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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Cruise Ship Disaster; Mitt Romney's Bain Pain; Syrians Urge Monitors to Stay; Mississippi Pardons Uproar

Aired January 16, 2012 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Erin, thanks.

Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with breaking news of the Italian crew ship disaster. The number of people unaccounted for, 29. Now sharply higher than a few hours ago. When you look at this new video from the Italian coast guard, you can see even the passengers who managed to make it out of the listing ship, what a harrowing escape it was. This is night scope video of passengers streaming down the side the crippled Costa Concordia. Some of them had to climb up the inside of the ship in the dark with water rising before climbing down what amounts to the size of an apartment building to safety.

Remember this is during the night on a ship that should never have been where it was in the first place. Should never have tipped over the way it did commanded by a captain who, according to authorities, should never have done what he did before, during or after his ship first ran into trouble.

Now the questions are many tonight. We begin with Dan Rivers in a moment by moment account of what we now know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the first evidence captured on video that something was wrong. Around 9:30 at night, the lights go out aboard the Costa Concordia. At this point there doesn't seem to be much panic among the passengers. But some sensed that this was something more serious than just a power blackout.

NANCY LOFARO, CRUISE SHIP DISASTER SURVIVOR: They were saying everything was under control, that there was an electrical problem with the generator. My husband and I looked at each other and said, they're full of it, we have to get off this boat.

RIVERS: In fact the skyscraper-size ship had run into rocks off Italy's Giglio Island and was beginning to lift to one side. Now passengers begin to panic.

This amateur video shows the dark, cold chaos as passengers try to flee the ship in life jackets, battling against gravity to get out. According to the accounts of survivors, some of the crew members helped passengers board lifeboats before jumping overboard. Other crewmembers seemed helpless and confused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were pushing and shoving. There were -- there was no order, there were no lines, there was no system in place. And there was no one in charge.

RIVERS: Because of the tilting ship, some passengers are unable to make it to the lifeboat, some decide to jump and swim for shore, risking injury and hypothermia with air temperatures dipping below freezing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hit the cold water and our life jackets have a little light on them. And you turn it on, however it gets wet, starts to flash and so all you could see was a lot of flashing lights in the pitch-black, and you know, just swimming. There were some people that are really freaking out, grabbing hold of other people, you know, everyone was just trying to keep everyone calm.

RIVERS: At about 10:20 p.m., rescue operations begin from shore. Divers search in pitch-blackness underwater for survivors.

At dawn, the enormity of the damage is clear. An open gash running the length of the ship. By Monday, at least six people are dead and more than two dozen remain missing. Then the partially sunken vessel begins to shift, temporarily halting rescue operations.

(On camera): This picture says it all about how precarious, dangerous and difficult this search and rescue operation is proving to be. Earlier on, fire officers had to be winched off the super structure of the Costa Concordia as she started shifting in the sea. Now they're beginning to resume their search operation of the some 2,000 cabins inside.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Costa Cruises has defended the actions of the crew following this disaster but says the captain's actions probably contributed to this wreck.

(Voice-over): The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, was arrested and may face charges of manslaughter and abandoning ship while passengers were still on board. Some passengers reported seeing Schettino boarding a lifeboat before they were able to evacuate. Schettino could face up to 15 years in prison.

On Italian television, he said he and his crew were the last to leave the ship and that the rocks they hit were not marked on his map. Still, why he took this massive ship so close to the rocky shore is unclear. An investigation is under way while concern grows over the fate of the missing the rescuers say could still be trapped in the ship's partially flooded compartments.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Dan join us now just on shore from the crippled liner. Also joining us by phone is Butch Hendrick, president of Lifeguard Systems and a 30-year veteran of maritime rescue operations.

Dan, you went out. You got a look at the rocky shoreline. How could -- whoever was at the helm of the ship not realized those hazards were there. They had made this trip, this route an awful lot, hadn't they?

RIVERS: They had. And I think perhaps, Anderson, that contributed to the complacency of the captain. They had a habit of going very, very close to the port showboating, effectively to show off to their friends on the island, apparently. This time, they got very close, too close, scraping that huge hole along the hull.

We went out there. I mean, frankly, you'd have to be mad to take a ship that size that close to the shore. It's very close indeed. And I just can't really imagine what they were thinking. There would have been alarms going off on the bridge, visual alarms and on the screens, on their navigation screens, telling them to bear away, but they didn't.

COOPER: Do we know how deep the water is there, Dan?

