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Dispatches from the Edge: Living in Hell; Trouble in Congo; Dispatches from the Edge: City Under Water; Candidate Gore?; Comeback Kid?; Is Jesus a Myth?; Wrongful Deaths;

Aired May 24, 2006 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: ...and the unspeakable, things being done to them Right now as we all sit here and watch.
Here's CNN's Jeff Koinange with a dispatch from the Congo.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They sing to comfort each other. And to find strength. These mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, have all been raped again and again by men in uniform.

The crimes are not isolated incidents -- 21-year-old Tintsi was attacked by 15 men wearing uniforms of the Congolese army. She says they raped her for eight days and eight nights. She was brought here on a stretcher. Now she needs a cane to walk.

They can take away my womanhood, she says, but they will never be able to break my spirit.

The stories get even worse -- 28-year-old Henriette Nyota says three years ago she was gang-raped while her husband and four children were forced to watch. The soldiers then disemboweled her husband and continued raping her and her two oldest daughters ages 8 and 10. This went on for three days, she says.

I wish they could have killed me right there along with my husband, she says. What use am I now? Why did those animals leave me to suffer like this?

Nzigire tells us soldiers used her as a sex slave for more than a month. She bore a child as a result. Every day, she says, feels like a death sentence.

This 19-year-old mother struggles to keep her maternal instincts alive.

I sometimes feel like killing myself and my daughter, she says. I look at her, and all I see is hate. I look at myself, and all I see is misery. Sometimes I wish I were dead.

Officials here say this past year, there were more than 4,000 reported rape cases in this one province of the eastern Congo alone.

As part of a peace deal that ended the civil war here more than two years ago, the country's various militias were mixed into the Congo's army. Warring factions now wearing the same uniform. Some now raping at will. But why?

Local officials and aid workers noticed the majority of victims are from one ethnic group. So they suspect the atrocities are being committed by soldiers of a rival ethnic group who are now mixed into the army. Hate crimes on a mass scale.

Dr. Dennis Mukwege Mukengere is the lone physician at this hospital that specializes in victims of sexual violence. In his 23 years practicing in this region, he admits he's never seen such brutality.

When we hear stories of how some of them have knives thrust into them after being raped, he says, and how some suffered gunshot wounds after a pistol has been fired between their legs, it's the cruelest and most barbaric thing I have ever seen.

Here in the democratic republic of Congo, it's easy to find the victims of rape.

Charity say there seems to be no effort to find the rapists.

And so the women of this country must try to heal without justice. It makes the words of their song all the more powerful -- we will never be broken, they sing. We will never be broken.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Bucabu, Eastern Congo.


COOPER: It is hard to imagine. Along with the rapes, thousands of people have been forced from their homes. Many have died. Here's the raw data.

According to the U.N., 1,000 people die every day in the Congo as a result of violence, starvation and disease -- 1,000 people.

And Amnesty International says -- listen to this -- since 1998, nearly 4 million civilians have died -- 4 million.

In just two provinces, at least 137,000 people have been displaced from their homes because of this ongoing fighting.

Earlier I spoke about the rapes with the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Larry Cox.


COOPER: You see this report. It is unbelievable to think 4 million people can die over several years, and the world not pay attention. What is going on in the Congo?

LARRY COX, DIRECTOR, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA: Well, it is, as you just said, one of the most horrific situations. But also one of the least reported situations in the world today. The scale of the violations are massive. And then if you look at the individual violations, they're also horrific. So you have, for example, rape being used as a weapon of war. Basically. And hundreds of thousands -- not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of women have been subjected to sexual violence in the Congo. And this is happening now.

COOPER: Hundreds of thousands of women have been systematically raped in the Congo?

COX: Yes.

COOPER: And the story, I'm mean, it's not just rape, but, I mean, it's -- I mean, it's things which boggle the mind.

COX: Yes, it's hard to say...

COOPER: Women raped with knives and being shot you know, internally after being raped.

COX: Yes, it's hard to just say that there are things worse than rape, but the way that those rapes are carried out is horrific. You have, you know, knives being inserted into women's genitals. You have mass rapes. You have gang rapes. You have people being raped in front of their families. You have -- and then after the rape, you have the women being beaten or being tortured, sometimes being killed.

If they're not, they're often ostracized by their village and often by their family, and then they have nowhere to go.

COOPER: And frankly, I mean, this can only happen because we, the world, but also authorities there, let it happen. I mean, these are the authorities. These are -- they're multiple militias there. They formed this army under a peace agreement. And yet it's men in uniform who are doing this. I mean, even the U.N. peacekeepers -- there were investigations of U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo raping or at least paying for sex with women there as well.

COX: Yes, it's another, I'm afraid, symbol of the inability of all of us to take action to stop things which are so horrendous, they almost defy belief.

