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Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Attack on Syria?; Was Teen Athlete Victim of Accident or Murder?; Dogs Reunited with Army National Guard Unit; Food Truck Serves up Second Chances

Aired September 5, 2013 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with breaking news.

ABC News is reporting -- quote -- "that President Obama's national security team is preparing for a military attack in Syria that is much bigger than most had anticipated." The most surprising part of the report from ABC tonight, that a strike could include an aerial bombardment fired from B-2 and B-52 bombers flying from the United States.

Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence joins me now.

So, Chris, this reporting again from ABC that a U.S. strike could be much larger than anticipated, what do we know about it?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I'm getting some pushback from that, Anderson, from sources here.

Yes, they are saying that long-range bombers could be options that are considered or eventually used in any airstrike on Syria. So it is part of the planning process. They say that does not fundamentally change the overall parameters of the mission.

In other words, this official was telling me that, yes, targets on the ground are continuously changing. They're adapting some of the options to fit those new targets. But he predicted that a lot of these options would continue to change because they see continued movement on the ground. But he does not see this fundamentally changing what the parameters of this mission have sort of been established as.

COOPER: It's interesting, though. The secretary of defense I think it was yesterday this could cost in the tens of millions of dollars, but the ABC report is saying they're talking about using all, say, the Tomahawk missiles that they have, which is hundreds, which would obviously put the cost a lot higher. Also, the ABC report saying that the B-2 and B-52 bombers could be used. That would mean U.S. planes over Syrian airspace.

LAWRENCE: Not necessarily.

If you look at the capabilities of, say, the B-2, which flies out of Missouri, it's a long-range bomber, can fly about 6,000 miles without even refueling, 10,000-plus miles with one refueling mid-air. That's equipped with a joint air-to-surface standoff missile. In other words, these aircraft wouldn't have to come into Syrian airspace.

And the official that I spoke with says you could get that standoff capability from a submarine, from a ship or from an aircraft. None of it would have to actually enter Syrian airspace. It could be out of the range of some of those Syrian air defenses and still allow you that capability to strike inside Syria.

COOPER: All right, interesting. Chris, I appreciate the reporting from you..

Joining me now, CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend, a member of the CIA and DHS advisory committees, also Christopher Dickey, Middle East editor for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast," also CNN senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh, and on the phone is CNN military analyst Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Fran, what do you make of this report?


Late last week, the president talked about a very limited strike. It sounded like just standoff missiles from a ship in the Mediterranean. Then we heard when Secretary Kerry testified that they were talking about degrading capability of the Assad regime that could tip potentially the balance of power.

And so, when you hear things like that, sources in mine in the Pentagon were saying, look, if you saw the military plane, I think you would feel better. So you have to wonder, are they explaining it in such a limited way in order to gain political support, including from those on the left, and not really talking about that this may be a more involved military operation, though short-term?

COOPER: You say feel better about it. That means if you support the idea of the strike. For those who oppose the idea of a strike, the idea that this would be larger than is being sold is obviously something...


TOWNSEND: That's right.

But the president's political allies in Congress, those tend to be in the middle and the left, might not want to hear that this may involve air assets and air crews, and might want to hear it described in a more limited way.

And so you have to wonder if it's being described in a way that politically suits the president to try and gain support.

COOPER: Christopher, putting aside the ABC News reporting, you even look at the draft resolution in the Senate and see language that kind of has mission creep or seems larger than...


Look, you could conduct the entire Kosovo air war within the terms of that Senate resolution. First of all, look at the time that's allotted. We're not talking two, three days or a week. We're talking 60 days, plus 30 more days, 90 days. If you have a sustained bombing or standoff cruise missile campaign, that's an awful lot of armaments raining down day after day after day on Assad and his forces in the name of degrading those forces. Degrading can mean destroying.

COOPER: General Marks, also, whatever happens, the first step is the U.S. strike, assuming it happens. Then we have no idea what the response by Assad is going to be and whether that is going to necessitate a counterstrike or another kind of operation.

So on one hand, you could say it's understandable why Pentagon planners would be planning for a larger operation.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Anderson, they would have to be planning for a larger operation. The key thing is, is the construct in which the planning is taking place is action, reaction and counteraction.