RIVERS: Well, it's more than 100 meters if you stay outside the rocks, but there is a reef there that comes out from a kind of peninsula. And there are a string of rocks just under the surface. I mean we were out there in a little inflatable boat, you can see the rocks. So it's not very deep at all. And as they say, you know, there is a huge chunk of rock embedded in the hull of the ship. That gives you an idea of the force with which it hit those rocks. It ripped the rock the size of a car off which is currently stuck in the hull.

COOPER: Butch, you're not involved in this specific response effort. From what you know, though, of these situations, is it likely at this point, I mean, that this is just more of a recovery effort than really a rescue effort? Or could there still be people inside the ship above the water somewhere?

BUTCH HENDRICK, PRESIDENT, LIFEGUARD SYSTEMS: There could still be people locked into compartments when the ship is twisted and moved, like a house, when you get a big rainstorm, you can't open your door or close your door. They could be -- they could still be trapped in a compartment somewhere where they can't physically move because of the twisting of the metal.

COOPER: Also, I think it's important to talk about, I mean, it looks like a pretty calm environment, it's not particularly deep. But for the divers who've got to -- I mean they got to go through this wreck, diving in a wreck at any time is dangerous, this boat is still possibly moving -- could still move. It's very dangerous for the divers looking for the people who may still be either under the water or alive in the boat.

HENDRICK: Yes, it certainly is. And, one, as you point out, and I say that the boat is still going to move because the tide is moving so it has to move. But on top of that, if you think of the fact that inside of that ship, all the electrical system is gone. As the water is moving around, the initial few hundred feet, minimum, going in, there's no visibility. So these divers aren't going in to a facility where they're able to physically see anything.

They have to run tracer lines so that a tracer line is a line they'll start at the outside of the ship. And as they move forward, they'll bring that line with them so they can get themselves back out. There could be a point where they're going to make certain turns, whether it's a companion way or going down into another lower deck. They may actually put another diver at the top of those stairs to take care of the diver that's now going down and trying to find his way to other compartments.

COOPER: Wow. So it's a dangerous and a slow process.

Dan, when it looked like it was -- I mean there wasn't a lot of organization, as you said in your report, did the people on board know that the ship itself wasn't likely to completely sink? Because that -- I mean that's the most terrifying thing, obviously, if you're on a ship, the idea that the whole thing is going to go under water, that this was just going to list on its side. Did they have that information?

RIVERS: I don't think they did, no. And I think there was probably one thought in most people's heads who were on board, which was simply one word, "Titanic." I mean that's the obvious kind of thought, the image, that comes to mind when you look at it, especially when you get up close and just see how big it is.

Of course, it's 100 years ago, since Titanic sank in the Atlantic. Now she went down completely. The Costa Concordia tilted over on its side, as you can see, and thankfully came to rest on the rocks on the shore there. But I think the people on board would have no idea what was going to happen. Don't forget it was dark. They probably couldn't even see the shore there. For all they knew, they were much further out. All they knew that the boat was going over and they didn't know if it was going to go down as well.

COOPER: Butch, to go through a ship this size, how many divers would you need? How long could it take?

HENDRICK: This could literally take a couple of weeks, because of the pace. Until they get to a point where they can have the sloshing of the water start slowing down, they could actually have some visibility. Most likely, they would also be running a camera line back to a main deck so that they could actually see what was happening back on the surface. This could definitely take 100 divers depending on how much they want to search underwater.

COOPER: And Butch, if you were in a situation, had you been a passenger on this ship, I mean there's a lot of unknowns at this point, but what would you do? I mean what's the advise to somebody if one side the lifeboat looks they can't be lowered because the ship is tilted on to its side. I mean would you jump in the water? What do you do?

HENDRICK: As I understand it, the temperature out there was 57 degrees so hypothermia is a definite concern, and they're about 300 yards or so from shore. That's a long swim in that water temperature. You know if you're standing there and you realized there's not enough lifeboats, the timing is bad, as you pointed out, it's dark, they're frightened. They've got (INAUDIBLE) and I would imagine I'd be trying to ask them to stop, wait, they're going to come back with more boats.

And entering that water would have been my last choice only because of the hypothermia and not knowing what else was there to injure you.

COOPER: Yes, that would be my fear, I guess, jumping into the water and there'd be more rocks there if you'd run aground.

Butch Hendrick, I appreciate your expertise. Thanks for being on. Dan Rivers, as well.

For more now on the why of this disaster, let's turn to Tom Foreman -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. You know, it was interesting that Dan just mentioned the Titanic a minute ago. Look at this. The Costa Concordia held twice as many passengers as the Titanic. It is longer, much heavier, but everything that has been learned since the Titanic's sinking went into its construction.

