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Iraqi Governing Council Endorses One of Its Own to Serve as PM

Aired May 28, 2004 - 10:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll get started here at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Daryn Kagan. As always, we start with the headlines.
The Iraqi Governing Council endorsing one of its prime ministers after the June 30 handover of power. Iyad Allawi is a Shi'a Muslim who founded an exile group, The Iraqi National Accord. There's been no reaction from the U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is working to establish the interim government.

Residents react to a horrifying crime in Baltimore. A mother returned home to find her three children brutally murdered. At least one had been decapitated. Police have been questioning a man described as a person of interest. That man apparently had a disagreement with the mother earlier in the day.

One village is a virtual mud-caked, ghost town after a rain- swollen river overran it. The Red Cross says that at least 900 people have been killed in the flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. More than 15,000 have lost their homes. Weather forecasters are predicting more rain.

Two Japanese journalists are believed to be dead after an attack south of Baghdad. Japanese officials haven't been able to make a positive I.D. because the bodies are so badly burned.

And four NBC news people appear to be in good condition after kidnappers released them today in Fallujah. The journalists had been taken hostage on Tuesday.

The high price of gasoline isn't stopping Americans from leaving home this holiday weekend here in the U.S. Triple A says nearly 37 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles over the Memorial Day period. That is an increase of 3.6 percent from last year when a gallon of gas cost 50 cents less.

Let's check out what we're watching live this hour. Nearly 60 years after they fought for freedom, thousands of veterans are celebrating a new victory, the creation of World War II Memorial. We will go to Washington, where workers and law enforcement personnel are preparing for tomorrow's dedication.

But first, we go to Iraq. A new government takes shape, at least on paper. Just a short time ago, the Iraqi Governing Council endorsed one of its own members to serve as the country's prime minister. This comes just about a month before the coalition scheduled handover of power.

Our Harris Whitbeck is in Baghdad with the latest.

Harris, hello.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Daryn, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council has told CNN that a new interim prime minister has been chosen. He says that Iyad Allawi will become Iraq's new interim prime minister after June 30. He says U.S. administrator Paul Bremer and U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi have been present at meetings that have been taking place most of today in Baghdad, in which the names of the prime minister, the president, and the two country's vice presidents have been bandied about.

Now, We still have not heard from U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. He's been working for several weeks trying to form a new government. He's been very tight-lipped about it, because he says it's been a very, very delicate, diplomatic and political process. And the process itself has not been very clear either. In fact, everybody was expecting the U.N. special envoy himself to announce the names of a new government early next week. But again, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said that the IGC had endorsed the name of Iyad Allawi to become Iraq's new interim prime minister. And he told CNN that that is what would happen after June 30.

Now, Iyad Allawi is the head of the Iraqi National Accord, one of the opposition political groups that were formed here in 1990, with backing from U.S. and British intelligence. It is made up of a lot of military defectors from the Saddam Hussein regime. Allawi is a Ba'athist. He is a secular Shiite and he's known to have close ties, political and business ties to Washington and London. He's very well known here in Baghdad, not only as a politician, but also as a physician.

Now, on to the other story we've been following here, the situation down in Najaf. As you know, a fragile cease-fire had been declared there between militants fighting for radical, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and U.S. forces. That cease-fire appears to have been broken. We have reports of several civilians being killed and injured in Najaf, after skirmishes and fighting broke out between U.S. forces and militiamen, again, loyal to al-Sadr -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Harris, I want to ask you a question about this new man who might be the next prime minister. What about the Iraqi people accepting him, especially since he's already been a member of this current interim government. One that a lot of people think is just a puppet of the U.S.?

WHITBECK: Well, the name just was made public literally less than an hour ago, Daryn. So people -- it's quite possible that many people still do not even know that this has happened. Again, the official announcement of this was expected for early next week.

Again, a lot of people say what you've just expressed that they consider the new interim government to be a puppet of the United States. But they certainly do expect it to fight for the sovereignty for the Iraqi people. The first and most important task that this new government will have will be the organizing of new elections that would take place in January of 2005.

