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Ambushed in Iraq; Bloody Iraq; Abramoff Investigation; The Hezbollah Thorn; Truce Troubles; Stubborn Flames; "Greater than Jesus"

Aired September 28, 2006 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: And thousands eat it up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The man, Christ Jesus, is here among us.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight, why some call it a cult. And the church denies it.

Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Sitting in tonight for Anderson, and reporting from the CNN studios in New York, here's John Roberts.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And welcome back. Thanks for joining us. You are about to see a remarkable view of the war in Iraq. It's the war as seen through the windshield of a supply truck driven by a civilian contractor.

Civilians do deadly dangerous work in Iraq. Nearly 600 of them have died there so far. The trucker whose video we're going to show you now watched his buddies die in this incident. He tried to get help, but even as he did, he kept the camera rolling.

The story now from CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The video starts off showing a supply convoy, a dozen trucks and five military vehicles heading out from a U.S. base north of Baghdad. It was a routine mission until some Iraqi men started throwing rocks.

Civilian Contractor Preston wheeler was driving with one hand and holding his video camera in the other when things got really ugly.


MCINTYRE: The convoy had turned the wrong way down a one way road and a bullet came through the windshield.

PRESTON WHEELER, FORMER HALLIBURTON TRUCK DRIVER: I got it on video, by God. MCINTYRE: A subsequent military investigation blamed faulty maps, but the wrong turn forced the trucks to backtrack right into a deadly ambush. Insurgents opened fire on the convoy. Wheeler's truck was disabled by one of the RPGs.

WHEELER: I am (UNINTELLIGIBLE) cannot move. Please help me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where you at? Where you at?

WHEELER: I am taking fire. 10-4. Come back.


WHEELER: I'm fixing to get killed (expletive deleted.)

MCINTYRE: The video shows a military humvee leaving the scene.

WHEELER: Somebody get their (expletive deleted) back here now, please.

MCINTYRE: Wheeler hid in the cab of his truck and watched insurgents shoot one of his fellow truckers in cold blood.

WHEELER: They just killed him. Oh my God.

MCINTYRE: Three truckers all employed by the Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, were killed that day. The aftermath was caught on tape by a U.S. spy plane, showing Iraqis stripping and stoning one of the victims.

WHEELER: You (expletive deleted) right, I'm scared. I'm going home when this trip is done.

MCINTYRE: Alone with no gun and two AK-47 bullets in his arm, Wheeler says he feels he was abandoned by the very soldiers who were supposed to protect him, and that he waited 40 minutes before an Army Blackhawk came to his rescue.

WHEELER: Why didn't the gun truck behind me stop and the gun truck in front of me stop and secure that area? Them guys would not have been executed if the military had followed their protocol, which they call it.

MCINTYRE: However, a formal investigation by the U.S. military conducted a month after the attack found the soldiers did follow their training. Not to stop until they could safely counterattack. "They didn't leave the scene. They pulled up out of the kill zone and established a security defensive line so that they could continue to fire and protect the convoy." A spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq told CNN. It was, she said, all by the book.

PRESTON: Well, if they was doing it in a textbook fashion, they must have been writing it down because they wasn't securing my area where I was at.

MCINTYRE: But military investigators concluded the soldiers' actions saved the lives of two contractors, including Wheeler, by laying down more than 500 rounds of suppressive fire and directing an armed humvee to the trucks.


ROBERTS: Jamie McIntyre reporting for us there.

More now from Preston Wheeler, who spoke with 360 earlier today.


ROBERTS: Preston, we here at CNN have had this particular videotape since April, but you haven't talked about it until now. It's been a little more than a year since the original incident. Why did you decide to come out now?

WHEELER: I decided not to air it when I first got home with the video because I was thinking of the families of the people that was killed.

ROBERTS: Were you told not to talk to the press?

WHEELER: Yes, I was told not to talk to the press. They tell you that in Houston, not to talk to the press.

ROBERTS: When we look at the narrative of the videotape, the story that's being told, it's almost as seen through your eyes. I mean, you were incredibly brave. Let's roll this little piece of videotape here, and I want to get you to respond to it.

WHEELER: I'm fixing to get killed (expletive deleted.)

Respondent: There you are. Your truck is disabled. It can't move. You are on the radio, pleading for somebody to help. You say, I'm fixing to die here. What was going through your mind?

