PBS NewsHour for December 29, 2015 - Part 1



Margaret Warner, Gwen Ifill>

Sheri Fink, Matt Bradley>

take the city back from ISIS. The World Health Organization announces

Guinea is now Ebola-free after being the first country hit with the deadly

outbreak nearly two years ago. How are Puerto Ricans dealing with water

rationing during an extreme drought? A new law prevents data breaches.

Who was the winner of this year`s National Book Award for Poetry? Why are

there still so few women in science?>

Congress; Environment; Iraq; Ramadi; ISIS; War; World Health Organization;

Health and Medicine; Ebola; West Africa; Diseases; Death>

GWEN IFILL: Good evening. I`m Gwen Ifill. Judy Woodruff is away.

On the "NewsHour" tonight: Iraq`s prime minister visits war-torn Ramadi after government forces take the city back from ISIS.

Also ahead this Tuesday: The World Health Organization announces Guinea is now Ebola-free, after being the first country hit with the deadly outbreak nearly two years ago.

And how Puerto Ricans are dealing with water rationing during an extreme drought.

LUIS TORRES, Puerto Rico: We can`t run if we don`t have water. If we want to open the doors, we have to have water.

GWEN IFILL: All that and more on tonight`s "PBS NewsHour."


GWEN IFILL: A white Chicago policeman pleaded not guilty today in the killing of black teenager Laquan McDonald. That case sparked local protests and gained national attention.

Jason Van Dyke was arraigned on charges of first-degree murder and official misconduct. Police video released last month showed him shooting McDonald 16 times.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, protesters gathered a day after a grand jury refused to indict two police officers for killing Tamir Rice. The 12-year- old was shot dead in November of last year.

This morning, Mayor Frank Jackson said the city wants to address public anger, in part with a special committee to examine the case.

FRANK JACKSON, Mayor of Cleveland: The grand jury has said that there`s been nothing done wrong criminally. We are reviewing , based on what we have seen, whether or not something has been done administratively. A 12-year-old lost his life. Something happened.

GWEN IFILL: Attorneys for the accused officers reiterated today that their clients didn`t know Rice was only 12 or that he had a toy gun, not a real one.

In Pakistan today, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a government office, killing at least 26 people and wounding scores more. It happened in the northwestern city of Mardan, near Peshawar, in a province bordering Afghanistan. The bomber opened fire, then detonated his suicide jacket at a national registration office. Many of the victims were there to receive identification cards.

MAN (through translator): I was praying in my house when the blast occurred. It was a huge blast. When I came running here, there were dead bodies lying all around. It was like doomsday. Body parts were scattered on the ground. Rescue workers were picking up dead bodies and putting them into vehicles.

GWEN IFILL: An offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Police in Belgium have arrested two people in a possible plot to stage attacks around New Year`s. Brussels` main square is popular with tourists this time of year and was allegedly one of the targets. Authorities say the plotters had military-type uniforms and Islamic State propaganda.

Back in this country, days of heavy rain triggered flooding along the Mississippi River today, inundating small towns in Missouri and Illinois. The rising tide also shut down parts of two interstate highways and forced residents of West Alton, Missouri, to evacuate their homes.

Governor Jay Nixon warned the worst is yet to come.

GOV. JAY NIXON (D), Missouri: We have got a lot more water coming. We try to stay in front of it as best we can. Today is Tuesday. And, as I said before, we`re looking at Thursday night or Friday morning for that -- that crest, so we have 36, 48 hours to get ready for the top.

GWEN IFILL: Later, the governor activated the National Guard.

Elsewhere, heavy rain continues in Georgia and Alabama, and New England is finally getting snow, after one of the warmest Decembers on record.

Michigan`s governor apologized today for lead contamination in the city of Flint`s drinking water. And his environmental chief resigned. The city started drawing water from the Flint River last year to save money. State officials insisted it was safe, but the water corroded aging pipes and released lead. Residents have now been warned against drinking unfiltered tap water.

And Wall Street rallied on higher oil prices, plus upbeat economic reports. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 192 points to close at 17720. The Nasdaq rose 67 points, and the S&P 500 added nearly 22.

Still to come on the "rMDNM_NewsHour": a victory in the Iraqi city of Ramadi; Guinea, ground zero for the Ebola outbreak, declared free of the virus; a law to prevent data breaches; a drought in the heart of the Caribbean; and much more.

Now to the fight against ISIS and the fate of a key city, Ramadi.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins with this report.

