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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Cutting the Line; Palin's Media Blitz; Killings at the Canal; President Obama in South Korea

Aired November 18, 2009 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Our live coverage continues. In Missouri, a racially-charged trial is under way and one that's attracting national attention; several protests like this one.

An African-American school teacher named Heather Ellis is accused of assaulting police officers outside a Wal-Mart store and she could face 15 years if convicted. Her supporters claim Ellis is being victimized and that's because of the color of her skin.

Gary Tuchman joins us from Kennett Missouri with new information and the latest on the case. Gary what have you learned?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, some say it's a case of racial prejudice and degradation, others say it's the case of a rude profane and violent woman. 14 jurors, 12 Caucasians, two African-Americans, the reason its 14 is because there will be two alternates at the end of the trial.

Those two people don't know who they are yet but they will decide what's what. Twenty-four-year-old Heather Ellis says she was at a Wal-Mart three years ago, she was in a checkout line, 15-year-old cousin was in the other line and that line was going faster. She says she moved into that line.

People got angry and started yelling at her and started saying profanities, screaming and yelling. She said the customer behind her elbowed her.

Police eventually came and arrested her for disturbing the peace then brought her outside. She says one of the cops said to her quote, "Go back to the ghetto" and she say she was then assaulted by the cops.

Now, a very different story from prosecutors from the other side, a customer took the stand today, the customer who was behind her and that customer says that Heather Ellis said to her quote, "I will kick your blanking blank." They said that Heather Ellis started yelling and screaming.

We talked to the manager -- that's right, that manager is expected to testify tomorrow in the trial. We learned her testimony during an interview yesterday. She wouldn't go on camera but she told us that when she went to defuse the situation, Heather Ellis said to her, quote, "You are a stupid, uneducated Walmart employee" and that woman Kaye McDaniel then says she will testify she started throwing the f-bomb around with her. So a very different situation.

They say that she ultimately went outside with the police. The police arrested her and according to the prosecution, she then kicked one of the police officers and then hit one of the police officers in the mouth, splitting his lip.

So very different stories, there's a surveillance tape inside and outside the Wal-Mart and would figure that will tell you answers. We haven't seen the tape yet; it hasn't been shown in the court yet. But we're told by both sides the tape doesn't show her hitting the cop or the cop assaulting her. So we don't know if there will be any answers there.

Now, this woman Heather Ellis hasn't talked to reporters yet until she talked to us a few hours ago. Her comments, though, were limited.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Can you tell us, are you scared of them?

HEATHER ELLIS, DEFENDANT: I'm not at liberty to talk.

TUCHMAN: Can you talk your feelings about the trial starting; just a general statement like that?

ELLIS: I can't. I've been instructed not to speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to take the stand?

ELLIS: I have no idea.

TUCHMAN: Do you want to take the stand and tell your story? Can you just tell us that?

ELLIS: I can't. I was strongly encouraged not to speak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Gary, are Ellis and her family, are they alleging a racist cover-up, conspiracy; what are they alleging?

TUCHMAN: Yes. I mean, the family is making it very clear they don't think this was innocent, they think there's a history of racism here in Dunklin County, Missouri -- that's where we are -- right by the Arkansas line two minutes this way, Tennessee is 15 minutes this, that's what they say.

They say her father, her father who's a pastor, that this was an effort to just completely ruin her life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Is it possible that she did get angry and didn't want to disappoint her dad and mom who love her so much and it just got so far involved that she couldn't come out and tell you the exact truth? REV. NATHANIEL ELLIS, HEATHER ELLIS'S FATHER: No, no. No, Heather is this type of person. If she did something, she would admit to it. If my daughter was guilty, I would be the first one to tell her, "Sign the plea bargain."

But because I know she's not, she is standing for the truth and I'll stand with her and before we take it back, the Bible that I preached over 33 years, I'll eat it without no grease on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: How long is this trial going to take, do we know?

TUCHMAN: Well, Anderson, it started today. It supposed to be a quick trial; it could be over as early as tomorrow. That's when prosecutors and defense attorneys expect it to go to the grand jury.

One thing I should point out to you, Anderson, and it's very important and the father, the pastor here at the church alluded to this fascinating fact.

Two years ago -- because this happened three years ago -- two years ago Heather Ellis was offered a plea bargain. And the prosecutors have listened if you say you're guilty, you'll get no jail time, just probation. But the family and Heather Ellis refuse to accept that. They say she's innocent. And they say she will continue to fight even though she faces the possibility of 15 years in prison if she's found guilty.

COOPER: That's a long -- a long amount of time. Gary, thanks.

So is Heather Ellis the victim of racism or is she the aggressor who provoked the violent encounter with police.

Let's talk about the case with the evidence. With us now, Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins, who's a prominent supporter of Ellis; also with us, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Dr. Watkins, it's good to have you on. It's seems to me the employees, customers, police officers who witnessed this are all essentially saying the same thing, that Heather Ellis was the aggressor, flew into a tirade. If that's true, do you think this still all about racism as you claim?