The U.N. peace force has done some good, and so has the attempt to get some kind of agreement. But there are still thousands of people being killed every year. There are -- or tens of thousands. And these rapes are taking place virtually every day. Every day.

COOPER: Incredible. I mean, (a), that they're running out of money to treat these women, and care for these women is unconscionable. So (a), how can people help if they want to?

COX: Well, there are many organizations that are working in the Congo -- humanitarian organizations. One of the things that would help, of course, is to ensure that the U.S. government continues to support the U.N. peace force and to take steps to strengthen it. There's now a bill in the Senate, sponsored by Senators Baraka (ph) and Brownback and others that would, in fact, increase U.S. support for an attempt to find a peaceful solution to what's going on in the Congo.

COOPER: What do you want to leave people with tonight that they should know that they don't know about what's going on?

COX: Well, they should know, first of all, that this is happening and that it's horrific. It's been overshadowed by other crises which are equally horrific, like the one in Darfur, but the important thing is that it's not hopeless.

These are not -- these are not people who are subjected to something which is uncontrollable. This is a political war that's going on there by factions. And it's within the power of the international community to do something about it.

COOPER: Well, I appreciate what you, with Amnesty International, have been doing, and appreciate you being on the program. Thank you.

COX: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, no doubt some of you watching tonight may want to help those women suffering in the Congo. They are running out of money to care for them, as e said.

On our blog, we posted some names and phone numbers of organizations working there on who are accepting donations. The online address for our blog is

I first traveled to the Congo in the mid-80s when was Zaire. Over the years, I've gone back several times and working there and elsewhere in Africa. I've written about some of the stories I've covered there in a new book, "Dispatches from the Edge," a memoir of war, disasters and survival.

And all this week on 360, we're going to be bringing you some of my dispatches from near and far away places from over the years and recent years. We'll update you about what's happening there now.

A big part of "Dispatches from the Edge," is a behind the scenes look at what happened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, especially what happened in New Orleans in the days immediately following the storm.

Here's one of the men I write about, Dr. Greg Henderson.


COOPER: Dr. Greg Henderson is a pathologist. In the dangerous days after the hurricane, he says he set up a treatment center for New Orleans' police and also tried to help the approximately 15,000 evacuees stuck at the Convention Center.

DR. GREG HENDERSON: Very simple words, this is the dirtiest water you could ever possibly imagine.

COOPER: We just started motoring around when we spotted this man, wading through the water.

HENDERSON: You need help?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need everything.

HENDERSON: You need to get out of that water.

Can we help this guy out?

COOPER: Of course, absolutely.

HENDERSON: You asked me what it was like at the Convention Center, 15,000 people in this condition. This man is symbolic of what was here in New Orleans and what's still here in New Orleans.

This is who we've got to treat. This is who we've got to think about. This is who we've got to take care of.

COOPER: Dr. Henderson is fed up with the slow federal response he's seen in New Orleans. He calls it a national disgrace.

And is it a crime what's gone on here?

HENDERSON: It's about as close to a crime as you can get. I hate to call anybody a criminal. I hate to call anybody a criminal, but this is just a damn bad situation.


COOPER: That was Dr. Greg Henderson then. Now, he has not abandoned New Orleans. He is there working as a director of the anatomic pathology at Oshner Health Systems. Kind of late, isn't it? He's also part of Oshner's hurricane response team.

In the fall Dr. Henderson will receive the first ever Distinguished Patient Care award from the College of American Pathologists. He is a true hero of the storm.

You can read more about him and others who I meet in New Orleans in "Dispatches from the Edge."

Coming up tonight, Al Gore's new movie about global warming and all the buzz it is generating about presidential politics. Will he be a candidate? Would he have a shot? Well, take a look.

And later, suing a priest for fraud for preaching the gospel. Meet a man who says the entire Christian religion is a fraud, and he can prove it. That's what he says. And now a court may just listen.

You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) The new Al Gore movie opened today. All right, it's a documentary and not a summer blockbuster. And Al Gore's no Tom Cruise. He's, well, he's Al Gore. But the movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," is getting good reviews and plenty of buzz -- environmental buzz, but especially political buzz, which is why Bill Schneider, CNN's senior political analyst, has our report.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Here's Al Gore as most Americans last saw him.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others, it's time for me to go.

SCHNEIDER: But look at Al Gore today.

GORE: I used to be the next president of the United States of America.

SCHNEIDER: Since 2000, the former vice president has been traveling the world, delivering a lecture on the threat of global warming. More than 1,000 lectures.

GORE: I set myself a goal. Communicate this real clearly. The only way I know to do it is city by city.

SCHNEIDER: Hollywood producers saw Gore's talk and said, this has got to be a movie.

