THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: THE POINT: "Tracking the Terrorists, the World's Most Wanted."
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't have anthrax.
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ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Earlier this afternoon a positive anthrax culture was found at the remote mail site that serves the White House.
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ANNOUNCER: New worries about anthrax in Washington. And, questions remain about whether postal workers are being tested in time.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In retrospect, we should have done a number of things earlier.
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ANNOUNCER: Tonight, where the investigation is heading.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six hundred and eighty million pieces of mail a day. It's monumental. We can't possibly screen that amount of mail, but the post - you know, this has changed everything.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it weapons graded? Hey, it's dangerous. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From the type of anthrax, to who needs to take antibiotics, is it caution or confusion? Tonight's flashpoint: does Washington know what it's talking about? The hunt for the world's most wanted terrorists.
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TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Twelve FBI agents are assigned to various locations in Germany on a temporary duty status.
OTTO SCHILY, GERMAN INTERIOR MINISTER: Germany stands shoulder by shoulder by the United States.
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ANNOUNCER: The German connection. These posters got this student suspended from school. I was incredibly angry to see that all my posters had just been blatantly ripped down off my locker.
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ANNOUNCER: What is the lesson? We'll hear from both sides. And from Pakistan, the parent of a U.S. woman still held by the Taliban, and still charged with trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.
THE POINT: TRACKING THE TERRORISTS, THE WORLD'S MOST WANTED. Now from Washington, Greta Van Susteren.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: President Bush says he doesn't have anthrax. Who would have thought we would ever have to ask? But this afternoon, we learned anthrax has turned up at a mail facility that serves the White House. That facility is on a military base several miles from the executive mansion. The White House mail already gets special screening and the president says he is not afraid to come to work. But when reporters asked Mr. Bush if he has been tested, this was his answer...
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BUSH: There's no question that anybody who would mail anthrax with the attempt to harm American citizens is a terrorist. And there's no question that Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization. So I wouldn't put past me there are -- you know, it wouldn't surprise me that they're -- that they -- that they're involved with it. But I have no direct evidence.
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VAN SUSTEREN: A suspected case of inhalation anthrax has turned up in New Jersey. Two postal workers in that state already have anthrax skin infections. The New Jersey cases center around a processing center in Hamilton township and that's where the contaminated letters to the "New York Post," Tom Brokaw, and Senator Tom Daschle were postmarked. The letter to Senator Daschle went from New Jersey to a mail facility in Maryland. That's where CNN's Susan Candiotti picks up the investigation.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the common denominator linking deadly anthrax hits in Washington, and now getting dangerously close to mail heading to the White House. The Brentwood postal facility is now officially a crime scene. Two postal workers dead from inhaling anthrax there, two other postal workers are being treated for inhaling the bacteria.
DEBORAH WILLHITE, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE: The enemy is whoever sent this letter because they have now murdered two people and two people are seriously ill.
CANDIOTTI: Health officials are also investigating four more suspected cases, and on top of that, another dozen in the Washington area that may be infected. And now that White House connection -- an automated machine at this naval base, a letter slitter that opens White House mail, gets a positive hit for anthrax. Mail going through there first passes through the Brentwood facility.
FLEISCHER: All employees at the site are being swabbed and tested. Mailroom employees at the White House will also be swabbed and tested and environmental sampling throughout the White House has all shown negative.
CANDIOTTI: Investigators admit they have a big problem on their hands -- figuring out how anthrax, finely ground to hang in the air, may have seeped out of mail and into the lungs of postal workers.
DR. JEFFREY KOPLAN, DIRECTOR, CDC: What's very disturbing about this to all of us is that it's - apparently, closed envelopes can transmit as well. And we don't know whether that is out of, you know, open flaps in the envelope, whether it's - potentially can pass through the envelope.
CANDIOTTI: The Justice Department now releasing copies of three anthrax letters, all postmarked Trenton, New Jersey. Two sent to NBC's Tom Brokaw and the "New York Post" are identical, are in the same handwriting, contain the same threatening message and are labeled "9-11", the day of the attacks, although postmarked one week later. They read, "This is next. Take penicillin now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great."
The letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle mailed about three weeks later is similar. "You cannot stop us. We have this anthrax. You die now. Are you afraid? Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great."
RIDGE: All of these are -- we hope, will alert citizens and others to the kind of thing to look for and may provide us with indications about other items sent through the mail that would similarly have provided a basis for the risks and the problems we've endured.
CANDIOTTI: But the FBI not yet able to finger Al Qaeda or domestic terrorists.
TIM CARUSO, FBI: We do not have information at this point that would make evidentiary links to Osama Bin Laden or Al Qaeda.