BOYCE WATKINS, PROFESSOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: Well, the problem, Anderson -- and I say this as the son of a cop -- is that cops work together. And sometimes the credibility of an officer's statement can't necessarily be relied upon.

In this case, the ACLU has gathered data on Kennett's police cord and effectively it's been shown that Kennett police tend to stop minorities more often than other ethnic groups, they tend to also search minorities more than other ethnic groups even when they don't have more contrabands.

So at the end of the day, while it's tempting to just say, ok, the cops are all saying the same thing, we should believe them, we have to realize that the cops are going to work together.

COOPER: But are you basing this mainly on the idea that you believe what Ellis is saying?

WATKINS: Well, I think that her credibility isn't that much weaker than that of the officers, if at all. You know, the truth of the matter is, that when I went down to Kennett, Missouri for a rally that we held this weekend, there were a lot of people there, particularly people of color, who don't feel that the justice system serves their needs in an appropriate way.

COOPER: Jeff, what do you make of this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, somebody is obviously lying about what happened here. I mean, Heather Ellis's version is completely different from both the police officers and the witnesses, at least in the statements I've read.

The issue here to me is not so much what happened, because it really doesn't look very good for Heather Ellis's position there. The question I have is why is this case a felony? Why is this...

COOPER: Fifteen years.

TOOBIN: Why is she looking at 15 years for a scuffle that seems to justify her being thrown out of the store and perhaps told never to darken the door of this particular Walmart again. But making a huge criminal case out of it seems like wildly overzealous prosecution.

COOPER: Dr. Watkins, I mean, do you -- what do you think is going to happen in this trial? Do you think she really could -- will get 15 years if found guilty?

WATKINS: Well, I don't think she's going to get 15 years but I don't think she's going to get a fair trial. We really have to ask this fundamental question. Are these streets going to be safer with Heather Ellis in prison than they are right now? And the answer is absolutely no. In this particular case, Helen -- excuse me -- Heather made the mistake of telling the truth.

She said look, I'm not going to sign this plea deal because I didn't do anything wrong. And so when you don't do that, when you challenge the power of the state, what happens is, people come back and try to crush you. So to some extent you can argue that this is a bit of a vendetta on the part of the prosecutor.

COOPER: Will -- can evidence, I mean, if the NAACP does in fact have evidence that there is a -- crimes are reported differently or treated differently, if an African-American is involved in this country, is that something that could enter into this trial?

TOOBIN: Almost certainly not. Trials are about specific sets of facts. General patterns are not -- no trial judge I'm aware of would allow that kind of evidence. You know, prosecutorial discretion is an enormously powerful tool. COOPER: Is it possible, Dr. Watkins, that this is just one of those situations where different people saw it differently and tempers flare very quickly, somebody cuts into a line, words are exchanged and things just, you know, flare up and then with adrenaline, people see things differently.

I mean, is that -- is it possible or do you think it's as stark as a group of people are lying and Ellis is telling the truth?

WATKINS: I think that if you look at a case like Heather Ellis, you have to ask yourself if she were a say a fraternity boy from Duke University who got a little wild on the weekends, and got a little belligerent would we even tolerate the idea that this individual should serve any prison time for that behavior?

Now, I'm not here to say that Heather didn't yell at an officer or didn't use curse words or whatever the case may be. I don't know.

But what I am here to say is that there's nothing that I've seen, no piece of evidence -- and I've watched this videotape carefully -- there's nothing I've seen that says that there was anything that could have happened in that Wal-Mart on that day that justifies sending this woman to prison.

So what I would really -- would like to see is for the prosecutor to get together with the attorney and with the family and come up with something that will allow them both to save face. But then I want an investigation, I want to see the Attorney General of Missouri and the Attorney General Eric Holder, jump in and find out what's going on in the boot hill area because Heather's case is really just the tip of the iceberg. It's not the iceberg itself.

COOPER: Dr. Watkins, I appreciate you on tonight and Jeff Toobin as well, thanks.

Ahead on the program, our special series, "Killings at the Canal: The Army Tapes."

Tonight, a taped confession obtained exclusively by CNN. You're going to hear an Army sergeant confessing his shooting two Iraqis; he's now serving a long prison sentence. You'll also hear from his wife who stands by him.

The question is was this murder as he was convicted of or battlefield justice? You can decide for yourself.

Also Sarah Palin is selling books and speaking out and taking shots at some of her favorite targets. The "Raw Politics" ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Sarah Palin launched her bookstore today in Grand Rapids, Michigan where she was greeted like a rock star. The book signing event; hundreds of fans began lining up outside Barnes and Nobles last night armed with sleeping bags and snow gear. Hundreds more showed up this morning but were turned away. Palin continued the media blitz on Fox's Hannity Show tonight where she weighed in on the Fort Hood shootings saying that political correctness caused officials to miss warning signs. She said they should have been profiling Major Nidal Hasan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Fort Hood was an act of terrorism?