LAWRENCE BENDER, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": We need to get millions of people to see it. And it's truly phenomenal. It's going to blow your mind.

SCHNEIDER: A lecture by Al Gore?

GORE: They have made it entertaining and enjoyable and funny and really watchable.

SCHNEIDER: How did they do that? By doing what Hollywood does best, telling an intimate, personal story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it goes all the way back to his life on the farm and tragedies in his family and the 2000 election.

SCHNEIDER: Including the story of his sister's death from lung cancer.

GORE: It was so painful on so many levels. My father, he had grown tobacco all his life. He stopped.

SCHNEIDER: The filmmakers see the picture's message as unifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He frames it not as a political issue but as a moral issue, something that we all have to really think about. And no matter who we are.

SCHNEIDER: OK. Does President Bush plan to see it?



SCHNEIDER: These days, some Hollywood liberals have doubts about Hillary Clinton. Is she selling out? Can she be elected? Al Gore is emerging as their dark horse.

BENDER: He's great on all the issues, and he's passionate and he's funny, and he's grounded.


GORE: Gas is down to 19 cents a gallon. The oil companies are hurting. I know that I am partly to blame by insisting that cars run on trash.

SCHNEIDER: Gore calls himself a recovering politician, but adds, there's a danger of a relapse.

The film is coming out at the perfect moment. Millions of Americans are angry at President Bush and worried about energy. The film is not overtly partisan but who can miss the visual cue here of one of Bush's greatest failures? Hurricane Katrina.

(On camera): Would Americans really elect a president who served eight years as vice president, then ran for president and failed and then was out of power for eight years? It worked for Richard Nixon. Because the moment was right.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Los Angeles.


COOPER: Well, of course, Al Gore might not like the comparison, but he may enjoy a similar following if in fact he decides to run.

A loyal block of people who watched their man lose a very close election and thought, right or wrong, that it should have gone the other way.

More on that now from CNN's Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For voters in the throes of could have, should have, might have beens, this guy rings some bells.

JACKI CALMES, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": The story I did on him about his movie coming out got more e-mails and more reader reaction from around the country than anything I've written in 16 years at "The Wall Street Journal." 95 percent of it was positive for Al Gore. GORE: Oh, this feels so good.

CROWLEY: He has name recognition, the ability to raise a lot of cash, and as you know, a story to tell.

Can you already see those "Gore '08" bumper stickers? Or maybe not.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The hallelujah chorus that's following him today may not follow him if he decides to run for president. It's one thing when you're a non-candidate. America loves non-candidates. But once you toss your hat in the ring, everything changes.

CROWLEY: Which is to say when Gore is rated as a presidential candidate, most polls show he has high negatives. Several sources close to the former veep say a rerun is not unthinkable, but it is unlikely.

He's happy doing what he's doing, said one source. Gore will enjoy impacting the debate, offered another, but he won't run. That will disappoint some Democrats who think Gore is the only one who could stop the Senator from New York. First in every poll of Democratic possibles, first in the money chase, and everybody knows her name. Hillary Clinton is a tour de force on the political stage.

BRAZILE: I think the only person that can stop Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton.

CROWLEY: While everyone else treks to Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond, she avoids the political hot spots and piles up money in her various political coffers.

She has yet to say she'll run, which doesn't stop Democrats from worrying she'll lose.

Jackie Calmes covers politics for "The Wall Street Journal."

CALMES: I think the number one thing Democrats are going to be looking for in their nominee is electability, and that's where she is seen as being weakest. Nobody seems to be sure that she or even somewhat certain that she could win the November general election. And so then you have people looking to the second.

CROWLEY: The second tier is packed with people looking to emerge as the not-Hillary candidate. Former governors, current governors and seven current or former senators. Most are not marquis names on the national scene, but at this time in the '92 presidential cycle, few people had heard of Bill Clinton.

There's a long way to go. 500-pound gorillas can move on. Others can move up. And people who say they're not interested in running can change their mind.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well he may be a non-candidate now, but what if that changes? His chances of running for president and winning? I'll take that up with former Presidential Adviser David Gergen, coming up next.

And later, meet the man who's suing a Catholic priest, claiming Jesus never existed. The Catholic Church is perpetrating fraud. Will a court actually take the case? We'll check it out when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, he came within a Supreme Court decision of being the president of the United States. That was six years ago. Today, Al Gore has returned to the spotlight.

As you saw a moment ago, he's featured in a documentary on the dangers of global warming. He's making the rounds on late night shows. And he's surfacing as perhaps the Democrats' best chance to do what he almost did in 2000, become president.

I took up the Gore factor with former Presidential Adviser David Gergen and CNN's John Roberts earlier tonight.


COOPER: Do you buy this Al Gore resurgence? You know, is that for real or is that just sort of the media latching on to something?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think there's a hunger in the Democratic party to find an alternative to Hillary Clinton.