CANDIOTTI: In New Jersey, where those letters were processed, investigators expanding their search, but leads still going nowhere. Authorities spreading out to a neighboring county where at least one of the letters may have originated. The FBI waiting for anthrax tests on an infected mail carrier's backpack, truck, and three blue mailboxes along her route. She did not, however, retrieve mail from them.
Sources leads are still coming in, including tips about people dropping off suspicious mail. So far, a dead end. Very much alive, the big question everyone wants answered and that is Greta, who did it and how?
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Susan, when I listen to your report and what everyone says it's as though the investigators are waiting to see when the next shoe is going to drop rather than we're aggressively finding anything. Is there -- is there any light at the end of tunnel on this investigation?
CANDIOTTI: Well, they're looking at it from all ends.
VAN SUSTEREN: But are they getting anywhere? It's one thing to look at it. I mean it's just like we're just - the bad news keeping rolling in.
CANDIOTTI: It does and they say they're trying to keep up with it as best they can. But they, themselves, have never come against anything like this, before, too. So they're having to both backtrack and trying to look ahead. But so far they admit they're hitting a stonewall for the most part. Leads are still coming in. They insist they're still checking things out. Just they haven't found anything yet solid.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Germany, what's new on the investigation front in Germany?
CANDIOTTI: Well, today, we learned via a visit from the German foreign minister who was with the U.S. attorney general today among other things, that one of the suspected ringleaders, Mohamed Atta, apparently used three false identifications while he was in Germany.
We also learned of another arrest there today. Germany coming up with many arrest warrants and of course the question is -- including one involving some people still a fugitive out there, who is accused of setting up a terrorist network directly linked to September 11. Of course, there haven't been any charges filed in the U.S. as yet today. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asked that again and he said we're not ready yet.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Susan Candiotti thanks for joining us this evening.
They say hindsight is 20-20. Today, there was a high-level effort to improve our foresight. Attorney General John Ashcroft and his German counterpart compare notes on what terrorists have been doing in both countries.
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SCHILY: It is true some of the terrorists have been in Germany and have prepared these cruel attacks. And we must say we failed to see it before. But to be very open minded, we altogether failed to see it -- what has happened, what has been prepared in the United States, what has happened in the United Kingdom, in France and elsewhere.
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VAN SUSTEREN: The Germans are promising to reexamine their security system. And just today, German authorities announced they arrested a Turkish man at the Frankfurt Airport last week. He is suspected of leading a fundamental Islamic terrorist organization. Earlier this evening, I talked with German interior minister Otto Schily and asked if German intelligence indicates the U.S. may be at risk for another terrorist attack.
SCHILY: No, we have no concrete evidence in this direction and we have no information at all this could be planned, and for the time being, we have no information in this direction.
VAN SUSTEREN: About two or three weeks ago, sir, it was reported that German intelligence determined that there were 30 possible people involved in the hijackings here in the United States. Of course, 19 men have died in connection with the crash at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Do you have any idea where the other 11 might be and do you believe there are 11 more involved?
SCHILY: I cannot confirm this figure. I don't want to comment on details on the ongoing investigations.
But I must tell you that it is not the truth to say that the planning has been done in Germany. There's no evidence at all these hijackers have been in Germany. Yes, a certain figure of them have been there. Eleven of them have been in the United Kingdom, a lot of them in the United States. As you know, they have been trained as pilots in the United States, so I agreed with the Attorney General John Ashcroft whom I met today, that we should not play the scapegoat game.
We are all together responsible and we have to invest all our efforts for the investigation to see what has happened and what could happen in the future. Now, this is -- my concern -- the most concern I have and I am -- I'm agreeing with Mr. Ashcroft that we have to -- that we have to have prevention measures and to tighten up our security measures just regarding prevention.
VAN SUSTEREN: Minister Schily, not to make a scapegoat of anyone involved in this but so that we can sort of learn from the past, in looking back, what do you look at as sort of the signs that we all missed whether it's in the United States, in Britain or Germany, that we should have picked up on?
SCHILY: After -- if you look in the investigation, the facts we discovered, I think we get a certain profile of the personalities and these people involved in these criminal attacks. We see some movement. We see some financial transactions, and so we have to corroborate -- to corroborate for a better profiling for these kind of people who are a real stretch for our societies.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you satisfied with the cooperation among the countries -Britain, Germany, for instance, and the United States?
SCHILY: Yes, I'm very happy with this. I'm very glad to say that we have a very close and intensified cooperation. We invited FBI agents to Germany. And the FBI and -- are included, the general -- the attorney general congratulate us mutually that this very good cooperation took place and will take place in the future.
VAN SUSTEREN: Sir, have you followed the anthrax problems here in the United States - number one?
VAN SUSTEREN: And if so, do you think that that's connected to the September 11 terrorism?