That's kind of how you walk through every scenario that we have ever had to contend with. And in the case of the Pentagon planners, when you look at what Assad has been doing with his capabilities, both his what I would call conventional military capabilities and his chemical and what he's done with his chemical and his delivery means, there really are a whole host of targets on a target set which are dual use.

In other words, what we have heard from the administration is the fact that there are two tracks, that clearly Assad needs to go and the international community agrees with That's right. . And now this very egregious violation of international law in the use of chemical weapons, that needs to be addressed.

But in addressing the latter, you certainly are going to go after the former. That's clearly what we see right now. The planning has to include enhanced capabilities and the fact that Assad may implode. You always have to be careful what you ask for. There may be tremendous success, and Assad may disappear. Now we have a real problem in Syria that might include even grander planning than what we have addressed right now.

COOPER: And Fran?

TOWNSEND: Anderson, what I was going to say is, having been in the White House and watched military planning, even if what you assume is only a two- or three-day operation, for the very reasons General Marks explains, when you go to Congress and you're seeking authorization, you want the ability to react and anticipate.

And what you don't want to do is find yourself in a conflict authorized for, say, a week, as Chris suggests, and then all of a sudden find yourself in an engagement where you have to go back to Congress.

COOPER: You think this still seems somewhat limited, or sounds somewhat limited?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To a degree. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, why did he go to Congress? There's the potential for this to massively widen once you're involved, once you see retaliation.

And that may be the reason why the longer-term thinking was in that particular direction. You have got to bear in mind the timing of this leak as well. He's with the international community. We don't He's with the international community. We don't know what's being said behind closed doors. I'm sure they are keen to give the message this is happening regardless, rather than look a bit like he's still waiting for Congress to give him the seal of approval.

But the broader issue really here is you have to understand what level of damage you will inflict on Assad. We don't know how quickly he will collapse. He don't know how long it will take for the entire infrastructure to collapse around him. There's a key point in this authorization which says until potentially they can force a negotiated settlement.

Now, the opposition won't indulge in negotiations right now. They have been absolutely clear. So really saying bomb him until he chooses to leave.

COOPER: Also, any military operation, any use of force is inherently unknown. There are so many unknowns.

You look at the war in Afghanistan. That was supposed to just be a limited action against the Taliban to get rid of al Qaeda and the Taliban. The war in Iraq was -- everyone was supposed to be home by Christmas. You never know how long these things are going to go on for.

DICKEY: Well, you don't know.

But there's something pretty predictable, especially in the Arab world, because the Americans, when they go into a war, they talk about victory all the time. It's all about winning. We want to do it quickly. We want to win. We hope to get out quickly.

In the Arab world, war is always about the victims. They are always showing you the dead babies. They are always showing you the people that have been killed by American bombs, even if they weren't killed by American bombs. And you will have this war -- very quickly, you will have a war of public opinion all over the Arab world once the bombing begins that will be based on what will be called American atrocities.

That's one of the things that's fairly predictable in this conflict and it will be very ugly, indeed. The other thing is that you will have a much increased refugee flow. You have already got two million refugees outside the country, a million of them children. And that is just going to get a lot worse. All of this, we saw, by the way, during the Kosovo war.

COOPER: General Marks, you have been to battle. And, I mean, going into battle, do you ever -- do you always believe it could be much worse than anticipated?

MARKS: Anderson, that's the only contemplation you make if you're worth anything and you're a military planner, is there is never a guarantee the outcome will look anything like the way you draw it up on a white board.

COOPER: We have got to leave it there.

Fran Townsend, Christopher Dickey, thank you, Nick Paton Walsh, General Marks as well.

All this of course comes as the Obama administration is in the thick of a full-court press in public behind closed doors for military action in Syria. They have just days left to make their case before next week's votes in the House and the Senate. At the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg, the issue loomed large, even though the meeting, the focus of that meeting is economic.

President Obama and the Russian president Vladimir Putin smiled for the cameras when they shook hands, but their positions on Syria could not be further apart. They won't be meeting one on one during the summit.

Back home, U.S. lawmakers are fanning out to hear from their constituents. The latest polls show that most Americans are opposed to a military strike in Syria. This week's Senate committee vote approving an authorization bill was close. Even some of President Obama's stalwart supporters in Congress, including Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Elijah Cummings, are expressing reservations about military action.