COOPER: Because they don't feel she's electable?

GERGEN: There are many who worry whether she's electable, and they're not even sure she's going to run. I mean, there are people closest to her say, that's a firm decision hasn't been made.

COOPER: Really?

GERGEN: Won't be made until after November. I know people who are very close to her who think she should not run. You know, it would be better for her to wait another four years. By that time -- she's, you know, she's transformed herself in the eyes of New Yorkers. She's much more centrist kind of Senator, middle of the road kind of Senator, liberal to be sure, but more middle of the road in New York than she is perceived to be around the country.

COOPER: She really won Upstate New York. I mean, she won them over.

GERGEN: Yes. I think she's been a much better Senator than anybody expected. I mean, she's been very effective in Upstate New York. You know, I can just tell you corporate chieftains in Upstate New York, I know a CEO who's a big Republican who held a fundraiser for her at his house after he got to know her and she did a lot of good things for Upstate New York and for his company.

So she really has transformed herself there, but she hasn't been able to transform herself nationally yet. Her persona is still that of the harridan from the left, you know, that is very polarizing.

So, I think that there is a hunger in the party to see who else is out there. Mark Warner, the Virginia governor, former governor, is obviously someone who's been cast in that role. Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa, is another Democrat cast in that role.

But here comes Al Gore. And suddenly, there's something that seems a little fresh. Oh, yes, he did win the majority of the votes. And, you know, I think that movie's going to help him.

COOPER: But has he really transformed?

GERGEN: I think the most interesting question -- I spent time with him -- I'm not sure he wants -- one thing I think is different about Al Gore this time. In 2000 he needed to be president. I think he'd still like to be president, but doesn't need it anymore. I think that's a big difference.

It really helps you as a candidate when it's not something you need psychologically. You know, you don't feel complete, you don't feel whole unless you're president. You know, people get really, really edgy when they do that. I think he's found himself a little more since then. I think he's a more authentic candidate than he was then. At least on the environment. Remember in 2000, he talked about a lot of these issues on the environment. Now, at least he's speaking out. He's going to speak right from his gut about that. And I think that will serve him better.

Is he the right guy? John Kerry doesn't think so. John Kerry would like to be the comeback kid in this election.

COOPER: Right. Yes, there can only be one, I guess comeback kid per election cycle.

John Roberts, I mean, what are you hearing from Democrats? Are they actually excited about the prospects of Al Gore?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there is a lot of concern that Al Gore's time came and went. It ended very badly. And while there's still a lot of bitterness about the 2000 election, that if he were to run again in 2008 nomination, that it's going to be all about the past as opposed to the future.

So, I think -- you know, while there may be a few people that could see him coming back, I think the vast majority of people would rather see somebody else.

But it all depends on how the field looks like it's shaping up. If, in fact, Hillary decides not to run, then I think that maybe Gore's got an inside shot at it.

If he's going up against people like Mark Warner or Vilsack, he might have a better chance.

COOPER: Why should someone, though, believe in an Al Gore if this is a guy who allowed himself to be transformed and muted and reined in the first time around?

GERGEN: Well, you know, Richard Nixon -- I think one of the smartest things Richard Nixon did when he lost in 1960 was he sat out the next election. He stayed out eight years and he came back as the new Nixon. You know, eight years is a long time in the life of politics, and people may be willing to take another look at Al Gore.

It's not to say that the Democrats are going to rush to embrace him. I think John Roberts is absolutely right about that. It is to say that if he starts doing pretty well in the polls, if this movie really does help to transform our sense of him, that he really has found himself and found his voice, then you'll see his numbers start to climb, and Democrats will say, well look, we need a winner. And if it's not going to be Hillary, who is it going to be, and what is the alternative?

I don't think there's any doubt that at the end of the day if Hillary Clinton runs for it, and I'm assuming she will, but I don't believe that she's made the decision -- if she runs, somebody is going to emerge as the alternative, as the un-Hillary. And whether that's Gore or Kerry or Vilsack or Warner or Bayh, or Edwards, there are a lot of other alternatives out there. I do think Al Gore is now again in the mix, and the movie has catapulted him back into the mix.


COOPER: Interesting. That was former Presidential Adviser David Gergen and CNN Senior National Correspondent John Roberts.

Coming up, the Bible under fire. You're going to meet a man who says the story of Jesus is a hoax. And he's going to court to prove it.

First, Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS," has some of the other stories we're following -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are demanding the FBI return materials seized in a bribery probe. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi say the bureau violated the constitutional separation of powers when it raided the office of Congressman William Jefferson. However, this is not a show of support for Jefferson. Pelosi has demanded he step down from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Jefferson has refused.