SARAH PALIN, AUTHOR, "GOING ROGUE": I certainly do. And I think that there were massive warning flags that were missed all over the place. And I think that was quite unfortunate that to me it was a fear of being politically incorrect to not -- I'm going to use the word, profile this guy.

Profiling in the sense of finding out what his radical beliefs were. The simple things like looking at his business card that had the...

HANNITY: Yes.

PALIN: ... secret code word for who it was that he actually...

HANNITY: How about the contact the al Qaeda, or trying to contact al Qaeda.

PALIN: Right, right. Now, because I use the word "profile" I'm going to get clobbered tomorrow morning. The liberals, their heads are just going to be spinning. They're going to say she is radical, she is extreme. But I say, profiling in the context of doing whatever we can to save innocent American lives, I'm all for it then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: All right, we should point out that what they're referring to are business cards found in Nidal Hasan's apartment. They had the initials S.O.A. on them believed to be an abbreviation of Soldier of Allah. Some have said it was a sign that he was a Jihadist.

But CNN's reporting shows that abbreviation has no known connection to al Qaeda or any other extremist group. It's simply sometimes used as an affirmation of someone's belief to Allah.

Earlier, I talked to James Carville and Ralph Reed about Palin's remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: James, has your head exploded?

JAMES CARVILLE, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No my head had exploded but I think a lot of people in the military's head exploded. They actually are trying to recruit Muslim soldiers or sailors or Marines or airmen and they are like over 3,000 Muslims in the Army. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, very concerned about that, because these are soldiers; just like I was a Marine.

If you're a Muslim or whatever you are, you're a Marine first. I think that the military community is going to be -- heads are going to be spinning a lot more than liberals right now.

COOPER: Ralph, what about it? I mean, her definition of what profiling is, she doesn't exactly say racial profiling or...

RALPH REED, CHAIRMAN, FAITH AND FREEDOM COALITION: Right.

COOPER: ... she sort of defines it in a way I've never heard it defined before. But I mean, what do you make of that comment but also just how she's doing in general reintroducing herself?

REED: Well, I think she's doing terrific. I mean, if I could just maybe just put on a political strategist hat for a minute. I mean, this is a woman who really kind of had a meteoric kind of explosion on the national scene, came out of nowhere. Most Americans didn't know who she was. And she had a great launch at the convention in Minneapolis when McCain picked her.

This book tour has given her a second introduction. She's going to sell an estimated million and a half to two million books. She's got a huge following out there. I personally think she's got a very bright future in American politics. And frankly, whether you agree or disagree with her, to have a woman who is clearly a very talented, gifted, attractive, bright, with good political instincts as part of our national conversation, I think she should be welcomed, whether you agree with everything she's saying or not.

COOPER: James, is she good for the Republican Party?

CARVILLE: I don't know. She's good for us. I think she's compelling. Look, she was discussing conservatism on Rush Limbaugh and with Sean Hannity. I mean, look, they're trying to portray her as an intellectual heft in the Republican Party. I don't know about that. Though, I'll let the Republicans decide that.

But in terms of being an interesting compelling person, I agree completely. And she's a real force out there. And she's a compelling person. And we'll see where she goes. She'll add a lot of depth to the party, I'll tell you that.

COOPER: James, are you intentionally saying good things about her so that the Republicans will keep her around as much as possible? Is there a secret strategy on your part?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't have problem -- the secret strategy is I like talking about her. I think she's compelling and it's not me. She's getting the forum on Rush's show, on Sean's show. She was the person that was discovered by the "Weekly Standard." She's drawing these huge crowds.

So I mean...

REED: Well, can I take a crack? Can I... CARVILLE: Look at what she's doing. She is a major dynamo in the modern Republican Party and that's a fact. And whether I like it or not, I don't mind it, but it's a fact.

COOPER: Well Ralph, should Republicans be concerned that James is kind of encouraging this?

REED: No I mean, look, I like James, but with all due respect, we're not really going to take his advice on where we ought to take our party anymore than he would try to take ours about his.

But look, the reality is this Anderson, she's a major asset and I'll tell you why she's a major asset. Because she can go in for a candidate, like she did for Saxby Chambliss in a senate runoff in Georgia last November. She can raise a million dollars in an hour. She went to four stops and had a crowd of 20,000 to 25,000 people. She energizes the grassroots and I think -- I don't want to speak for her, but I think there might be a little chess going on, on the Republican side.

I mean, she may be the most effective decoy in American politics today. Everybody is firing all their artillery at her. If she goes out there with her pack and with her personal appearances and raises money and energizes the grassroots and lots of people get elected, who really had the last laugh here? I think maybe she and the Republicans will.

CARVILLE: I'm not criticizing -- I'm merely pointing out how powerful she is in the Republican Party.

REED: Right.