KAGAN: Harris Whitbeck in Baghdad, more from you later in the day.

The coalition's top military officer in Najaf says U.S. forces will not pull back from that area. In fact, Major General Martin Dempsey says American forces are carrying out reconnaissance missions to monitor signs that the Mehdi army is withdrawing. Dempsey appeared last night on "CNN's ANDERSON COOPER'S 360." And he said via videophone that the U.S. will not budge from its position physically or philosophically.


MAJ. GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, U.S. ARMY: And the issue at hand here, and as far as I'm concerned and as far as we're concerned, is that those with the best ideas not the most guns should, decide Iraq's future. And so militias are anathema to that.


KAGAN: Dempsey says the importance of those ideas, prevailing military might is critical to the success of democracy in Iraq.

Also in Iraq, an attack on a convoy carrying a political leader. Dr. Salama al Khafaji, one of three women serving in Iraq's Governing Council was not hurt in the ambush. Her son and her bodyguard were killed.

Hundreds more prisoners from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were freed today, the third major release since the abuse scandal has surfaced. U.S. troops escorting one convoy of buses briefly exchanged fire with gunmen. The U.S. military has said the releases are part of the plan to reduce the prison population, and have nothing to do with the scandal. When the reported prisoner abuse was going on last fall, there were more than 8000 detainees in Abu Ghraib; there are now less than half that number.

One of the soldiers facing a court-martial for crimes at the Abu Ghraib prison is being accused of abuse while at a Pennsylvania prison.

CNN's Drew Griffin has this exclusive report.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is where they met. Green State Correction Institution houses some of Pennsylvania's worst offenders. Nicholas Yarris was an inmate here on death row. Charles Graner was one of the guards.

NICHOLAS YARRIS, FORMER INMATE: His personal joy was to provoke inmates by, like making them lift their testicles two, three times, or just summarily just burning the guy for his yarb by saying, "You're not ready yet," and keep walking. And when someone screamed at him, he just loved it!

GRIFFIN: Yarris is bitter. For 22 years, he was in prison for a crime he did not convict. Convicted of a rape and murder in 1981, he was sentenced to die. Last year, DNA evidence proved the killer was someone else and Yarris walked free. But bitter memories resurfaced when he opened a newspaper and saw this.

YARRIS: Charles Graner smiling in that photograph over a dead human being, is the same Charles Graner that smiled over a tray that he had spit in, that I'd seen him spit in.

GRIFFIN: The prison has a troubled history. In 1998, the superintendent was transferred and two-dozen guards were disciplined for abusing inmates. But Graner was never implicated in that scandal. Shortly after though, an inmate did accuse Graner of throwing him to the floor, kicking and beating him, and placing a razor played in his food. A second inmate accused Graner of picking him up by one foot and tossing him into a cell. Those two lawsuits were dismissed and Graner was not disciplined. Nicholas Yarris says Graner never hit him. But when Graner's face appeared in photos from Abu Ghraib, Yarris wasn't surprised.

YARRIS: I was just sickened by it because I know what he used to do. And I can only imagine without the restraint of any supervision over there what he was doing.

GRIFFIN: What Graner did in Iraq is still unproven. He awaits a court-martial. But Yarris, who was released in January this year, says what Graner wanted to do in Iraq was no secret to anyone who would listen.

YARRIS: Charles was just filled with the glee of opportunity to go over there, because he said as we're walking down the corridor, "I can't wait to go kill some sand niggers." That smile he showed, he showed best when he was getting some prisoner to lose it, to snap, to lose his mind and scream at Charles. He loved it.


KAGAN: Charles Graner's attorney gave this response last night on "CNN'S PAULA ZAHN NOW."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps the gentleman has already snapped. Specialist Graner has not done any of these things. And of course, in Abu Ghraib what he did, which was bad enough, is he was following orders.


KAGAN: The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections would not comment on this story.

Ten minutes past the hour. We have a developing story coming out of Iran. Reports of a very strong earthquake taking place in the northern part of Iran. On the phone with us right now we have, Shirzad Bozorgah, a journalist in Tehran to tell us more about that -- Shirzad.

