Tonight on 360°, the story of how a young American from Long Island, New York, became an al-Qaeda terrorist. Nic Robertson and his team spent almost a year uncovering how and why Bryant Neal Vinas went from a quiet teenager who grew up in suburbia to a jihadist. Our team has tracked Vinas’ story across three continents.
Want to know what else we're covering? Read EVENING BUZZ
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Tonight we revisit a story we brought to you Friday. It produced a flood of emails, most of them unprintable. Clearly, the story of Lieutenant Colonel Terrence Lakin struck a nerve. Lakin is a decorated Army doctor, an eighteen-year veteran, now facing court martial for disobeying orders to ship out for another tour of duty in Afghanistan. He says the orders are illegal because, he claims, President Obama, the commander-in-chief, has not proven he was born in this country. Lakin, in popular shorthand, is a birther, and Anderson’s interview with him and his lawyer stirred up a passionate debate on our blog. Keeping them honest, we’ll take a close look tonight at the birthers’ claims and how they’re playing in the court of public opinion and in legal circles.
It’s Day 21 of the Gulf oil spill disaster, and the oil is still gushing at an estimated rate of 210,000 gallons a day. That’s about 4 million gallons so far. At this rate, the spill is on track to exceed the Exxon Valdez spill by Father’s Day. That gigantic four-story dome that BP tried to use to cap the leak well this weekend failed to work. We’ll show you exactly what thwarted the plan. It involved ice-like hydrate crystals that clogged up everything. We’ll also look at other plans in the works to stop the leak, including a tophat and a junk shot. Yes, the actual ideas sound as strange as the names, at least to the uninitiated.
We’re excited to bring you an amazing and important report by Nic Robertson tonight. It’s the story of how a young American from Long Island, New York, became an al-Qaeda terrorist. FULL POST
Editor's note: Tell us how the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is affecting you. Upload your video or photos to iReport and watch AC360° at 10pm ET tonight for the latest on BP's cleanup efforts.
Pensacola Beach, Florida
It was Mother’s Day yesterday and we took our mom and the grandchildren out on the boat to spend the day in the sun and on the sands near the shores of the historic Fort Pickens built back in the 1830’s. Lots of others had the same idea and it couldn’t have been a better day to spend in the mouth of the Pensacola Pass, it was warm and sunny with calm and crystal clear waters.
But there was something radically different about this island paradise, the white sands and emerald waters are now lined with brightly colored containment booms that have been placed in hopes to hold back the oil. In my wildest dreams, I would have never guess that we would have to answer these questions…“What are those floaty things?”, “Why are they here?”, “What will the oil do to all the fish and stuff?” and “Can we take some of them red floaty things home with us?”
I hope that the booms will become just a faded memory to our nephews and that they can continue to build castles in the sands, swim in the clear water and play fort in a real Spanish Fort as I did when I was a kid. It was an honor to show these boys this place that I grew up in and I hope they have the chance to show it to their kids.
Update: Lt. Col. Terry Lakin, the Army officer who has refused to deploy to Afghanistan because, in his view, President Obama has not proved that he was born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to be president, entered a deferred plea at his arraignment hearing Friday morning. Read his letter to President Obama posted on SafeguardOurConstitution.com.
Terry Lakin Letter to POTUS
March 30, 2010
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
For more than seventeen years, I have had the privilege of serving my country as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, including overseas assignments in imminent danger/combat areas in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
The United States is an example to the rest of the world of a stable, civilized democratic government where all men are created equal and the rule of law is cherished and obeyed. The U.S. military teaches and promotes the rule of law and civilian control of the military to many other nations and militaries around the world. Every soldier learns what constitutes a lawful order and is encouraged to stand up and object to unlawful orders. My officer's oath of office requires that I swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
I recently received deployment orders for a second deployment to Afghanistan. My orders included a requirement to bring copies of my birth certificate. I will provide a certified copy of my original birth certificate with common, standard identifiers, including the name of an attending physician and a hospital. Every day in transactions across the country, American citizens are required to prove their identity, and standards for identification have become even stricter since the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Since the fall of 2008, I have been troubled by reports that your original birth certificate remains concealed from public view along with many other records which, if released, would quickly end questions surrounding your place of birth and "natural born" status. Many people mistake the online Certification of Live Birth for an original birth certificate. Until the summer of 2009, the Hawaiian Department of Homelands would not accept this Certification of Live Birth to determine native Hawaiian identity–the Department insisted upon also reviewing an original birth certificate. Many do not understand that the online document was from 2007, generated by computer, laser-printed, and merely a certification that there is an original birth certificate on file which may or may not be sufficiently probative. An original birth certificate is the underlying document that presumably includes a hospital and attending physician's or midwife's name that should lay to rest the "natural born" dispute.