CARVILLE: She has all of these crowds. I mean, that -- whether you like her or not, I agree with you, whether you like her or not, she definitely brings some depth to the party.

COOPER: No doubt about that. James Carville, Ralph Reed, good to have you on. Thank you.

REED: It's good to be with you.

CARVILLE: Appreciate it.

COOPER: All right, next on 360, a soldier confesses to murder. We have the tape, we have his words about what happened to four Iraqi detainees during the war. But is what he did actually justified because of the impossible situation he found himself in? You can decide for yourself tonight. Text your questions to on the case to AC360 or 22360; standard rates apply.

Also ahead, what the Secretary of Health and Human Services is now saying about the breast cancer screenings debate. A lot of confusion she is now recommending. We'll tell you what she recommends for women now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Tonight, confessions of a soldier convicted of murder, in his own words. You're going to hear why and how he and two other Army sergeants gunned down four Iraqi detainees in Baghdad. The victims were shot execution style. Now, the Americans were charged with a crime have all been found guilty.

But some believe they should be praised, not punished. Tonight, in our continuing special report we're going to let you be the judge. CNN exclusively obtained 23 and a half hours of interrogation tapes which include the confession you're about to see for the first time and only on CNN.

Was it murder or was it battlefield justice? Here's Abbie Boudreau of our Special Investigations Unit with "Killings at the Canal: The Army Tapes."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're watching an interrogation.

SGT. MICHAEL LEAHY, U.S. ARMY: I'm not sure if that is...

BOUDREAU: It would take hours and yield a chilling murder confession. In time, three U.S. Army sergeants, including this man, Sergeant Michael Leahy, would be found guilty of premeditated murder in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After you fired two shots and you shot them, how did you feel at that point in time?

LEAHY: Scared.

I made a huge mistake in my life that I know I have to accept the consequences for it.

BOUDREAU: Michael Leahy married Jamie in a hasty civil ceremony between his deployments to Iraq. But they wanted a traditional ceremony and set a date. Jamie bought a dress.

BOUDREAU (on camera): Oh, wow. Do you love it?

JAMIE LEAHY, WIFE OF SERGEANT MICHAEL LEAHY: I do. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen. And it just looked wonderful on.

BOUDREAU: Did you ever have the ceremony and the reception?

J. LEAHY: No, we haven't yet, because our plans were in February of 2008. So -- but the investigation started in January. So ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you tell her?

LEAHY: I told her that. I said, "Honey, I'm going to tell you something and I understand if you don't forgive me, but I'm not a good person because I murdered someone in Iraq. I killed someone in Iraq."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not sure...

BOUDREAU (voice-over): As the investigation broadened, more and more men were interviewed. This man never charged. Interrogators knew the murders would grow into a scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know about you but I wasn't at Abu Ghraib. But I can tell you half the time I'm walking down the streets, that's what people think when they're looking at us. Oh there's those damn Americans that abused those poor prisoners. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) frat boys get abused worse during pledge week in college than that crap.

But it's what the media made of it. What the hell do you think they're going to make of this? This is going to be ugly because it is.

BOUDREAU: And this is how it all emerged. A platoon was on patrol. Someone in this neighborhood was shooting at them. They took four suspects into custody. And instead of following Army rules for detainees, 13 of the soldiers brought them to this canal. Three of them, three sergeants, then executed them.

For months, the killings at the canal were a secret. Then one of the 13 talked. The investigation began. At this point in the interrogation, Leahy had already admitted he murdered one detainee. But listen closely. He also admits he shot two times.

LEAHY: I fired twice. I fired and like this other guy fell back on me and when he fell back on me I don't know why I fired again. It wasn't at him. Like my arm went up to the right and I fired again. I'm pretty sure it didn't hit anybody but I'm not going to say that because I don't know for sure. I wasn't even looking when I shot the second time. My arm just went up to the right.

BOUDREAU: The interrogator pushes. Something isn't right. Remember, four Iraqis were murdered. So what really happened if Leahy shot twice?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No reasonable person is going to believe that you shot and then this guy fell back on you and then your arm went at this angle. If you shot this dude, just say you shot him.

LEAHY: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just be honest about it.

LEAHY: It is true. This guy did fall and my arm...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't doubt that that guy fell on you, but if you purposely shot this guy Mike, just say it. You've already manned up. You've already shown that's what you're made of.

I know it's hard, but I know that's what happened dude. You wouldn't have so much question in your mind right now if you didn't know what happened. And I know it's hard.

LEAHY: You're right and it...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just tell us what happened, Mike.

LEAHY: I'm like 80 percent sure, yes I turned and shot this guy, but I'm not 100 percent sure I turned and shot this guy.

BOUDREAU: Why would Sergeant Leahy admit to one murder but be unsure if he shot a second man as well? Was he hiding something, trying to protect someone?

