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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

World Stands by Amid Syria Massacre; Rating Romney

Aired February 6, 2012 - 20:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks.

Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight, "Keeping Them Honest" with the wholesale destruction of a city and the people who live in them. The city the size of Boston, parts of it being turned into rubble by the army that's supposed to defend, not destroy it. And as that army accelerates the carnage, men giving orders to kill are also giving orders to lie, to tell the world that life in the city and in their country is normal.

That's the story the Syrian regime is telling about Homs. Here's the reality.

Video taken today from a rooftop showing rocket and artillery fire landing. Syrian forces bombarding certain neighborhoods, not military encampments or opposition gatherings even. Just city neighborhoods. Artillery and mortar rocket fire falling on densely populated streets, on shops, and apartment houses.

Remember the U.N. said late last month it can no longer count the number of civilians killed in neighborhoods like this one because it's just too hard to get the information, because sniper fire is such a constant threat, people stay put at home until there's simply no home left to hide it.

Women, children, fleeing their homes. Their homes and those around it are literally blown to pieces. The shells are landing on homes, hospitals alike. This is one of several makeshift medical facilities where the wounded are literally smuggled in. They can't be taken to regular hospitals, activists say, because security forces are rounding up patients. There's not much safety here either.

Again, as you look at a father cradling a dead child in his arms, remember, the Syrian regime is saying that all is normal in Homs and elsewhere. That's what the claim was made by the state-run media yesterday.

On Friday, the regime allegedly killed more than 200 people in about a three-hour period. The very next day, Saturday, Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria. One Arab diplomat calling the veto a license to kill. And the opposition says that is precisely what it was. A green light to continue the killing. They're reporting upwards of 74 civilians dead today alone, the majority in Homs. Again the Assad regime denies what you're seeing is happening or blaming others for the slaughter. This is Bashar Assad, by the way, yesterday praying to mark the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. He and his subordinates have blamed the killing on a number of different scapegoats over the last 11 months. The story keeps changing and so did the bad guys.

Outside agitators, they say, Israeli agents, 64,000 roving criminals, they said at one point. Iraqi Salafist radicals. The common thread is denial. Here's what his U.N. ambassador has said to us back in August.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Do you deny, though, that your president and his government has imprisoned and tortured and killed thousands of Syrian citizen in the past five months alone?

BASHER JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I deny categorically and equivocally all these wrong references to bloodshed and killings taking place in my country the way they are described by the media.

COOPER: We've seen countless videos of children with broken bodies returned after weeks in detention. We've seen people being shot at as they try to retrieve the dead and wounded bodies of their friends and families on the street. And we've seen protests after protests broken up with teargas and security forces uniformed and not firing live ammunition to crowds. Are all of these lies?

JA'AFARI: I have also countless of other videos showing exactly the opposite.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was back in August when security forces were merely using tanks and sniper fires, when they merely stuffing people into the trunks of cars, and killing children one at a time. Now the killing seems to be wholesale. It doesn't even stop long enough to give that same diplomat the slightest bit of cover when he spoke this weekend at the Security Council.

This is all the ambassador could say in his government's defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JA'AFARI (Through Translator): Mr. President, is there a sensible person who believe that a given government would commit massacres in a given city on the day when the Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting to examine the situation in that country? Would any entity put itself in such a position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: He's claiming his regime is a rational actor. Not sure it fits that model. Knowing that Russia and China would protect it, the question answers itself. The video we now see daily underscores it, would an entity put itself in such a position? The answer, it seems, sadly, is yes.

On Friday, we had a remarkable live report from inside Homs from an activist named Danny. Since then he's been documenting what he sees in English and posting his videos online. He record this clip just seconds after showing mortar damage to the roof of a local apartment while the building was still being targeted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're standing on the roof.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Danny in Homs, we've been unable to contact him today. Earlier tonight, I spoke with another Syrian who's bearing witness at great risk to himself, which is why we're only using his first name, Zaidoun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The Syrian government is denying shelling in Homs. They say that armed terrorist groups are attacking residents. When you hear that, what do you say?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: I don't know. I mean even people just commit suicide or what? This is stupid lying. I cannot take this anymore. Nobody can take this anymore. If you know anybody just to talk to these people, stop lying, enough, everybody knows you are killing your own people. Enough for us.

Seeing them lie again and again, I saw in my own eyes guns, I don't know whether there is any armed guy in the world owns tanks. It was the tanks of the Syrian army. I saw the guns of the Syrian army. I saw shabiha, I saw the army itself killing their own people.