Republican Senator John McCain has been one of the strongest voices in favor of military strikes. Here's what he faced at a hall today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It's not our fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very heartfelt by the Syrians. That's a whole other part of the world with a whole lot of other countries that can do something about it besides us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really don't want a war on Syria. We have $17 trillion in debt. Let's concentrate on this country and our economy and our children.


COOPER: President Obama has cleared his calendar early next week to focus on the Senate and the House votes. Tonight, a sickening reminder of why he has his work cut out of him. A video smuggled out of Syria obtained by "The New York Times" reportedly shows rebels executing seven soldiers loyal to the Assad regime.

We warn you the images are incredibly disturbing. You will not see the man actually being leader. You will hear the sound. The man talking is the commander of the rebels. Their bodies were then dumped in a well by this small rebel group. Those cold-blooded executions purportedly took place in the spring of 2012.

After the prisoners were shot, as I said, their bodies were dumped into that unmarked grave. And, as I said, it appears to be a well. The Syrian opposition coalition today condemned the executions, saying they contravene international law.

In a statement, they also said: "Killing or mistreating captured soldiers or those who have surrendered is an affront to the hopes and principles that fueled the initial popular uprising against the Assad remembering."

That said, the video underscores a sticking point for many lawmakers, the lack of a clear-cut ally in Syria. They want reassurance that the U.S. won't be helping the bad guys.

Senator John McCain joins me.

Senator, I'm curious. What kind of calls are you getting from constituents on this? We're hearing from other members in the Senate and the House that overwhelmingly they are getting calls from their constituents against any kind of military strike.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Oh, I'm getting the same calls.

And that's why I'm doing town hall meetings all over my state, so that I can give people my point of view, but also listen to them. It's beginning to turn around some. I'm surprised. At first, it was very heavily against.

And now some of it is beginning to turn around. I think it certainly indicates a couple of things. One is that Iraq -- Americans are very skeptical. And I understand that. And I'm skeptical too because of Iraq. I think that there's a mistrust of the president. I think it's been mishandled, the president saying he was going to strike, and then staying -- going to Congress.

So, look, that's why I think a lot of us who are very concerned about this issue have to speak to our constituents. And I think president of the United States is going to have to go on national television and speak to directly the American people.

COOPER: If the vote was today, do you think it would pass?

MCCAIN: I'm not a vote counter, but I do know that there are many of my colleagues, understandably, that have to be convinced. This is a very, very tough call. There's no more important vote that a member of Congress will cast than this. And so we have our work cut out for us.

COOPER: Right now, the administration is saying the goal of the mission is to deter and degrade Assad's chemical weapons capabilities.

Yesterday, you inserted language into the authorization that says any military operation should -- quote -- "change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria." It sounds like you and the administration are still on different pages.

MCCAIN: Look, that's not true, Anderson. I talked to the president in the White House. And he said he had three objectives.

One was to deter the capabilities of Bashar al-Assad to deliver those chemical weapons. Second was to provide support for the Free Syrian Army. And third was to change the momentum on the battlefield. That was the president's stated goals. And so I'm not in disagreement at all with the president of the United States.

COOPER: So, when you get those calls from constituents and people say to you this is not -- how is this possibly in the national security interest of the United States to strike Syria, what do you say? How is this in the national security interest?

MCCAIN: This conflict is not confined to Syria. It is a regional conflict now.

You know, Anderson, the refugee camps, the destabilization of Lebanon, Jordan -- Iraq has turned into killing fields that we haven't seen since 2008, and a total resurgence of al Qaeda. This is not a conflict within Syria.

And if we send a message to the world, especially the Iranians and the North Koreans, that we are allowing Bashar Assad to use chemical and slaughter those 1,000 innocent women and children, then we are making a terrible mistake.

And in the 1930s, the world sat by while gas was used by Mussolini where they -- all kinds of atrocities took place in the 1930s and a whole lot of places and dictators had their will, and we sat by and watched these things happen, and we paid a very, very heavy price for it.

COOPER: Sir, when you saw the front page of "The New York Times" today, that picture, we showed the video earlier, what appears to be execution of Syrian military troops by rebel forces, it adds to a list of horror stories we have heard committed by rebels. Obviously, we have heard a lot about the Assad regime as well.

But, yesterday, Secretary Kerry said only 15 percent to 20 percent of the opposition were what he called bad guys or extremists. Congressman Michael McCaul countered by saying he had been told in briefings that half of the opposition were extremists. Who's right here? MCCAIN: Secretary Kerry is more right, in all due respect.