INVESTIGATOR: You're not a killer. You are not a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) murderer. You acted way out of character and shot somebody; something that you would have never ever done and something you'll never do again. And you would have never done it without that influence. That's something that's extraordinary in your life. It's something that you're never going to forget.

LEAHY: I say yes, I shot, I shot the other guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok.

All right. Well, talk to me about exactly how it happened. What you remember?

LEAHY: I shot. The guy did fall and I did turn and the other guy was right there in front of me and I shot again. And that guy, he didn't, that guy didn't die right away. That guy fell down and he was still, I don't want to say crying. He was making noises.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gurgling?

LEAHY: And I hate to point other fingers, but...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dude, say it. You're not pointing fingers.

LEAHY: I know later on, later on -- First Sergeant came and shot that guy in the chest. Now, that's what I know about the situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok.

BOUDREAU: Leahy is saying he actually did shoot a second detainee. But the man did not die. Leahy was trying not to reveal that First Sergeant John Hatley then shot the Iraqi in the chest.

(on camera): Did you ever think that your husband was capable of killing like this?

J. LEAHY: No, I didn't. That's why I am trying to understand what was going on in his head, what was going on around him that could bring him to something, a situation like that.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Her husband, Sergeant Michael Leahy and First Sergeant John Hatley, were sentenced to life in prison. Sergeant First Class Joseph Mayo pleaded guilty and got 35 years. Earlier this year, all three were granted clemency, their sentences reduced. Michael Leahy is now serving a 20 year sentence at Fort Leavenworth.

(on camera): What do you want people to know?

J. LEAHY: Just that Michael is a good person. That he has done a lot of good and he will continue to do a lot of good no matter what happens to him in this life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Yes, it's so sad. Especially I mean she was planning her wedding, she thought it was all about to start. You talked to two other wives, what did they have to say?

BOUDREAU: Well talked to Kim Hatley and we talked to Joanna Mayo. And Kim Hatley is the kind of woman who says I refuse to let myself cry, even in private because she has to protect her husband, who is in prison and her son, who's 19 fighting in Afghanistan.

And then you have Joanna Mayo. And she has a totally different type of story. She has three young kids, aging -- their ages ranging from 11 to 15 months. And she is legally blind. She cannot drive. She relied on her husband for everything.

And yes, it's a very, very sad situation. All of these women want their husbands home.

COOPER: Sure.

BOUDREAU: But it's going to be a long time before that happens.

COOPER: The four detainees who were killed, did their families ever report them missing?

BOUDREAU: No. That's what's also interesting about this. No one ever reported these men missing. Investigators went back to the canal about a year later and they went diving and looking for the bodies, they never found the bodies and never were able to identify who these men were. So these are nameless, faceless Iraqis that we're talking about.

COOPER: But these soldiers were convinced that they were insurgents; that they have been involved, that they found them near weapons.

BOUDREAU: The soldiers...

COOPER: But they didn't have enough evidence to give them up.

BOUDREAU: Exactly, they thought these were the men who were firing upon them. They found them, they found weapons with them and they felt they had the right men.

COOPER: Abbie, it's fascinating. Sergeant Leahy and the other two convicted soldiers are inmates at Fort Leavenworth. You can go to AC360.com. You can actually see pictures of the prison, we're going to have more with Abbie in a moment. Sergeant Leahy confessed but he says he's not a murder.

Abbie joins us after the break as we dig deeper. We're going to talk to a former military psychologist and we take a closer look at the soldier's state of mind during that interrogation and also during the alleged killings.

We're going to take your questions. Text them to AC360 or 22360; that's AC360 or 22360, standard rates apply.

Also, all that confusion over breast cancer screenings; it is confusing, no doubt about it. Today: the Obama administration weighing in, they gave their own recommendations on when women should get them. We'll tell you what their recommendations are, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Murder on the battlefield, and the mindset of a soldier. We're back with our continuing "360 Special: Killings at the Canal, the Army Tapes". As we told you before the break, three Army sergeants were convicted of murdering four Iraqi detainees; blindfolded, zip tied and shot execution style.

The details of what happened were revealed in 23-and-a-half hours of Army interrogation tapes that we've obtained exclusively by CNN. But opinions vary widely on whether this was a case of battlefield justice or murder as the courts decided.

On those tapes, Sergeant Michael Leahy admits the killings. He's the only one who confessed on tape. His wife, as you heard, stands by him; she calls her husband a good person. Some go further, believing the soldiers are heroes who carried out battlefield justice against a ruthless enemy.

We're digging deeper. With me again: special investigations unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau. Also with us, David Bellavia, a former Army staff sergeant who wrote about his experiences in Iraq in his book "House to House"; and Larry James, a former military psychologist, a retired Army colonel. He was the chief military psychologist at Abu Ghraib.

Larry, it's fascinating to watch. I've never seen Army interrogation tapes like this. To watch the interrogator calling the soldier "dude", telling him he manned up by confessing to one of the murders, is this a common technique in interrogations?