COOPER: Shabiha are plainclothes government forces. You're in Damascus. What's happening there now?

ZAIDOUN: Well, in Damascus itself, it's just like, you know, empty city. After 4:00 in the afternoon, nobody in the streets. But if you just go a few kilometers just to the Damascus countryside, and then you are just be living hell. Again, what is happening in Homs is happening over there in Zabadani, in Madaya, and Darayya, (INAUDIBLE) to the Damascus, (INAUDIBLE), which is a few kilometers from Damascus.

Again firing at people, snipers everywhere, everywhere, snipers. And tanks just close to Zabadani firing again at people there and people are getting killed.

And let me say one word. I think the entire world should be ashamed of what's happening here. Everybody is just silent and looking at us being slaughtered every moment, for no reason, just for asking for our freedom. Everybody's just looking at us like this, we are slaughtered. Russia has gone for a veto, China has gone for a veto. The rest of the world are condemning this veto and what else? Looking at us?

We really thank you. I want to thank the entire world for watching us so silently. We are getting killed every moment. We are not able even just to get some basic medicine to injured people. Children are really hungry. I swear, children are hungry. No power, no fuel. It's too cold. This is too much, for god's sake, this is to much.

You know that I expected so much from the (INAUDIBLE). You killed people for what? Isn't it enough? You think we can stop? We go back, will you stop this revolution? If you want to stop this revolution, you have to kill three, four million people. Are you able to do so? You are able. But you will not finish killing three or four million people. We will stay and we will keep this revolution.

We know that we will not -- we might just face our death tomorrow morning or even after half an hour, or get arrested and die under torture. But this doesn't mean we're going to retreat. This doesn't mean we're going to give up. We will stay, even if it takes us just another 10,000 people killed or 100,000 people killed. We will not stop.

COOPER: Zaidoun, thank you for risking talking to us. Thank you.

ZAIDOUN: That's all right. Thank you very much, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's dig deeper now with Princeton University's Ann- Marie Slaughter. She's the former director of policy planning, the State Department, and her old boss, Secretary of State Clinton is upset at China and Russia's veto this weekend at the Security Council. Also joining us, Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Fouad, when you head that man breaking down essentially, crying out and sort of into the silence, what goes through your mind?

FOUAD AJAMI, SR. FELLOW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: I mean I think he said it. And I think any commentary will offer such a poor reflection of what this man is saying.

The world should be ashamed. And it's not just the Russians and Chinese. Their shame is obvious to the rest of -- to the rest of us. But there's also so much abdication elsewhere. There's abdication by the Turks nearby, there's abdication by the Arab League, there's abdication in Washington.

Washington spent an enormous amount of time chasing after this false mirage of -- that maybe we can get the Russians and Chinese on board. We should have known. And when the secretary of United States says this is a travesty what Russia did, we should have known that Russia would vote this way, we should have known that China would vote this way. We just simply gave Bashar more time to do what he's been doing. So I think it's really not much we can say. There is the kind of -- there is that shame that we live in a world where people suffer and suffer alone and they die alone and no one arrives to the rescue thus far.

COOPER: It reminds me, I mean I worked in Sarajevo a lot during the war there, back in the mid '90s and early '90s, and Anne, some of the images remind me of that, of people, just shells landing in neighborhoods, people being killed by snipers.

What are the options at this point?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, FORMER STATE DEPT. DIRECTOR OF POLICY PLANNING: Well, I mean, I would second just the power of those images. But there's sort of three options. The first is, we just watch this happen and it's just going to get worse and worse. Between Friday and today, it has gotten worse. They're shelling with mortars. This is -- this guy's father leveled a city of 20 to 40,000. This guy -- Bashar al-Assad could do the same thing.

The second option is probably the most likely, which is that the Arab League countries and Turkey and probably NATO as well arms the free Syrian army, gives them the means to fight back. But then you've got a long and bloody civil war. You were talking about Sarajevo. That went for a long time and by adding arms you're at least helping them fight back. But you're not ending the killing.

The third option, which is probably remote but I don't think impossible, is that actually the countries in the neighborhood. The Arab League countries, Turkey, which I agree with Fouad, has been playing a funny double game, would say we can't stand this.

I hope this is being shown on Al Jazeera as well as on CNN and they actually lead a humanitarian intervention to create safe zones so that civilians can go some place safe and so that defectors from the Syrian army can be safe. Can be sure that if they defect they're not going to be immediately killed.

