'll never or be more than 4'5" and 75 pounds. They took her uterus out of her body. They removed her breast buds so she'll never get breasts.
Now the American Medical Association is not biting here. They simply put out a statement saying they don't have a policy on performing these procedures on disabled children.
Now as far as the doctors at Seattle Children's Hospital are concerned, I spoke with one of them today and he had this to say. He said, "We are disappointed that some people," and he meant the protesters, "are more interested in labeling us as evil rather than doing the hard work of looking carefully at what we did and whether it benefited this girl."
And that is the key phrase there at the end. The doctors say that these procedures benefited Ashley.
ZAHN: So, Elizabeth, it's not just during this demonstration that you see a lot of heat. This story is buzzing all over the Internet. And the lines are pretty firmly drawn. Does public opinion seem to be swaying against the parents like we saw in the demonstration today or the other way around?
COHEN: It's really hard to tell. If you look at bloggers, most bloggers that I've been reading seem to be against the parents. But when you look at things like comments on news Web sites, a lot of those people are supportive of the parents. Some of the most vociferous opinions have come from parents of disabled children. They say that Ashley's rights were violated.
So let's take a look, for example, at one blogger who put it very succinctly. This blogger said, "Don't get me wrong, caring for a 5' something, 110+ pound adult with physical disabilities is no work in the park, and I've got the trashed lumbar discs to prove that. But I am truly just sick to my stomach to imagine that it's acceptable medical practice in any case to surgically stunt a child's growth. Using their logic, why not just perform quadruple amputations? I mean, really, she's not going to use her arms and legs."
But on the other hand, there are also parents of disabled children who disagree with that person who just blogged. This was a comment on the CNN.com Web page. This person wrote, "God bless these parents and this child. What a beautiful gift they have given her, love, inclusion, improved health. These parents deserve a medal. We are the parents of two special needs children. We have firsthand experience in these kinds of issues."
And indeed, the doctor at Seattle Children's Hospital who I spoke to today, he said that they're getting calls from parents who were saying we're glad you did this. We have disabled children, too.
ZAHN: Not surprising that this hits such personal veins out there. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks.
COHEN: Thank you.
ZAHN: Schools are supposed to teach by example so why is one school fighting a student who wants to set up a club that promotes tolerance for gays? Her story next.
And a little hit later, and a mom who used to qualify to adopt babies in China but won't anymore because she's single. Is that discrimination?
ZAHN: Tonight we're bringing "Out in the Open" a story of a teenage girl in Florida who is taking her fight for fair treatment at school all the way to the federal court. She's gay. And she founded a gay student group but the school officials refused to let them meet on school property. Just today the ACLU asked a federal court for a preliminary injunction allowing the group to meet at school while the case goes through the legal system. Susan Candiotti has the story of this teenager's fight against what she calls intolerance.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 17-year-old Yasmin Gonzalez, being outspoken and gay at Okeechobee High School hasn't been easy.
YASMIN GONZALEZ, GAY TEENAGER: People yell out the bus windows when I'm walking by. People yell outside of classrooms.
CANDIOTTI: Like what?
GONZALEZ: Hey, you're the dyke on TV. Yeah.
CANDIOTTI: The high school senior said she remembers a teacher who had unkind words in class about homosexuals.
GONZALEZ: That gay people were disgusting, it was against God and they shouldn't be alive.
CANDIOTTI: When you hear that, what do you think?
GONZALEZ: It was like he thought I wasn't a person.
CANDIOTTI: Yasmine's activism started last year when the ACLU helped her petition drive to allow same-sex couples to attend the prom. It worked and Yasmin went to the prom with a girlfriend. This time she's in a battle royale with the school district over setting up an after school club called the Gay/Straight Alliance.
What is the club about?
GONZALEZ: Stop discrimination, stop hate. I know it won't stop it, but it will help at least a little bit.
CANDIOTTI: Her hometown of Okeechobee, Florida calls itself God's country. You can find American and Confederate flags flying side by side on Main Street and banners boasting of Old Values, New Visions. But she says the town isn't exactly welcoming her club's vision of tolerance.
GONZALEZ: Actually, the students and the teenagers are more accepting than the adults are.
CANDIOTTI: The school district has blocked the Gay/Straight Alliance mainly by arguing it violates a state-mandated school curriculum that encourages sexual abstinence.
(on camera): Do you talk about sex during the meetings?
GONZALEZ: No. Not at all. In the meetings we've had -- Even hanging out with my friends we never have.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): A lawyer for the school district says sexually based clubs are not in the students' best interests. DAVID GIBBS, ATTY FOR SCHOOL BOARD: To give you an example, if a child said I want to start a young terrorists club or a child said I want to do a young prostitutes club, clearly a school can say wait a minute, we don't believe that's in the well-being of the young people.
CANDIOTTI: Okeechobee Baptist minister Randy Huckabee also worries that Gonzalez's gay-straight support group it sends the wrong message at the high school.