Civil wars are horrible things. We found that out in our own civil war. Look at Andersonville. And the frustration that these fighters feel as they watch women gang-raped, as they watch children slaughtered, the frustration is vented. It's inexcusable. It's absolutely inexcusable.

But these things unfortunately and tragically happen in war. And I noticed that the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army have condemned that kind of behavior. And they ought to punish the people who perpetrated it.

The United States of America, if we are more involved, then I think that we can have a greater influence on their behavior. And, again, I do not -- all things are horrible. But if you visit these refugee camps, as you did, Anderson, and you hear the stories of the calculated dogma, and doctrine of rape, murder and torture that is employed by Bashar Assad, it is horrendous.

COOPER: Senator John McCain, I appreciate you being on. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, let us know what you think about tonight's reporting. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper.

Up next, seeking justice for Cherice Moralez. She was raped by her teacher at age 14. She later killed herself. Her rapist was sentenced to just 30 days in jail -- the latest in the effort to that change to sentence. I will speak with Cherice's mother next.

Also ahead, the mysterious death of a teenager in Georgia was ruled an accident. The second autopsy, well, that told a very different story. We will hear from Kendrick Johnson's parents ahead.


COOPER: Hey. Welcome back.

In "Crime & Punishment" tonight: The 30-day rape sentence has caused outrage far beyond the Montana courtroom where it was imposed. A judge now admits he was wrong. He was wrong to sentence Stacey Rambold, a former teacher, to just a month in jail after he admitted raping his then 14-year-old student.

He was wrong to make what were frankly horrible claims about the victim, that she seemed older than her chronological age and somehow was as much in control of the situation as her rapist. This is all doubly tragic because Cherice killed herself before this could even go to trial.

And while the judge has apologized for those statements, he even admitted the sentence he imposed could be illegal, but correcting the mistake may be easier said than done. And when CNN's Kyung Lah when to asked him it, take a look what happened.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Excuse me, Judge Baugh. Good morning. Hi.


LAH: I'm Kyung Lah from CNN. Do you have just one minute to chat with me, sir?

BAUGH: No, thanks.


COOPER: Well, Kyung Lah joins me now live from Billings, Montana.

So there's been movement in the case in the past hour. What's the latest?

LAH: Well, we know that the state attorney general has filed, trying to cancel what is being viewed as tomorrow, Anderson, a do-over hearing, the judge calling everyone back into the courtroom, saying he wants to rule again, saying maybe it was illegal to just do a month. Now let's try to change it to two years.

But here is where it gets interesting. Not only the state attorney general, but the prosecution and defense all say they are done with this judge. No one wants this hearing tomorrow. They want it now, with the state Supreme Court, where there is an appeal sitting and waiting.

COOPER: And why does the judge not want the Montana Supreme Court to take over the case at this point? Is he afraid of not getting reelected?

LAH: Well the judge -- reelection is next year. The judge basically is saying he wants to get on the record. I did sit outside his office all morning trying to get some sort of response. He never came out.

But have I spoken to people who are connected to the case. They feel that he is determined to somehow get on the court record that he made an error and that he wants this two-year now sentence for this man.

COOPER: All right, Kyung, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Auliea Hanlon, the mother of the young victim in this case, Cherice Moralez.

COOPER: Auliea, first of all, I'm so sorry for your loss. What do you want people to know about your daughter, about Cherice?

AULIEA HANLON, MOTHER OF VICTIM: That she was wonderful. She was wonderful and she deserves justice.

COOPER: I can't even imagine what it would have been like to have heard this judge's sentence, I mean, to be sentenced to only 30 days in jail. Were you in the courtroom at that moment?


COOPER: What went through your mind?

HANLON: I freaked out.

COOPER: You freaked out.

HANLON: Despair, unbelief, horror. It was inappropriate. And, sometimes, you just got to tell a judge he sucks.

COOPER: And you told him that. You yelled that?


COOPER: The judge, I mean, made some...

HANLON: They say I have a problem with my temper.

COOPER: The judge made some, I mean, as you know, truly appalling statements about your daughter. When you heard those, I mean, did he ever apologize to you directly?

HANLON: No, no. And I'm listed in the book, so...