COOPER: The idea, though, that the Arab League would take charge of this is -- I mean, seems preposterous, no?

AJAMI: You know, Anderson, there must be -- I think we should have a ban on talking about the Arab League. I mean people got this wrong idea that at one rare moment of moral clarity, the Arab League said to the international community and to NATO and to the United Nations Security Council, go at Gadhafi. So we got this idea that the Arab League is a serious moral organization and a serious political organization. It isn't.

And Syria ain't Libya. This is really very important to specify that. So I think we just simply are in this kind of -- in this land and I think what Anne-Marie said is right. We end up with a regime armed with what regimes are armed with facing its own population. And it's interesting the dilemma and the moral catastrophe of the Syrian people does not alter. Last Friday was the 30th anniversary of the massacres at Hama? Last Friday.

COOPER: Which is Bashar's father --

AJAMI: Absolutely.

COOPER: Right.

AJAMI: And the Syrian people gave the Friday a name. They said, forgive us, Hama. Now here we are, what is it, forgive us Homs? Thirty years later? And I think what's interesting about Washington, if you will, in this drama, because you know we are Americans, and we're talking about this, I think we shouldn't accept this kind of false choice that we either have boots on the ground or we do nothing.

It's wrong. There's a lot that could be done. There is Qatari money, there is Saudi money, there is outrage in the Arab world. And let's be honest, there's outrage in the Sunni Arab world.

COOPER: So you're saying -- are you arguing for arming the --

AJAMI: Absolutely.

COOPER: The free Syrian army?

AJAMI: Absolutely. I'm a big fan, by the way. I never thought I would say this. I'm a big fan of the way if you go back and look at the way Bill Clinton did Kosovo in 1999, we lost no soldiers in Kosovo. We didn't even lose -- we lost two airplanes and we recovered the crews.

COOPER: The Syrian situation, though, I mean it's so complex, isn't it? I mean, compared to Kosovo, with so many different forces in the country and around the country.

SLAUGHTER: And we're not going to do that. There -- I do not see any way that this administration is going to send planes to bomb Damascus. I mean when we intervened in Kosovo, we bombed Belgrade. American NATO planes bombed Belgrade. I don't see any way that that's going to happen now and frankly I don't think Syrians want that to happen.

COOPER: The other step, though, of just arming the free Syrian army and the both of you, I think, agree on this is that, I mean, it's a small move, it prolongs the bleeding for a long time. It makes --

AJAMI: But you do level the killing field because this man is just on a rampage. I mean this man is in for the whole thing. And his community, the Alawites are in it for the whole thing. And they're convinced he -- Bashar has successfully convinced the Alawite community that it's either his reign, his tyranny, the tyranny of his family or the catastrophe for the Alawites. It needn't be so but that's the logic now that we have ended up with.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there. Again, I appreciate both of you being on. Thank you. Fouad Ajami and Ann-Marie Slaughter.

Let us know what you think, we're on Facebook, Google Plus, add us to your circle. Follow me on Twitter, @Andersoncooper. I'll be tweeting tonight.

Up next, "Raw Politics". Three more races tomorrow. Will any of them give Newt Gingrich a chance to regain or to gain back some ground? John King has the wall, crunching some numbers for us.

We also have polling that could spell trouble for Mitt Romney if he is nominee. The Romney campaign is fighting back hard against this polling. Paul Begala, Erick Erickson will join us, along with a top Romney adviser.

And later, a father dies along with his two young sons. That's where the tragedy seems to end but did it actually begin years earlier with the mysterious disappearance of the boys' mother? We'll ask the attorney who says the kids had started drawing pictures of their mom in the trunk of a car and signs pointing to the dad.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Raw Politics" tonight and some new numbers. Good news and bad news for Mitt Romney if he wins the Republican nomination. New ABC News/"Washington Post" polling. The good news for him, a slim majority think he'd do better than President Obama on jobs, the economy and the deficit.

Here's the bad news, the polling, if you believe it, shows him losing a head-to-head matchup, 52-43, to the president among registered voters. In addition 52 percent say that the more they learn about Governor Romney, the less they like him, 60 percent say the same about Newt Gingrich.

Now those numbers may change for better or worse as the primary and caucus races go on. Starting tomorrow with three more contests, Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota. We should point out, the Romney campaign is fighting back hard on that polling, attacking the methodology the way the questions were asked as being leading questions.