Montgomery County, Maryland, D.C. snipers turn on each other. Today, John Allen Muhammad cross-examined his partner, Lee Boyd Malvo, and questioned his mental health and memory. Muhammad is defending himself against murder charges in six Maryland killings three and a half years ago. Yesterday Malvo testified Muhammad wanted to spread terror in the Washington region.

Near Detroit, Michigan, the barn must come down. As FBI agents search for the remains of former Teamsters Boss Jimmy Hoffa. Agents have been acting on a tip, indicating Hoffa was buried on a horse farm. Hoffa vanished, of course, without a trace in 1975.

And the Europeans just can't get no Rolling Stones. The Stones have postponed the first 15 dates of their European tour to allow Guitarist Keith Richards more time to recover from a head injury. The exact cause of the injury is unclear. Some reports, though, say Richards fell from a palm tree while trying to pluck a coconut, Anderson. Got to be careful.

COOPER: And you're a big Rolling Stones fan.

HILL: I am. I love the Stones. I saw them here in Atlanta, though.

COOPER: Did you really?

HILL: I did. But I'm kind of lucky because my friends are the roadies, so that's how I get to see them.

COOPER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You buried the lead. Your friends are the roadies for the Rolling Stones?

HILL: Yes. Well, where I used to work in California, a lot of the guys from the studio were very good friends of -- well, first they were friends of my husband's, now they're my friends too. They're roadies now. And it works out very well when a good show comes to town.

COOPER: Erica Hill, you surprise me every night. Hang out with roadies.

HILL: Right? How about that?

COOPER: Do you know any carnies?

HILL: No, but I could work on that for you.

COOPER: OK, work on building some carnie relationships.

HILL: See what I can do.

COOPER: All right.

360, the show that cares about carnies.

One man wants to take religion to court, he essentially accuses the Catholic Church of fraud, saying Jesus never existed. That story is coming up.

Plus, new details on a lawsuit filed on behalf of Katrina victims, claims a New Orleans hospital allowed patients to just die, when 360 continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, controversy sells. Worldwide, "The Da Vinci Code" enjoyed the second best movie opening in history. And the book has sold 60 million copies.

Well, now one man is creating another kind of controversy. He's suing a priest because he says Jesus Christ never really existed, and he's found a court which is now considering taking his case.

Here's CNN's Delia Gallagher.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This ordinary looking man is on a potentially explosive mission. Luigi Cascioli says he intends to bring down the Catholic Church.

LUIGI CASCIOLI, SUING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): They are con men. They take advantage of the ignorance of popular belief. This is a con, a real con.

GALLAGHER: The con, according to Cascioli, is the Catholic Church's claim that a man named Jesus Christ ever existed.

He even wrote and self-published a book supporting his theory.

He says all you have to do is read the gospels to know that Christ is a character, a fantasy, a complete fabrication. composed from pagan myths.

If his claim sounds amazing, then this may surprise you even more. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg has agreed to consider hearing his case.

His lawyer says it's a real-life case that rivals "The Da Vinci Code."

GIOVANNI DI STEFANO, LUIGI CASCIOLI'S ATTORNEY: There is an arguable case that he may be right. It is arguable. Now, that alone, in my view, makes it far more explosive, far more interesting than "The Da Vinci Code."

GALLAGHER: Cascioli first filed his lawsuit in an Italian court in 2002. He sued a local priest, Father Enrico Riggi (ph), in his hometown of Vitiribo (ph), Italy about 55 miles north of Rome after the priest wrote about the life of Jesus in a church bulletin.

He says he chose to sue Father Riggi (ph) because he couldn't sue the Pope who is protected from litigation by his status as a head of state.

But according to Cascioli's lawyer, prosecutors in this decidedly Catholic country refused to put the case forward.

DI STEFANO: The case stopped unusually at the investigative stage. The public prosecutor said there's no evidence here to take this further. And therefore, I will archive it. I will now stop the process, and you can go no further.

GALLAGHER: Cascioli wants the court to consider criminal charges based on two violations of the Italian Penal Code, impersonating someone in a way that causes damage to others, and the abuse of the public's faith.

If the European court decides to hear the case, it could eventually force the Vatican to present proof that the man around whom the Catholic religion is built ever lived.

And some Catholic scholars say that won't be hard to do. All you have to do is look at the historical record.

FATHER GERALD O'COLLINS, GREGORIAN UNIVERSITY: You go to Josephus, you go to Tasibus (ph), You go to Paul. You know, we've got these letters that he writes a fair bit about Jesus. The House of David, died by crucifixion. He tells about the last supper Jesus celebrated. So, we go to the historical evidence. And historical evidence, there are a different criteria for judgment. You can't run history through a laboratory test. We can do that in physics and so forth. But you can have historic certainties.