So how did this happen? Investigators, we believe, are focusing on three key questions. And let's go through them here. The first question that they're going to ask in all of this is, why did it go so far off course and hit this rock? That's the basic question. The captain has suggested there was a problem with his charts, there's something wrong with the navigation equipment.

When they hit, the power went off right after impact. We've heard a lot of people talk about this, almost simultaneously from what some of the witnesses say. That has raised suspicion that there could have been some electrical problem that maybe caused the navigation system to malfunction or there was an electrical problem that came from that impact that really shouldn't have happened. Ships like this are not designed to have that happen.

So the second question is why did the ship start tilting so dramatically and so quickly after that impact? Ships like this are designed to carry their load, all their heavy equipment, the engine, all that, very low down in here in the hull for stability. Imagine if you were lying in the bottom of a row boat versus standing up, it's much more stable that way.

They have numerous watertight compartments throughout the ship here so that if they have water coming into one of them, it can be sealed off and it won't affect the other ones. That's supposed to keep it safe when they have such a collision like this. And in fact the ship itself is supposed to be the primary vessel for taking people back to safety. Instead, this one went into a tight turn in shallow water and then it rolled almost completely on its side -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. That must have been so scary.

There's also been a lot of criticism about the evacuation itself. We saw how disorganized it all looked. How long did the captain wait for the evacuation, do we know?

FOREMAN: It sounds like, from all the accounts we have, that there was about 45 minutes from the actual impact until the evacuation. And that raises really the third big question here, Anderson. Why was the evacuation apparently so chaotic? We know that this cruise had just begun, we're told that there was some language barriers involved. It was dark as we know. The passengers had not been given any safety briefings yet.

And we've heard that rock that was mentioned a little while ago there by Dan, there it is right there. We know that many people here were celebrating their first night at sea, and only been up for a while. They were in the restaurants, that sort of thing. And many say they didn't even know that the command to abandon ship had been given, and yet look what was happening below all of these decks, huge, huge ship in the dark.

As you go deeper into this hull -- here are the top decks here. This is roughly where the water is now. As you go down through all these decks, look at how the amount of deck being devoured by the water. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger. You get down here to this level where you have the casino and the big theater, and a lot of restaurants, you start getting closer to having everything under water.

And by the final bottom decks, basically everything is completely under water. And, as Butch mentioned, think about this, 57 degrees, that's cold enough to bring on the confusion and exhaustion of hypothermia, and many people, in an hour or even less. So even people who are on board, if they were trapped down here and got wet, it made it very difficult for them to think clearly, Anderson, and that's seemed to have also added to it.

But these are three big questions right now that investigators have to be asking before they can even move on to the more delicate ones.

COOPER: Yes. As we said, 29 unaccounted for at this point.

Tom, I appreciate it.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google Plus, add us to your circles. Follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.

I guess the question, did this make you less likely to go on one of these kind of cruises? Let me know on Twitter, @Andersoncooper.

Up next, the latest from the campaign trail. New signs that Mitt Romney is making it the road to victory. We're also "Keeping Him Honest" on that anti-Gingrich ad about Romney's time at Bain Capital featuring laid-off workers. Well, there's one catch. They weren't laid off by Bain, they actually said they got promotions. We'll hear from them.

And later the hunt for one -- one last killer pardoned in Mississippi and the search for answers to why the guy who pardoned them, the former governor, and three other murderers say it was the right thing to do because these were all crimes of passion. That's what the governor said. These were crimes of passion. Well, those remarks stirring a big storm. Is there something different about crimes of passion? We'll talk to an expert about that.

Let's also check in with Isha and see what's she's following -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, Nic Robertson is on the ground in Syria and what he's seeing is almost beyond description. As if the government snipers, tanks and artillery weren't enough already, he's got an up-close look at people, ordinary people caught in the middle of what is now looking more and more the beginning of a bloody civil war.

That and much more when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight the campaign trail the Republicans are settling on Mitt Romney as their nominee. Now one competitor is dropping out and others losing momentum coming under fresh scrutiny for attacking Governor Romney. "Keeping Him Honest" on one of those attacks tonight. Yet another challenger hopes to stop the former Massachusetts governor with what his campaign is calling a money bomb. And it's a big one.

Ron Paul may have taken the last four days off but his donors have been very busy putting up $1.3 million over the weekend. Jon Huntsman, as you know on the other hand, he's out. He made it official today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, I am suspending my campaign for the presidency. I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama. Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues I believe that candidate is Governor Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, new polling out today from CNN/ORC shows Governor Romney far and away the frontrunner among Republicans nationwide, way ahead of Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum who won the endorsement of Christian conservative leaders over the weekend.