SHIRZAD BOZORGMEHR, IRANIAN JOURNALIST: There was an earthquake measuring about 6.2 on the Richter scale, which shook Iran. Basically, the northern and western parts of Iran, at about 13:40 GNT. The intensity was really strong because we are 70 kilometers from the epicenter. And we felt it very strongly, to the extent that everybody ran out of the buildings. This kind of quake of this magnitude usually entails a lot of damage; both in terms of property and human life, so we are bracing ourselves for such reports that will pretty soon come out.

Some windows were broken in the city of Tehran, in the western part of the city of Tehran. There were some reports of buildings being destroyed near the epicenter in the Mazandaran Province, very close to the Caspian Sea. Other than that, we don't know anything as far as the amount of damage or the number of casualties. We are still waiting for authorities to inform us on that.

This type of earthquake is pretty well normal, if you can call it that, in Iran. You know that we had a huge one about the same size on December 26 in the ancient city of Bam, which flattened the city totally and killed almost 40,000 people; more than half of the population there. The difference -- the possible difference between that earthquake and this one and there after effect, is that that city, the city of Bam was really old. And it was basically made up of mud huts, and there was no earthquake safety measures at all taken into consideration in building.

In where it's happened now, in the north of Iran and west of Iran, it's more developed. The buildings are a bit more sturdy, but still, they are not up to international anti-earthquake safety measures. So we are bracing for damage on a huge scale, and also a lot of people, a lot of casualties. But as I said, these are all conjecture at this stage. We're just going by the history of earthquakes in Iran, and the history of the damage and other casualties in terms of human life.

KAGAN: We appreciate that and we'll get back to you.

Shirzad Bozorgmehr, journalist in Tehran bringing us the latest on the earthquake taking place in the northwestern part of Iran. Much more of that ahead.

Also, news from here in the U.S. There are critical issues on the docket in the Michael Jackson case today. His attorneys want Jackson's $3 million bail reduced. Does that make him a potential flight risk, though? A live report straight ahead.

The memorial that almost came too late. We are taking you to the World War II Memorial in our nation' capital.

And Mr. Moviefone joins us. He has a preview of this summer's big disaster movie. It's called the "Day After Tomorrow. " Is it a good movie, though? CNN LIVE TODAY returns after this.


KAGAN: And now we focus on a story that is almost too grisly to report. Police in Baltimore are investigating a crime that is so horrific, even veteran police officers were numbed by the sheer savagery. A woman returned home to her apartment, she found three small children murdered and at least one of them, reports say, was decapitated.

Our Kathleen Koch joins us with details. She has that on the crime and the investigation as to who could have done this -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, as you very accurately put it, police do say this is one of the most gruesome and brutal crimes to ever occur in the City of Baltimore. Apparently, two families were sharing this apartment in this very quiet northwest neighborhood of Baltimore. One of the two mothers arrived home around 5:25 yesterday and did find one of three children decapitated. The other two partially decapitated. One was a 9-year-old girl, her 10- year-old brother and then another 9-year-old girl. Police say that the last three were seen here alive when they arrived here home from school around 3:30 yesterday afternoon.

Now, yesterday evening, police a few blocks away, did take into custody a man who they are describing not as a suspect, but as a person of interest.


KENNETH BLACKWELL, DEP. COMM., BALTIMORE POLICE: We understand that there was some sort of disagreement. I believe through the efforts of the interpreter, we got some information from the mother. And working on that information, we were pointed in the direction of the person in question.


KOCH: Now, police do say that a weapon was found here behind the apartments that they believe was the weapon used in the crime. And right now, it's being tested for both DNA and fingerprints. And the Baltimore mayor's office, Mayor Martin O'Malley's office does have human service workers right now canvassing both the neighborhood and at the apartments here. Everyone, whether they knew these children or not, has been devastated by this horrible crime.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I don't know the family but I've seen the children around. And they seemed to be nice children, OK? Very cute, cute kids and they're always playing together, lovingly and everything. I mean it's a shock to me. Right now, we have devastated. But I'm not afraid because I personally believe it must have been a family man or someone close to the family. I don't know. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before this happened you -- I'm going to say this is a pretty quiet area. It weren't people -- everybody got along. And to hear that the three precious little children that you see are playing around here and something happen to them is just scary. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: Baltimore police are having a press conference at 11:00 a.m. to give us the latest in the investigation -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And are there any clues? In this family perhaps, like it was somebody who was known to the family? That's who they are looking for, Kathleen?