But here's John King with a look at some of the numbers right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, on the one hand, the voting tomorrow night is meaningless, because no delegates will officially be awarded, however, it's also critically important. How can you say that? Let's take a closer look.

Minnesota is voting, ultimately 37 delegates at stake. They will not be awarded tomorrow night but the caucuses do start the selection process. All four candidates -- Gingrich, Paul, Romney and Santorum -- on the ballot in Minnesota. Also out here in Colorado, again, caucuses. It starts the process, it does not award the delegates, Gingrich, Paul, Romney, Santorum, 33 delegates at stake, then ultimately three Republican National Committee members as well.

And in the state of Missouri, a primary, 52 delegates, this is the biggest prize tomorrow night. However, again, this primary does not decide the delegates. There will be caucuses later to do that.

This is important, though. Speaker Gingrich is not on the ballot in Missouri which gives Senator Santorum the chance of possibly getting a win. He keeps saying momentum will come his way. He's the better conservative alternative. Missouri is a place where he needs to prove it to keep the money coming in. Minnesota is also a possibility.

Now that's one way to look at it. Want to bring you the race the other way by just getting these off the map then we'll change maps for just a minute. And remember this point. We're not going to actually officially award delegates tomorrow. But we started with the win for Santorum, then Romney, then Gingrich, then Romney, then Romney.

Romney starts February with a win in Nevada. What he hopes to do is this. Run the month. He would like nothing more than to run the month, to create the air of inevitability, to dry up the money and the support for Santorum, Gingrich, and to a degree, Ron Paul.

However, what would happen if Senator Santorum can take a state here in the Midwest? What would happen if Senator Santorum can take them both in the Midwest? Again, no delegates at stake but this would be a boost for Santorum heading into the later contest and a blow for Romney.

That's what Santorum is hoping for. He wants to puncture the inevitability of the Romney campaign and he also wants to convince the Gingrich supporters. Speaker Gingrich saying, I'll be there in March when the contest goes south, Senator Santorum wants to convince them, I have the momentum now come my way -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, appreciate it.

Let's bring in the panel, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, redstate.com editor-in-chief Erick Ericson, and senior Romney campaign adviser, Benjamin Ginsburg.

Appreciate all you being with us.

Paul, Dick Armey said yesterday that Newt Gingrich is taking a second rate campaign and turning it into a first-class vendetta. Is that to you an apt description of the Gingrich-Romney dynamic right now?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That is -- sounds pretty good to me. I mean a vendetta -- look, a guy with a vendetta can do a lot of damage. And Newt Gingrich can do a lot of damage and I think he is doing a lot of damage. I don't think he can defeat Mitt Romney for the nomination, I'll defer to my Republican friends on that.

But here's what he's doing. He is hurting Romney for the general election. The "Washington Post" poll shows that Romney's negatives way up. By the way, Obama's positives way up. He's particularly hitting Romney -- hurting Romney in two areas. First, character, he's calling the former Massachusetts governor a liar, straight-up liar. And that hurts. And that will be echoed in the fall, believe me. I advise the pro-Obama super PACs so I think I know what I'm saying when I tell you we're going to raise that in the fall.

And that second, though, ideology. That process has pulled Governor Romney away from that Massachusetts moderate that Newt Gingrich inaccurately calls him, and to the really extreme right, especially on issues like immigration where the general election is much more moderate.

COOPER: Ben Ginsburg, I know you're -- the Romney campaign has serious issues with the way this polling was done. ABC supports the polling. But if the economy keeps improving, like it or not, likability is going to become a very important factor this fall. Do you think your candidate, Romney, could have a real problem there?

BENJAMIN GINSBERG, SENIOR ADVISER, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: No. I mean the truth of the matter is the poll also shows that President Obama is an extremely polarizing figure. And at the end of the day, this election will be a referendum on his performance in office. He's delayed the improvement of the economy. And all in all, that referendum is going to reflect negatively on him.

What is true about Governor Romney is he's articulating a message of change and of hope in this country and he's going to do quite well in November no matter what the polls in the midst of a contentious primary may show.

COOPER: Erick, you've seen these numbers. I mean -- could they just be a temporary blip? It's a tough, a tough primary, a lot of attacks flying left and right right now? And once that's over, don't those numbers improve for everyone?