SCHILY: I - what I have heard in Washington, out of the authorities, there's no -- actually no evidence this could be connected with the terrorist attacks that are -- and out of the network of Al Qaeda either. But these are a series for the time being. For the time being, we can't say what the real background is. But they are some possibilities to examine and we are not at the end.
VAN SUSTEREN: What about the status of the investigation in Germany? There are some arrest warrants outstanding, are there not?
SCHILY: Yes, they are some arrest warrants and maybe we are preparing another one. And we rely also on the information -- we have to rely on the information, we have to get from the United States. And I ask the United States authority to contribute to these investigations and give us sufficient evidence that we can get -- that we can go to the judge and have this warrants as arrest warrants.
VAN SUSTEREN: For the warrants that you have outstanding in Germany now, what is the allegation? What is the involvement of these people in the terrorism?
SCHILY: I didn't get the question. I'm sorry.
VAN SUSTEREN: For those who you have arrest warrants now outstanding, what do you think they did?
SCHILY: I have to repeat. I don't want to comment on details of the investigation. This is the job of our general prosecutor and he has to decide what he can disclose or what not. And -- but they may be in the neighborhood. They may be connected and we also examine people who we call this nonaligned terrorist networks. You know, we arrested already some people last year who where on the way to commit terrorist crime in our neighbor, a country in France and we were on the very last minute to prevent it and to -- I think these kind of things are happening and we - I saying I believe they are the network of the terrorists wider than we imagine today.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, my thanks to Otto Schily who is the German interior minister. Thanks you very much, sir, for joining us this evening.
SCHILY: Thank you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Does anyone in Washington know what they are talking about? Stand by for my flashpoint debate.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, anthrax and mixed messages.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it weapons graded? Hey, it's dangerous.
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ANNOUNCER: Tonight's flashpoint: does Washington know what it's talking about? THE POINT returns in a moment.
VAN SUSTEREN: It has gotten to the point where it is another day, another anthrax case here in Washington. The government, not to mention the rest of the city, is trying to cope. But as CNN Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve reports, a lot of people are confused, worried and downright skeptical about what they are hearing.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fast and furious, that's Pearl Gaither, a D.C. postal worker.
PEARL GAITHER, D.C. POSTAL WORKER: I don't think they're telling us everything, not even the postal service. And yesterday, they said one thing and today it's another thing. It's hard to trust anybody when they are not even sure themselves. MESERVE: Recognizing the government's credibility problem with Washington's postal workers, two of whom have died of anthrax; Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson made a pledge.
TOMMY THOMPSON, HHS SECRETARY: If we even remotely suspect that an anthrax-tainted letter may have passed through a facility, we are going to get there, test the facility and make the appropriate treatment available to those who may have been exposed.
MESERVE: But wait, that's not what the White House spokesman says.
FLEISCHER: Protocols are going to depend on the evaluations made on the ground by the relevant officials, and every incident will have it's own set of protocols.
MESERVE: And on the same day Fleischer warned of the dangers of over-prescribing Cipro, postal authorities offered the antibiotic to 10,000 New York postal workers.
(on-camera): Government officials chalk up some of their anthrax inconsistencies to ignorance. They have rarely dealt with inhalation anthrax; have never seen anthrax sent through the mail and so, some officials admit, they are learning as they go.
(voice-over): For instance, until recent days, health officials thought sealed envelopes presented no risk to the mail system.
KOPLAN: Apparently, closed envelopes can potentially transmit as well and we don't know whether that is out of, you know, open flaps in the envelope, whether it's -- potentially can pass through the envelope. Don't know.
MESERVE: At Washington's Eastern Market, the late lunch crowd was universally sympathetic to the government's predicament.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this is such an incredible situation that I can almost forgive them for anything because it had to develop and they had to see the seriousness of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really have no other choice but to believe in them and hope that they can and will do everything possible to protect us.
MESERVE: But experts advise the government to be more careful and consistent, or more Americans may come to agree with Pearl Gaither.
GAITHER: You just don't know what it can do or how you can get it. You know, they really don't know. They say they do, but I don't think they do.
MESERVE: Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.
VAN SUSTEREN: Admittedly, this is a unique situation, but the country sends its best and brightest people here to Washington. Do any of them know what they are talking about?
Tonight's flashpoint: credibility or confusion? Joining me to talk about Washington's new credibility gap are Martin Tolchin. He is the editor-in-chief and publisher of "The Hill," a weekly newspaper about Congress. And Laura Ingraham is a radio talk show host here in the nation's capitol.
Marty, first to you, and I'm quite flattered that you got all dressed up tonight to come to the show.