Now Speaker Gingrich today in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, warning conservatives that voting for Santorum or anyone but himself would insure a moderate -- meaning Romney -- wins the nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ask yourself a simple question. Why would you want to nominate the guy who lost to the guy who lost to Obama? OK? I mean it's just -- you know. OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Today's polling seems to contradict him there. Republicans by a 2.4 margin think Governor Romney stands the best chance of beating President Obama in November.

Now in any case, Speaker Gingrich is no longer using another line of attack in Governor Romney's record on jobs at Bain Capital. He made no mention of it today or yesterday. Maybe because of the reaction he got at the Candidate Forum on Saturday. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: Governor Romney ran saying he created 100,000 jobs in the private sector. And I -- let me just say --

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mr. Speaker, we -- we have said we would not allow any comments on the other candidates.

GINGRICH: OK. Well, I was answering his question. Let me say it differently.

HUCKABEE: OK.

GINGRICH: I believe that it's fair to ask the records be clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: "Keeping Him Honest," though, the record is not exactly clear thanks in part to that 28-minute documentary style campaign ad by Winning Our Future which is the super PAC supporting Gingrich. You can question Governor Romney's job record at Bain, we certainly have on this program, and his claims are hard to back up. In fact he's been toning them down lately himself. And we'll talk about that shortly with the panel.

But there -- that's not the issue. With this ad, the issue, it seems to be -- well, it's less about exaggeration and more a case of out- and-out fraud in this super PAC ad. The ad features people who used to work at a company called UniMac that Bain bought in the '90s. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never knew if I was going to have a job when I came in the next day. We had insurance there. We both worked there. So when we got -- you know, if we was let go, we both was let go at the same time and neither one of us would have a job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then, at the -- at the very end, they decided to shut the doors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They never be giving that. No matter how much they -- no matter how much they already had, they just could never get enough money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that really sounds ominous. But when the "Wall Street Journal" contacted those three workers, they said they were taken out of context. They said they got promotions and raises when Bain took over. So what were they talking about on the video? Well, Bain bought UniMac in 1988 but sold it six years later to another private equity group who closed their plant and moved it to Wisconsin.

Now it's a misquote the workers said they were interviewed by a guy named John Burke who they say was uninterested in hearing anything positive and have paid them in Visa gift cards. The "Journal" says that when it contacted Winning Our Future's senior adviser Rick Tyler, he disavowed any knowledge of John Burke.

Here's what Rick Tyler told us, quote, "I don't know what their beef is. It was presented in context. They were talking about what Bain did as far as cheapening quality of product and moving along production line too quickly." It goes on, "That typifies what Mitt Romney did, Bain gets their money back but drives companies into debt until they have to merge with another company or shut down."

Let's bring in our panel. Lots to talk about with the South Carolina primary fast approaching. Erick Erickson is with us, editor in chief for Redstate.com. Also, Democratic strategist and former Obama deputy press secretary Bill Burton is here. And GOP strategist Rich Galen who served as communications director for Newt Gingrich when he was House speaker.

Bill, if criticizing Romney on Bain is something now seems like Republicans are backing off of -- it's backfired, at least on Gingrich through the super PAC, do you think this is something that Democrats now are not going to want to go to?

BILL BURTON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, facts matter, Anderson. And I think what you saw here is that not only has Newt Gingrich's campaign been a disaster but the super PAC is also not doing a very good job. I think there's a very damaging straightforward truth-based argument to be made about private equity in the role that Mitt Romney had.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So it's not off limits for Democrats once this becomes a general election?

BURTON: No, I don't think that anything that's happened in this primary suggests anything that couldn't be used in the general election. I think that the way that Newt Gingrich and the super PAC tried to go at this by not really being straightforward with who these workers were or what happened to them was damaging to their efforts, but I don't think it has anything to do with what's going to happen in the general.

COOPER: Rich, over the past few days we started to hear some different language from Romney and his campaign about those Bain job creation claims. He's gone from touting hundred-thousand jobs created number to saying he created tens of thousands of jobs to now a Web ad that just says thousands. If this is the centerpiece of his campaign, is this a big problem for him?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, what it points up is that he violated one of the principal rules of politics, and that is never get stuck with a hard number that you can't defend. About two weeks ago or so, or two months or so, Bill, the president I thought did the same thing when he said that unemployment would likely be or could possibly be at 8 percent by November.

When I heard that, I said, why would you say that? Just say it's heading in the right direction, we're doing everything we can. But I think that's what Romney found himself, he came up with this 100,000 number that was just indefensible so now they're just trying to back and fail.