LARRY JAMES, FORMER MILITARY PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, Anderson, I don't know that I can say it's common to refer to someone that you're interviewing or interrogating as "dude". But I think it's safe for me to say that the interrogator was attempting to build rapport, keep the person he was interviewing relaxed, not attempting to coerce any statements or confessions out of him, but to focus on building a relationship with him.

COOPER: And not in any way being judgmental, just sort of trying to feel like I'm on your side, I'm just trying to get you to remember what happened.

JAMES: Right.

COOPER: You know, David -- sorry, go ahead.

JAMES: Exactly. The -- no, the more that the detective or the interrogator can keep someone relaxed and calm and keep the person talking, the higher the likelihood that the person is going to talk, be relaxed and be as open and honest with the interrogator.

COOPER: David, it's tough for anyone to see these tapes, to see a soldier confess to a crime like this. But it's got to be especially tough for anyone who served in a war zone because you know the kind of pressures and dangers these guys are dealing with every day.

DAVID BELLAVIA, FORMER, U.S. ARMY STAFF SERGEANT: After yesterday's segment, I talked to a bunch of my Army buddies. And your audience is probably looking at this and thinking, these guys were heroes before this happened.

You know, I guess what I would want to say to someone who hasn't served is that every day in a combat zone, you're evaluating threats. You're -- you don't think about your spouse and your kid after you're killing terrorists and after you see your friends in grotesque positions on the ground dead. Death is a bland oblivion at that point.

You literally live in the moment. You don't think about tomorrow. Tomorrow you might be on the street dead.

This isn't temporary insanity. But what this is, these are soldiers who believe that by killing these four guys they were going to save scores of their friends. It's criminal, and it's wrong and they should have relied on the Army values that we all live by. But this was the mindset.

I don't believe they were living for tomorrow. I think they were surrounded by death and they took it upon themselves to make a call. And it was a horrible mistake.

COOPER: You might be surprised, David, to learn that actually overwhelmingly among our viewers -- and this is has been -- our story's been online all day -- people are overwhelmingly supportive of these three soldiers in -- not necessarily in what they did, but supportive in thinking they shouldn't be serving these long prison sentences.

Abbie, we have a text 360 question from a viewer in Tennessee. "Were the soldiers following direct orders?"

BOUDREAU: No, they were not following orders. By all accounts, this was the first sergeant's idea to go out and take care of them themselves. And the other sergeants decided they were going to follow him and do the same. It was their choice. They made that decision.

COOPER: Larry, from a psychological standpoint, put yourself in the soldier's shoes. What do you think happens in a case like this, you know, in the heat of the moment that makes somebody do this?

JAMES: First of all, I want to back up because I absolutely agree with what David was saying. I think that these soldiers got caught up in the heat, the moment, in the fog of war. But the fact of the matter is there are literally thousands of soldiers serving on the battlefield right now in Afghanistan and Iraq who are serving in as difficult, as tough circumstances and follow the law.

COOPER: Right.

JAMES: We are -- we are taught to disobey unlawful orders. So if the first sergeant ordered these other sergeants to kill someone unlawfully, these soldiers had -- although it's difficult to disobey your superiors, but we're taught to disobey unlawful orders.

COOPER: David, these soldiers originally were sentenced to life in prison. The sentences have been reduced. They're still facing a lot of years behind bars at Ft. Leavenworth. Do you think the punishment fits the crime?

BELLAVIA: I don't, Anderson. It's really tough for us when we seen Guantanamo inmates being released because they're detained in Tora Bora with weapons. But yet we're told that they're not a threat to the American population. Then we have guys in solitary confinement.

We're hearing stories from guys in Leavenworth that have to take vitamin supplements because they're not exposed to the sun enough. These are our guys that are -- Ft. Leavenworth is not a joke. This is a serious center -- these guys are locked up and they don't see 20 years for, you know, we heard from Sergeant Mayo's wife. This woman is blind with kids.

This is a criminal, horrible act. I don't believe that this is -- I don't believe a jury of infantrymen would look at this, taking all the circumstances into account, would give these guys 20 years. I think that's unjust.

COOPER: It's a difficult situation no matter how you look at it.

Larry James, David Bellavia, it's good to have you on again; Abbie Boudreau as well. We'll have more on this tomorrow. Abby brings us part three of the story; an exclusive interview with a former soldier who after months of keeping this deadly secret broke his silence.

Why? Why did he do that? Two very different answers.

Tomorrow, be sure to watch the one-hour CNN documentary on this story this Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: All right. Let's take a look at some other important stories we're following. Erica Hill has the "360 Bulletin" -- Erica. ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a federal judge has ruled the Army Corps of Engineers' failure to properly maintain a navigation channel led to massive flooding in Hurricane Katrina. Now the ruling is a victory for residents, who've argued Katrina is actually a manmade disaster caused by the poor upkeep of the city's levee system.