COOPER: So he could have just called you up?

HANLON: Yes. Everybody else has.

COOPER: He made a public apology, saying he didn't know what he was talking about, he didn't know where that came from. Do you accept that?

HANLON: No. He didn't apologize until after the storm of media hit.

COOPER: And you think that's really what is behind his apology; he wants to get reelected? He doesn't -- you don't think he really regrets what he said or feels what he said was wrong?

HANLON: I'm not sure. I don't know him.

You know, I have never met him on a personal basis. I don't know if he's a nice guy or -- I'm not sure. I'm glad that the other courts are stepping in to review the sentence. We got this thing tomorrow.

COOPER: You talked about...


HANLON: Anything more than 31 days. COOPER: You talked about wanting justice for Cherice. To you, what would that look like? What would justice look like? You said anything more than 31 days.

The judge has acknowledged the sentence he imposed may have been against the law. Your daughter's rapist could serve, you know, a minimum of two years of his 15-year sentence. Would that be justice?

HANLON: I don't know.

In my mind there is no -- you know, I'm -- I agree with county attorneys. They are asking for 20 years with 10 years suspended. That would help, a lot, 10 years.

COOPER: And that would make a difference?

HANLON: It doesn't bring her back. It doesn't really change anything, but at least he gets to pay for what he's done.

COOPER: If you could talk to this judge...

HANLON: And I think he should.

COOPER: If you could talk to this judge, what would you say to him?

HANLON: I probably couldn't say that on TV, but I bet he was having a bad day after that. He was wrong. He made the wrong decision.

COOPER: For your daughter, I mean, you know, oftentimes, in something like this, people don't really learn much about who the victim is and who the person was.

And so I just want to give you an opportunity to just talk about Cherice a little bit and just let us know what she was like.

HANLON: She was fantastic. She was funny. She was smart. She was gorgeous.

And it doesn't matter how old they look. She was still 14. She lit up a room. She was artistic. But I'm biased.

COOPER: As you should be. Is there something that she hoped to be one day or that you wanted her to be?

HANLON: I wanted her to be happy.

COOPER: Well, Auliea, again, I'm so sorry for your loss. And we will continue to follow this and I hope it makes a difference and I hope justice is served for Cherice and for you.

HANLON: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, for more on the story, you can go to We will certainly update you tomorrow on what happened at that hearing. Up next: The parents of a Georgia teenager insist that their son was murdered , despite what investigators concluded. Well, tonight, we have an exclusive interview with those parents and the pathologist who conducted an independent autopsy.

Also ahead, brave soldiers who served in Afghanistan waited months for a very special moment, back on American soil, reunited with the stray puppies that they adopted in Afghanistan.


COOPER: Well, tonight the circumstances involving the death of a Georgia teenager have grown even murkier. What exactly happened to 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson? Was it an accident or was it murder? The question -- the answer to those questions depends, really, on who you ask.

Johnson was a star athlete at his high school in Austin, Georgia. In January his body was found inside a rolled-up gym mat. An autopsy proclaimed his death was an accident, but his parents didn't buy that and ordered their own independent examination.

As we reported two days ago, that autopsy concluded that Johnson died of blunt-force trauma. Tonight, Victor Blackwell speaks exclusively with Johnson's parents and the pathologist who considers his death a homicide.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson now say science supports what they thought all along: that their 17-year-old son Kendrick was murdered at his high school in Valdosta, Georgia.

KENNETH JOHNSON, KENDRICK'S FATHER: An accident we just didn't believe.

BLACKWELL: Soon after Kendrick's body was discovered upside down in the center of this gym mat, investigators determined there was no foul play and that Kendrick accidentally got stuck while reaching for this shoe. The official finding of the state's autopsy: positional asphyxia, that Kendrick was suffocated by his own body weight.

JOHNSON: When I went and viewed his body that Sunday, you can see something happened.

BLACKWELL: So could the first responders. In the report, written the day Kendrick's body was discovered, paramedics considered the gym "a crime scene," and after a closer look at Kendrick, there was "bruising noted to right side jaw."

At the Johnsons' expense, Kendrick's body was exhumed. Forensic pathologist Dr. Bill Anderson performed a second autopsy and checked the right side jaw. He found something surprising.

DR. BILL ANDERSON, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: That area where the trauma occurred had not been detected. It was still intact. So it had never been opened at the time of the first autopsy.