COOPER: Erick, though, if -- I mean you work in private equity not to create jobs but to make a big return for yourself but for those also who invest in your private equity firm. And there's nothing wrong with that. But isn't -- I mean Bain wasn't in the job creation business, they were in the giving big returns to your investors business. Weren't they? So was it a mistake for Romney to paint this as a jobs creator as opposed to, you know, revenue builder?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: To a degree, I think it is, Anderson. This is going to come back and get him in the general election because most Americans have no idea what private equity does, it's something that's been stereotyped and demagogued by people since the 1980s, the Gordon Gecko caricature. It's going to be difficult for him to explain exactly what he did, how did he create the jobs, and were jobs lost, were jobs created? And how was he able to make money when he won a deal and how was he able to make money when you lost a deal.

GALEN: No, I'm not so sure it's going to be that hard, Erick. I mean he points to Domino's, as he points to Staples, as he points to Sports Authority, everybody has got one of those nearby. They know how many people are employed. He's just going to roll those things around enough time and people say, well, apparently he built big businesses that hired people. I don't think he's got to defend every single hiring --

ERICKSON: But I think -- see, but that also sets him up, I think, to be nibbled at around the details on Staples and Domino's and others. It's going to be something that the -- I think the Democrats are going to be able to come after him on.

Frankly, it's his biggest strength so obviously they're going to try to attack it, and try to tear it down. And first you're stuck on numbers, and now these other details. It's going to be hard.

COOPER: Bill, I'm curious how you see these poll numbers. Voters think Romney can handle the economy better than President Obama. President Obama -- let's take a look at the -- President Obama added -- do you think the economy is doing a bit better but the president's approval numbers have not been improving.

BURTON: Well, if you look at these economy numbers for Mitt Romney, my advice to him is to go into the CNN Web page, print out the story and put it in a frame because this is going to be the best that it ever gets. Because this is what the numbers look like before people take a hard look at what his record was.

I mean this back and forth over whether it was smart to use 100,000 workers or not, 100,000 workers. The issue for him is that he doesn't have a good answer for what he did at Bain Capital and what that meant for what he could do as president.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But it seems President Obama as being able to handle the economy as well as --

GALEN: Yes, keep in mind -- keep in mind --

BURTON: The context here, though, this -- we're going through a period of time where the president has been taking broadside attacks from Republicans day after day after day with basically no response and even so, his numbers have held steady. So I think that this is not a terrible place to start the general election for President Obama.

GALEN: It's a different number, though, Bill. What I think -- what Anderson is talking about in the poll today, it was an issue handling question, yes or no, does this apply to Obama, can he get the economy moving again, it was 40-58. And for Romney, that same question, was 53-41. Obviously, this is going to change. But the issue, I think, for the president, as they move -- as we move into the general election cycle, past the primaries, is to keep this from being a referendum on Obama and get it to be, as Bill was pointing out, a referendum on Mitt Romney, assuming he's the nominee.

COOPER: We got to leave it there. Bill Burton, appreciate you being here. Rich Galen, Erick Erickson as well.

Still ahead, in Syria, the Arab League monitors are getting ready to wrap up their mission even as the death toll is rising. Nic Robertson was on the ground with the monitors. He'll show you what happened in one town. Really remarkable pictures to show you from Syria tonight.

Also tonight, inside the Mississippi Governor's Mansion where convicted murderers having giving -- been given basically baby-sitting jobs, the governor -- baby-sitting the governor's grandkids, helping in the kitchen. In return, these killers have had an inside track to pardons. The governor saying well, they committed crimes of passion therefore they're not a risk. Is that true? We'll talk to an expert.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) * COOPER: In Syria, Arab League monitors have now been on the ground for three weeks and civilians are still being killed. Today, opposition groups said security forces killed at least 13 more people.

Five were reportedly gunned down in Homs while waiting in line at a bakery. That's on top of the nearly three dozen reported deaths yesterday. Now We can't independently verify these reports because the Syrian government restricts the activity of journalists.

Nic Robertson has been allowed to travel with Arab League monitors in Syria. Here's how they were treated yesterday in a town called Zabadani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The crowd has gone absolutely wild now that the monitors have arrived even carrying them on their shoulders here. They're treating them as if they're Gods that had been sent here to save them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, Zabadani is surrounded by government troops. They reportedly pulled out before the monitors arrived. Residents told Nic what life has been like for them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Bitter anger against the government is everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day, every morning, shooting.

ROBERTSON: Two or three people have been killed, she says, more than 60 wounded. Now, for the last three days, she adds, water, electricity and phones have been cut off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They strike at anything, in the street, in the street, kill people, isolation people. We don't need this regime. Can you understand me? They are killing us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: People so desperate to get their message out, desperate to find the words. Many residents urge the monitors to stay longer in Zabadani. I talked to Nic by phone a short time ago and asked him about that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (via telephone): Well, they thought that the monitors were not going to see everything. The crowd were worried. They said to them, look, as soon as you leave, the government who were just down that road in tanks are going to start shooting at us.