KOCH: That right now, Daryn, is simply speculation on the part of people who live in this neighborhood, because they say nothing like this has happened before here. Very quiet, no crime. But the police aren't saying that yet.

KAGAN: We look for more information from that news conference later this morning. Thank you for that.

The case of Michael Jackson will be in court next hour even if the pop star is not there. His defense attorneys are expected to argue that his $3 million bail should be reduced. That hearing is scheduled to get underway about an hour and a half from now.

Meanwhile, our Miguel Marquez is outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, California.

Miguel, good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're going to argue quite a bit today. And I can tell you there is a big difference with Mr. Jackson not being here. I'm counting exactly: one, two, three fans here right now, there's a few others milling about who will be in the courtroom a bit later.

One of the big things that they're willing -- that they're going to take up today is that the judge -- Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville wants to set a trial date. Now whether that trial date will hold is a whole other question, but he's indicated in the past that he wants this trial to start by the end of the year. So we expect a trial date, at least a temporary trial date to come out of today's hearing.

Something else is the bail reduction you talked about. The prosecutors say because Mr. Jackson is an international super star and he has unlimited resource that that, in and of itself, makes him a flight risk. But in motions and legal documents that his defense has put in the court here, Brian Oxman, a longtime lawyer for the Jackson family, says that the $3 million bail that's been assigned to him impacts his ability to conduct normal business. And it doesn't allow him to free up his property to permit financing of his business activities. He says that Mr. Jackson is a longtime resident of this county. That he has property here, Neverland Ranch obviously. He has three kids here. He cares for his elderly parents. And that Mr. Jackson has far more to lose by fleeing than he does by staying here and fighting what Mr. Jackson has called "false charges."

One of the other things that is going to happen in court today is there is going to be a lot of back and forth between the defense and the prosecution on discovery. The defense saying that the prosecution is not releasing the discovery. All that evidence obtained from search warrants and from interviews, fast enough or even some of it not at all, and they want a judge to step in and force the prosecution to release all that discovery to the defense.

On the eve of this hearing today one of Mr. Jackson's old friends Macaulay Culkin, who spent a lot of time with Mr. Jackson, was very close with him when he was younger, says he spent time with Mr. Jackson in his bedroom. And said that Mr. Jackson is basically just misunderstood.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": What did happened?

MACAULAY CULKIN, ACTOR: Nothing happened. You know, I mean nothing, really. I mean we played video games, you know? We you know, we played at some amusement park.

KING: He sleeps on the bed?

CULKIN: Well, the thing is -- the thing is with that whole thing is that, you know, they go, oh, you slept in the same bedroom as him! It's like, I don't think you understand. Michael Jackson's bedroom is two stories. And it has like three bathrooms and this and that. So when I slept in his bedroom, yes, but you have to understand the whole scenario.


MARQUEZ: A media lawyer will also argue that grand jury transcripts in the full grand jury indictment should be released to the public -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Miguel Marquez, in Santa Maria. Miguel, thank you.

Coming up on CNN LIVE TODAY, recognition for the greatest generation. We are taking you to the new World War II Memorial ahead of tomorrow's dedication ceremony.

And for many Memorial Day weekend, it also means that it's time to break out the grill, the barbecue. Our Gerri Willis has some tips on best buys for that -- Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNNFN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey, there. We're handling the meaty topic of grilling. That's up next on CNN LIVE TODAY. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Well, speaking of the holiday weekend, Memorial Day weekend is the one of the most times to cook out. If you're in the market for a new gas grill, the June issue of "Consumer Reports" has its best buy.

CNN FN's Gerri Willis is here to tell us what today's hot tips are, in today's top five.

And I guess we're going straight to gas. We're not even getting into the debate of charcoal versus gas.