BLACKWELL: And there is no mention of those bruises in the state's official autopsy or the local crime lab's report.

ANDERSON: There was hemorrhage indicating trauma to the area, and that trauma basically causes blood to come out of the blood vessels into the soft tissues. By looking at that we are able to diagnose the fact that there was indeed blunt-force trauma to that area.

BLACKWELL (on camera): So he took blows to the neck?

ANDERSON: He took at least one blow to the neck.

BLACKWELL: So just to be clear, you're calling this a homicide?


BLACKWELL (voice-over): A spokeswoman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation tells CNN, "We have complete confidence in our medical examiners and stand by our autopsy report."

ANDERSON: I've never had a case that I can recall where the prosecution actually was told that this may well be a homicide, and the prosecution, the state, police and so forth and then didn't bother prosecuting. It's mystifying.

BLACKWELL (on camera): This is the first time you've called a case a homicide and everyone's backed away?

ANDERSON: Pretty much so. The only other times were a couple of cases where there was a deliberate cover-up. The case by people involved in the investigation or associated with people who just didn't want the facts to come out.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): The U.S. Justice Department is considering whether to get involved.

JOHNSON: If they don't get involved, they are sending a message to the world, you can kill as long as you can get away with it.

BLACKWELL (on camera): Do you still talk to Kendrick?


BLACKWELL: And what do you say?

J. JOHNSON: Sometimes I ask him what happened. I want -- sometimes I blame myself for not being there.

BLACKWELL: How long are you willing to fight?

K. JOHNSON: Till I die. If it take me 'til I die, I will fight until I die.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Victor Blackwell joins us now from Valdosta, Georgia. So the family's autopsy says that Johnson's death was not an accident, which totally contradicts the original autopsy.

And the family sent copies to the Justice Department for review. They responded last night, saying they don't see a civil rights violation, but is there still a chance they could investigate further?

K. JOHNSON: There is, and it would be through the criminal division of the Department of Justice.

The U.S. attorney, Michael Moore, here in Georgia has been reviewing this case for months. It's been on his desk, he says, every day, and he says that he's still looking at it to determine if an investigation is valid. He also said this. He said, "I want to make sure that members of the community and the family and everyone involved has confidence in my work and in my decision.

And also, Anderson, he says that, when the time is right, he will meet with the family's pathologist -- Anderson.

COOPER: Victor, appreciate the update.

A loyal dog and her puppies reunited with the American soldiers who promised they would not leave them behind, and they didn't. One of the soldiers and his dog is going to join us ahead.

Also tonight, new information about what caused that huge fire that has burned more than 200,000 acres in an around Yosemite.


COOPER: Welcome back. As the United States contemplates taking action in Syria, it's worth noting that the stories of war are usually full of pain and loss. But tonight we're glad to bring you a really good story from a long war in Afghanistan. There was a lot of smiles today around the office.

The story begins in Afghanistan. Brave American soldiers stationed at a remote base. A stray dog wanders around. They adopt her, and she in turn adopts them. The dog, then, has a little of puppies and I'll let Randi Kaye pick up the rest of the story.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At Terminal 4 at JFK Airport, Sergeant Edwin Caba and his fellow soldiers from the Army National Guard are anxiously awaiting a special delivery prom Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm extremely excited. I can't put into words. I'm antsy, excited, anxious, pumped up.

KAYE: To better understand why, let me take you back to Afghanistan earlier this year where he and others were helping train Afghan patrols on the border with Iran. A stray dog took a liking to them, and the men immediately bonded with her. She went on patrols with them and waited each night for their safe return. They named her Sheba.

When she got pregnant, the soldiers knew her life and the puppies' lives were in danger. The puppies were hungry, and Sheba was dangerously thin. So the men started giving her and soon her seven pups their rations, MREs, beef jerky, you name it.

They bathed them, swaddled them in blankets and loved them like their own. Sergeant Caba realized he just couldn't leave Afghanistan without the dogs.

SGT. EDWIN CABA, U.S. ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: I fell in love. You know what, from the second she was born we're like they are cute and started getting personalities and, you know, kind of taken to us very well, and, you know, you can't leave something like that behind.

KAYE: A couple of phone calls and soon Sergeant Caba was in touch with Guardians of Rescue, a New York group that rescues animals. They got word to this dog shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan and after some very generous donations, the dogs were brought there, quarantined for three months.