MARGARET WARNER: It was a triumphant tour for the Iraqi prime minister. Today, Haider al-Abadi planted his country`s flag in the city after government troops retook its center.

HAIDER AL-ABADI, Iraqi Prime Minister (voice-over): ISIS said they would fight in Ramadi, but they felt afraid. They didn`t fight. They fled, and many of them were killed.

MARGARET WARNER: It was a seven-month slog to this day. Islamic State militants had captured Ramadi, capital of the majority Sunni Anbar province, in May.

After encircling Ramadi for weeks, last week, Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, finally launched an assault into the city. And over the weekend, they made a final push to seize its central administration complex.

Yesterday, troops celebrated as they raised the Iraqi flag above the key government building.

Today, speaking from Baghdad, U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren underscored the role of U.S.-led airpower in retaking the city.

COL. STEVE WARREN, U.S. Spokesman for Operation Against ISIS: I would agree that probably 80 percent of the effort in Ramadi was due to coalition airstrikes. This is significant. And this is what really facilitated or enabled the Iraqi forces to move in. It`s using that airpower as the force multiplier that it really can be.

MARGARET WARNER: Warren also told reporters that airstrikes over the past month have killed 10 Islamic State leaders. Several of them were linked to the deadly attacks in Paris, and one had direct ties to the ringleader of the November 13 rampage.

Back in Ramadi, there is much work left to do. Iraqi forces have cleared the areas shown here in green, but militants remain in other parts of the city. Indeed, Abadi and his convoy were forced to leave one section of Ramadi after mortar rounds landed nearby. Explosives also must be removed from streets and buildings.

Warren declined to predict how long that would take.

GWEN IFILL: Now we get the view from Iraq with Wall Street Journal reporter Matt Bradley in Baghdad. I spoke with him earlier today.

Matt Bradley, thank you for joining us.

So, this victory which people have been talking about as being imminent for several days, how significant is that it was accomplished without the help of Kurdish or Shiite militia?

MATT BRADLEY, The Wall Street Journal: Well, this was a -- this moment, this victory, as you described it, is really vindicating for the Iraqi military, and not just for the Iraqi military, but also for Prime Minister Haider Abadi and his partners in the United States.

So, this is really -- as Haider al-Abadi said, this is really sort of paving the way toward Mosul, which will be a much, much more difficult fight.

GWEN IFILL: You mentioned Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister. He made kind of a victory lap through Ramadi today. How unusual was that and how well was it received?

MATT BRADLEY: Well, he`s been trying to do that.

Haider al-Abadi, of course, like any politician, likes to get his picture in the right place at the right time. So this was not unusual for him. However, there were some rumors that were circulating this afternoon that his convoy had actually come under fire from some missiles from the enemy.

However, that was really denied. That wasn`t the case at all.

But it just goes to show just how dangerous this situation is and the kind of target that he makes. He really is caught between the Islamic State on one side and the Shiite militia groups, who were very resentful that they weren`t included in the fight for Ramadi.

GWEN IFILL: So, in this victory we have, have Iraqi troops improved on their performance and, if so, how?

MATT BRADLEY: Yes, one of the things that the Iraqi troops were able to do in Ramadi that they were not able to do in previous battles was the combined use of different tactics.

They were able to call in airstrikes from the coalition and from Iraq`s military at the right time for the right targets. They were able to combine the use of sort of amphibious assaults when they erected this bridge downriver from Ramadi in order to surprise the enemy from the south.

So they have been able to create a combined assault, which is sort of a lofty military theory that a lot of these Iraqi soldiers hadn`t been exposed to until U.S. training just this past summer.

GWEN IFILL: What effect does it have on morale, not only for Iraqi citizens, but also for the Iraqi military?

MATT BRADLEY: Well, every victory that happens in this battle is a strategic victory, because what we`re talking about, what the Iraqi troops really lack is morale, is this esprit de corps, is this feeling that they`re defending a nation, that their nation is grateful, that it`s worth saving and that their victories are not going to be usurped or eclipsed by those of the Shiite militias or the Peshmerga.

So, really, this is a huge moment, because this is the first time that the Iraqi military has really achieved a victory against the Islamic State. Up until now, it`s only been embarrassing defeats for the Iraqi military.

GWEN IFILL: And, Matt, there has been some talk that the next goal is Mosul, which seems a far more difficult target. Is that realistic?

MATT BRADLEY: Well, it`s not really realistic at this present moment.