ERICK ERICKSON ,CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think so. And I am no fan at all of Mitt Romney. But I do have to defend him a little bit on those polling. It's rare that you see a national poll come out where you ask about 10 questions how awful is this guy named Mitt Romney and then say who would you vote for, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

When you look at voters saying Mitt Romney would do better on jobs and the economy, which is right now what this election is about, but yet they want Barack Obama, there may be something messed up in this polling. But at the same time, you do go into the general election and the economy does improve, suddenly, this becomes about likability. And there's never been a poll out that shows that the public dislikes Barack Obama.

Republicans may, I may, but the general public that votes doesn't. But you've got 10 months to define Mitt Romney as unlikable and Newt Gingrich is doing a very good job of doing that for the president.

COOPER: Well, Ben, I mean, how much damage do you think Newt Gingrich is doing to your candidate?

GINSBERG: Well, the truth of the matter is the nastiness and anger of the rhetoric is inversely proportional to success in the polls. And what you've seen in the primaries is Speaker Gingrich has not been terribly successful especially in Florida and Nevada.

Truth of the matter is, Governor Romney has gotten more votes than his next two closest competitors combined in both Florida and Nevada. We now go into three elections tomorrow, in which there are no delegates selected. So you have to take that what it is. And there's -- then there's a three-week hiatus followed by Arizona and Michigan, which are two strong states for Governor Romney.

This is a campaign that's about resources and organization. And the Romney campaign uniquely has the organization and resources to do well over the long run.

COOPER: And Paul, you talked about what the -- you know, what the super PAC that you're backing or advising is going to be doing later on. Do you -- do you buy the argument at all that Mitt Romney is becoming a stronger candidate based on the attacks he's facing right now from his -- from fellow Republicans?

BEGALA: No. No. I mean it's in the data. The economy is getting better. But Mitt Romney is not. Some of that is because of the attacks he's taking from Gingrich, as I say, because they go to character, many of them. They I think will have a lasting effect. But it's not all Newt Gingrich's fault.

Newt Gingrich did not force Mitt Romney to come on our network the morning after his stunning victory in the Florida primary and tell Soledad O'Brien he didn't care very much about poor people.

And, you know, Newt Gingrich did not convince Mitt Romney to say that the $374,000 he made in speaking fees was not really a lot of money, and he didn't convince him to say that he liked firing people.

In other words, there's been a series of unforced errors by Mitt Romney that reinforced this sense, as Mike Huckabee, a fellow Republican, said four years ago, that he's the guy who wants to lay you off.

COOPER: But let me just push back on that. I mean, people are being covered 24 hours a day on a campaign trail in which he's been running for a long time. People are bound to say a few sentences here and there that, you know, seem inappropriate or seem callous.

BEGALA: Or that they really mean. I mean he is the Mittbot 3.40. Come on. He's completely robotic. Completely programmed. And once in a very blue moon, he drops that facade and says something he really believes in. And now -- and this is the problem he's got.

ERICKSON: Come on. BEGALA: It goes right to the central critique of Gingrich and Obama are making.

ERICKSON: You know, Paul -- Paul.

GINSBERG: If Paul -- if Paul said anything different from that, I think we'd all fall over in a dead faint here.

BEGALA: Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: $374,000 is not a lot of money?

ERICKSON: Paul, you're putting me in this awkward position of having to defend Mitt Romney which I very much resent you for. But let me put it this way. Romney has improved on the campaign trail in every aspect where he's forced to engage with the other candidates. The one aspect that Mitt Romney has not been forced to by his campaign to engage in, which I think is a strategic mistake, is letting him outside the bubble and interacting one-on-one.

So in interviews, in Q&A with people, he hasn't done as well as he's improved in his debates. Just look at how he started off a few weeks ago talking about being rich versus how he defends capitalism now. But he's got long-term problems if this campaign keeps him in the bubble because the goal of every journalist in America, once you get into the general election, whether it's Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, is going to be to get them outside of their comfort zone, get them outside of their bubble. He needs to be gotten out of it now.

COOPER: Paul Begala, Erick Erickson, Benjamin Ginsberg, appreciate you being on the show. Thanks very much.

GINSBERG: Thanks.

COOPER: Quick reminder, stay with CNN for the results of the races in Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota, all begins tomorrow night, 6:00 Eastern with a special edition of "JOHN KING, USA" followed by complete coverage and analysis starting at 7:00 Eastern. Look forward to that.

Still ahead, a father accused of the unthinkable, killing his two young sons and himself in this fire at his home. His final message, three chilling words coming up.