Next, they were shipped to Dubai, then flown to the U.S., an 8,000-mile journey, which brings us back to JFK's terminal four. Late Wednesday, the dogs arrived to cheers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got you here. We said we would.

KAYE: The puppies had grown a bit, but they sure seemed to remember the guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel fantastic. I haven't seen them in a while, and she's gorgeous. I can't believe that they're here.

KAYE: They were checked out at a local shelter, where they got some strange stares from others wondering where they came from.

There was also a group photo. Well, sort of.

All the excitement was a bit too much for Sheba, the puppies' mother, but her babies, now 5 1/2 months, were thrilled.

(on camera): Does she know any tricks yet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She doesn't know that she's doing it, but she does shake hands.

KAYE: Back home in Long Beach, New York, Sergeant Caba's puppy, Cadence, seems right at home after her first night.

(on camera): How did she do overnight?

CABA: She did well. She's a howler, so that was something we weren't expecting. KAYE (voice-over): During our interview she was easily distracted by all the new sights and sounds.

(on camera): She thinks she's still in Afghanistan.

CABA: She does.

KAYE (voice-over): For Sergeant Caba and the rest of his unit, these dogs managed to give them a bit of normalcy far from home.

CABA: She has offered so much companionship, you know. Just to see someone excited to see me when we walked back in, her butt shaking and tongue out is fantastic. It was. It means the world. She made things so much easier.

Come on, girl.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Long Beach, New York.


COOPER: There is no doubt in my mind, Randi Kaye had the best assignment at CNN today. But a short time ago, I got to meet Sergeant Edwin Caba and his dog, Cadence.


COOPER: So did you know right away that this was the dog for you?

CABA: I knew within about three days, yes.

COOPER: What was it about her?

CABA: The way she slept, definitely the way she slept, you know. Her mouth was wide open and laid on her back and just seemed independent yet, lazy.

COOPER: Is that how you sleep?

CABA: Exactly how I sleep, yes. But I snore. She doesn't snore.

COOPER: So how hard is it to -- a lot of people think about doing this while serving overseas but to actually be able to follow through in doing this was amazing. How hard was it?

CABA: It was very easy in my case. I decided that I wanted to take one dog home, and for some reason I reached out to my old high- school teacher, who then put me in contact with Guardians of Rescue, who then counter offered with bringing all eight -- all eight dogs home.

COOPER: That's amazing. Why your high-school teacher?

CABA: No idea. She was well-known and she was a huge influence on me growing up, and I figured maybe she could help me; she could help fund raise a couple hundred dollars. And it was a -- it was a good guess.

COOPER: What do you think would have happened to Cadence and all the others?

CABA: They -- our base closed when we left. There was no, you know, back field. So she would be fighting for herself if not dead right now, absolutely.

COOPER: They don't treat dogs all that well over there?

CABA: No. Not at all. They treat them like trash.

COOPER: Yes. You have another dog.

CABA: I do.

COOPER: How do they get along?

CABA: They get along OK. He always wants to play. And she -- she doesn't quite get that yet, because she's used to fighting for food with her brothers and sisters, I guess. So I think they'll get there. But she's a -- she's a little jerk to him sometimes. Yes, she's a jerk.

COOPER: What's great about her is, she's so sort of adaptive to wherever she goes.

CABA: Right.

COOPER: It seems like she's really good -- and this is kind of a tendency, I've read, with dogs that kind of are raised in that kind of environment. They're very good about reading their surroundings and adapting to them.

CABA: Yes, I mean, you got to think everything is different. You've been over there. It's all mud. It's all dirt. And just walking on the sidewalk is different and seeing so many cars go by is different, you know. So her adapting and her skills to do so are fantastic.

COOPER: Yes. What -- what do you want people to know about your time over there and about the importance of...

CABA: You can't get a better companion than a dog. And someone that's so happy to see you when you get back from a mission. And you know, they just -- whatever happened an hour prior doesn't matter, you know, as long as you can have a dog wagging its butt at you and licking your hands. And that just -- it turns your day around no matter what you've been through.

COOPER: Yes. And do you hope sometime maybe to reunite all the siblings?

CABA: We will, yes. It will be hard to get all of them because two of them went to Ohio with one of our teammates. But we have a wedding in December we'll bring her up for and, you know, we'll have play dates, definitely.