In 2008, after pressure from the news media, Senator McCain produced an original birth certificate from the Panama Canal Zone; a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examined and affirmed his "natural born" status and Constitutional eligibility to serve as President. The U.S. Senate was silent about your eligibility, despite statements from Kenyan citizens that you were born in Mombasa, including your paternal grandmother and the Ambassador from Kenya to the U.S. during a radio interview. Hawaiian state officials claim they cannot release an original birth certificate without your consent. FULL POST
Losing luggage is one thing, but how could an airline misplace a dog?
A Canadian man claimed his pet disappeared after he checked the animal with Delta Airlines for a flight from Mexico City to Detroit.
Josiah Allen, of Ontario, told the consumerist.com that Delta offered him an apology and a $200 credit for future Delta travel.
“I think that this is completely absurd,” Allen wrote to consumerist.com. “There is no excuse for this kind of situation to take place.”
Allen said he and his girlfriend rescued the stray dog while on vacation last month in Puerto Vallarta.
“We took him to the vet's, got him all of his shots, an eye infection treated, two baths to clean him from hundreds of dog ticks that were covering his whole body, and gave him the name Paco,” Allen said.
According to Allen, the nightmare began when the couple attempted to check Paco with Delta for their connecting flight to Detroit. Allen said a Delta agent told them the pet carrier they purchased for Paco was not big enough. He added that the airline only accepted the carrier after he and his girlfriend signed a waiver releasing Delta of any liability if Paco was injured.
Allen said he and his girlfriend arrived in Detroit where they waited for Paco at the pet claim for about twenty minutes. Eventually, according to Allen, a Delta employee informed the couple that the dog was not at the airport and in fact had never been boarded on the plane in Mexico City.
Allen said the worker assured him that Paco “would be cared for by Delta employees and walked, fed, watered, and would be sent on the next flight to Detroit, and then get delivered to my house in Ontario, Canada.” But the next day, Allen said he called Delta to see if Paco had been flown to Detroit yet and couldn’t find anyone who knew. “No one seemed to have any answers or have any idea about the location of my dog,” Allen said. He said his host in Mexico spent hours on the phone trying to solve the mystery and was eventually was told that Paco had escaped from his carrier and disappeared. FULL POST
Ready for today's Beat 360°? Everyday we post a picture you provide the caption and our staff will join in too. Tune in tonight at 10pm to see if you are our favorite! Here is the 'Beat 360°' pic:
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden leans in to whisper to Solicitor General Elena Kagan after President Barack Obama announced her as his choice to be the nation's 112th Supreme Court justice during an event in the East Room of the White House today. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Have fun with it. We're looking forward to your captions! Make sure to include your name, city, state (or country) so we can post your comment.
Staff Winner: Sean who wrote: Biden: “Elena, this is a big f-ing deal too.”
Viewer Winner: Ken from Berkeley, CA who wrote: Confirmation's easy...It's the oath of office where they'll trip you up.
Roland S. Martin | BIO
CNN Political Analyst
If a white Republican president of the United States appointed a white male as his next Supreme Court justice, and upon the inspection of his record, it was discovered that of the 29 full-time tenured or tenured track faculty he hired as dean of Harvard Law, nearly all of them were white men, this would dominate the headlines.
It would be reasonable to conclude that the special interest groups that vigorously fight for diversity - civil rights organizations, feminist groups and other liberal institutions - would be up in arms, declaring that this person's records showed him unwilling to diversify academia, and unqualified to consider diverse views as one of nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court. There would be widespread condemnations of Republicans having no concern for the nonwhite males in America.
But what if the choice were made by a black Democratic president, and it was a woman? A white woman? A white Democratic woman?
Some of you may not like the fact that I am focusing on the race of the individual, but when diversity is raised, the person's skin color, gender and background are considered germane to the discussion. And if there is silence from black and female organizations, their race and gender matter as well.
We may very well witness this now that President Obama has selected Solicitor General Elena Kagan to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
Guy-Uriel Charles, founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics, has heavily scrutinized Kagan's hiring record as head of Harvard Law School. In a scathing blog post, he has said that of the 29 positions Kagan had a chance to fill, 28 were white and one was Asian-American. And of the group, only six were women - five white and one Asian-American.