MARTIN TOLCHIN, EDITOR/PUBLISHER, "THE HILL": I knew I was going to see you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I appreciate it very much. Washington, is there confusion and credibility problem here today?
TOLCHIN: I think there's hysteria. There certainly was hysteria when the House leadership, both the Democratic and Republican leaders decided to flee the capitol, close their offices, and just abandon their work. I think they were prudent in closing their offices and possibly even at leaving the capitol. But they should have found another venue to continue work.
I think that it was incumbent upon them to provide leadership to the country. I think was incumbent upon them to do the job that they're elected to do and they've got a lot of work ahead of them, including a lot of work on these issues -- bioterrorism, airline security, economic stimulus. And just to -- just to flee, I think just a manifestation of the hysteria that we've seen quite a bit of here in Washington.
VAN SUSTEREN: Laura, is there - was there flight by the members of Congress and is it hysteria, confusion and a credibility problem?
LAURA INGRAHAM WESTWOOD ONE RADIO: I think that word "hysteria" is a little bit of hysteria myself. But, look; the Congress is between a rock and hard place. Last week, everyone was calling the House of Representatives a bunch of wimps, including me, for leaving town after this anthrax scare. Now, we learn that the scientific information that we had at the time last week probably wasn't quite right. We can actually have anthrax inhaled simply by touching an envelope. That looks like that's what happened.
Scientists, at the time said, well, look, let's look at New York and let's look at Florida. Postal workers in neither place at that time had seemed to have any problems. The government in a difficult position. They both don't want to be alarmist and freak people out all over the country from even going near a mailbox, but they also want to be informative and also urge caution when appropriate.
This is difficult mix and difficult balance to reach, but so far, I think, the American people are giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt. Will that last? Well, not if mistake after mistake after mistake continues to unfold. But I'd hate to see...
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Laura...
INGRAHAM: ... the Democrats use this for partisan purposes.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Laura, though as the House is fleeing from work last week, one thing they didn't do, they didn't take the postal workers with them, for instance, from the Brentwood facility. That was still in operation. How do you respond to that?
INGRAHAM: Well, at the time, again, Greta, it -- they were hearing from the medical community and the scientists involved in this was that the postal workers, at that time, were not in jeopardy. Clearly, in hindsight, that was a mistake.
We didn't know all the facts about how anthrax can be spread. And I don't think we still know all the facts. This is going to be developing over time. We haven't had to deal with type of problem before and Americans are now getting a very swift education. And it's going to be haunting about how anthrax can be contracted. But we can't be, you know, fueling hysteria by fueling class warfare on all this.
VAN SUSTEREN: Marty, should the president have answered directly the question whether or not he had been tested and whether or not he is on Cipro himself? He said he doesn't have anthrax and we'll all happy about that. But what about answering those questions?
TOLCHIN: I think - yes, I think it was good for him to be forthcoming. I think that's been one of...
VAN SUSTEREN: But he wasn't -- he didn't answer those questions. He dodged that question. He was asked whether he was tested and he said I don't have anthrax.
TOLCHIN: Yes, he said he didn't have anthrax. So the only way he knew he didn't have anthrax was he had to have been tested. How else would he have known he didn't have anthrax?
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think that -- do you think that if he is on Cipro that we ought to know that? Do we have a right to know it?
TOLCHIN: Yes, I think we do. And I think that Cipro is a very dangerous drug. Cipro does shutdown some vital organs and has terrible side effects. And I think we should know if the president or any high public officials are on Cipro, especially for period of time.
VAN SUSTEREN: Laura, who gets high marks, who gets low marks right now in Washington?
INGRAHAM: Oh, I think -- I'm not sure that the report card is even relevant here. I think what we're seeing is that this is going to be a long struggle to even our unified message in order on all of this. I think President Bus, 90 percent approval rating, you can't really argue with that. That's not going to hold up. There's no way it's going to hold up. We all know that.
But I think for Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt and a few others -- Tom Harkin, today, coming out and sort of castings aspersions on how the administration has been handling this, is really bad form.
VAN SUSTEREN: What about, Marty, the fact that Tom Harkin, as senator from Iowa, had some criticism for the CDC? Is the CDC doing its job? Is it ready? TOLCHIN: Well, the CDC clearly was caught off base, off - unprepared. And as Laura said, this is new to all of us. We're all in a learning curve, but one does expect high standards from the CDC. They've had a marvelous track record. They're a highly, highly regarded, highly respected organization. One expected better from the CDC.
VAN SUSTEREN: But you know, Marty, everyone says that, you know, we were sort of caught off guard. But I've seen all these reports, all these commissions saying that bioterrorism is around the corner. Going back to the one that I think that was released in January, you know it's nuts. I mean you know, what certainly caught us off guard on September 11, but there have been a lot of people that said it was coming.
