February 1, 2010
Posted: 05:14 PM ET
Vieques is a tropical paradise. Most people there speak Spanish. It’s a fishing community, and they typically eat what they catch. There are wild horses roaming all throughout the island. Many of the roads are unmarked and most do not have street lights.
It really feels nothing like America. But Vieques is part of America – and its people are Americans. So, why do these U.S. citizens feel their own government is ignoring them?
Most of the people on the island are suing the U.S. government for contaminating the island, which they claim made them sick. (So far, the Centers for Disease Control say it has not been able to find a link, though it plans to launch a new investigation.)
For six decades, the U.S. military used parts of Vieques and its surrounding waters as a weapons testing site. After years of protests, the military was ultimately forced off the island, which, by the way, was later designated a Superfund Toxic site. But what kind of mess did it leave behind? Islanders want answers – and most of all, they say they want the government to step up and help them with their illnesses.
The U.S. government claims “sovereign immunity” as its primary defense in the islander’s lawsuit. That argument means the government asserts that the residents on this island do not have the right to sue the government for training soldiers and testing weapons.
Obviously, the islanders do not share the same sentiment – more than 7,000 people are named in the lawsuit, which is more than 75% of the residents who live on the island.
The government also points to a 2003 CDC report which found no link between the islanders’ illnesses and the Navy’s activities on the island. That report, however was very controversial, and strongly criticized by many scientists. Now the CDC says it is taking a fresh look to see if there is a possible link.
Even though these islanders are Americans, many say they do not feel like they are being treated like Americans. They say they feel they have been forgotten about.
One young girl I interviewed told me she was proud to be an American, and she will fight for her rights just like any other American. She is 16 years old, and she is one of many, many young people on this island who battle cancer. She blames the contamination on the island for making her sick.
Do you think these Americans are being forgotten about?
January 19, 2010
Posted: 07:49 PM ET
The Chairman of the committee, Massachusetts’ Sen. John Kerry said,” Al Qaeda has been pushed out of Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. and allied forces”.
He also said that Al Qaeda’s recruiting tactics have changed and the group wants to recruit more American citizens to “carry out attacks in America”.
Read the report here. Tell us what you think.
January 18, 2010
Posted: 04:56 PM ET
Zakaria Amara, a man prosecutors say wanted to create a Canadian version of 9/11, was sentenced Monday to life in prison in Canada.
Amara, 24, has been described as the mastermind of a group known as the Toronto 18 - a group of teenagers and young adults who were rounded up in the spring of 2006. Police say the group of young Muslim men from suburban Toronto - all Canadian citizens - were planning to blow up three one-ton ammonium nitrate bombs inside vans parked in downtown Toronto.
A police informant who infiltrated the group told CNN that Amara was planning to time the three explosions for September 11, 2006, the five-year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York.
January 13, 2010
Posted: 01:08 PM ET
An Army Medic suffering from severe anxiety and depression arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the spring of 2007. His course of treatment included an MRI for a shoulder injury and counseling with the Army psychiatrist assigned to his case.
That doctor was Major Nidal Hasan, now charged in the terror attack at Fort Hood, Texas that left 13 dead, 32 wounded. And from moment they first met, the Army medic (who wants to remain anonymous) says he knew something was wrong.
"He's a terrorist," the medic told CNN's Drew Griffin on his impression of his first visit with the doctor.
The medic's account of his treatment under Dr. Nidal Hasan comes as the Department of Defense is releasing a scathing report on its handling of the Major's army career. Specifically, the Defense Department review questions why years of bad performance and unprofessional behavior by Hasan did not raise warning flags about his suitability to be an army psychiatrist.
In a 12 year military career, Hasan repeatedly scored below average academically, had a poor attendance record and needed close monitoring in emergency rooms.
In 2007 he questioned why muslim soldiers should be involved in fighting other muslims; suggested that sharia muslim law trumped the us constitution.
The same year, his supervisor chastised Hasan for not being reachable while on-call, and counseled him that his research project about internal conflicts of Muslim soldiers was not a topic appropriate for the program.
Despite all the warning signs, in 2009 Hasan was given yet another recommendation to be promoted, and he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas.
According to his former patient, Hasan rarely showed up for appointments, and when he did, seemed to care little for the soldier he was assigned to help.
"He seemed odd," the patient tells CNN. "If you've seen the picture of him when he went into that grocery store and he had a big smile on his face, you never saw that smile, as a doctor. When he was taking care of patients you never saw that smile."
