tv NBC Nightly News NBC July 12, 2009 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT
top secret. accusations congress was kept in the dark by dick cheney about a planned counter terror operation. closing in on the killers of a prominent florida couple. the parents of 16 children. tonight, an arrest. forced to dit. an extraordinary landing on the hudson wasn't the first. why some go so wrong, and an inside look at what it takes to bring one down. >> that's t you're in the water. and wind at his back. a young sailors race against the elements and into the record a young sailors race against the elements and into the record books. captions paid for by nbc-universal television
good evening. members of congress are reacting tonight to news that for years they were completely shut out of a top secret cia counter terrorism program. apparently because the vice president at the time, dick cheney, didn't want them to know about it. and that revelation is opening old sores about cia secrets and questions about what else congress may not have been told about. nbc's mike viqueira is at the white house tonight with more. mike, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, lester. cia director leon panetta killed the program as soon as he learned of its existence. but that has not stopped the flood of anger from key members of congress who were kept in the dark during the eight years of the program at the urging of the former vice president, dick cheney. >> we are a nation at war. >> reporter: panetta himself first leaed of the secret program on june 23rd. the very next day traveling to the capitol where he broke the news to members of the intelligence committees.
>> he was told that the vice president hadrdered that the program not be briefed to the congress. >> reporter: though details remain classified, the cia is required to tell congress of its operations. democrats are outraged. >> they have a massive program that is concealed from the leaders in congress. it is not only inappropriate, it could be illegal. >> reporter: and the allegation that it was mr. cheney himself who directed cia briefers to keep congress in the dark raises questions. >> what this shows is that the former vice president, dick cheney, could persuade the cia against the better judgment of some people in the agency not to tell congress about a secret program when it involved counter terrorism. >> reporter: the program began in the aftermath of 9/11, around that same time cheney told nbc's tim russert that secrecy and counter terror operations was essential. >> a lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, withoutny discussion, using sources and thet thods that are available to our intelligence agencies if we're going to be successful.
>> reporter: today even some republicans say failing to inform congress was a mistake. >> the cia should brief the congress. congress should exercise responsible oversight. >> reporter: but they also accuse democrats of playing politics. >> they misld us all the time. >> reporter: house speaker nancy pelosi has been under republican attack since may when she accused the cia of repeatedly lying to congress. >> it looks to me suspiciously like an attempt to provide political cover to her and others. >> reporter: republicans caution that attacking the cia runs the risk of ruining moral. >> they use the cia as whipping boys. they become a symbol of the errors of a prior administration. >> reporter: democrats aren't swayed, and in the wake of this latest revelation insist that panetta publicly admit the cia has misled them in the past. the cia may have some leeway. a government source says the program was, quote, on again/off
again and never fully operational. >> if a program like this was never fully implemented and went into the field, then i'm sure there were some in the agency that said we'll not make this a policy choice so we don't need to notify them. >> reporter: one member of the intelligence committee that i spoke with said whether the program was on again or off again, in her 2 1/2 years of serving on the house intelligence committee, this is the fourth time that the cia has either misled her or kept vital information from its congressional overseers. lester? >> mike viqueira, thanks. the u.s. senate tomorrow starts the confirmation hearing for sonia sotomayor. president obama's nominee for the u.s. supreme court. the white house has released this photo of president obama on the telephone with sotomayor today wishing her luck. though she's expected tbe confirmed, republicans will raise serious questions about her record as a judge. and for more on this all this we turn to nbc news justice correspondent pete williams outside the supreme court tonight. pete? >> reporter: lester, it's been about a month and a half since sonia sotomayor got the nomination, and since then she
has followed the time honored rule, keep quiet. despite some strong criticism of some of her rulings, but starting tomorrow she gets her turn. even with a broken ankle, sonia sotomayor barely broke her stride meeting privately with nearly every member of the u.s. senate. democrats say the first latina nominee and the third woman has what it takes to be a supreme court justice. >> excellence, she's legally excellent, top notch. moderation, she's not too far right, not too far left. and modesty. she has judicial modesty, she's not going to make law. she's going to follow law. >> reporter: legal scholars say her record as a federal judge puts her in the liberal mainstream, slightly more willing to strike down laws or government decisions, but not usually likely to rule in favor of racial or sexual discrimination claims. they say she'd be at about the same spot in the legal spectrum as david souter, the justice