TOLCHIN: Well, that's true and no question by virtue of hindsight. We should have been more prepared for it. But again, it was something - you know, when we've coped with enemy, when we've dealt with an enemy, it's been kind of straightforward that somebody could see a country, people we knew were the enemy. This kind of came from out of space. This came laterally and it was just very, very hard to see.
VAN SUSTEREN: Laura, do you think the CDC has been - that they were sufficiently ready and prepared for this, at least with what we know right now?
INGRAHAM: Well, probably not, Greta. And I think we'll probably find out more about all that as time goes on. But we have to remember that what the terrorists want through all of this is they don't only want us to change our lifestyle; they want to engender a level of distrust between the American people and the American government. And it -- to the extent that incidents like this can foster that kind of mistrust, and you know, that is not a good thing because right now, we have unified country, we have a unified situation for the most part here in Washington and the terrorists want that breakdown. They need it to breakdown.
TOLCHIN: I'll tell you, there's no question they want to humble America. They want to humble the American government. They want us to get out of the Middle East and they want -- they really want to create a different America, which in fact they have done.
VAN SUSTEREN: And you know, the thing that strikes me, and Laura maybe you have a comment on this, it seems like that we're in such terror as a nation, is that we're almost waiting for the next shoe to stop, that we really haven't gotten ahead of this investigation because we haven't had any arrests, at least anything beyond the people detained. We don't know anything. Do you get the sense that we're - that they've got us on the run?
INGRAHAM: Yes - well, no, I get the sense that right now people like Tommy Thompson have gotten -- kind of gotten hit across the hand with a two-by-four on this anthrax thing. He's already out there soliciting bids from various pharmaceutical companies -- can you produce the vaccines we're going to need in the millions for smallpox? You know, you had John Ashcroft out there today giving us a new update on what's happening in Germany. It looks like the terrorists - three of them at least came from Germany, operating there, along with Italy. So I think this is moving very fast. No other country in the world could move as fast as we've been moving in the face of this terrorist threat. And I think we should be proud of the people who are trying to do their best job.
VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, Tommy Thompson's only been in there -- in office since January and he's moving quite quickly. But of course, I always support the former governor from my home state of Wisconsin. My thanks tonight to Marty Tolchin and Laura Ingraham for joining us.
INGRAHAM: Thanks, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: What is it like to be a Washington area postal worker these days? I will ask one is just in from the front lines when THE POINT continues.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Not so long ago, handling the mail wasn't considered hazardous duty. Here in Washington, as well as in New York and New Jersey, that perception has certainly changed. Now being a postal worker means being on the frontlines of the war on terrorism.
Joining me now is Benjamine Stevenson, who works at a postal processing and distribution center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Thank you Benjamine for joining me this evening. What do you for the postal service?
BENJAMINE STEVENSON, POSTAL SERVICE: I'm a tractor trailer operator.
SUSTEREN: Do you come in contact with any of the actual mail yourself?
STEVENSON: Yes, I do.
SUSTEREN: Now, have you been tested?
STEVENSON: No, I haven't been tested. They sent me down to D.C. General today to be tested. And when I got there, they said no, we're not going to test any more people. What we're going to do is we're just give a 10-day supply of Cipro. And you should take it. And if you still feel ill or you have felt ill in the past, and you continue to feel ill, then you need to go see your healthcare provider.
SUSTEREN: So you've never even had the nasal swab?
BENJAMINE STEVENSON: No.
SUSTEREN: There's no indication that you have had exposure to anthrax.
STEVENSON: Other than the fact that within the last three weeks I have had the flu-like symptoms. I got sick about two weeks ago, right around the 8th of October. And I didn't take off work or anything. I didn't think anything like this, you know, I didn't know of anything like this was going on.
And then, the last few days when they said we had a few workers that had been at risk, they started asking some of us had we been to a couple of these areas that had had exposure. One of them being the Brentwood facility and also out at the BWI facility.
SUSTEREN: Have been to either one of those facilities?
STEVENSON: Yes, I have. I've been to the Baltimore Washington Airport facility. And it has also been closed down.
SUSTEREN: Now did you ask to be tested?
STEVENSON: Well, when they started showing concern, and I knew I had these flu-symptoms, yes, I asked to be.
SUSTEREN: But when you were down there today at D.C. General, you came all the way down from Gaithersburg, which is what, about 40 miles from here?
STEVENSON: Yes, about 20, 25 miles.
SUSTEREN: And when you got here, you expected to be tested?
SUSTEREN: And were you surprised to find that were you not tested?