GALLAGHER (on camera): The Catholic Church says there's ample historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. In the writings of the gospel and in Roman and Jewish histories.

Mr. Cascioli disputes even those sources. He says that they're not recording historical fact, but pushing forward their own agendas.

And both sides think that their interpretation is the correct one.

Now, even if a judge does get to decide this case, for many Christians, it's not just about evidence, it's also about faith.

O'COLLINS: Faith goes beyond the evidence. Faith's not a leap in the dark. Faith is a stroll in the twilight, if you like. If there's evidence, there's good reasons, and there's also a trust.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Mr. Cascioli's lawyer says that trust won't mean much if his client is vindicated in a courtroom.

DI STEFANO: If he is right that Jesus Christ was not Jesus Christ, the repercussions for the Catholic Church and for Christianity are enormous. It is a theological domino effect.

GALLAGHER: But theologians say you only have to look to Christ's tens of millions of faithful followers to know Cascioli's argument is flawed.

O'COLLINS: You're faced with something that's very puzzling, Christians mixing together a couple of fables. Whoosh, there's this enormous movement. Doesn't make any sense. The cause doesn't correspond to the effect.

GALLAGHER: Delia Gallagher, CNN, Rome. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So historical Jesus, mythical Jesus? We'll put some questions to an author and to a theologian. Each calls himself a Christian, but disagree on what to call Jesus.

And Katrina deaths -- nine months after Katrina, new allegations surface against a hospital where patients may have been left to die, when 360 continues.


COOPER: Before the break, we heard about an atheist's attempt to legally prove that Jesus is a myth, that he never existed. The European Court of Human Rights may actually hear the case.

Even Christians come down on different sides of the story. Jason Berry is the author of several books, including "Vows of Silence." He's a practicing Catholic and has written extensively about the Catholic Church. He joins me from New Orleans.

And Robert Price is a professor of theology and scriptural studies at the Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary in Selma, North Carolina.

Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

Jason, does this case deserve to ever see a courtroom?

JASON BERRY, AUTHOR OF BOOKS ON CATHOLIC CHURCH: No, I don't think so. It sounds preposterous to me, quite frankly. The guy is a self-published author. He could not get a hearing in an Italian court. No prosecutor would take the case. And so he's going to Strasburg, where I assume the European Union has some sort of court. And although his lawyer, you know, made a very clever case for the explosiveness of this, comparing it to the movie, "The Da Vinci Code," it sounds a little bit like a crackpot attempt at publicity to me.

COOPER: Robert, you identify as a Christian. You don't believe that Christ ever really lived. Why?

PROF. ROBERT PRICE, JOHNNIE COLEMAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Well, he might have. It's impossible to know one way or the other, but I think from the little I hear of this man's case, I agree with most of it in that the gospel story of Jesus does agree in all major respects with the stories of mythic gods who are at the heart of other ancient religions, like Syrus, Mythrus, Adonas (ph), and so forth. Those religions flourished for a long time without any historical founder.

And Jesus seems very similar. I mean, you'd have to go into a time machine and go into the past to find out for sure. But I would agree with them insofar as saying the burden of proof is on the one who would affirm a historical Jesus.

I think he's made a frivolous charge in the sense that he's saying this is some sort of a pansy scheme cooked up by the Catholic Church. That's absurd. I mean, how would you prove that anyway? Put the Pope on a lie detector and -- I mean, obviously, he believes it. So he's not trying to bilk the public.

COOPER: Yes, and I mean, Jason, it really does -- it boils down to a matter of belief.

BERRY: Look, faith is a mystery. And people who embrace Christianity do so, knowing that the Bible does not come with a set of legal briefs behind it. The gospels are messages of hope and salvation, and we turn to them because they touch that sense of mystery and wonder in our lives.

I shudder to think of what it would be like in this country if we had a court system that would allow, just for argument's sake, someone to go in and say that Mohammed had never existed. Imagine what the Islamic community would think of that.

Or if we tried to say that the god of the Old Testament did not exist, that the Old Testament is fraudulent. What would that say to Jews?

You know, Christians, Jews and Muslims all share a belief in a monotheistic god, and Jews and Muslims believe in the existence of Jesus. They have a different interpretation of him, of course.

So I think what this fellow is doing in Italy, trying to get on the road to Strasburg, is an old exercise and what Richard Hofstetter, the historian, called anti-Catholicism being the pornography of the puritan.

COOPER: Jason, I mean, you know, I guess this man points to contradictions and inconsistencies in various texts including the gospels about Jesus' life.

I mean, if it ever did get to court, and I can't imagine, frankly, that it would get to court. I don't really know much about this European court, but it seems pretty frivolous. Would the Vatican -- I mean, be advised to actually try to present evidence, or would the argument be centered really more around faith and belief?