The monitors said, we understand, we have to leave, and then the crowd, in their desperation literally started pounding on the car with the monitors in it, throwing rocks at it, forcing them to drive down a road that was dangerous because it was blocked by the Syrian army.

It was a road no longer that was no longer used. It was a front line and the monitors had to drive down this very, very dangerous road, Anderson.

COOPER: And then what happened? They basically ended up where the Assad troops were, yes?

ROBERTSON: They did. They ended up in a barricade across the road and the Assad troops eventually told them, no, we're not going to let you through. They were stuck there for an hour and a half and bullets flying by. It was a very, very dangerous place to be.

COOPER: Why were they kept so long?

ROBERTSON: Eventually, they did bring a big dump truck to clear a hole through the debris in the road. Also at the same time, while they were telling us they wouldn't let us through, they brought a body out of a soldier.

And said, is this what you want, to the monitors, incredibly angry with the monitors. Eventually, a huge amount of gunfire erupted when the monitors did get through that road barricade.

COOPER: We're showing the video of the army showing what they say is the dead body of another soldier and angrily talking to the monitors. You were saying that this reminds you a lot of Bosnia back in the '90s. How so?

ROBERTSON: Incredibly, because the area around the town is a no man's land, a ghost town for miles and miles of villages empty, the houses empty, there's no one there and even passed people at the side of the road fleeing the area on foot.

They weren't in cars. They didn't have cars. They didn't have any possessions with them. Just families essentially with their children and their pets walking down the side of the road to get out of the area.

It was so much like Bosnia where these sort of heavily fortified front line areas, the army checkpoints, heavy army military vehicles.

The monitors thought the reason they were kept there for an hour and a half, because they believe the army was removing their really heavy weapons like tanks so they wouldn't see them, which is what the monitors are there to look for.

COOPER: And also, I guess, like Bosnia, the concern about sectarian violence and sectarian warfare and civil war.

ROBERTSON: That's been a concern here in Syria. We're beginning to see a picture emerging where there is sectarian division, where there is essentially if you will a sort of a sectarian cleansing.

Cities like Homs that we visited are now divided along sectarian lines. People are moving out of their homes if they're from the wrong sectarian group. You have the Christians mostly supporting the president, the camps in the country.

Often, you will find those communities in one area and the Sunnis in another area. So this country is dividing, separating, almost preparing for that moment where community turns against community, where you can say that become as civil war.

COOPER: Nic Robertson, stay safe. Nic, thank you for the reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Still ahead, an idea that many just cannot wrap their heads around, favoring convicted murderers that worked at the governor's mansion where they have an inside track.

Now the former Governor Haley Barbour said he trusted these men who had killed to babysit his grandkids. He said they committed crimes of passion. Therefore, they're not a risk on the outside.

We will talk to an expert to see whether or not that whole idea of crime of passion is outdated and frankly just false.

Also ahead, with tensions rising over the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. sends a rare letter to Iran. Details on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, authorities in Mississippi say they've been in touch with three of pardoned killers who have been released from behind bars, but they continue to search for the last one.

Now the four convicted murderers were among nearly 200 criminals granted pardons by the outgoing Governor Haley Barbour that the state attorney is now trying to overturn. The four had one thing in common. They all worked at the governor's mansion as part of an inmate work program.

We invited the governor, former governor to be on the show last week and again today. His office says he's not available. On Fox News though, Barbour said he trusted the murderers who worked at the mansion and that he'd even let them look after his grandkids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALEY BARBOUR (R), FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: I have no doubt in my mind, that these men have repented, have been redeemed, have come back hard working to prepare themselves to go out into the world. I have no question in my life.

When my grandchildren are over at the governor's mansion, we trust them to play with and to be looked out for by these people. If I trust them to be around my grandchildren, I think that makes a pretty plain statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Digging deeper, it's nothing new for inmates to work at the Mississippi governor's mansion, but there are lingering questions about whether murderers should have ever been allowed in as one of them is speaking out. Martin Savidge reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Up until just over a week ago, Anthony McCray worked at the governor's mansion. McCray murdered his wife, Jennifer in 2001, shooting her in the back in front of a roomful of witnesses. McCray was one of the four murders at the mansion pardoned by Governor Haley Barbour.

(on camera): What kind of things did you do at the governor's mansion?

ANTHONY MCCRAY, PARDONED BY GOVERNOR BARBOUR: You do housekeeping, wash cars, stuff like that, cook. That's it.