she'd succeed. she grew up in a bronx public housing project, losing her father at age 9 and raised by a hard-working mother. a prosecutor and a federal judge. >> it is a very powerful position. the responsibility is enormous. >> reporter: but she's be pressed for an explanation of her now well-known statement that a wise latina woman would more often than not reach a better conclusion as a judge than a white male. some republicans say her record shows she's too willing to allow her own feelings to intrude. something they say that's at odds with other judges. >> with who have laid out the traditional way in which you decide cases with impartiality and just using the law. she, of course, looks to other factors like empathy, like whether it's popular in foreign countries and th sort of thing. >> reporter: republicans will ask about a ruling she endorsed that said the second amendment protection of the right to own a gun does not apply to the states, an issue that has tw
divided the federal courts, and they'll ask why she ruined a ruling against white firefighters in connecticut. they sued when a city threw out a promotion test that would have helped them but not black firemen. the supreme court reversed that ruling just last month. the hearing will last four days, maybe five, and the democrats hope to have the full senate vote on the confirmation by early august before congress takes its summer break. >> pete, before i let you go, there's another issue that's been bubbling under the surface, lingering questions about whether the bush administration interrogation tactics crossed criminal lines. we understand attorney general eric holder may be close to making a decision about criminal charges? what can you tell us about that? >> reporter: well, this won't be the top to bottom investigation that some democrats were hoping for. what we're told here is that holder is looking at a nor narrow set of circumstances where interrogations apparently went beyond the bounds of the cia program. this is said to be a small number of cases where the interrogations were especially harsh and where there was apparently no good faith effor to follow the legal guidelines,
lester. >> pete williams tonight in washington. thank you. there is late word from pensacola, florida, tonight that sheriff's deputies have made an arrest in the brutal murders of a prominent husband and wife who leave behind 16 children. nbc's mark potter joins us now with more. mark? >> reporter: good evening, lester. the arrest this afternoon came three days after the murders here which outraged and saddened this town. it was the result of a major break yesterday in which investigators found the red van they say was used in the attacks. after finding the van that investigators say was the same one seen entering and leaving the property where byrd and melanie billings were murdered, officials had been looking at two persons of interest. on the "today" show this morning, escambia county sheriff david morgan said arrests could be imminent. >> the dam has sort of broken. we're continuing to get calls from neighbors and family members, and so we believe we are currently on the right track and we hope to effect some
arrests very, very early. >> reporter: in viewing the videotape of the van arriving at the home thursday night and in leaving five minutes later, investigators were convinced the home invasion was a planned attack carried out by experienced criminals, although a motive has not yet been established. byrd and melanie billings were well-known in the pensacola area. they owns several businesses and had 16 children. 12 of them were adopted, and most were special needs children suffering from downs syndrome and autism. some dame from abusive homes. local residents were stunned by news of the murders and have placed flowers and cards outside the billings' home. at wayne's family diner in pensacola today, customers were upset. so many children are now left without their mom and dad. >> they were children that didn't have a home to begin with, didn't have a mother and a father, and now they're facing that all over again and that's tragic. >> you have to wry about what will happen to them. >> they just done such a
wonderful job working with some special children and meeting some special needs and how anyone could come take that away. >> reporter: the sheriff ss investigators are still gathering evidence to bolster their case and are trying to identify a third man believed to be involved in the murders. and meanwhile police have not said anything today about that second person of interest and whether he, too, might be arrested toon. lester? >> mark potter in pensacola. thank you. the bloody u.s.-led offensive in the drug-producing region of jorn afghanistan claimed more american lives as two marines were killed in bomb explosions. as john yang reports, the new reality on the ground there is giving way to calls within the military for even more boots on the ground. >> reporter: marine master sergeant john hayes, husband, father of three, and one of the 104 american troops killed in afghanistan this year, a record pace. randy johnson was a high school classmate. >> he was the kind of person
that always cared about other people. >> reporter: hayes was killed wednesday in the u.s.-led effort to push the taliban out of afghanistan's opium poppy growing region. in a british television interview, president obama warned things could get worse. >> we knew that this summer was going to be tough fighting, that there was an interest in the taliban exerting control. they have, i think, been pushed back, but we still have a long way to go. >> reporter: mr. obama's already ordered 21,000 more troops to afghanistan to provide security for next month's presidential election, but military officials tell nbc news general stanley mccrystal, the new top u.s. commander in afghanistan, believes the administration's strategy could fail without more troops. at the same time officials say james jones cautioned commanders in the field last month the president is not inclined to approve more troops this year. analysts say a big reason is the