WILLIS: You know, Daryn I bet you don't know. It's the 100- anniversary of the hamburger.

KAGAN: Oh, happy anniversary. Had I known, I would have gotten you a little present.


WILLIS: So nice of you to think of me.

Well, let's start with just the basics here. What kind of grill do you want to buy? You can buy something at the low end. Which even so, will still run you about 200 bucks if you're buying a gas grill. Or the mid range, which can run up to almost $500. Check this out, if you buy a mid ranged grill, grill, you get side burgers, fuel gauges, steamers, lots of bells and whistles.

And there even more expensive ones, Daryn, that go up to $1500. You can serve 15 people using one of those grills. And you might get a nice little rotisserie to go with it. So, the more you spend the more you get.

KAGAN: Ah, but meanwhile, there a lot of sales out there and you need to look for those.

WILLIS: Right. You know, "Consumer Reports" looked at 29 grills, evaluating them on how well they work, evenness of cooking, important issues like that. and they have some favorites here. The winners are: Vermont Casting, this grill comes in at $400, stainless steel trim, lots of shelf space. You got to like that. There's another one from Thermos, it's completely stainless steel. Check that out. Now, it's $400. I want to say stainless steel, it looks pretty but it doesn't make a big difference in terms of cooking. And finally, the Coleman has a long warranty, which is always good at $270 -- Daryn. KAGAN: What is the wiggle test, Gerri?


WILLIS: Well, OK. How do you pick a grill, right? You're standing in the middle of the store; they all look alike to you. You want to shake the grill and see if it wiggles around. How sturdy is this thing? It's a simple test. It really works. Look for good drainage and make sure that that fire can stay lit. You know? It's important to drop that lid and check it out and make sure it works. And you know, just check out how sturdy this thing is, because at the end of the day you want to make sure it's not going to fall apart on your patio.

KAGAN: Absolutely. And even if you spend a ton of money on a barbecue or grill or however -- depending on the part of the country that you're in, whatever you want to call it. There still are some key things you need to produce some excellent food exactly.

WILLIS: Exactly. Preheat the grill 10 to 15 minutes absolutely or your food is going to stick to the elements. And if you have thick cuts of meat, sear it first, and then turn down the heat and cook it much more slowly. Clean those grates because otherwise, you're going to be trying to yank that steak off the grill or it's not going to work.

And one important thing here is if you're trying to figure out how much gas you have in your gas tank, pour hot water over the tank. And then run your hand along the surface where you feel the coolness, that's where the gas is.

KAGAN: Oh! That's like a hint from Heloise. That's a good, little tip. Thank you so much.

And then a good barbecue, like good fashion, must have accessories.

WILLIS: Oh, and we have some fabulous ones here. Hey, No. 1, check this out. This is the silicone gourmet brush. Now, you'll notice this isn't a conventional brush. It's actually made out of silicone, much easier to clean and these are not going to melt on your food as you cook, which is very good! Here is -- this is $17.50, by the way.

The Dunkin Grip. You know, you don't want to burn your hands when you're doing the grilling, right? This is a $20 heat resistant grip and it's light-weight, really easy to clean, soap and water.

And finally, what would grilling be without something like this? Right?

KAGAN: Tongs.

WILLIS: Yes. Only $7.25. This is for the guys. It's supposed to be like a little heavier to deal with. I think it's actually very versatile, lightweight. The Meser Meister.

KAGAN: Very good. Well, you have yourself a great holiday weekend. They call it grilling out here in the south.

WILLIS: That's right. Grilling out.

KAGAN: You're grilling out. Barbecue, in the west.

WILLIS: And we want to say thanks to the folks at "Food And Wine" for suggesting these.

KAGAN: Oh, very good. Thanks. Appreciate that. You have a great holiday weekend. We will see you next week.

WILLIS: Thank you, Daryn.

KAGAN: We're at 29 minutes past the hour. Using terror to change results of an election. We've seen it happen in other countries. We're going to look at how a terror attack here in the U.S. could impact the November elections.

And straight ahead, a visit to the World War II Memorial, recognizing the greatest generation.



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