WHEELER: I was wanting my military, you know. I was looking for them. They are supposed to be there. And my truck got hit with an RPG round, it was disabled. And the drivers behind me, you know, they're wanting me to move. And that's highly understandable in the circumstances we was in. And, you know, they're in panic also. Anybody in that convoy that says they wasn't scared, is a liar.

ROBERTS: Did you think about running?

WHEELER: Oh, yes. I thought about running. It would have been suicide to jump out of the truck and run. Just, they're everywhere.

ROBERTS: Now, the military, Mr. Wheeler, says that it was just following protocol and that the military protocol is to push through the danger zone to get out of the line of fire, set up a perimeter and then call in for a rescue. The rescue did come. You were rescued by people who came in Blackhawk helicopter. Did the military not do what they were supposed to do?

WHEELER: No, they didn't do what they were supposed to do. If their protocol was to secure the area, when they realized we went down a wrong road, they made the wrong turn, their maps were wrong, we was at the Tigris River, at a dead end, open area. They could have secured the zone right there until they got more help in. But they decided to push through and things went bad.

ROBERTS: Now, did you have maps yourself?

WHEELER: No. They don't issue us maps. No GPS, nothing. In fact, the soldiers said they was trying to get sheriff on the phone. I guess that could be QRF or somebody at the base, and they wasn't getting no response.

ROBERTS: You took a couple of rounds when you were trapped there, from an AK-47 in your arm. Are you all healed up now, you better?

WHEELER: No, I'm not healed up yet. I had a bone graft of about four inches. I got a titanium rod in my right arm from my elbow to my shoulder. I got a scar the same length. I don't know how much use I've got out of my arm.

ROBERTS: KBR says you were put on 60 days leave after that incident. What happened after those 60 days?

WHEELER: Well, I got terminated. I had no idea I was going to be terminated.

ROBERTS: What did you terminate for?

WHEELER: The first response, failure to return from R and R, which I had just returned from R and R 11 days prior to this incident. And I called then about it and asked them and they said that they made a big mistake, they would correct it. And their correction was to send me another sheet of paper stating that I was terminated for health reasons and personal injury on the job.

You (expletive deleted) right, I'm scared. I'm going home...

ROBERTS: We hear you say on the tape, if I get out of here, I'm going home. I'm done. Did you ever have any intention of returning to KBR?

WHEELER: I thought about it, but the more I thought about it, it just, it would have been a mistake. They don't no more care about me than they care about a dog walking down the road.

ROBERTS: You thought about suing them?

WHEELER: I thought about it. I can't find anybody to help me.

ROBERTS: You can't find an attorney?

WHEELER: No, I can't find an attorney. Apparently it's too big for some. And -- which is understandable. They're a multibillion dollar corporation. ROBERTS: Well, Preston Wheeler, I can't imagine what it must have been like that day. Thanks for sharing part of that story with us. Appreciate it.

WHEELER: You're welcome.


ROBERTS: More bodies were found in Baghdad. Five dozen more in fact. A month's worth of killings here in New York City, all in one Baghdad day. The bodies were mutilated and as usual, he victims either tortured before they were killed or in many cases, literally tortured to death.

This, on top of another especially gory week of insurgent attacks. Sadly, what seems extraordinary to us is business as usual for the Marines that you are about to meet.

Here's CNN's Michael Ware.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The angry debate over the war in Iraq. Does it stop or actually create brand new Islamic militants means little to these guys. No doubt here, their enemy is al Qaeda.

LANCE CORPORAL BEAMER DIAZ, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Most people here are willing to die for each other. So, pretty much it happens over here.

WARE: This is where it happens, Ramadi. At this moment, Marines closing around a fallen comrade. It began 30 minutes earlier. A patrol watching the al Qaeda controlled streets from a rooftop, when an insurgent sniper surprises them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you see where that came from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, directly in front of me.

WARE: Next, the Marines pushed home only 600 feet back to their outpost. When they're hit, caught in a killing zone, crossfire from two directions. Somehow only one Marine, Lance Corporal Philip (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gets pretty crazy. A lot of times you're just sitting around, nothing's going on and all of a sudden, a few seconds later, you're in a big firefight just fighting, trying to stay alive.

WARE: This was the Third Battalion Eighth Marine Regimen's war. 600 plus men ordered to go head to head with al Qaeda in downtown Ramadi, in a battle their general admits he does not have enough troops to win.

CORPORAL DONALD BRIER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I lost one good friend, but I talked to his wife, I've talked to his family and they are all coping well, so I know I can cope well. If they can, I can.