And the deadly fires is the latest twist in the case that began with the disappearance of the children's mother. Did the boys know what happened to her and were they starting to remember and talk about it? Was that what was behind this fire? "Crime & Punishment" ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There's a lot more happening tonight. Susan Hendricks is here with the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan. SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of killing six people and wounding 13 others including former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in that Arizona shooting rampage a year ago.

He will receive four more months of medical treatment. That is the ruling from a federal judge. The goal here is to improve his mental state so he is competent to stand trial.

After 23 extensions, the Senate has approved long term funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA will get about $16 billion for operations and construction. The vote was 75-20. The bill now goes to the president for his signature.

Prince William has arrived in the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina on a routine 6-week mission with the British Air Force Search and Rescue crew, but Argentina is taking issue with that deployment. Argentina and Britain fought over the islands 30 years ago.

Staying with royalty, the prince's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth is marking 60 years on the throne today. The diamond jubilee it's called will run through June, no celebration when London throws a big bash for her -- Anderson.

COOPER: Good to know. All right, Susan, thanks. We're going to check in with you a little bit later on the program.

Still to come, a massive avalanche tears down a mountain. Amazingly, a snowboarder survived. Thanks to an airbag. We'll show you the video ahead.

But first, a father and his two young sons killed in a house explosion. Investigators call it a double murder suicide. The question is, is it linked to the mysterious disappearance of the boys' mother years ago.

We're going to talk to an attorney who says one of the boys was drawing pictures of her in the trunk of a car.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In "Crime and Punishment" tonight, a sickening scene. It began with a short message, three words, I'm sorry, goodbye. This is what authorities in Washington State say, this man, Josh Powell sent his attorney before killing his two sons and himself yesterday.

The two sons were just 5 and 7 years old. He's holding one of them in this video. All three died in an explosion of Powell's home after investigators say he pushed a social worker, blocking her from entering his home during a supervised visit with his kids.

The tragic twist comes in a puzzling case that began more than two years ago when Josh Powell became the prime suspect in the disappearance of Susan Powell, his wife and the mother of those kids.

The question is, did the two little boys know what happened to her? She's never been found. Dan Simon reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): December 6th, 2009, the last day any ever sees Susan Cox Powell, other than her hundred and her children. Her friend has dinner at the family's home.

JOVANNA ONINGS, SUSAN COX POWELL'S FRIEND: From what I saw that day, looked as if things were kind of going pretty good. He was being very nice to her.

SIMON: Shortly after midnight, Susan's husband, Josh says he sees his wife go to bed. He then leaves to go camping with their sons, Braden and Charlie, just 2 and 4 years old at the time in subfreezing temperatures in the Utah desert. The next evening when he returns, Josh claims his wife has vanished.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any idea what happened to her?

JOSH POWELL, HUSBAND OF MISSING WOMAN: No.

SIMON: Immediately, authorities hone in on Powell, he's interviewed multiple times by police and on December 9th, a search warrant is served on the family home.

December 10th, authorities begin looking for clues in the area where Powell claimed to be camping with his sons. December 16th, after another interview, police named Josh Powell as a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife. He maintained his innocence on CBS' "The Early Show"?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you have anything to do with her disappearance?

POWELL: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you kill your wife?

POWELL: I have never even hurt her. People who know me know I could never hurt Susan.

SIMON: January 6th, 2010, while authorities continue to search for Susan, Josh moves with his sons to his father's home in Washington State.

Over the course of the next year and a half on their web site, Josh and his father, Steven, theorized Susan may have run off with another man and that she had always been promiscuous. Listen to what Josh's dad tells ABC's "Good Morning America" almost two years after Susan went missing.

STEVEN POWELL, FATHER OF JOSH POWELL: Susan was very sexual with me. She was very flirtatious. I mean, I'm her father-in-law. She would do a lot of things that -- I mean she did it, I did -- we interacted in a lot of sexual ways because Susan enjoys doing that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think a part of you started falling in love with Susan?

STEVEN POWELL: That's pretty likely, yes, I would say so. There's no question in my mind that the feelings were mutual.

SIMON: That same day, authorities searched Steven Powell's home where his son and two grandsons are living. In a bizarre twist in an already bizarre mystery, they discovered numerous images and recordings of adult and juvenile females.

He's arrested and custody of Braden and Charlie is given to Susan's parents. But the focus remains on Susan who is still missing. Then attorneys for her parents reveal the boys, Braden and Charlie, are starting to offer clues about where their mother might be. Listen to what lawyer, Steven Downing, told CBS' "This Morning."

