January 18, 2010

Toronto bomb plotters sentenced; alleged mastermind gets life

Posted: 04:56 PM ET

Zakaria Amara was living in this home at the time of his arrest in spring of 2006.

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.

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Filed under: Special Investigations Unit

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January 13, 2010

Army Medic thought Psychiatrist was a terrorist

Posted: 01:08 PM ET

Hasan patient

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.
"I didn't even, like nothing else came in my mind that was the first thing that came in my mind. I really did. I don't know why I thought that but I really did."

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 patient never complained about the treatment he was getting, saying he was "too messed up at the time" to complain about anything. He says Hasan never talked about religion when he met with him, and never openly showed his Muslim faith.

The medic has since been discharged from the Army.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit

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November 16, 2009

Killings At The Canal: The Army Tapes

Posted: 01:34 PM ET

By Abbie Boudreau
Special Investigations Unit Correspondent

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?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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Sergeant's Letter From Prison

Posted: 01:28 PM ET

By Scott Zamost
Senior Investigative Producer

For months, we wanted to hear from John Hatley.

John Hatley, Former First Sergeant
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

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September 24, 2009

Poisoned Patriots?

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?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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July 10, 2009

Special Needs Students – Where's the Compassion?

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?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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June 18, 2009

Legalize pot? Why not legalize being a loser

Posted: 02:45 PM ET

growhouseIf 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?downsized_0616090846 (2)

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!

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit

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June 9, 2009

The Unabomber Auction

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.

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit • Uncategorized

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May 19, 2009

Billions in tax dollars found buried in Nevada Cave

Posted: 09:00 AM ET

pv_16959_0047If you think anyone in Washington gives a damn about your money, listen to how they have wasted it, and will continue to waste it, because of "politics."

Taxpayers have spent more than $10 billion dollars digging a hole in a mountain in Nevada where the nation's nuclear waste was supposed to go. The Yucca Mountain project has been underway for nearly three decades. In 1987, Congress even passed a law explicitly directing waste from the nation's nuclear power plants would start arriving in Yucca Mountain in by the late 1990's.

So far, not one single radioactive isotope has made its way to Yucca, and probably never will.

President Obama, making good on a promise to Senate Majority Leader (and not-in-my-backyard-of-Nevada) Harry Reid, has effectively killed any future for the Yucca Mountain facility. More than $10 billion dollars of scientific study, engineering and congressional spending has just been thrown into a hole in the ground.

But Yuccas Mountain is not officially dead, and here is where the real arrogance of wasting your money comes in.

Even the President cannot kill the project because, remember, the project is law. According to the federal government, the government is required to build Yucca Mountain and accept the waste. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) would like to change that law, but without an option for where all this waste will go, it may be hard to get the votes.

So what to do?

Keep Yucca Mountain on life-support while you spend money looking for another alternative. President Obama plans to do just that by spending $197 million dollars in the 2010 budget, essentially to pay people to do nothing. Out at Yucca Mountain, there will be a staff getting paid, proceeding with licensing and other odds and ends, knowing all along that the project has no future.

It's pure politics that has already cost you and me $10 billion dollars and now $197 million more.

Let's hope they don't carve out more of Yucca Mountain to stuff with dollar bills.

Filed under: Drew Griffin • Special Investigations Unit

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May 15, 2009

Chicago's Blame Game

Posted: 12:36 PM ET

Police say nearly half of the student killings in the Chicago Public School district this school year are unsolved. Some people blame the police. Many blame the prosecutors. Others blame young community members for not speaking up.


While working on this report, I spoke with many parents who told me that witnesses in their slain child’s case were not coming forward with key information that could help lead to an arrest of the assailant. These witnesses, in some cases, were friends of the victims. No clues – no conviction. There is no justice. And the murderers are free to kill again. All because there is an unwritten rule in this community that teaches people to mind your own business and keep your mouth shut.

Well, I cannot pretend to understand what it’s like to see a friend shot and killed. I cannot pretend to understand what it’s like to be a teenager who fears getting shot on my way to school each morning. But Patricia Brown understands. Brown’s daughter, 17-year-old-daughter Patrice was gunned down in her own neighborhood in 2007. Brown says there were witnesses. She is convinced someone knows something. But no one will speak up. She says she understands why these young witnesses won’t come forward – she says they likely fear retaliation – they are afraid. But she says people need to be more afraid of the killers who are roaming the streets, free to kill again.

Brown wants justice. And that is what the other parents I talked to want as well. Justice equals power. But unless the kids who witnessed these crimes step forward with information, there will be no justice, and the killers will be the only ones with power.

Do you think these young witnesses have good reason to fear coming forward with information? Beyond possible retaliation, why would these kids not want to identify their friend’s killer?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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