STEVENSON: Yes, I was surprised that people that actually had the flu-like symptoms weren't tested, but they kept saying that there was no need to test anymore, because they had localized where the anthrax was. I don't see how that could be true, seeing that I'm in Gaithersburg. Brentwood is in Washington, D.C. The only way I could have contracted this that I know of is out at BWI, at the airport, because that was another facility they found the spores at. I haven't been to Brentwood within the last three weeks.
SUSTEREN: So they just put you on Cipro? No test?
STEVENSON: No test. They told me -- they gave me a 10-day supply of Cipro and said take this.
SUSTEREN: Who's they?
STEVENSON: It was somebody at one of the health stations. They had us on line there, you go in. They ask you a couple questions like, "Have you had any flu-like symptoms?"
SUSTEREN: And you said?
STEVENSON: And I answered "yes" on the sheet that they gave me. Then we went to another station and they had a health -- mental health person talk to us, if anybody's had anxiety attacks, things of that nature, that you need to be aware of what you can do about this. They gave us a few pamphlets.
Then they sent us into a room where they had several stations. If were you taking medication, then they wanted you to go to one station. If you weren't taking it, then you went to another station. I happen to be taking Sudafed. And...
SUSTEREN: For the flu-like symptoms?
SUSTEREN: And so, what's your reaction to all this, is that you went all the way down here, came all the way down here to be tested. You got the flu symptoms. You're a postal worker. You've been to the Brentwood facility. And they send you away with 10 days of Cipro without testing you?.
STEVENSON: Well, I'm kind of disappointed because I have had the symptoms. So once this is cleared up, how would I know if I actually have been exposed? And if I haven't been exposed and I'm taking antibiotics, what is it actually doing for me?
I've never had anybody tell me take medication and they not know whether I have been exposed or not. You know, I don't mind taking it, but they say three to five days, they say that the incubation would be necessary to grow a culture. If I haven't been exposed, then I'd rather not be take the antibiotics.
SUSTEREN: All right, Benjamine Stevenson, thank you very much for joining me this evening.
STEVENSON: It's been a pleasure.
SUSTEREN: It is the last place in the world you would want your daughter to be, in Afghanistan and in custody. We will get an update on Heather Mercer when THE POINT returns.
SUSTEREN: Even before September 11, Heather Mercer was in a tight spot. She and seven other workers with the aid group Shelter Now had been arrested in Afghanistan. The Taliban accused them of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The trial has continued, despite the U.S. bombing. Heather's father John Mercer is waiting for word in Islamabad, Pakistan and joins us live. And before I ask you my first question, John, I just want to tell the viewers there's a slight delay in the satellites. There's a little bit of a delay between the question and the answer.
John, have you heard from daughter, Heather?
JOHN MERCER, FATHER: Good evening, Greta. Indirectly, we heard from the lawyer yesterday that Heather and the other seven detainees are still safe, healthy, very worried about the bombing, but they're still OK.
SUSTEREN: Are they in trial now or is the trial that she was being subjected to, has that been postponed?
MERCER: As it stands now, the lawyer has submitted their defensive brief to the court. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the court has that on the front burner at this time. And of course, that is disappointing.
SUSTEREN: What has been the effect of the bombing on her trial?
MERCER: Well, obviously, I think it's given the Taliban government a lot of other things to think about. It did seem to progress fairly well initially, but it has definitely bogged down. And we're just wondering where we're going to be going from here.
SUSTEREN: You know, John, we've spoken before. And you told me you thought she could get a fair trial. That was before bombing started. Do you suspect that she's going to be made a pawn in this or that she has been?
MERCER: Well, it's certainly a possibility. They have assured us that they would get a fair trial. They have to date seemingly given have them a fair trial. Whether that continues, we'll have to see. And obviously, the bombing has interfered with the process, which seems to be, you know, something very normal that would happen, given what's going on.
SUSTEREN: What makes you think she's gotten a fair trial?
MERCER: Well, from the standpoint that they have allowed the detainees to retain a lawyer, which they have. They've given the lawyer access to the evidence against them, allowed him to submit a defensive brief to visit with the detainees as much as he wanted. And I think at least from the Western point of view, it does have semblance of our system. But obviously, there are major differences. And again, it'll remain to be seen how this plays out.
SUSTEREN: Is she able to communicate to her lawyer how she's feeling, whether the conditions she's kept in are humane?
MERCER: Right. The lawyer sees them every day when he is there in Kabul. They are in a fairly decent place. They have enough room to sleep. They have plenty of food. And we've sent in clothing and other items that they need, as well as letters. They are able to send letters out. So from that standpoint, everything seems to be all right. It's the way it was from the beginning. And they have tried to ensure their safety from the bombing.
SUSTEREN: When is last time you received a letter from your daughter and what did she tell you?