Program note: CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson spent a year investigating convicted terrorist, Bryant Neal Vinas. He is now on assignment in Pakistan tracking down details of Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad. Watch AC360° tonight at 10pm ET to see Parts 2 & 3 of Robertson's report. Watch Part 1 on AC360.com. Watch CNN"s "American Al Qaeda: The Story of Bryant Neal Vinas" on Saturday and Sunday, May 15-16, at 8pm ET.
Nic Robertson | BIO
CNN Senior International Correspondent
It's 4:30 in the morning, with a foot and a half of snow frozen to the ground outside.
On any other day I would reset my alarm and go back to sleep.
But today is the culmination of more than 6 months of investigative reporting on three continents. We were closing in on a key piece of the puzzle to explain what made an all-American kid from New York join al Qaeda.
If our documentary was going to shed light on a dangerous and growing threat to the United States, we had to make this day count.
Nothing was going to keep me in bed.
I'd flown into New York from London the day before, calculating this one interview would reveal what made a mild-mannered young man from Long Island named Bryant Neal Vinas turn to radical Islamic terrorism.
His story is the story of a frightening new trend: home-grown terrorism. Young Americans converting to radical Islam, trying to kill their countrymen.
For once jet lag was on my side. The body clocks of my colleagues - CNN producer Ken Shiffman and CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank - were on a different schedule, but they were as keen as me to close the deal.
We rolled out of the hotel forecourt onto the deserted highway. The GPS was directing us down Route 112.
Our job this freezing February morning: talk to the man who'd been dodging us for months.
It wasn't going to be easy.
For months, his family had told us he was out of the country; our counterterrorism sources were saying the opposite.
We parked close to his house in an anonymous New York suburb - and waited for a chance to talk to him. Sitting hour after hour, it is cramped and cold. Slowly the sun inches above the horizon and the uppermost branches of the slender trees surrounding the house are soaked in its early golden glow.
The rays were still hours from reaching us but it was a warming sight nonetheless. An omen, perhaps, that our wait would be worthwhile.
Our journey had begun months earlier when Bryant Neal Vinas' arrest was first made public. He'd been in detention almost a year when the news broke, but we quickly got the inside track. A lawyer we'd interviewed in Belgium handed us a document.
Program note: Watch Jeffrey Toobin on AC360° tonight at 10pm ET to hear his thoughts on Supreme Court nominee and former law school classmate, U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan.
CNN: What is Elena Kagan's strength?
Jeffrey Toobin: Elena Kagan is known as a consensus builder. During her time as dean of Harvard Law School, she united a deeply divided faculty. Clearly, the hope from the president is that she will do for the Supreme Court what she did for the Harvard faculty, if that's possible.
CNN: You knew her at Harvard. What is she like?
Toobin: Smart, funny, self-confident, extremely intelligent but not obnoxious about it. She's always been a well-grounded person who brings out the best in others around her.
CNN: Some African-American groups and commentators have criticized her appointments at Harvard, charging that almost all of the people she hired were white and of those, only six were women. Could that be a factor in her confirmation?
Toobin: The upper reaches of the legal profession are still dominated by men, so the talent pool still skews that way. Under Kagan, the diversity of the faculty at Harvard changed, but not as fast as the rest of the country.
CNN: How does Elena Kagan stand politically?
Toobin: She's clearly a Democrat with a capital D. She worked for both the Clinton and Obama administrations. What is unclear, however, is her stand on specific social issues that go before the court - affirmative action, abortion, church and state issues. Unlike a sitting judge, she has never been forced to write opinions on those issues, and she has chosen not to write about them as an academic. As far as I know, she has not even talked about her views.
CNN: What do you say to observations that she has never been a judge?
Toobin: Since 2005, every justice for the court has been a former appeals court judge, but that model is relatively new by Supreme Court standards. During the time of Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, eight of the nine justices had never been judges before. Obama is a president who respects diversity in all areas, including professional background. He said he wanted to break the monopoly of former judges on the court, and this is a first step.
CNN: What lies ahead for confirmation?
Toobin: I think the days of justices being confirmed with more than 90 votes, which happened with Justice Stevens, Justice [Antonin] Scalia, and [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, are over. But the odds are that she will be confirmed by a comfortable margin. The fact that the Republicans have not been breathing fire from the start suggests they are not looking for a huge fight. Of course, they don't have to make up their minds right away.
CNN: How will the process play out?
Toobin: The hearing will probably be in early July, and the Senate vote soon after. Kagan should be in place well before the first Monday in October. That was how it worked with Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor, and there is no reason to think it will be significantly different this time.