Mosul is several times the size of Ramadi. It`s the second largest city in Iraq. It`s Islamic State`s de facto capital in this country. There is a huge number of civilians still in the city and there`s a lot of civilians who have some amount of affection or support for Islamic State.

So, the Mosul fight will not be nearly as easy as the Ramadi fight, and the Ramadi fight wasn`t easy at all, so, really, it`s just going to get only more difficult.

GWEN IFILL: Matt Bradley reporting for us tonight from Baghdad for The Wall Street Journal, thank you so much.


GWEN IFILL: For the first time in two years, the country where the Ebola outbreak began can say it`s free of the virus. That`s also true for the region of West Africa, where more than 11,000 people have died in the epidemic.

Ebola sickened more than 28,000 people across 10 countries, mostly in Africa. But a long international effort eventually paid off.

William Brangham begins our look at the lessons learned and the challenges that remain.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The outbreak first began in Eastern Guinea back in December of 2013 and then spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. More than 2,500 people died in Guinea before it was fully contained. And, today, an estimated 6,000 children there are orphans because of the epidemic.

But it`s now been six weeks since the last known Ebola patient repeatedly tested negative for the virus. Reports from Guinea today suggest a mix of both celebration and wariness.

Sheri Fink has chronicled the impact of the epidemic for The New York Times, and was part of the team who won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.

So, Sheri Fink, Guinea says no more Ebola. Tell us, how big a deal is this?

SHERI FINK, The New York Times: It`s a big deal.

As you have said, it`s been two years since experts believe that that first case in a little village in Guinea started this epidemic. That`s a very long time. And today marks the date that all three of those most affected countries have broken that original chain of transmission, that human-to-human transmission that has led us to this day, with thousands of deaths and many, many thousands of people getting sick with Ebola.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Is the scientific community pretty confident that we are in fact at zero? Liberia at one point was declared Ebola-free, and then some new cases erupted. So how confident can we be that this really is it?

SHERI FINK: So, this has been something that we have learned this year.

In fact, people might even be surprised Ebola has slipped from the headlines, that the transmissions continued to go up until this date. And that is because there have been sort of these cases that nobody knew about of potential Ebola kind of hanging out in certain parts of the body that are immunologically protected and reemerging in some survivors, causing these little mini-outbreaks.

So, indeed, Liberia reached this milestone a few months ago and twice has had small flare-ups that are thought to be linked to transmission from survivors in very rare cases thought to be sexually transmitted, for one thing.

So now the World Health Organization is saying, OK, human-to-human transmission has stopped, but Guinea will enter a 90-day period of what they`re calling enhanced surveillance to be really on the lookout for occasional sporadic cases that could pop up and lead to more cases.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Your reporting over the last months and year have revealed that there are some real problems with the way the World Health Organization responded to this epidemic.

Can you tell us about some of those -- some of the problems that they had, and how have they been addressed?

SHERI FINK: Well, the World Health Organization has really been a punching bag for this outbreak. And it should be said that nobody responded very well at the beginning.

But, certainly, the World Health Organization, as that U.N. body that`s in charge of the world`s health, came in for a lot of criticism, and they said it was justified. And numerous groups have come out, experts, trying to say, what can we learn from this?

The essential fact was, early in the outbreak, the WHO failed to sort of understand its gravity. I mean, these cases popped up in a part of the world that hadn`t been known really to have Ebola outbreaks in the past, right at the border of three countries, and very quickly had hit capital cities.

So there wasn`t just enough of a sense of urgency in that very early response, a sense that this was different from the WHO. Plus, they had cut down their outbreak response units just before the outbreak happened. This was because, you know, they hadn`t had as much money to work with, with the global financial crisis, and so they chose to cut certain aspects of their global health portfolio.

Unfortunately, one of them was outbreak response. So now the focus is how to strengthen that in the future.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You reported also that, sometimes, political concerns got in the way of public health concerns. Explain how that happens.

SHERI FINK: So, the WHO is made up of its member countries.

And in the past, even with this outbreak, we saw that there is sort of a punitive response when a country has a dangerous disease like Ebola within its borders. Airlines shut down flights, countries pull out, and the thought is also that these countries put pressure on the local -- the regional WHO offices.

They don`t want a big deal to be made of this outbreak. So, looking forward, a lot of these groups are saying the WHO needs to be protected from that political pressure, so that they can address an outbreak, not minimize it, in the beginning, as well as the other countries of the world need to reward countries that are willing to come forward and say, we have got an outbreak.