MERCER: We received letters last week when the lawyer traveled back out to Islamabad. A lot of the text of her letters are, you know, personal things to the family. I love you, I miss you, I'm sorry for this. We're well, that sort of thing. My daughter and the others are afraid of the bombing. But they realize that they hopefully will be safe. And they just want to get this over with and hopefully get released.
SUSTEREN: If she is convicted, what's the maximum penalty that she could have?
MERCER: Well, Greta, you know what that is. It's been in the press since day one. Obviously, the penalties from range release to death so -- or anything in between. Obviously, we don't like to look at the extreme end of that spectrum, but certainly it's in our mind, but we've been assured and we feel confident that they will be safely released.
SUSTEREN: All right. Best of luck to you, John, and to your daughter Heather. John Mercer from Islamabad joining us this evening.
Does the right to free speech apply to high school lockers? Forbidden patriotism, when THE POINT returns after a quick break and our MONEYLINE update.
SUSTEREN: Even at school, patriotism is "in." But when a high school student in suburban Cleveland put some pro-U.S. posters on his locker, he was suspended for 10 days. Officials said the posters had to come down because they might offend students of Middle Eastern descent.
They showed bombers dropping the payloads. The caption read, "Good morning, Afghan, may God have mercy because we will not."
It took a federal judge's ruling to get Aaron Pettit back into class.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AARON PETTIT, STUDENT: I'm kind of angry to see that all my posters had just been blatantly ripped down off my locker. And then when I saw the note to see the assistant principal, I was even more shocked that I did something wrong.
If I got anything from Arab-American students in Fairview is compliments from my friends about how they liked the posters.
I was very surprised because it was just showing how I felt. And I thought I could do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SUSTEREN: Aaron joins me from Cleveland, along with his attorney, Avery Friedman. Also with us is the superintendent for the Fairview Park School District, Nylajean Mcdaniel, along with the school district's attorney, Tim Sheerin.
Aaron, first to you, why did you put the posters on your locker?
PETTIT: I really just wanted to show how I felt.
SUSTEREN: And how do you feel?
PETTIT: I feel pro-American that I think we should be taking the action, that I support the government in everything that they're doing, and how they're handling this.
SUSTEREN: Give me some idea of how many posters you put on your locker?
PETTIT: There were a total of five posters. One of the American flag, one of the eagle and three of pictures of bombers with different sayings.
SUSTEREN: Any complaints from any of your classmates?
PETTIT: None whatsoever.
SUSTEREN: Nylajean, what's wrong with that?
NYLAJEAN MCDANIEL, FAIRVIEW PARK SUPERINTENDENT: What's wrong with that, Greta, is that in Fairview Park and in all public schools across this nation, our number one purpose is to educate children in a safe and secure environment.
And to that end, when these posters appeared around our school, not only on Aaron's locker, but in other places, we had reports from both students and staff who talked to with our principal and were intimidated, threatened, and offended by the phrases on those that had the bombers with the dropping of bombs.
The American eagle, the American flag were not a disturbance to anyone, but the ones with the bombers were.
SUSTEREN: Aaron, do you disagree with Nylajean? That there were complaints, essentially that there were complaints from students?
PETTIT: I'm still yet to find out what students these were. Other than that, I mean, I only disagree on the fact that I think that they're not intimidating in any way.
SUSTEREN: Avery, how did this matter end up in court? AVERY FRIEDMAN, ATTORNEY: Greta, the posters were up for three weeks. It wasn't posted on one day and ripped down the next. The reason it wound up in a federal court is we gave that superintendent an opportunity to rectify the wrongdoing. After they absolutely refused to do so, they found themselves as defendants in a federal courtroom. And it took a federal judge to rule that they violated the Constitution.
SUSTEREN: Avery, when you say that you gave the school district and the superintendent a chance to rectify, exactly what did you do?
FRIEDMAN: I -- first of all, I notified their counsel, as we walked in the federal courtroom doors, about the choice of that superintendent correcting her wrongdoing. In addition, there was a hearing at which point the parents also told the superintendent, "If you just reverse the principal's suspension, that will be end of it." Both requests were ignored. And then they got hit by a temporary restraining order, enjoining them from keeping this young man out of school.
SUSTEREN: Tim, your response? You represent the school district. What do you have to say to Aaron and Avery?
TIM SHEERIN, SCHOOL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, to Mr. Friedman, not to Avery, Mr. Friedman well knows my phone number. He knows that who serves as counsel for the district. He didn't place a call.
The hearing that he refers to in front of Dr. Mcdaniel took place the evening, as I recall. Before the lawsuit was filed, Dr. Mcdaniel did not have a full opportunity, any opportunity really, to consider the presentation. So the lawsuit essentially was filed in a very, very precipitous manner. And to suggest otherwise is just plain wrong.