BERRY: Oh, that's a tough one, Anderson, because, I mean, how do you present a case which is designed to argue that something that cannot be proved is provable? People believe because the body of literature that has come down to us across time touches us and makes sense and is imminently realistic?

But to say whether one can go back and get the footnotes on 1st Corinthians by St. Paul, I think is a bit of a stretch.

COOPER: And Robert, it really is an embracing of the mysteries in life. I mean, the Catholic Church, you know, acknowledges the mystery of faith and the mystery of belief. That's not something that, in a courtroom, you know, can be proved either way.

PRICE: Well, I think that line is important to draw between the transformative, inspiring character of the gospel material which I certainly experience and the issue of historically what actually happened.

My only contention is that you can't make the one do service for the other. The profound meaning that Christ in the New testament have for me does not, however, allow me to say what probably happened in the past.

And so that's something that ought not to be confused. I would just make one slight note of dissent from what Jason says in that the only good thing about this otherwise preposterous case is it would be very good if it got these neglected issues more widely discussed in a way that sadly one dare not do about Islamic origins, though there are plenty of similar questions there.

COOPER: That's a good point.

PRICE: It's just that this reminds me of a passage in the Books of Acts where Paul and his opponents -- well, Paul is dragged by his opponents before Galleo (ph), the Roman pro-counsel, and they say this man, Paul, is teaching things objectionable to our religion. And Galleo says, look, if this were a civil matter and somebody had committed some crime, then I should have cause to listen to you. But as it's just a dispute about your own law, see to it yourselves. I'm not interested.

That's what I think the court will do and what they ought to do because they certainly have no expertise in matters either of faith or of history.

COOPER: Right. We'll see what the court decides to do, if anything.

Jason Berry, Robert Price, appreciate you joining us. Thanks. Interesting discussion.

BERRY: Thank you.

PRICE: Thank you.

COOPER: A hospital in New Orleans, during the storm, accused of letting patients actually die. That story's coming up.

But first, Erica Hill, with the business headlines -- Erica.

HILL: Anderson, a little bounce on Wall Street where investors have been digging and diving all month. All three major indices rose today -- the NASDAQ by the most, about half a percent. The Dow and S&P eking out smaller gains. But the day, not quite as rosy over at XM Satellite Radio. XM now saying it expects to end the year with about 8.5 million subscribers. That's about a half million fewer than expected. It is still more though than rival Sirius satellite radio.

And G.M. has a new way to sell you an SUV. It is offering customers in California and Florida cheap gas. We're talking $1.99 a gallon. Here's the catch. It's only on certain models. Many of them which require more gas, and only good if buyers also sign up for G.M.s OnStar service. That, by the way, Anderson, is going to set you back $16.95 a month.

COOPER: There's always the catch.

HILL: There's the catch.

COOPER: There -- you got to read the fine print.

Erica, thanks.

HILL: You're welcome.

COOPER: So she survived Katrina. She did not survive the aftermath. A son looks into her mother's death and comes away with shocking allegations and questions that, well, still need to be answered.

We'll investigate when 360 continues.


COOPER: Just eight days before the 2006 hurricane season begins, Louisiana officials want to make sure what happened last year never happens again.

Today in New Orleans, city, state and federal officials ended two days of drills for Hurricane Alicia, a mock storm. New evacuation procedures and improved communications systems were tried out. These were just drills. Nobody was hurt. Nobody died.

Of course, the same cannot be said for Hurricane Katrina. The death toll in Louisiana, alone, stands at 1,577. Lest we forget.

The victims included patients at a New Orleans hospital, a hospital that had a flood evacuation plan in place, but tonight stands accused of ignoring its own policy, and in the process, letting patients die.

CNN's Drew Griffin reports in this CNN investigation.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Elvira LeBlanc (ph), hurricanes were nothing new.

MARK LEBLANC, SON OF ELVIRA LEBLANC: Oh, yes. We went through Betsy and all of them, really.

GRIFFIN: She rode out Katrina at one of the city's largest hospitals, Memorial Medical Center, owned by Tenet Health System.

SANDY LEBLANC, DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF ELVIRA LEBLANC: She felt safe in the building she was in. She was on the seventh floor.

GRIFFIN (on camera): And you felt safe leaving her there?

S. LEBLANC: Yes, we felt very comfortable. They told us they had plans. They said they had supplies, they had extra staff, they had a generator. We asked them if we needed to be concerned about trying to evacuate her. They said we did not need to evacuate from the hospital. There was no need. That she would be fine, that she would be OK.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): That was Sunday before the storm. Mark LeBlanc (ph) kissed his mom good-bye. They had hired a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, with a cell phone to sit with her, 24/7. The next day, soon after Katrina struck, that assistant sounded nervous.