And that reward is, you know, immediate assistance to fight the outbreak. More broadly, health systems really need to be strengthened in all these countries. These are countries with poor health systems to begin with, and all the countries of the world have realized that there is an interest in strengthening those health systems.

You know, that`s partly to help people, humanitarian, but partly so that future outbreaks of even more dangerous, you know, epidemics would be stopped at their source.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Sheri Fink of The New York Times, thank you so much.


GWEN IFILL: Clearly, the best way to stop Ebola altogether would be developing a vaccine. And, in fact, more than a dozen trials and experiments are under way.

Earlier this year, our science correspondent, Miles O`Brien, reported on some of those efforts in West Africa and why the search for a cure has been so difficult.

This is an encore look from his series Cracking Ebola`s Code.

MILES O`BRIEN: It`s dark and early in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A team of pharmacists is in a nondescript government building preparing the day`s supply of an experimental vaccine against Ebola.

The clock starts running when they take the vaccine out of a very deep freeze. This is likely the coldest spot in the whole country. The vaccine can only be thawed out right before it is injected, or it will lose its potency, and all of this will be a waste of time, money and hope.

So, right now, timing and temperature are absolutely critical. And then it happens.

WOMAN: The power went out.

MILES O`BRIEN: Another reminder of how hard it is to conduct a high- tech vaccine trial in one of the poorest countries on the planet. But they are ready. They have got two backup generators for the building, solar- charged batteries, and, if all else fails, a special container that maintains about 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit for five days without power.

Pharmacist Morrison Jusu is delivering the vaccine three-and-a-half miles across Freetown. After a seemingly endless national nightmare, he carries a cooler full of expectations. He knows much is riding with him.

MORRISON JUSU, Pharmacist: Some people lost family members. And some families were essentially wiped out as a result of this thing. And if this vaccine proves out to be something that prevents such in the future, then it`s -- it`s -- words cannot describe how much relief that would be to this community.

MILES O`BRIEN: While Jusu and the vaccine are wending their way, a line is growing outside their destination, Freetown`s Connaught Hospital.

The volunteers start showing up before dawn. They are health care workers. This trial is limited to them because they are, by far, the most at risk of contracting Ebola virus disease. Even though there is no evidence the vaccine poses any real danger, they must weigh the rumors and the uncertainties.

MOHAMED SAMBOLA, Vaccine Trial Volunteer (through translator): Life is all about risks. But I believe it will be of help in the job that I do.

RUGIATU CONTEH, Vaccine Trial Volunteer (through translator): It is a high risk for me. I believe this can protect me from Ebola, and that`s why I came here for this vaccine.

MILES O`BRIEN: It wasn`t always this way. The trial got off to a slow start when it began in April. People were too afraid.

Dr. Mohamed Samai is one of the principal investigators.

DR. MOHAMED SAMAI, Provost, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences: People said the vaccine was the Ebola virus, so, once you get it, you become infected. So, a lot of people were not willing to come forward there in the first week to take the vaccine, because they thought they should wait and see what happens.

MILES O`BRIEN: The vaccine does contain a piece of the Ebola virus, a protein. It`s enough to trick the body into triggering its natural defenses, but won`t give the recipient Ebola virus disease.

On the wall in the lobby of the hospital, a spontaneous memorial to some of the doctors and nurses who died here during the epidemic, a grim reminder of what motivates volunteers like Richard Kanu.

RICHARD KANU, Vaccine Trial Volunteer (through translator): I became aware of it through my friends who got the shot three days ago. Since they`re not having any side effects, I decided to come and have a go at it myself, because I feel it will protect me.

MILES O`BRIEN: Kanu works on a team that buries the highly contagious dead. He has been shunned by friends, even forced out of his own home.

RICHARD KANU (through translator): I will go back and tell them that I have had the vaccine and they should rest assured that I won`t have the virus. I will probably encourage them to step forward as well.

MILES O`BRIEN: Bad traffic delays Jusu`s ride to the hospital, but, when he arrives, the vaccine isn`t spoiled, and the volunteers are ready. The nursing team doesn`t waste any time prepping for the jabs.

Aruna Thorlie is a chlorine sprayer who disinfects Ebola treatment units.

Have you felt anything different? Did it hurt, anything?

ARUNA THORLIE, Vaccine Trial Volunteer (through translator): I feel the same as I did before. I hope and pray that it works.