SAVIDGE: How long were you there?

MCCRAY: Three years.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Exactly how a murderer gets to the mansion is a convoluted selection process in involving the governor's staff, the Mississippi Parole Board and the Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections website outlines who can and cannot be a trustee.

Inmates with prior sex offenses or current sex offenses may not be considered. No rule violation reports of any kind. No prior escapes in the last five years and inmates must test negative for the use of alcohol and/or drugs.

As one law enforcement source told us, they wouldn't choose any that might grab a kitchen knife and do something. They have to be people they feel they can watch. One strike and you're out.

So they are on their best behavior always. McCray says you're always good because you're always with a person who decides your fate.

(on camera): While you were working, did you ever have the chance to talk to Governor Barbour?

MCCRAY: Yes. How the children are doing and stuff like that.

SAVIDGE: How often would you have the chance to talk to the governor?

MCCRAY: You see him every day, you know, if you want to go talk to him, he'll be available. He'll talk to you.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): McCray murdered Ronald Bonds' sister. Bonds finds the whole trustee program unbelievable.

RONALD BONDS, VICTIM'S BROTHER: The governor's mansion. How do they do that? What's the procedure? How do you go about getting in the governor's mansion, you know what I'm saying?

SAVIDGE (on camera): Is it right that a murderer can bend the ear of the governor?

BOBBY MOAK (D), MISSISSIPPI STATE HOUSE: Well, it's not right with me and it's not right with a lot of other folks who are going to be pushing this legislation.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Democrat Bobby Moak says he wants to pass a law to change things, but things are already changing at the mansion. New Governor Bill Bryant in a statement says he's already discontinued the practice of convicts spending the night on the mansion grounds and the tradition of pardoning mansion trustees.

But according to the Department of Corrections Inmate Online Handbook, there never should have been murderers at the governor's mansion, quote, "Any inmate who has a life sentence is not eligible for trustee status. Also ineligible, anyone convicted of capital murder, murder, attempted capital murder or attempted murder," unquote. Martin Savidge, CNN, Jackson, Mississippi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, you might be wondering why would Governor Haley Barbour want murderers in his home not to mention looking after his grandkids? Apparently, he had a theory about that and it's one that's existed in the governor's mansion in Mississippi for quite a while. Here's what he said on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBOUR: The reason they work at the mansion is the experts in Corrections say that people who commit a crime of passion or murder is a crime of passion, are the least likely to ever commit another crime and they are the best people in a situation like this.

Most all the trustees that worked at the mansion since I've been governor were people who committed a crime of passion, convicted of murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And joining me now is a forensic psychiatrist, Helen Morrison and CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

So, Dr. Morrison, this notion that people convicted of so-called crime of passion are unlikely to commit another crime, he says that's what the experts say. Is that true?

HELEN MORRISON, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: No, absolutely not because passion basically is equivalent to rage. If someone is rageful, they're going to commit a homicide.

But the real question has to do with looking at saying that anyone who commits a crime of passion will never do it again. It doesn't think about the individual person. I mean, you talked about these people at the governor's mansion being so kind and nice and on their best behavior.

As the ex-inmate said, it's because they're watching us. They are our key to getting out of here or staying in here. So that's why we behave. But on the outside, nobody's watching these people. Nobody's going to say that, gee, you're out. You committed a crime of passion. You'll never do it again, absolutely not. The risk is still there.

COOPER: It also implies that any time you get passionate or you're angry or you're in love, that you have a problem with dealing with your emotions, with your passions, you can't control yourself. MORRISON: Well, it also brings up another question of, you know, is there a different perhaps in murdering somebody that you know versus murdering somebody that you don't know. Domestic violence seems to get shunted away as if the crime of passion is more explained when you're in an intimate relationship.

COOPER: One of these guys shot his -- I don't know ex-wife or his current wife, basically point-blank range, killed her while she was cradling their child and tried to shoot the guy she was with. Does this notion of crime of passion make any sense to you, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it makes sense as a relic of a time when criminal justice system was completely sexist. I mean, remember it wasn't too many decades ago that men could not be charged with raping their wives.

That was not a crime this society recognized. The idea that somehow shooting your girlfriend or wife is a lesser crime than killing a stranger is a relic that we hope had been left very much in the past, but Haley Barbour --

COOPER: You don't see any female murders working in the governor's mansion there. It seems like there's sort of a different standard.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, again, we have no idea how these people were picked. What makes this so agonizing, this story, there are undoubtedly lots of people in the Mississippi prison system who should get pardons.