WARE: These Marines fought day in and day out, repelling al Qaeda assaults from their outpost. A few blocks down, the men draw an ambush in another street. The fight moves to a rooftop. In seven months this battalion suffered 17 dead. More than many brigades of 5,000 in Iraq lose in an entire year.

MAJOR EDWARD NEGLOVSKI, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We're going to leave the blood in the lives of several Marines, the memory of their lives here. We won't forget them, but all of us will leave something here.

WARE: Their presence made a dent in al Qaeda.

CAPTAIN ANDREW GAUBIO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: But the danger, you know, how dangerous the mission is. We stopped a lot of attacks. We stop them cold in their tracks. Never really took any great pride in, you know, how many people we have stopped I have no idea.

WARE: But listening to them, from the kids in the gun pits to the officers who lead them, you hear in their own words how the real price of this war is being paid.

BRIER: You get nervous when you come over, but once you're here, you're nervous, aren't you. Of course, you're nervous. You are coming into a combat zone.

DELGAUDIO: It's a hell of a thing to come to grips with, but, yes. We -- that's what we are. That's the meaning of who we are as Marines is be prepared to do that if necessary. And in my perspective and in my mind, there was no greater calling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's still so, not reality for me, even though I'm here. I see everything that goes on. I've seen so much, you know, that you don't -- because you are here, your mind state isn't what's going on here. You just -- it's day by day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I think of my men when I first brought them out here, before we came out here, you know, you could see the young faces, you know, naive to the world and you know, just grasping for an understanding of exactly, what they're about to get themselves into.

NEGLOVSKI: I don't think you could come here to a place like this and not forget it. You would want to forget it, but you're not going to. That's just not the going happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The blood that we've shed here, we'll certainly never forget the pain, the suffering, and all of the emotions of the bleeding and the crying, sweat, the tears, none of that will ever -- it's never going to leave us. We'll never leave it because that's the legacy of our fallen comrades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll do what has to be done. We'll do it. Whatever it takes. We'll keep doing it.

WARE: Away from the politics on the home front, to these Marines it is about surviving what their commanders call the meat grinder.



ROBERTS: Michael Ware joins us now, live from Baghdad.

Michael, incredibly dramatic video. What's really interesting about it is typically the lens of the camera does not capture the intensity of what you actually experience on the ground, but in this case did you.

What was it like to actually be there?

WARE: Well, I've been going out to Ramadi since 2003 and I've seen this state that you are watching now develop before my own eyes. I mean, back in November last year there was five U.S. bases in the city. I was there the day that al Qaeda decided to attack all five bases at once, a massive coordinated operation.

In March when this Marine battalion arrived, two days after they got there, the entire battalion was attacked at once. As a senior officer said, every weapon system we had in the battalion was firing.

So that's what the reality is like for these guys. This is how they lived seven months and this is how another group is in there now living the next seven months. I mean, this is the stark realty of the war on terror at its very tip end -- John.

ROBERTS: Michael, you called this, you referred to it as the meat grinder in Ramadi. And we heard from the Marine general who is in charge of that whole region out there in Anbar Province, that he doesn't have enough Marines. Doesn't have enough boots on the ground to be able to defeat the insurgency. So is this the way that things are going to continue in that area?

WARE: Absolutely. Until someone decides to do something properly about it. Al Qaeda will continue to dominate, hold, sway and in fact blossom, not just militarily but politically. President Bush, in one of his recent speeches, pointed to captured al Qaeda documents revealing very detailed plans to essentially set up its own Islamic government in that province.

Well, we learned from U.S. Marine intelligence al Qaeda has already infiltrated that provincial or state government, so much so that they are making $400,000 to $600,000 per month from the taxation of fuel and oil into the city -- John.

ROBERTS: Amazing. They found ways to make money at doing it. Incredible piece of video. Michael Ware in Baghdad, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Tonight, Washington is buzzing over a new report about a disgraced lobbyist and his ties to the White House. So just how connected was Jack Abramoff to the Bush administration? We've got new evidence coming up. Plus, it's called the day fire, but it seems like it will last forever and day. We'll take you to this California blaze that's causing so much havoc for thousands of firefighters.

Plus, we'll go inside a church where there is no such thing as sin and where the preacher claims to be holier than thou or anyone else for that matter. When 360 continues.