COOPER: Do you think she'll become an American dog very quickly?

CABA: I hope so. Yes, I think she will.

COOPER: I think she'll blend in fast.

CABA: She'll like the beach, that's what I'm waiting for.

COOPER: I know you want to thank the organization.

CABA: Yes, Guardians Rescue and definitely Save a Pet Long Island. If it wasn't for them -- if it wasn't for them, it wouldn't have happened. And we need to get their names out, because, you know, soldiers can bring their dogs home if they talk to the right people. Donations, you know, sharing it, even just talking about it would be fantastic.

COOPER: We'll put the names of the organization on our Web site.

CABA: That would be great.

COOPER: How did you come up with the name Cadence? Obviously military cadence.

CABA: I wanted something military-esque but not so cliche.

COOPER: Got it. Does she know her name yet?

CABA: I don't think so. I've yelled it enough so maybe she'll...

COOPER: How is the house training going?

CABA: Not well. She hasn't peed outside yet.

COOPER: She hasn't peed outside?

CABA: She went in your green room.

COOPER: Did she?

CABA: She did, sorry. But she'll get there.

COOPER: You sure that was the dog.

CABA: You know what? I was excited, too. She'll get there. She'll -- she'll get there.

COOPER: Yes, I'm sure she will. Well, congratulations. So happy for you.

CABA: Appreciate it. Thank you.

COOPER: What a story.

Up next, Dustin Brown, the biological father of a little girl who's at the center of a nasty custody dispute, faced a judge in Oklahoma today. We'll see what happened.


SUSAN HENDRICKS, HLN ANCHOR: I'm Susan Hendricks with a "360 News" bulletin.

We begin with a "360 Follow" on the custody fight over baby Veronica. The little girl's biological father is refusing to follow a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that she go back to her adoptive parents in South Carolina, who raised her until she was 2. Now Dustin Brown faced an Oklahoma judge today after that state's governor ordered he return to South Carolina to face charges of parental interference. He was granted bail and faces a hearing in October.

The U.S. Forest Service says the massive rim wildfire burning at Yosemite National Park was started by a hunter who didn't control an illegal fire. The fire now covers more than 237,000 acres and is 80 percent contained.

A nightclub that calls itself one of the Jersey shore's most talked-about venues is related to a suspected mumps outbreak. New Jersey health officials are investigating 22 probably cases and say all but one are adults who recently were at the nightclub.

And a new national survey by the CDC shows the percentage of teens who say they use electronic cigarettes doubled in just one year to 10 percent. Though they are marketed as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes, researchers say it's not clear how safe they are.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


COOPER: A chef and his food truck are changing lives in a city with its share of struggling residents. We expect chefs to serve up good meals, but for this one, that is just the start.

Here's Tom Foreman with this week's "American Journey."


FORD FRY, RESTAURATEUR: What'll you have? What'll you have?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of all the food trucks working the streets of Atlanta, few draw customers as quickly as Ford Fry's.

FRY: How's that grill working?

FOREMAN: No wonder: He's the star chef behind some of the city's best restaurants, and this latest passion is not just another business. FRY: I never really wanted to have a food truck for, you know, a business. It's too hard work. But -- but to go back and serve the city was just something I really had a passion to do.

FOREMAN: Every meal sold here provides the money for two or three served for free here. This is the nonprofit City of Refuge, a center to help some of the city's neediest residents with housing, health care, education, and of course, meals.

TONY JOHNS, CITY OF REFUGE: On a daily basis, we have about 200 residents that live on campus. Another 100 to 150 that will come on campus each day to receive the services that we provide.

FOREMAN: It is also a job-training center in which people who are struggling, like Rasheedah Nichols, learn all the skills needed to work in the restaurant industry and how to put their lives on a positive track.

RASHEEDAH NICHOLS, STUDENT, CITY OF REFUGE: I've learned basically everything that you could learn by cooking. And I've learned also a lot of managerial type of skills, and I've learned how to be a better person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She pays attention. She gets it right the first time. That's why she's here with us today.

FOREMAN: Is it working? The program claims a 100 percent success rate in placing its graduates in jobs: in restaurants, catering companies and at least for a time in the tasty truck that helps make it all possible.



FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN.


COOPER: OK. That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.