MILES O`BRIEN: The vaccine is made by Merck. The trial is a partnership between the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the medical college in Freetown.

DR. MOHAMED SAMAI: Once we can document the effectiveness of the vaccine, and we are now sure that it can really protect them, we can move to another stage, where we will look at the community and the population at large.

MILES O`BRIEN: Across the border in Liberia, a separate trial is testing the same vaccine, along with another one made by GlaxoSmithKline. It is open to all and based at this hospital in Monrovia.

In the darkest days of the crisis here in Liberia, a senior doctor and nurse here at Redemption Hospital contracted Ebola virus disease, and they subsequently died. Many of the health care workers here became afraid to come to work and the hospital had to close for a time. In all, 13 members of the hospital staff died here.

DR. MARK KIEH, Redemption Hospital: It was scary. It was confusing

MILES O`BRIEN: DR. Mark Kieh is the site physician for the trial.

So far, there are 1, 500 volunteers. He is carefully watching them for side effects. So far, so good.

DR. MARK KIEH: Those we have seen are expected side effects of fever, muscle pain, pain at the injection sites, some joint pain, some -- few people with rashes that resolve over time.

MILES O`BRIEN: The trial is run by Liberia`s Ministry of Health and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Its director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has intense, intimate understanding of the ravages of Ebola.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: At least in the most recent patient that we took care of, that that`s about as sick as you can get without dying.

MILES O`BRIEN: On March 14, 2015, he suited up to treat a U.S. health care worker who became infected in Sierra Leone, and was airlifted to the NIH hospital outside Washington, where he received the highest level of intensive care possible. It kept him alive while his body mounted its own defense.

It was touch and go for a week, but he survived.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: All of the people who have recovered from Ebola, even those who have been very ill, it was their immune system that ultimately suppressed and eliminated the virus.

MILES O`BRIEN: This is why Fauci and others are optimistic they have a found a way to stop Ebola its tracks. The human body can create the antibodies to fight off Ebola, but usually not fast enough.

An effective vaccine creates an army of Ebola antibodies that can stop the virus before it stampedes through the body. But here is the ironic rub.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: If we are successful in controlling Ebola, we won`t be successful in determining whether the vaccines are effective at preventing Ebola.

MILES O`BRIEN: Dr. Tom Frieden is director of the CDC. Ebola cases in Liberia are now at zero, and Sierra Leone is close behind.

If no one is getting Ebola, you can`t tell for sure if the vaccine is protective, so they have to rely on other evidence.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN: So, the trials under way now will at least tell us whether they`re safe, and they will tell us whether they lead to an immune reaction.

We wish we were further along with the vaccine, but it`s very difficult to do research in the middle of an epidemic.

MILES O`BRIEN: In Freetown, pharmacist Morrison Jusu is among those who scrambled to get this trial under way at all. He is anxious to know if the hard work will pay off.

MORRISON JUSU: We are really looking forward to it being successful, so that someday in the future, we will be able to say, yes, I was a part of that team and I contributed. So, it will be a great feeling then.

MILES O`BRIEN: The answer will have to wait, but no one doubts the vaccine will meet its viral foe someday.

Miles O`Brien, the "PBS NewsHour," Freetown, Sierra Leone.

GWEN IFILL: Before the president and Congress left town for the holidays, they managed to enact a massive 2,000-page package of spending and tax cuts. Typically, these laws draw attention only for the chaos they create, like shutting down the government.

But there`s a lot more deep inside, in this case, a significant and controversial new law governing cyber-security and Internet data. The new law encourages private companies to share data about cyber-hacks with the government. It protects companies from liability, and it also allows data to shared with other companies and with the Department of Homeland Security.

Lawmakers from both parties said it was a good deal.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), California: If someone sees a particular virus or harmful cyber-signature, they should tell others, so they can protect themselves. That`s what this bill does.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), California: We believe that sharing is an area where you really can`t do any harm. It doesn`t hurt anybody to have a way to talk. But, right now, they can`t even talk.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), Maine: Does it make sense that we require one case of measles to be reported to a federal government agency, but not a cyber-attack?

GWEN IFILL: But there are some security advocates and privacy groups who say the law manages to go too far and not quite far enough.

Jeffrey Brown has that debate.

JEFFREY BROWN: To understand more, we`re joined by James Lewis, senior fellow for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Elissa Shevinsky, founder of JeKuDo, a tech start-up designed to provide private communications to customers.

And welcome to both of you.