(on camera): What troubles you about it?
REV. RANDY HUCKABEE, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH: It's about being consistent with teaching abstinence in our school system.
CANDIOTTI: The young lady who is organizing this says this is not a group that talks about sex, it's about teaching tolerance. What's wrong with that?
HUCKABEE: As a minister of the gospel, we love people. And our goal is to help raise them out of anything that would be considered sin.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The ACLU is suing on her behalf.
ROBERT ROSENWALD, ACLU OF FLORIDA: Courts have held that gay- straight alliances are just as entitled to meet to discuss harassment, intolerance and the issues that they want to talk about as a Christian club, a community service organization or indeed the school cheerleaders.
CANDIOTTI: Yasmin Gonzalez says her message is simple.
GONZALEZ: That everyone is a person. It's not just labels.
CANDIOTTI: Susan Candiotti, CNN, Okeechobee, Florida.
GONZALEZ: And we're going to go back to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel. Deborah Rowe, Michael Signorile and Errol Louis are all back.
So Mike, we just heard this piece. Yasmin describing that allegedly that a teacher in front of a classroom full of students said that being gay was disgusting. As a gay American who grew up at a time when you couldn't even admit publicly you were gay, how reflective is that of the kind of intolerance and bigotry that continues today towards gays?
MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO HOST: We see it in communities across the country. And those people, the school district, those individuals, the principal, they are welcome to go and work at an evangelical Christian school. This is American. You can have your own religious school if you want to enforce certain rules. But this is public school. And this is in violation of the Equal Access Act of 1984, which says that anybody, any group can meet on school grounds. And it was passed to protect evangelical Christian students. So I think their case is really very weak. ZAHN: But let's talk about the state statute, that governs that abstinence must be taught and that's why the school district is saying it is not allowing this club.
Is that a reasonable position to have?
DEBORAH ROWE, WLS RADIO HOST: Actually, I think it's a very reasonable position. I want to be very clear. Any idea that it's OK to say, I wish all gays would die, that needs to be really stopped dead in its tracks.
But the problem for the schools and many other people who do not want to bring in gay/straight alliances in their school, they don't want to endorse gay marriages, whatever that might be, the problem is the whole debate has been foundationally wrong. What the debate really has become, you must accept this behavior. It's a very different story ...
SIGNORILE: It's not about sex.
ROWE: Actually, it is.
SIGNORILE: It's not about sexuality. The group is not about sex. And many of those kids are probably abstinent as well. It's a group to create alliance between straights and gays and understanding. It's not about sex.
ZAHN: And you do understand there are religious objections to this and the school board's position?
ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": The school board's position is legally as wrong as it can be. They're going to get slammed in court the minute they get there.
ZAHN: You think so? You don't think there is any way ...
LOUIS: No way, Paula. There was a case settled in 2004 in Boyd County, Kentucky, exactly the same sort of facts. They were trying to ban a gay/straight alliance, they invoked the Equal Access Act of 1984. And the court found that you could not invoke a curriculum aims -- they say this is counter to our curriculum. This is a non- curriculum club an after school club. That is what this is all about.
The Future Farmers of America or chess club or the gay/straight alliance, let's talk about intolerance club. They have to have the same access to classrooms. And the substantive attempt to stop the club from talking about what it wants to talk about is specifically what the Supreme Court said is unconstitutional.
ZAHN: What harm would this cause in Okeechobee to have this gay straight alliance club?
ROWE: It's not harmful but the problem is it's not an argument of integrity because here is the thing. She already acknowledges she has friends who were straight. They support her. In high school I knew gay girls and they were together ... SIGNORILE: Why not meet on campus and be able to talk to me. Why does it have to be banned?
ROWE: She is meeting with them.
SIGNORILE: That's intolerance. That's intolerance.
ZAHN: We're going to follow this one in court it seems. Deborah Rowe, Michelangelo Signorile, Errol Louis. Thank you all. Appreciate it.
This week we have been reporting on proposed restrictions that would affect Americans who want to adopt babies in China. And in just a minute a woman who used to qualify and actually adopted children before but would no longer be eligible. How could that be fair? We'll discuss it in just a moment.
ZAHN: One of the stories we've been bringing out in the open this week is the controversy over China's proposed new rules for foreigners trying to adopt children.
When Americans look to adopt from other countries, China is at the top of the list. But the proposed rules are raising questions about intolerance because if you're not rich enough, not thin enough, not attractive enough, you may not even be able to adopt children from China anymore.
Tonight John Vause takes us through the process with some prospective American parents.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ga-ga (ph).
ANNE FASCHING, NEW PARENT: Yes. My goodness.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anne Fasching is a new mom again, adopting 16 month-old Jasmine, a Chinese orphan and now little sister Erica (ph), who Anne adopted almost six years ago, also from China.
FASCHING: I'm just so fortunate what China has done for me. You know, they've given me these two beautiful little girls.