S. LEBLANC: She had fright in her voice. And I asked her, well, what are they telling you all? Are they saying they're going to evacuate you all or what? She said, they're not telling us anything. Then she said, but I can see out the window. I said, well what do you see when you look out the window? And she said, I can see the water coming up around -- you know, I can see water on the ground around the hospital.

GRIFFIN: Three days after Mark and his wife, Sandy, left his mom, the LeBlancs borrowed a boat to get back to that hospital.

(On camera): What did you find?

M. LEBLANC: Her laying in sweat and muck and yuck and everybody on the seventh floor, chaotic because they didn't know what was going.

S. LEBLANC: She was dehydrated. Her skin was very clammy. She was very, very pale. She had no I.V. fluids going. She had been without any air conditioning for two days.

M. LEBLANC: Since Monday morning.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): He was appalled and got his mother out.

M. LEBLANC: So we carried out through all the patients with the doctors yelling at us. We grabbed her file that they said we couldn't take. We stuck it under her, walked out.

There's a window broken, you'll see in that picture. We just shoved her out the window, onto the air boat and said we're going.

GRIFFIN: With a promise they'd return to help the rest, they put his mom in an ambulance to Baton Rouge. And the next day, Mark and his wife, Sandy, went back and found CNAs going the other way.

S. LEBLANC: And I told him, I said when we come back tomorrow, these people won't be here. They'll be dead.

And when we got back Thursday, the CNAs came out. They were from the life care. And we saw them. And I said, what happened to the patients? And they said, they all died. And they all died.

GRIFFIN: Four days after leaving Memorial, Elvira LeBlanc died. Her son says she never recovered from days with no fluids.

(On camera): You're telling me your mom basically died because some hospital didn't have enough fluid on hand?

M. LEBLANC: That's exactly right, and didn't have any plan, didn't even care about not having -- that's the thing that upsets you, that they didn't care. They, in a week, these people would be able to talk to -- excuse me. I'm sorry.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Chris Bruno is an attorney representing seven families, including the LeBlancs, who have filed suit, claiming the hospital failed his clients when it failed to follow its own hurricane plan.

Are you telling me that this major corporation, this huge health care provider in the United States had all these plans that should have been implemented if a hurricane struck and catastrophe happened here in New Orleans, and that in the end, that just turned out to be a piece of paper? Nobody in that hospital knew what they were doing?

CHRIS BRUNO, ATTORNEY: That's exactly what we're saying. There's a flood evacuation policy in place for things to do. And yet they did nothing. It was pandemonium. And I think it was from corporate level that this occurred. It wasn't from the doctors. The doctors were there trying to save lives. It was this corporation who failed these patients, these staff people, and the family members who remained at that facility.

GRIFFIN: New Orleans Attorney Kurt Blakenship is defending the hospital. He says the hospital did nothing wrong, that there was a plan, and that the evidence will show the hospital did follow its plan under extraordinary circumstances. That is, until the levees failed.

KURT BLAKENSHIP, MEMORIAL HOSPITAL ATTORNEY: The plan contemplates that access to the hospital will be possible. That is, even if floodwaters came in, floodwaters would go down, ambulances could get in and out. And transportation would be available to get patients out.

GRIFFIN: Blakenship says even in the wake of the disaster, Memorial's doctors, nurses and staff risked everything to save their patients.

BLAKENSHIP: There was a concerted effort to top off fuel tanks, top off the water tanks, make sure that the adequate supplies of food and medicine were on hand. And I think the evidence is going to show that all of that was in place. Once the hurricane hit, though, we were faced with what turned out to be just an unprecedented disaster.

GRIFFIN: The LeBlancs say they just don't buy that. After all, they made it through the flood. Back to the hospital to rescue Mark's mother.

S. LEBLANC: And the thing is, Tenet was her hospital. She had been going there since Mark was born -- 40-some odd years. She trusted the hospital. She felt comfortable with us leaving her there. We trusted them. That corporation owed it to their people, to their staff, to the patients to be there.

GRIFFIN: Drew Griffin, CNN, New Orleans.


COOPER: That is so horrible.

In a moment, we're going to be talking about who won on "American Idol" tonight. So if you don't want to know that, you might not want to watch in a few moments. Stay with us.


COOPER: We're about to say who won on "American Idol," so if you don't want to know, quickly, turn down the sound or turn it off.

Tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," more than 60 million votes were cast, and the winner, Taylor Hicks. His success story is just beginning. You can find out tomorrow what the future holds for him on "AMERICAN MORNING," which starts, of course, at 6:00 a.m., Eastern.

And make sure to catch "LARRY KING LIVE" Friday night. Ryan Seacrest will have Taylor and Runner-up Kathryn McPhee taking your calls Friday at 9:00 Eastern, on CNN. I will also be on Larry on Friday as well.

And Senator John McCain is on next.


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