strain the iraq war put on the national guard and reserves. >> they have come into the conclusion they can't tap into that resource anymore. >> mcchris tal has to give defense secretary robert gates his assessment of afghanistan which could include a request for more troops. john yang, nbc news, london. tonight, alaska governor sarah palin is offering a glimpse into her future. following her stunning announcement she's resigning her office, she told the "washington times" she plans to write a book, build a right of center coalition, and campaign for candidates, even democrats, who share her views. on today's "meet the press" the man who tapped her as his running mate admitted he was a little taken aback by her decision. >> i was a bit surprised, but i wasn't shocked. i understand that sarah made the decision where she can be most effective for alaska and for the country. i love and respect her and her family. i'm gratel that she agreed to
run with me. i am confident she will be a major factor in the national scene and in alaska as well. >> senator mccain on "meet the press" this morning. weather concerns may delay the liftoff of the shuttle "endeavour." forecasters are watching storms that could affect blast off the spacecraft and its crew of seven. the shuttle is scheduled for a 16-day mission to deliver critical spare parts and attach an experimental platform to the international space station. when "nitly news" continues this sunday, the growing crime scene near chicago. as families search for comfort and answers about what really happened in the burr oaks cemetery. later, the teenage mother is trying to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone. tonight, closing in on a record. well, my irregularity was only occasional and i honestly thought it was just a part of life. what made you first try tivia? i saw this ad, and i said, ok, i love yogurt and hey, it worked! humm. announcer: activia is clinically proven to help
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in illinois tonight the investigation into a scheme to resell cemetery plots continues to grow. police say cemetery workers violated the graves of hundreds, maybe thousands, and today anxious relatives are still trying to find out what happened to those they love. here is nbc's michelle franzen. >> reporter: late this afternoon hundreds of distraught families and friends of loved ones missing from the burr oaks cemetery gathered for a vigil led by the reverend jesse jackson. >> there's pain in this place because of the desecration. >> reporter: all looking for comfort and answers. inside the 150-acre cemetery, the grim task of searching for human remains continues to grow. >> there are potential crime scenes littered throughout this cemetery. >> reporter: four burr oaks cemetery workers are accused of
digging up graves, dismembering bodies, and dumping the remains in unused sections of the cemetery. then reselling the plots for profit. >> this pay for plot scheme, the new dimension of graveyard thievery. >> reporter: investigators and fbi forensic teams face the challenge of searching where grave site maps are either missing or poorly hand drawn. >> there's a section here called baby land. you can't find it anymore. these were sections that were designated for babies. people are unable to find them. >> reporter: including bobby sanders, who buried her infant children at the historic grave site. she's joined other families in a class action lawsuit. >> it's just devastating. you almost feel like you're going through the death of your loved ones all over again. >> reporter: the cook county sheriff's department confirmed at least 300 bodies were disinterred, and authorities will now examine over 7,000 graves. an investigation so massive in
scale the fbi says it is unlikely dna testing can be used to identify the remains, giving family members to feel robbed of their loved ones once again. little closure. michelle franzen, nbc news, new york. when we come back here tonight, why planes crash. a closer look at what happens when jetliners are forced to ditch on water. poor leg circulation. doctor says it's p.a.d. peripheral artery disease? hmmm. more than doubles your risk for a heart attack or stroke. so i hear. better ask your doctor about plavix. plavix can help protect you from a heart attack or stroke. plavix helps keep blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots, the cause of most heart attacks and strokes. my cousin the m.d. call your doctor about plavix. (male announcer) if you have a stomach ulcer or other condition that causes bleeding, you should not use plavix. when taking plavix alone or with some other dicines including aspirin, the risk of bleeding may increase so tell your doctor before planning surgery. and, always talk to your doctor before taking aspirin or other medicines with plavix,
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landing. some were just as successful, others not. tonight we will examine them all. customer jets are not designed to land on the water. it's dangerous and potentially deadly. so why would a pilot take such a risk? usually they have little choice. in the case of ethiopian airlines flight 961 on november 23rd, 1996, a giant 767 is commandeered, hijackers who don't care if they or anyone else on board lives or dies. the pilot does his best to put the plane down safely in the water. but the impact kills 125 people out of 175 on board. over the pacific ocean, october 16th, 1956, pan am flight 943 has a mechanical problem and ends up in a virtual no man's land, too far to go back or forward. when the plane meets the water, the aircraft ends up in pieces.