VAUSE: And even if she wanted to do it all again, she can't. By May, China plans to tighten its adoption rules. And singles, like Anne, an unmarried social worker from Minnesota, need not apply.
FASCHING: It's very sad when I see how wonderful this has all been that it may not have happened for me.
VAUSE: Instead, China want married couples like Roberto Morales and Susan Stuart (ph). They're taking Jill home to North Carolina.
ROBERTO MORALES, NEW PARENT: I just fell in love with her right away.
VAUSE: The authorities here consider them ideal parents because they fit the new criteria: age between 30 and 50, with good incomes, neither is taking antidepressants, they don't have facial deformities and neither is obese.
Roberto dropped 45 pounds in four months just to make sure he'd pass the physical.
MORALES: It just kept me up at night because thinking, first of all, my wife is going to kill me, just one more thing I've messed up, that my weight and my eating could keep her away.
VAUSE: Adoption groups in the U.S. say the requirements may seem tough, but the Chinese have good intentions.
RICK GIBSON, CHILDREN'S HOME SOC. & FAMILY SVC.: Their goal is so ensure that each child is placed in what they consider to be in an optimum family. And we could debate what that looks like all day long.
VAUSE (on camera): Perhaps what many find hardest to accept about these new rules is that they seem so arbitrary, so inflexible. But generally, among those hoping to adopt, there is now acceptance. So when it comes to Chinese kids being sent into the world, China has the right to decide who would be a good parent and who would not.
(voice-over): And those who are approved eventually end up here, the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, also know as Baby Central, the only place where American visas are issued for adopted Chinese kids. And last year almost 7,000 were granted, making China the number one country of choice for Americans for overseas adoption.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I solemnly affirm...
CROWD: I solemnly affirm...
VAUSE: After new parents swear an oath that the information on the child's visa is true...
CROWD: ... to the best of my knowledge...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congratulations.
VAUSE: ... they're ready to head to the United States, the start of a lifelong journey together.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a very emotional moment because it's really real. She's all mine. Our child.
VAUSE: But the new rules will mean that soon some hopeful parents will miss out, denied precious moments like this.
John Vause, CNN, Guangzhou, China. (END VIDEOTAPE)
ZAHN: Nothing better than that bond.
We're going to change our focus now. You're about to meet a man who once wowed basketball fans, once served in the U.S. Senate, even for the president. But he says he isn't retire -- ready, that is, to retire just yet.
Jen Rogers caught up with him for tonight's "Life After Work".
BILL BRADLEY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I've decided to withdraw from the Democratic race for president.
JEN ROGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Bradley exited the political stage more than six years ago.
BRADLEY: You never get over it. And that doesn't mean it eats away at your core like poison.
ROGERS: Failure is not familiar to Bill Bradley. His life story is one of legend An All-American basketball player at Princeton, a Rhodes Scholar, a Basketball Hall-of-Famer with two NBA championships and 18 years as a Democratic senator from New Jersey.
How he's a private citizen.
BRADLEY: I was in public life to try to make the world a better place. Now that I'm in the private sector I want to do the same thing.
ROGERS: One way Bradley hopes to make a difference: giving Americans something to feel good about.
BRADLEY: I'm Bill Bradley and this is "American Voices", only on Sirius Satellite Radio.
BRADLEY: People say to me, "Do you miss anything about politics?"
And I said, "Yes. I miss two things. I miss not doing public policy 24 hours a day. And I miss the people."
ROGERS: Bradley's weekly show features the underdogs and unsung heroes that make up the American landscape.
BRADLEY: This why this show is so much fun. I have total authority to give credit for anything that I'd like to give credit for. So you get credit for taking a risk and showing America your great singing voice.
ROGERS: His show, his books, his work as an investment banker make up the latest chapter in a storied career, but probably not the last. BRADLEY: I'm having such a great time now that I couldn't imagine doing anything more than I'm doing at the moment. I mean, I wish there were 28 hours in a day.
ROGERS: Bradley jokes he would gladly return to the NBA.
BRADLEY: Get a few new hips and knees, you know. Who knows? Like they have a designated hitter in baseball, maybe they'll have a designated foul shooter. If they have that, I'm right there.
ROGERS: But while he'd consider a return to the sports arena, Bradley says the political one is out and he has no plans to run for office again.
Jen Rogers, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: We wish him luck.
We are minutes away from the top of the hour and a "LARRY KING LIVE" prime time exclusive tonight. Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's widow Terri and daughter Bindi are Larry's guests.
We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And that's wraps it up for all of us here tonight.
Tomorrow night we're going to keep on following the story of the disabled girl whose growth was stunted at her parent's request. We're going to meet a single mom whose son faces nearly the same circumstances and will never be normal. But she's allowed him to grow up. What continues to fuel that debate that we talked about tonight.
Once again, that is it for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Please join us again tomorrow night, same time, same place.
Until then, have a great night.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com