Instead, the patient describes a "very harsh stare" with "fire burning eyes".
"There was no doctor patient relationship there," he said. "You might as well have been talking to a wall."
The medic has since been discharged from the Army.
November 16, 2009
Posted: 01:34 PM ET
By Abbie Boudreau
A group of 13 soldiers left Iraq holding on to a secret – the murders of four detainees at a Baghdad canal. They were told not to say a word, and for nine months, they kept quiet.
Then, one of the 13 soldiers reported the crime and the secret was out.
But what if that soldier hadn't come forward and reported the murders? What if years had gone by, and these young soldiers were still holding on to this battlefield secret?
Especially for the 20-somethings who are fighting this war – how do they keep a secret in a day and age where people from their generation are encouraged to live such public lives?
They are taught from a very young age to "talk it out," and why it's unhealthy to "keep it all inside." And now, with easy access to social networking sites, it's almost expected for people to splash their private lives, and personal photos all over the pages of Facebook and MySpace. We share our lives with just about anyone who will listen – we expose our fears, our likes and dislikes, and even our secrets to a community of on-line strangers.
Yet, for soldiers who might come home, holding on to real secrets – big deal secrets – What happens? Where do they turn? And how do the secrets affect them?
Posted: 01:28 PM ET
By Scott Zamost
For months, we wanted to hear from John Hatley.
John Hatley, Former First Sergeant
He's the former first sergeant who had the idea to take four Iraqi detainees to a Baghdad canal and, along with two other sergeants, kill them.
SIU Correspondent Abbie Boudreau and I traveled to Germany over the summer where we interviewed Hatley's wife, Kim, and his attorney David Court. We told them it was important to hear from Hatley since he never testified during his court martial. Our only request: He should tell us what he wants the public to know.
Hatley is now serving a 40-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth after being convicted of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. After numerous requests, one day in September, a two-page single-spaced typed letter arrived in the mail at CNN.
Hatley began, "I've been contacted numerous times through third party sources that you have requested a statement from me. Obviously, I'm sure you understand my apprehensiveness in making a statement to the media, but there are some issues I would like to take this opportunity to address."
He wrote of the "frustration" with the Army detainee policy that allowed the enemy to be released two or three days later because there was not enough evidence to hold them. "An additional insult is that the units that capture these individuals are the same ones responsible to pick them up and release them. We've repeatedly found ourselves fighting the same enemy again and again."
He writes that the detainee rules have "extensive flaws" that the enemy "consistently exploits these to facilitate their release."
While he does not specifically address what happened, he does state: "I assure you the military spared no expense in the prosecution of my soldiers and me. If they would have spent half the time, effort and money in prosecuting the enemy as they had in prosecuting us, I assure you we would have never found ourselves in our current situation."
Finally, he says he loves and prays for soldiers oversees and wishes them a safe return. He writes: "Also, don't worry about us, we'll be fine. As they'll understand, this is probably the safest place we've been in the last 10 years."
Filed under: Special Investigations Unit
September 24, 2009
Posted: 02:43 PM ET
Sometimes stories raise more questions than answers, leaving uncertainty above all else. One example - my recent story on former Marines who now have male breast cancer, and worry their very rare illness was caused by time spent at Camp Lejeune.
A large question remains - will there ever be a day when scientists will have conclusive evidence to prove there is a link between the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and the Marines who say that contamination caused their cancers and other illnesses? Who knows?
Records show there was water contamination at the base for decades. The Corps admits this contamination was serious – toxic chemicals, which are classified as probable carcinogens, meaning they are believed to cause cancer in humans. Experts reported the tap water highly contaminated as early as 1980 and 1981. But it took until late 1984 for the Corps to begin testing all the wells and shutting down the contaminated ones. But scientists and researchers now cannot seem to figure out whether there is a conclusive link between illnesses and the contamination.
The Corps says it is cooperating with scientists to try to research if there is a link. So that means, you have a group of former Marines who are forced to wonder what has made them sick. – knowing they share at least one common thread: they all lived at Camp Lejeune for a period of time, and drank the water. These Marines want answers… they say they want the Marine Corps to help them figure out what made them so sick - with such a rare disease for men. Yet, despite their years of military service, they feel the Marine Corps has abandoned them. And I think that’s what hurts some of these men so deeply. They say they gave years of their lives to proudly serve the country – but now wonder where is the loyalty and compassion when they need it the most?