A South Carolina ethics panel says Governor Mark Sanford could face charges he violated state law; that decision coming after a three-month investigation into his travel and campaign finances. The investigation began after Sanford disappeared in June to visit his mistress in Argentina.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says now is a critical moment for Afghanistan. The secretary in Kabul for a surprise visit; she'll be attending Hamid Karzai's inauguration to his second term. Karzai is under tough international pressure to clean up corruption in his government. A senior U.S. official tells CNN Clinton will deliver a tough message on the need to show results.

And Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius weighing in on the breast cancer screening controversy; Sebelius says the recommendation that most women in their 40s should avoid routine mammograms is not government policy and that women should talk to their doctors and make the decision that is right for them.

And the Maersk Alabama, you'll recall, attacked by Somali pirates. Well, it happened again, the second pirate attack on the ship in seven months. This time, though, they were apparently scared off by private guards who fired their guns and a high-decibel noise device.

You may remember the pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama in April. They took Captain Richard Phillips hostage for five days. You see him there.

COOPER: Yes. Amazing that they picked the same ship again.

HILL: What are the odds of that?

COOPER: All right. We're going to go live now to that joint news conference President Obama is holding with South Korean's president in Seoul. Dan Lothian is in Seoul, joins me by phone. Also joining me, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. But let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Do you envision any timeline between Korea and the United States in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue? Do you have any deadlines about it?

And also regarding the grand bargain proposal that you proposed to North Korea, how do you think that THE North Koreans will react to your grand bargain proposal? And you -- both of you mentioned during the result of your talks, but what kind of things did you discuss regarding the KORUS FTA? A question going out to President Obama on the KORUS FTA. The KORUS FTA is regarded here within Korea as something that will further strengthen bilateral relationship between Korea and the United States. And many Korean people are hopeful. We're hoping for the early ratification of the KORUS FTA.

And I'd just like to ask, Mr. President, of your strategic vision regarding the KORUS FTA? And as for the grand bargain proposal, I would just like to ask you how much you intend to cooperate with the South Koreans in implementing this?

LEE MYUNG-BAK, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I think we promised to ask one question to one leader, but I think you were asking many questions all at once.

First of all, on North Korean nuclear issue and convincing North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons program, it is not a simple matter. We know that for sure.

For the last 20 years or so, we've been dealing with the North Koreans and negotiating with the North Koreans. We would take one step forward and two steps back, and that has taken 20 years, and still we do not have a full resolving of this issue.

Now with the -- with President Obama and the White House, we were successful in passing and adopting a U.N. Security Council resolution.

International cooperation is perfect, in my opinion, in terms of trying to resolve this issue peacefully. And I think we are entering into a new chapter in bringing this issue to an end.

I do not put any deadline to resolving this North Korean nuclear issue. Of course, we would want to resolve this issue as soon as possible, because that is critical for ensuring peace and stability of the region and the world. And so this is why I proposed a grand bargain proposal.

And what's important is to really know whether North Korea has genuine intent to give up fully and verifiably their nuclear weapons program. And we must find out the intention of the North Koreans, and as soon as we find out, the better it is.

And the negotiations to convince North Korea to resolve their nuclear weapons issue, like I said, it is not going to be easy, but I believe it is possible that we can resolve this issue peacefully.

So, together with President Obama, and the international community, we will work to resolve this issue.

About the grand bargain, the North Koreans haven't yet conveyed what they thought of the grand bargain. But in order for the North Koreans to ensure their stability, to improve the lives of the North Korean population, to have economic prosperity, in short for a better future for the North Koreans, it is my wish that the North Koreans will adopt the grand bargain proposal.

And as for the KORUS FTA, I'm sure President Obama will be making comments. So I'll just listen.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The -- well, first of all, with respect to North Korea, there's going to be extraordinarily close coordination between our two countries, as there has been for many years.

The thing I want to emphasize is that President Lee and I both agree on the need to break the pattern that has existed in the past, in which North Korea behaves in a provocative fashion; it then is willing to return to talks. It talks for a while and then leaves the talks, seeking further consolidation and there's never actually any progress on the core issues.

I think President Lee is exactly right and my administration is taking the same approach, which is the door is open to resolving these issues peacefully for North Korea to see over time the reduction of sanctions and its increasing integration into the international community, something that will be good for its people.

But it will only happen if North Korea is taking serious steps around the nuclear issue. And we will not be distracted by a whole host of other side items that end up generating a lot of meetings but not concrete action.

Now, with respect to the free trade agreement, I am a strong believer that both countries can benefit from expanding our trade ties and so I have told President Lee and his team that I am committed to seeing the two countries work together to move this agreement forward. There are still issues that are being discussed and worked on and we have put our teams in place to make sure that we are covering all the issues that might be a barrier to final ratification of the agreement.

With respect to the United States, I think it's important to understand, and I shared this with President Lee, that American companies and workers are very confident in our ability to compete. And we recognize that there's not only an economic but also a strategic interest in expanding our ties to South Korea.