SUSTEREN: Nylajean, you know, was there something you would have done that could have worked this out, short of saying that he was suspended?
MCDANIEL: Greta, given the opportunity to have made a decision to either uphold, modify, or reverse that suspension at the appeal hearing, I would have done so. We were not give that opportunity.
Since Aaron -- since we went to court and Aaron was ordered back into the school, the judge did allow me to make that decision. His suspension is overturned. He is allowed to come back to school, make up his work, and continue and have his record clean slate.
SUSTEREN: Aaron, did the federal judge, and if you can't answer this I'll ask Avery, did the federal judge say, I know that he said that the suspension that was lifted essentially, but did he say you could put those posters back up on your locker?
PETTIT: He said that was still yet to be determined.
SUSTEREN: When is that going to be determined?
FRIEDMAN: Well, the reality is that this case still will be going to trial. What Mr. Sheerin didn't tell you is number one, he wasn't in the courtroom. And number two, we didn't even know who counsel was.
And the idea that they didn't have a chance to rectify is simply untrue. They had that chance. The federal judge entered the order. And it took that superintendent, Nylajean, five days later to finally reverse herself. So the argument is just preposterous.
SUSTEREN: Nylajean, why did it take five days or did it take five days?
MCDANIEL: It did take five days. We were waiting for the judge to determine that I could make that ruling, Greta.
SUSTEREN: Tim, what's your reaction to this lawsuit?
SHEERIN: Well, it is pending. And it's always unwise to be comment on pending litigation. So I'm not going to comment very further, except really, really...
SUSTEREN: Well, except that you've been dragged into court and you're on national TV. And it's a pretty public matter. And it's an interesting dispute. We have a student who puts a poster on the locker and some students may say that it interferes with education. It's an interesting issue.
SHEERIN: Yes, I certainly agree. But again, it's pending. And to say very much more than that isn't wise, except it is unfortunate that we got where we are in federal court. Mr. Friedman may not have known who board counsel was, but to give about 20 minutes notice that I'm going to file a complaint in federal court, I don't consider that very fair notice, nor an opportunity for the district to consider what it might do. And that is exactly what happened.
SUSTEREN: Nylajean, it sounds like the issue has now been boiled down to the simple question of whether those posters should be on the locker or not. Do you, in your mind, want to revisit whether or not the posters should on a locker?
MCDANIEL: It's inappropriate for those posters to be there, Greta. And as a matter of fact, at that hearing with the judge in federal court, prior to our leaving, he did ask Aaron not to repost those posters nor to distribute them.
SUSTEREN: Aaron, and are you obeying the federal judge?
PETTIT: I haven't put anything back up. He said that it was yet to be determined. There was no declaration.
FRIEDMAN: That's misstatement. In fact, all the superintendent has to do is apologize. She's already violated the Constitution. That's one of the things she can do to make this controversy go away. SUSTEREN: What do you mean apologize, Avery? You can't get an apology out of -- you can't get a federal judge to order a litigant apologize?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you want to know something? A federal judge can issue an injunction. A federal judge can issue declared...
SUSTEREN: Can't order an apology.
FRIEDMAN: That's right.
SUSTEREN: Can issue an injunction. Can't issue order an apology.
FRIEDMAN: That's exactly right. And that's something that she should consider right now.
SUSTEREN: All right. Well, let me throw it to Nylajean. Do you have any intention of apologizing?
MCDANIEL: We've done nothing wrong, Greta. There's been no violation of First Amendment rights in our minds. And there's nothing to apologize for.
SUSTEREN: Aaron, what have you learned from all this?
PETTIT: I'm sorry, what was that?
SUSTEREN: What have you learn from all of this?
PETTIT: That I've learned that if I'm right, and I have the right, to show how I feel that should be protected. That constitutional rights can and will be upheld. It never affected me until constitutional rights were violated, because it never happened before. It never actually hit home that people have all these rights. I have all those rights. Everyone has all these rights.
SUSTEREN: You know, Aaron, it's hard to predict what a federal judge is going to do. I have no idea in this case. But if the federal judge says you have no First Amendment right because this is a school, and for some reason you might -- what's your thought going to be then? FRIEDMAN: It's not going to happen.
PETTIT: I don't think that'll happen, honestly.
SUSTEREN: All right. Thanks to all of you for joining me tonight. Aaron Pettit, Avery Friedman, and Nylajean Mcdaniel and Tim Sheerin.
Let me know what you think about Aaron Pettit's suspension and the delay in testing postal employees for anthrax. Send an mail to [email protected] That's one word, askgreta.
Up next, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson joins Larry King for further discussion on America's anthrax anxiety. I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. "LARRY KING LIVE" begins right now.
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