How many more former marines are out there with serious illnesses, possibly not even aware of the concerns over the contaminated water? And I have one final question for the Marine Corps: Is there anything more you can do to help these former Marines, or children of Marines, uncover why they are so sick? If you had the chance, and had only one question, what would you ask?
July 10, 2009
Posted: 03:43 PM ET
Recently, I met a 16-year-old boy named Christopher. He is autistic, and his parents told me he has the mental capacity of a three to five-year-old child. I happen to have three nephews all under the age of five. Leo is four, and the twins are three. In some ways, Leo seems to have more verbal and social skills than Christopher. But still, like many four-year-olds, when he gets frustrated, he throws a temper tantrum. He flails his arms, he raises his voice, he even falls to the ground sometimes. We’ve all seen it, and we all know that is what four-year-olds do sometimes. When that happens, his parents don’t pounce on top of him, and hold him face down on the ground. They do not physically restrain him.
When Christopher gets frustrated, and cannot express himself by using his limited vocabulary, he acts very much like Leo. He might fall to the ground, and throw his arms up in the air, or even shout. His parents told me that when he acts like this at home, they give him his space, and then they console him. They never said it was easy, but insist they do not physically get on top of him to hold him down. But when Christopher acted like this at school, his teachers wrestled him to the ground. They pinned him down. I saw the video. It looked painful. He looked confused.
Christopher is special. He is a young child, trapped in a tall, strong 16-year-old’s body. This case is not unusual. There are six million special needs students in the U.S. But for some reason, there are no federal standards or guidelines about how teachers should handle special needs students when they act out in the classroom.
My question to you is not whether physical restraint should be used in the classroom. At this point – most people already know the argument.
I can only imagine how challenging it is for teachers these days – I think most people recognize that, but this is my question: Where is the basic compassion and empathy for students who need extra help?
June 18, 2009
Posted: 02:45 PM ET
If you just drove by this house, you would never know what’s inside that walled off garage. But under a stifling Florida sun, the garage is a cool 70 degrees, a constant flow of cool, nutrient rich water flowing throughout the floor, and illuminated by golden glowing lamps whose radiance bounces off reflective aluminum walls.
It is all designed to provide maximum growing potential for the 42 mature marijuana plants evenly spaced in this factory of pot. After seeing this, my initial reaction is the fight to eradicate marijuana in this country is hopeless.
But does that mean we should give up and legalize pot?
For two weeks, knowing I was assigned to this story, I have been asking that question to the many prosecutors, DEA agents and police I come in contact with. The overwhelming answer is no.
There is no doubt, in the minds of these people who come in contact with users, growers, smugglers and junkies, that marijuana use is terrible for the individuals who engage in it.
It is not just a pathway to stronger drugs; it is, in and of itself, a recipe for losers.
Andy anyone who calls himself the casual user, in the minds of law enforcement, is deluding themselves into believing they are not affected by this drug. They compare it to the drunk who believes he can actually drive better with a few drinks inside. The bigger question is how to stop marijuana use.
The DEA agents who raided this home, could raid similar homes everyday, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and still the marijuana would grow.
Which is why there may need to be a huge strategic change in our so-called drug war. Anti-smoking campaigns work for tobacco.
Why won’t they work for marijuana? That should really be the focus of our efforts. We shouldn’t be laughing at the lame jokes from comedians talking about harmless weed; we shouldn’t allow rappers to glorify the wonders of living high.
If nothing else, we should be telling our children that no matter what it is, putting smoke into your lungs is unhealthy, uncool and in the case of pot, a first step towards a life of a loser.
OK all you pot heads, let me hear it!
June 9, 2009
Posted: 05:52 PM ET
Convicted "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, who terrorized the country with a series of mail bombs over nearly two decades, is fighting to stop a public auction of his diaries and other personal possessions. But Kaczynski's five-year legal battle will come to an end soon unless he can convince the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
The property that is up for auction includes tools, typewriters, knives and a hatchet; Kaczynski's degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan; and the glasses and hooded jacket made famous by an artist's rendering of the suspect. But experts say the most valuable items probably will be the 40,000 pages of Kaczynski's diaries and other writings.
The only way that the Unabomber victims are going to receive any sort of restitution from Ted Kaczynski is if the government auctions off his personal belongings. At this point, Kaczynski owes four victims $15 million.
What do you think? Should the Unabomber’s possessions be auctioned off? If so, would you ever want to buy any of these items? And if your answer is yes – how much would you be willing to spend?
Watch Abbie Boudreau’s video blog and let us know what you think.