STEVEN DOWNING, COX FAMILY ATTORNEY (via telephone): They had gone camping. Their mother had been in the trunk and later, their mom and dad walked out into the desert and mommy got lost.

SIMON: Downing also told the "L.A. Times" that Charlie had drawn a picture of his mother in the trunk of the family car. Yesterday, according to police, Powell sends and e-mail to his attorney that says "I'm sorry. Goodbye."

Minutes later, his sons are brought to the home by a social worker for a supervised visit. Powell ushers his sons inside, locks out the social worker and does the unthinkable.

(on camera): Here at the scene, investigators say there are clues that Josh Powell planned this out in advance. He dropped off some personal items, including boxes of toys to good will and authorities say he dumped as many as 10,000 gallons of gasoline throughout the house prior to his kids' arrival. Dan Simon, CNN, Puyallup, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining me now is Sergeant Ed Troyer, from the Pierce County, Washington Sheriff's Office and Steve Downing, the attorney for Susan Powell's parents.

You just heard in Dan's report. You say the items had been found inside Powell's home and he had been planning this for some time. How so?

SGT. ED TROYER, PIERCE COUNTY, WASHINGTON SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Well, we found two 5-gallon cans of gas, one of them had been spread throughout the residence, accelerants throughout the residence and the other one was lit and that's why the fire burned so fast and hot.

We also found that he had taken personal belongings and dropped them off at donation centers and we not only found one text that went to the lawyer, but we now found e-mails where he talked to people and told people that he -- giving them instructions what to do after he is gone, what to do with the money, what to do with his personal belongings, shut down utilities. So all the planning of sending out e-mails what to do, the gas, locking the lady out of the house and bringing the kids in, the fire started within three minutes leads us to believe he did this intentionally.

COOPER: Who are those e-mails to, if you can say, and does it say anything about the disappearance of his wife?

TROYER: No. It didn't say nothing about the disappearance of his wife. Susan is never brought up in any of them, but the e-mail said one liners to some of them. Goodbye, I'm sorry. Some of them had a little bit more information in them that he couldn't live without his boys.

Some of them had information on how to shut off the utilities or take care of some financial things. So he sent different messages to family members, a pastor and an attorney. So having all that in place with everything, this is dubbed a case of double murder. He killed both those boys and took his own life.

COOPER: It's just so sickening. Steve, your clients, the grandparents of the little boy, the parents of Susan Powell, I mean, I can't imagine what things are like for them. How are they holding up?

DOWNING (via telephone): This has been a very difficult day and half. They have met with some press today, but they are now in the position of having to sit down tonight and plan a funeral.

COOPER: I want to ask you about some reports of a drawing that one of the boys did while the boys were staying with their grandparents. Apparently, the stories one of the boys drew a picture for a school assignment, which included his mom in the trunk of a family car. Is that true? What do you know about it?

DOWNING: Well, that is true. What happened is it was a school assignment, they were supposed to be addressing, what the kids did during the summer.

Several examples were given, one of them being a camping trip, and then it is believed that that's what prompted the picture, the drawing of the family van, dad driving the van, the boys in the back seat, and mom appearing to be in the trunk of the van.

COOPER: So did anybody ever speak to either of the boys about that picture? About what might have happened?

DOWNING: It is my understanding they did speak to the boys about the picture. It is further, Anderson, these kids, as they became more comfortable, as they felt safe in their grandparents' home, they did begin to offer additional bits of information. Particularly when they were allow, once again, to be around many of the people that they have been kept away from, since their mother's disappearance.

COOPER: So is it -- Steve, is it your belief -- is it your clients' belief, the grandparents that the son clearly was involved and that this was the result of the boys maybe being able to ultimately say that and he was worried about that?

DOWNING: I think that was his concern from the very beginning. Shortly after Susan's disappearance, he very quickly and abruptly cut them off from having any meaningful contact with the boys. Any visitation they had, which was only twice or three times in nearly a year was supervised by Josh or his father.

COOPER: Sergeant Troyer, the fact that Mr. Powell murdered his kids to you, is this basically a confession that he also murdered his wife?

TROYER: Well, what it tells us is that he had something to hide. What we're looking at is from what we're hearing now what those boys were saying and doing, it becomes our case, and that we have a double homicide and those boys were evidence.

Those boys were going to be evidence against him and that would be motive. You're looking at somebody that's willing to kill their own kids and, boy, killing your wife isn't that much of a stretch from there. This whole case has always taken a different turn. I'm guessing it's not over.