miraculously, everyone on board survives. and in the most famous case, us airways flight 1549 has the misfortune of running into a flock of canada geese. all on board survive. what's the takeaway? if your plane runs into a situation where it may have to ditch, you want the right person in the cockpit making sound decisions. >> i just know that it took every bit of my education, training, and experience along with that of my entire crew to be able to come up with the number that was 155. >> i feel like we're using thrust. >> reporter: although i am not a licensed pilot, i have had plenty of flight instruction. i got the chance to try and ditch my own plane in the hudson river in one of embree riddle university's 36 flight simulators. i can tell you one thing even in a training exercise, it's nerve-racking. >> okay.
>> dropping the nose? >> yes. drop the nose. you'll head for about 230 knots. >> i don't think we're going to make an airport. i see the hudson river. >> you're at 400 feet now. start leveling off. good, back pressure. >> we're down. >> you're in the water. >> we're down, we're down, we're down. okay. watl get your heart rate going. and imagine the real thi. w the is morht tthonnig o a special broadcast called "why planes crash: brace for impact." it airs at 10:00 p.m. eastern on msnbc tonight. coming up, the 17-year-old sailing into the record books. his incredible journey still ahead. if you think all batteries are the same, consider this:
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finally toght, it's one of sailings most daunting achievements. completing a solo voyage around the world. it's even more incredible if the skipper is just 17. you're about to meet a young man who is getting ready to sail into history. nbc's miguel almaguer has his story. >> reporter: sailing around the world can be terrifying. >> it's been a nightmare out there. >> reporter: a feat few have ever accomplished. solo circumstance cup navigation of the globe, enough to sink the dreams of the most experienced sailor. >> exhausted out here. getting colder. >> reporter: zach sunderland is just 17 and about to chart a course into the record books. >> this is a squall. >> reporter: this week he's expected to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. >> 15th out here right now, 14th. no.
i don't know. >> reporter: he shoved off from a california harbor back in june of 2008. he was 16, barely old enough to drive. a sailor since he was 5, his father taught him how to handle a boat, and now a challenge as daring as dangerous. 24,500 miles, 13 mons at sea. there would be bouts with loneliness, complete isolation. >> this is deep kind of like missing feeling that you get, that ooiv never had before it. >> reporter: combat. >> got about 36 knots right now. tons 6 rain. >> reporter: and conquest with mother nature. >> taking a shower here in the squall. getting shampoo in my eyes. >> reporter: a test of physical strength and mental stability. >> i don't know how i'm going to live to see this thing through. >> reporter: every challenge preparation for the next, even an encounter with pirates. >> it's crazy out here right
now. >> reporter: alone out to sea, zach did come ashore to make repairs on his boat. he also had a satellite phone to call his mom and dad. they used a gps system to track him. but while he remained overseas, his folks always seemed to worry. >> we've worried a lot, yeah, and you know, what we do have that not everybody does have, we have a lot of faith. >> reporter: faith now turned to confidence as zach approaches his final leg. he spoke to nbc news off the coast of mexico. >> i was never too young and your goal is never too high. >> reporter: and he is out there all alone out to sea and about to finish the journey of a lifetime. miguel almaguer, nbc news, los angeles. that's "nbc nightly news" for this sunday. brian williams will be here tomorrow. i'm lester hold reporting from new york. for all of us here at nbc news, new york. for all of us here at nbc news, good night. captions paid for by nbc-universal television