ROBERTS: As disgraced influenced peddlers go, they don't come more disgraced than Jack Abramoff. He has already pleaded guilty to shaking down Indian tribes and corrupting public officials. One of those officials, Congressman Bob Ney, recently cut a plea deal as well, and there are numerous other investigations now under way.


Jack Abramoff was wired into the beltway Republican establishment. It often bragged about his connections to the very top. When his downfall began, the White House denied anymore than the slightest relationship with Abramoff. But tonight there is new evidence, a Congressional report.

CNN's Joe Johns and Suzanne Malveaux have been looking through it, and join us again tonight.

Joe Johns, what does this report say about contacts between Abramoff and the White House?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it's still a draft report, we're told, on Jack Abramoff's dealings with the White House and suggests that now a disgraced lobbyist who's already pleaded guilty to mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy, had much more extensive contacts with the White House than was first thought.

Instead of a few contacts, the implication is there were hundreds of contacts. It suggests that there were more than 400 instances where time was billed for lobbying work, most of which apparently involved White House officials who were not mentioned by name. Many appeared to have been for meals and drink. A few officials are mentioned in the report by name, including some top White House lieutenants. Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, who both denied having at least a very close relationship with Abramoff.

There were nine alleged incidents when Abramoff or members of his firm, Greenberg Traurig, had contact with Adviser Karl Rove, and one meeting. Most of those contacts were fundraisers and sporting events.

The draft report by the House Government Reform Committee is a result of a six-month investigation. The committee looked into more than 14,000 pages of billing records and e-mails. There's a caveat, though, the problem with the billing records and the e-mails is that it's incomplete information. The reliability is just not clear. The report also suggests that while there may have been a lot of contacts, it is not clear at all that Abramoff succeeded in influencing the administration in any dramatic way.

For example, it suggests Abramoff advocated on behalf of more than 20 individuals for administration jobs. Of those, only one job was actually approved.

CNN Congressional Producer Deidre Walsh caught up with the Chairman of the Committee Tom Davis tonight and asked him about Karl Rove. Davis said there is no evidence that anybody did anything wrong. There is innuendo that if you check it, maybe they did, maybe they didn't. There's no evidence of anything except that Abramoff was offering tickets to anybody in town. He offered me a sky box. We didn't know him, so we turned him down. That's what this guy did.

There's some reason to believe they made these things up to make their clients think they were doing stuff on the reports, details about contacts with Karl Rove, Davis said, as far as we can tell, there was only one meeting with Rove. That was right after the president's inauguration. Still, Democrats are expected to use this information once again to try to stir up information about Abramoff and his role in Washington as the midterm election approaches -- John.

ROBERTS: So far they have been trying to do that, Joe, and they haven't gotten a lot of traction on it in the past.

Let's go over to the White House and find out what's going on over there in relation to this report.

Suzanne, what's the early reaction coming from White House officials?

SUZANNE MALVEUAX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was late last night that White House counsel and the legislative affairs aide got a first peek at this report. I spoke with Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. She has not been able to take a look at the report, nor confirm its contents, but she has had conversations with White House counsel, and it is very clear from the response this evening. The White House is rejecting any kind of suggestion or notion that Abramoff was in some way able to curry favors or influence policy with White House officials.

Dana Perino, telling me this evening, and I'm quote here, "The report is based on billing records that are widely regarded as fraudulent in how they misrepresent Abramoff's activities and level of access." So there is no reason why they should suddenly be viewed as credible. She went on to tell me that Abramoff is a proven liar, she says. He has a penchant for exaggerating. The kind of influence that he has, minor contacts with government officials -- John.

ROBERTS: Well, there seems to be some commonality between what the White House is saying and what Tom Davis is saying, as Joe Johns was reflecting. But how aggressively is the White House, Suzanne, pushing back on this report?

MALVEAUX: Well, you can believe, I mean, we're weeks away from the midterm elections. They are not going to allow what they think and what they consider would be some sort of smear campaign to tarnish the White House image in any shape or form. They really believe that this really doesn't have any credibility.

Dana Perino, pointing to specific examples from this report that really distance Abramoff from say, Karl Rove. She brings up this point in particular. She told me tonight, "the idea that Abramoff ingratiated himself to Rove by sending him a bottle of wine at a restaurant is ridiculous and underscores just how little he knew Karl. Because anyone who knows Karl knows he doesn't drink alcohol."

And then she goes on to say there are examples inside this report that the White House was not so friendly with Abramoff, that in fact, he was frustrated, saying on one occasion he wasn't getting anything interesting from Karl Rove, that he would not commit and that he wasn't available to meet him -- John.