There is obviously also a concern within the United States around the incredible trade imbalances that have grown over the last several decades. Those imbalances are not as prominent with Korea. But there has been a tendency I think to lump all of Asia together when Congress looks at trade agreements and says it appears as if this is a one-way street.

And one of my goals is to make sure that as we work through these issues, that the American people, American businesses, American workers, recognize that we have to look at each agreement and each country on its own merits and make sure that we can create the kind of win-win situation that I know President Lee is interested in seeing, as well.

I think that we've got a question. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. President, President Lee. President Obama, it appears that Iran has rejected the international offer on its nuclear problem. What are the consequences that you've threatened, and when will we see them?

And for President Lee, are you willing to open up your market to U.S. automobiles to get the free trade agreement moving again?

OBAMA: With respect to Iran, at the beginning of my administration, we put in place a policy that we have executed as drawn up over the last several months. What we said was that we would take a new approach and say to Iran that we are willing to engage them directly, that we would organize the international community around a series of proposals that would permit Iran to show its intentions to give up any nuclear weapon programs and pursue peaceful nuclear energy under the framework of a nonproliferation regime.

That, even as we were organizing the international community to put forward a fair deal to the Iranians, that we would also move on a dual track and that we weren't going to duplicate what has happened with North Korea in which talks just continue forever without any actual resolution to the issue.

So that we've indicated that our offer would be on the table for a certain period of time, and that when that time ran out, we would look at other approaches that would increase pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Since that time, through the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as the P-5 plus one, we put forward such a proposal, one in which low enriched uranium could be removed from Iran, processed outside of Iran, returned to them in a way that couldn't be weaponized, and used for research purposes.

The fairness of the deal, I think, is confirmed by the fact that Russia, China, the other members of the P-5 plus one, as well as Muhammad ElBaradei, the secretary-general of the IAEA, all confirmed that this was a smart, creative proposal that could lead to a path in which Iran was no longer in breach of its international agreements and that Iran should accept it.

Iran has taken weeks now, and has not shown its willingness to say yes to this proposal, and I have not seen the report that you're referring to today, but we've seen indications that, whether it's for internal political reasons or because they are stuck in some of their own rhetoric, they have been unable to get to yes.

And so, as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences. That the dual track approach requires Iran to get a clear message. That when it fails to take advantage of these opportunities, that in fact, it is not making itself more secure; it's making itself less secure.

And our expectation is, is that over the next several weeks, we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran. I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door. I hope they do. But what I'm pleased about is the extraordinary international unity that we've seen. If you think, at the beginning of the year how disjointed international efforts were and how uneven perceptions were about Iran's nuclear program, and where we are today, I think it's an indication that we've taken the right approach.

LEE (through translator): With regards to automobile, in principle, I believe in free trade, and I believe that the international community must strengthen free trade. The last two decades or so, I think free trade and the movement of goods and services was the driving force behind the development and economic prosperity that we enjoy today.

COOPER: Let's bring in Dan Lothian in Seoul. He joins me by phone. Also, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and Politico's Nia Malika Henderson.

Nia Malika, what do you think of this?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, POLITICO: Well, I mean, clearly, the headline here is the nuclear arms race here that's going on, obviously, in North Korea and then you saw questions about Iran. And also, this free trade agreement that President Lee was talking about just now.

What's interesting, I thought, when this free trade agreement came up that was signed in 2007. Barack Obama, the president, said that he backs it, but there's no timeline. He's going to run into a real obstinate Congress in trying to get that thing passed, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out next year.

COOPER: And Candy, all of President Obama's stops, what we really have seen particularly in China is just the changing dynamics of the U.S. status in the world. I mean, compare this to the way it was years ago, it's a whole different world.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very different, and it requires a whole different strategy and a whole different set of expectations.

You know, I've been on so many of these trips with presidents where the agenda was laid out. And they knew what they were going to bring home. "I'm going to get an agreement for this." They didn't go on these trips and have these high-level meetings unless they knew they were going to bring something home.

Well, now the whole tenor of this has changed. China obviously has challenged, if not surpassed the U.S. in terms of its economic power. We are the debtor to China.

Japan is looking at a relationship with the U.S. that is different. A lot of these countries looking at the U.S., looking at the state of the economy and what capitalism has brought, thinking, "Well, maybe they don't have all the answers." So there's this new independence from all these nations at the same time, sort of a new interdependence of everyone. And so the president has gone on this trip and really is going to come home with very little that you would say, "Oh, wow, this happened."

But the White House says, "Listen, it's important that we go out, that we show these nations that we are, in fact, wanting to cooperate. He's the most traveled first year president of any. So they say he is laying the ground work for future things from this international cooperation that these new changing times demand.

COOPER: Candy Crowley, Nia Malika Henderson, thanks.

As always you can stay with CNN for more on the story.

"LARRY KING" starts now.