COOPER: Yes, Sergeant Troyer, appreciate all your work and joining us tonight. And Steve Downing, thank you very much and please send our condolences to the family. It's unthinkable. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Up next, a University of Virginia lacrosse player goes on trial in the murder of his ex-girlfriend, who also played lacrosse.

Plus, an airbag saves a snowboarder from the avalanche. We'll show you how it worked.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Let's take a look at some other stories we're following tonight. Susan is back with the "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.

HENDRICKS: Anderson, a stern warning to Egypt today that American aid could be in jeopardy that is because Egypt says it will prosecute 43 people including 19 Americans who work for non- governmental organization.

They're known as NGOs. Egyptian officials raided 17 NGO offices in December accusing the groups of receiving illegal foreign financing.

Jury selection has begun in the murder trial of a University of Virginia lacrosse player. This man, George Huekley has pleaded not guilty in the 2010 death of Yardley Love, his ex-girlfriend, who was also a lacrosse player.

And you have to see this. An airbag appears to have saved a professional snowboarder from an avalanche. Take a look. Time.com reports that snowboarder, Meesh Heightner, was competing in Colorado, when she was caught in this avalanche. But she deployed an airbag attached to her snowsuit, which enabled her to coast on top of the cascading snow, pretty amazing.

COOPER: That's cool. I didn't know that was possible. I've never heard of that.

HENDRICKS: Something new.

COOPER: All right, Susan, thanks. Time now for "Beat 360" winners. Tonight's photo, Lawrence Tynes, the New York Giants kisses the trophy after the Giants Super Bowl victory right there.

Tom Brady gets the trophy wife, the Giants get the trophy. Ouch. I knew I should have trimmed my nose hair before the game. Your "360" t-shirt is on the way.

So coming up, the moment from the Super Bowl halftime show that has some people flipping out, flipping mad. "The Ridiculist" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight, we're adding this whole flip switch from the Super Bowl halftime show. Now you've probably heard about this. It's been playing all day on CNN and everywhere else during Madonna's half time show, singer MIA gave the old one digit salute. Take a look.

Yes. That was it. Blink and you missed it. Here's a still shot of the moment that today has caused people all over the country to turn to one another and ask all sorts of questions, like, Maude, who's MIA?

Questions like, should we blur the whole hand or just the one finger? It's been a challenging, confusing day for everyone. NBC and NFL are taking it particularly hard so keep them in your thoughts as we all try to come to grips with this national tragedy.

NBC called it a, quote, "spontaneous gesture." And went on to say, quote, "The NFL hired the talent and produced the halftime show. Our system was late to obscure the inappropriate gesture. We apologize to our viewers."

The NFL said, quote, "There was a failure in NBC's delay system. The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans."

So the NFL blames NBC, NBC blames NFL, so much blaming at a time we should all be trying to heal from this devastating split second glimpse of a human finger.

The Parents Television Council is pointing the finger, not a bad finger, one of the other fingers at both NBC and NFL saying, quote, "They chose a line up full of performers who base their careers on shock, profanity and titillation instead of preventing indecent material, they enabled it. Now to my knowledge, nobody has really mentioned the fact that at the precise moment that MIA was inciting national panic with her finger, a whole bunch of dancers behind her had their selves thrust into the air. I'm just saying.

A source close to MIA says she was nervous and wasn't thinking that she feels horrible. Look, I think it will take some time MIA. You could have shown us the pointer finger, a ring finger, pinky finger, even a thumb would have been fine.

Thumbs up, half time, I'm just hitching a ride to wholesome town, USA. The only thing more annoying than people talking about this today was people dissing Madonna's performance.

I'm sorry, the fact that so many people are still talking Madonna's performance 24 hours later, means that Madonna put on a performance. Who else could keep have so many people talking in just 8 minutes of singing?

Remember Steven Tyler? He wrapped a couple of bandanas on a mic stand. Madonna still has it, always has, always will. As for the whole MIA finger folly, there's one thing that I found offensive last night and that's the fact that no one outside of Nebraska got to see Will Ferrell's Super Bowl commercial.

I'm not kidding. For some reason, Will Ferrell has taken it upon himself to make old Milwaukee commercials for free and this one aired last night, but only in Nebraska.

Will Ferrell strolling through a field in slow motion. Just the kind of soothing elixir we need in these ever so trying bird flipping times.

That does it for us. Thanks for watching. I'll see you again tonight at 10:00, one hour from now, another edition of 360. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts now.