ROBERTS: And certainly they're not friendly with him now.

Suzanne Malveaux, John Johns, good job. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.


ROBERTS: Turning back to the Middle East now, the fragile truce between Israel and Hezbollah. Much of Lebanon is in ruins, but Hezbollah is not. And you'll see in a moment that it may be getting stronger without even using weapons.

And later, one of California's worst fires. Much of it still raging out of control. Why firefighters are having such a hard time putting it out, when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: Right now in the Middle East a few thousand Israeli troops remain inside Lebanon. Israel has been reluctant to pull them out since many issues remain unresolved. The biggest issue, what to do with Hezbollah. The group, deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and certainly Israel, has not disarmed. And it is even gaining popularity without using weapons.

CNN's Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler takes a look.


BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In south Lebanon, Israeli troops operate a checkpoint lingering in patches of land they still occupy. In this area, so long controlled by Hezbollah, it is as if suddenly the militants have melt away. Their rockets now invisible as international peacekeeping troops, along with the Lebanese army patrol the border with Israel.

This is a military mission with a political goal. The first cautious step toward accomplishing what Israel failed to achieve, rid Lebanon of the armed militants.

But while Hezbollah's considerable military force was without doubt damaged; as a public force, thanks in large part to a continued flow of money from its sponsors, Iran and Syria, Hezbollah is rebuilding. Strengthening its popular support through its charity operations. Providing even cash grants to war victims. In many cases winning hearts and minds because it is providing even more than the Lebanese government itself. And that has Western analysts concerned about the future.

ROBERT HUNTER, RAND CORPORATION: They're the ones taking a lead in reconstruction. They're the ones who are taking a lead in providing water and food and help and everything else for the local people. We, in the outside world, dropped the ball. We let them get back in business instead of coming in and doing the job ourselves.

SADLER: In the capital, Beirut, Lebanese Muslims break the day- long fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Lebanese are trickling back home, but their plans are often fluid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was thinking to live here permanently, but after the war, maybe not now.

SADLER (on camera): That sense of uncertainty hangs over the government, as well. With Hezbollah presenting a very real political threat to the U.S. backed administration of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

(Voice-over): Hezbollah already has two members of parliament in Siniora's cabinet, but wants still more power. In fact, it's demanding a new unity government tilting toward Syria and its staunch alley, Iran.

So, as the prime minister seeks Western support to rebuild and stabilize this war-torn country, analysts here say the prime minister walks on eggshells.

RAMI KHOURI, COLUMNIST, DAILY STAR: He has to be careful not to be seen to be bringing in Western aid to confront Hezbollah and Iranian aid. That's a deadly trajectory.

SADLER: The hopes of this country summed up by one Beirut resident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To prove that Lebanon can always come out from ashes and fly again.

SADLER: But the danger for the government here and its Western allies is a phoenix (ph) rising on the wings of Hezbollah.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.


ROBERTS: The war between Israel and Lebanon caused billions of dollars in damage and took a heavy human toll, as well. Here's the raw data. More than 1,000 Lebanese were killed, most of them civilians. More than 4,000 were wounded. On the Israeli side, 41 civilians and 118 soldiers died. More than 1,000 Israelis were wounded. There is still a lot of questions about whether the cease-fire can last. Just ahead, some insight from those who are seeing the peace process first hand.

We're covering all the angles. 360 next.


ROBERTS: As we told you before the break, the cease-fire is holding between Israel and Hezbollah, though neither side seems to be following the rules. Israeli troops are still in Lebanon, and Hezbollah is still armed. Not exactly what the United Nations called for.

Earlier I discussed the fragile truce with Dan Gillerman. He's the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.


ROBERTS: Ambassador Gillerman, there are still thousands of Israeli troops in southern Lebanon. They were supposed to have all pulled out by October 1. When will Israel pull out of Lebanon for good?

DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, Israel has always said that it has no intention in staying in Lebanon one second more than is absolutely necessary. But we also said that we would not leave until the international force and the Lebanese army have been deployed. And the actual resolution -- the Resolution 71 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops in parallel with the international force and the Lebanese army.

We're not seeing enough robustness, enough forcefulness, enough determination on the part of the international force or the Lebanese army. We are hearing statements from commanders about the fact they are only there to observe and to advise, that they don't have the mandate or the capability to actually enforce the resolution, disarm Hezbollah.