Pardons are not a bad thing, but because of this sort of futile system, the king, the governor, taps a few people on the shoulder in this seemingly irrational way, it discredited this whole policy and a lot of people who probably should get pardons, non-violent people will wind up not getting them.

COOPER: Dr. Morrison, do you agree the whole notion of crime of passion is an antiquated kind of sexist notion?

MORRISON: Absolutely because murder is murder. It doesn't matter what your motive is. If you killed someone, you've killed someone. I think people like to cling to the idea that in passion, you're not thinking, you're not considering their consequences, but it's still so antiquated.

COOPER: This does kind of taint the whole pardon system.

TOOBIN: It does. You know, we have almost 2 million people in prison in the United States. There are 5,000 people in parchment prison alone, which is the notorious prison where most of the convicts came from.

I mean, there are a lot of people who should be pardoned. President Obama has been disgraceful underutilizing this. It's always risky to do pardons and why they always do it at the end of their terms, the Mark Ridge pardon with President Clinton. But if they did it more often with non-violent people, it would be better for the society. Now, you can be sure Mississippi will have fewer pardons.

COOPER: Fascinating. Jeff Toobin, we'll continue to follow it. Dr. Helen Morrison, appreciate it.

Coming up, a plea from the FBI as agents search for the body of a missing Montana teacher. More on the investigation and who's being held in connection with her disappearance.

Also the search for a suspected serial killer in California is now over. We'll tell you how it ended.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "The Ridiculist" is coming up, but let's check in with Isha for the "360 News Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the U.S. has sent letters to the Iranian government in response to Tehran's threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, a critical supply route for one third of the world's oils.

That's according to a U.S. official who didn't provide any specifics. Now the letter comes after the Pentagon released this video of two incidents 10 days ago that show Iranian speedboats coming extremely close to U.S. vessels.

The FBI is asking for help from Montana and North Dakota residents to find the body of missing teacher, Sherry Arnold. The wife and mother was last seen on a morning run more than a week ago. Two men in custody in connection with the case are charged with aggravated kidnapping.

A friend said this U.S. Marine seemed depressed when he returned from serving in Iraq. He is accused of killing four homeless people in Orange County, California.

Zappos.com shoppers beware, the online store has been hit by hackers. The company says names, addresses and partial credit card numbers may have been stolen. As a precaution, Zappos has reset the passwords of all 24 million customers.

COOPER: Can't have been easy.

Coming up, a woman gives her 7-year-old daughter a coupon for liposuction and get sucked right on to "The Ridiculist."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for "The Riduculist." Tonight, we're adding a gift from the human Barbie. For those of you who were unfamiliar with the human Barbie, that's the moniker of a woman in the U.K., who spent close to a million dollars on plastic surgery. And now she's passing along those same traits and values to her 7- year-old daughter. Yes, that's right. For Christmas this year, Sara Burg, a.k.a. the human Barbie gave her 7-year-old daughter, Poppy, a voucher for liposuction. Why? Because it's legal to get actual liposuction when you're 7, of course, this way, with a voucher, Poppy can wait until she's old enough.

Mom tells the U.K.'s "Daily Mail," quote, "She asks for surgery all the time. She wants to look good and lipo is one of those that can always come in handy."

For Poppy's last birthday, mom gave her a voucher for breast enlargement surgery. Quote, "If she develops naturally big boobs naturally, she can have something else done with it." See that's very forward thinking on mom's part.

Mom also made headlines when she taught her then 6-year-old daughter to pole dance. I know what you're thinking. This mom is sending all wrong messages to this little girl. Her defense, quote, "I get angry when strangers say I'm a bad mother because I don't think there's any harm in giving her this gift. Poppy is a normal kid who is good at sports and loves playing outside. Girls don't want Snow White and Cinderella anymore."

Now for the record, Snow White and Cinderella aren't exactly great role models either, all that lounging around, sleeping, waiting for some to come to wake you up or give you a shoe. But this lady with the surgery vouchers, I got to say. She kind of makes Cinderella look like Elizabeth Katie Stanton.

Look her up. We reach out to Sarah Bergh, who said the media is getting it all wrong. She says she's a, quote, "associate of plastic surgery companies," end quote. Whatever that means. Quote, "This is my trade. If I was a dentist, would people still be up in arms about it?"

Yes, if you were a dentist giving your 7-year-old plastic surgery vouchers, I still think people would be up in arms about it. Sarah says, quote, "I see these vouchers as investing in her future like saving money for her education."

You know what else is investing in her future like saving money for her education, saving money for her education any day of the week. There's so much less swelling for one thing besides that putting money in a plan has not once landed anyone on "The Ridiculist."

That does it for us. We'll see you again at 10:00 tonight another edition of 360. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.