And I hope that the security council, the United Nations, and all of the people responsible will make a very real effort to make sure that those people actually do their job. That's what they were sent there to do. That's what the international community expects them to do and that's what they have to do if we want it to be a totally new reality in our neighborhood and in our region.

ROBERTS: On that point about the effectiveness of the U.N. force and ability of Lebanese military to police the area, there are some reports that Hezbollah is returning to the border. What do you know about that?

GILLERMAN: Well, Hezbollah has in certain places returned to the border. They have been making their presence very well known in a very demonstrative way in hoisting their flags. And this is another reason why we would like to see the force deployed quickly in order to actually carry out what is the heart and the core of the resolution, and that is actually making southern Lebanon totally clean of and free of Hezbollah and disarm Hezbollah. Because if that doesn't happen, then the whole purpose of what happened over the last few months and of the international community's resolve in reaching that resolution would be defeated.

ROBERTS: Ambassador Gillerman, Hassan Nasrallah, as you know, came out very recently and said that there is no army in the world that can disarm Hezbollah. Is that an indication, do you think, that he plans on hanging onto his arms or is that just bravado?

GILLERMAN: Well, I think there's a lot of bravado there. I think that Hezbollah was very significantly hurt and I think Nasrallah is doing this more for local consumption than for actually speaking the truth and displaying the facts.

But there is no doubt that Hezbollah still has some capacity. That capacity is very dangerous and what we must all understand and remember is that Hezbollah is not there on its own. Hezbollah is the proxy of and the hired killer of Iran and it is the Iranian influence, the poisonous and very brutal and dangerous influence of Tehran and Iran which must be brought to an end in Lebanon if we want to see a free Lebanon and a safe Israel.

ROBERTS: Well, certainly, Ambassador Gillerman, peace between Israel and Lebanon is certainly in the interest of many people in this world.

Ambassador Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

GILLERMAN: Thank you very much. Thank you.


ROBERTS: And joining me now from Washington is Hisham Melhem. He is the Washington bureau chief of Annahar, a Lebanese newspaper. He's also a host for the television network, Al-Arabia (ph).

Hisham Melhem, how powerful is Hezbollah in Lebanon now? More powerful than they were before the war? Less?

HISHAM MELHEM, ANNAHAR D.C. BUREAU CHIEF: John, clearly Hezbollah retained a great deal of its organizational military and political capabilities. And we have seen that in the way they have mobilized hundreds of thousands of their supporters last week in the so called divine victory rally.

At the same time, Hezbollah, notwithstanding the public bravado and the challenge that they are posing to the Lebanese government, Hezbollah is also beginning to feel the heat from the Lebanese government, from various players in the region, from the international community and from the new environment that was created in south Lebanon, south of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where you have now 50,000 Lebanese troops, along with 5,000 troops from the international community, under the banner of the UNIFIL. And there is a conflict now and there's a great deal of competition and pressure between the Lebanese government on the one hand and Hezbollah over the interpretation of 1701 -- Resolution 1701 where the Lebanese government is trying to give a broader interpretation of the mandates which would allow the Lebanese government to have a robust monitoring of the Lebanese borders with Syria, as well as the territorial border of Lebanon through the Turks and German navies.

So there is this conflict going on at the same time between the Lebanese government on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other hand.

In the south, you have the Lebanese army and international community operating above ground. Unfortunately, Hezbollah is operating underground.

ROBERTS: At that rally, Hisham, that we just saw those pictures of that you talked about as well, Hassan Nasrallah said that Hezbollah has 20,000 Katyusha rockets. Well, they only ever had probably 12,000 to 15,000. They claim to have more now than they did before the war, even though they fired off about 4,000 of them.

Do you expect that Hezbollah is ever going to disarm?

MELHEM: I don't think Hezbollah is going to disarm any time in the immediate future. I don't think 1701 -- Resolution 1701 calls for the disarmament at this stage. I think there is some sort of unwritten consensus among the United States, the Europeans and the Lebanese government that at this stage people will be satisfied if Hezbollah is deprived of its ability to move around logistically in the south, south of the Litani River, and that the issue of disarmament will be discussed and may be implemented later on.

Nobody is going to push the Lebanese government to confront Hezbollah and to try to disarm them by force. Nobody is going to expect that to be happening any time soon.

But if you deprive Hezbollah from disarmament, if you prevent Iran and Syria from rearming Hezbollah, if you make it very difficult for Hezbollah to operate south of the Litani River, at this, most people will be satisfied with this.

I think Hezbollah is exaggerating its military capabilities. I don't think they have 20,000 rockets. And as you remember, John, you were there. They launched 4,000 rockets. They ended up killing 42 Israeli civilians. One-third of them Palestinians. Hezbollah's main performance really against the Israelis took place on Lebanese soil in the Lebanese villages in the south.

So, I think Hezbollah realizes that there are new conditions and new environment in the south and behind this public bravado, there is concern on the part of Hezbollah that many Lebanese communities, many Lebanese leaders, even forces within the Shiite community are challenging Hezbollah, its relationship with Iran. And they're even challenging Nasrallah, who until recently was like a Lebanese icon, the untouchable. Not anymore. ROBERTS: Well, that's going to be an interesting dynamic to follow. Thanks very much for that Hisham. Appreciate it.

MELHEM: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: No cease-fire in the battle you are about to see. Firefighters have spent weeks trying to stop a wildfire that's now one of the largest on record. What's making it such a monster? When 360 continues.


ROBERTS: The so-called day fire in southern California is now the fifth largest fire in the state's history. Even with thousands of firefighters battling the blaze for nearly a month now, more than 160,000 acres have gone up in smoke.

But today, things did appear to slow down some and fire officials say they are finally feeling optimistic about getting the beast under control.

Peter Viles reports.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 25 days it has outfoxed the firefighters shifting in one direction and then doubling back. But it's when the wind blows that it gets down right mean. A fire tornado, two of them, broke out Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of them, two of them! Oh, one next to it!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They merged. They merged. It came out the back.

VILES: Roughly 200 feet high, the tornado jumped fire lines, threatening the mountain village of Lockwood Valley.

STEVE MUELLER, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY: It picked up cardboard boxes, chairs and other items. And stuff was just flying a round. I've never seen anything like that.

VILES: Many residents packed up and left their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just hope it's here when we get back.

VILES: The village was spared, but the day fire, so-called because it started on Labor Day, has now blackened a wilderness area the size of Chicago and is still less than 50 percent contained.

(On camera): The biggest challenge in fighting this fire has been the terrain. It is so steep and so rugged up in these hills that when fire flares like it is right now behind me, it's almost impossible to get in here with a fire engine or a bulldozer to fight these flames. (Voice-over): When winds are calm, firefighters attack from the air, dumping water, even using a DC-10 to spread fire retardant. On the ground, hot shots, specially trained ground crews, are doing what they can.

CHERYL GOETZ, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY: Right now we're flying crews in, dropping them in. We call it coyote and out. They stay in for three or four days. They live off of the supplies that are dropped there.

VILES: But when the fire jumped lines this week, it ran into valleys where firefighters had to fight back with hoses and bulldozers.

More than 4,000 firefighters are now battling the blaze. This group just checked in from New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So dry out here. This stuff won't go out.

VILES: On day 25, the fire itself was hard to find. But these firefighters know the day fire is not done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're a little tired. The fire lays down and then it picks back up again. So, it has been a long ordeal.

VILES: An ordeal with no end in sight.

Peter Viles for CNN, Lockwood Valley, California.


ROBERTS: From fire now to a fire and brimstone preacher.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am greater than him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, because I teach better than him. He spoke in parables. I teach wisdom and revelations.


ROBERTS: More popular than Jesus Christ? We haven't heard that since the Beetles. Millions of people believe this guy. We'll take a look inside a religious sect that is turning heads, when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: Preacher Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda is nothing, if not a self-made man. His own religious sect in a Miami warehouse, he now spreads his word via his own satellite channel, with worshipers following him like rock star.

But his lavish lifestyle and curious believes have more than a few people wondering if he's suffering well, from a Messiah complex.

CNN's John Zarrella reports.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nine bodyguards surround 60-year-old Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda. Dressed in a finely tailored suit, he greets his followers as he walks a red carpet into a 500 seat auditorium packed with members of his congregation. His presence brings tears of joy and an outpouring of song.

De Jesus is founder and leader of Creciendo en Gracia, or Growing in Grace. A religious sect that claims millions of members around the world, but there's no way to know for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You receive it, you accept it, you confess it, and it's going to be.

ZARRELLA: The sign on he pulpit looks like the American Eagle, but reads the government of God on earth. It is a sect with some very different beliefs.

JOSE LUIS DE JESUS MIRANDA, CHURCH LEADER: We don't believe in sin, we don't believe in the devil, we don't believe that there is such place like hell.

ZARRELLA: Which makes the ten commandments irrelevant.

DE JESUS MIRANDA: Those rules are good for the society, but not for the kingdom of God.

ZARRELLA: The truth is not found in the gospels, says de Jesus, but in letters of Paul. De Jesus once said he was a reincarnation of Paul. Then two years ago, he proclaimed himself Christ.

DE JESUS MIRANDA: Oh, I won't die. No, I won't die.

ZARRELLA: You're not dying?

DE JESUS MIRANDA: No, no, I won't die. Even if you tried to kill me.

ZARRELLA: And his followers believe him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The man Christ Jesus is here among us.

ZARRELLA: The Puerto Rican born de Jesus admits to drug use and spending time in jail as a youth. Now he claims God has merged with him.

DE JESUS MIRANDA: He said I will appear for the second time without relationship to sin and that's what I'm doing. I do greater things than Jesus of Nazareth. Much greater.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Greater than Jesus of Nazareth?

DE JESUS MIRANDA: Much greater.

ZARRELLA: Does that make you greater than Jesus?

DE JESUS MIRANDA: I am greater than him.

ZARRELLA: You are?

DE JESUS MIRANDA: Yes, because I teach better than him. He spoke in parables. I preach wisdom and revelation.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): He does not perform miracles, he says because the second coming is based on teaching and building the church. And his followers are not shy about their belief. They have confronted Catholics outside of church and held rallies in Miami. Tearing up religious writings of other faiths.

In El Salvador, they demonstrated outside a cathedral and smashed statues of Jesus

DE JESUS MIRANDA: Sometimes it gets out of hand because of the other people.

ZARRELLA (on camera): So you are blaming them?

DE JESUS MIRANDA: Yes, well they get wild. Not us.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): De Jesus's followers are also generous. Handing over envelopes of cash that go into his wife's purse.

JUAN SAAVEDRA, CHURCH MEMBER: There's many people that accuse us of giving everything to the apostle, 90 percent, 100 percent. That's not necessarily true.

ZARRELLA: His daughter, the church treasurer, says they brought in $1.4 million in donations last year, here in the United States. Most of it, they say, goes to expenses and running cable television networks here and in Latin America.

DE JESUS MIRANDA: The electricity, they send me a bill. Telephone, they send a bill. I go to take a plane, they charge me. We need money, John. The system down here is money.

ZARRELLA: His salary is reported as $136,000 a year. He lives richer than that. A lavish home. Expensive cars.

(On camera): You have got a beautiful -- what is that, a Rolex you're wearing?


ZARRELLA: A beautiful Rolex and the diamond encrusted ring there, and the gold chain.

DE JESUS MIRANDA: I don't only have one, I have three (UNINTELLIGIBLE), given by my beautiful people who love me so much. This is all free, you know, gifts that they give me. I can reject that.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): De Jesus' sect has all of the earmarks of a cult, says Expert Steve Hassan.

STEVE HASSAN, CULT EXPERT: Destructive religious cults are about fear, about control, about deception and manipulation and about making the leader wealthy and not about serving the downtrodden and the poor.

ZARRELLA: De Jesus' followers insist they are nothing like that.

AXEL POESSY, CHURCH MEMBER: They pick your friends, you pick your businesses, that kind of stuff. And here, it is like the whole world is ours. I mean, we don't even have documentation of who our members are. So how is it that we're a cult? I mean, it doesn't fit.

ZARRELLA: It's been 20 years since de Jesus founded Growing in Grace in a warehouse outside Miami. His ambitions are still growing.

DE JESUS MIRANDA: I'm going to change the whole world.

ZARRELLA: And that, he says, is why he's here.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


ROBERTS: More of 360 in just a moment. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Tomorrow, on "AMERICAN MORNING," a look at a unique new movie. When filmgoers go for sex and violence to get the crowds, why would some go in the opposite direction?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want them to walk out of the movie theater not only having seen a well-told story, but moved emotionally and moved spiritually.


ROBERTS: Can "Facing the Giants" win the hearts and souls of moviegoers? God's presence on the silver screen. That and all the earliest news, tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," starting at 6:00 a.m., Eastern.

And that's this edition of 360. For Anderson Cooper, I'm John Roberts. Thanks for joining us.

"LARRY KING" is next.

We'll see you tomorrow.


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