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Wall Street Tumbles; Crisis in Syria

Aired August 18, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

We begin tonight with the breaking news, numbers that could mean a lot to your bottom line tomorrow. Asian markets opening lower just hours ago after a brutal day on Wall Street, the Dow industrials losing more than 400 on the day, down more than 3 percent, the Nasdaq and S&P hit even harder.

A big factor this time, rotten economic news -- Morgan Stanley slashing its forecast for global economic growth next year and the Philadelphia Fed's latest index of regional manufacturing signaling a strong downturn.

Now, this time, the market seems to be saying something about the real economy here in the United States.

Here to talk about it chief business correspondent Ali Velshi, also "The Wall Street Journal"'s Stephen Moore. He is also a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, and Robert Reich, labor secretary during the Clinton administration. Currently, he is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and author of "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future," which is now out in paperback.

Ali, what happened today?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, there are a lot of things happened here. We had a situation where it's not just fear we've been talking about. This was actual fact. We had -- we started this morning with, with slow bad markets out of Europe, then before the markets opened, we got this report from Morgan Stanley which talked about slow growth around the world telling us things we already knew. But they said we're on the precipice. We are endangered we're going into a recession. They didn't say we were there, they didn't say it's the base case, but they said we're dangerously close.

They also cited errors in policy-making here in the United States and in Europe. And they said it's likely that the European central bank and the fed would have to get further involved in this economy.

Now, you know all week we've been talking about Rick Perry saying it would be treasonous for the fed to get involved. And while his comment may have been misinformed, it represents a view in America that the fed should do no more work in stimulating this economy. So now we have investors saying we need more investment, you've got the fed say - you got Morgan Stanley saying we do, and you've got a lot of people in America saying don't do it. We're at an impasse. Investors said, let's get our money out of there, they put it in bond and they put it into gold.

COOPER: And the Nikkei told us down two percent now on opening.

Robert, I know you say look at unemployment more than you look at the DOW. But when people's retirements are tied up in this roller coaster and every day it's down, hundreds of points, what should people be thinking?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY: Anderson, obviously right now we have a jobs and wages and growth crisis. And not a debt crisis. And until we actually get more spending, whether it's individuals and businesses or even in the short-term government, we're not going to have enough aggregate demand to get people back to work and get the market moving and get economic growth actually back in force. And that's not just in the United States, it's also in Europe, it's also increasingly around the world.

COOPER: Stephen, I saw you say earlier today there was loss of confidence in the United States, particularly in president Obama's ability to lead. But doesn't Congress also I mean there's a lot of people that don't have much confidence in Congress either in their ability to govern.

STEPHEN MOORE, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, you're right about that, Anderson. But look, the people look to the president in time of crisis like this. And I think that the president has been off tone in the last week. I mean as an example, on his tour around the Midwest this week. And what was the message out of the White House? Raise taxes on the rich.

You may think that's a good thing to do for redistribution purposes, but that's not going to get the economy moving. And I think, by the way, Anderson, a broader problem around the world. I mean there isn't much leadership anywhere around the world. Where the Ronald Reagan's'? Where are the Margaret Thatcher's? The (inaudible) figures talking about growth. I think it's missing. Now, that's just one component.

And by the way Ali, when you talked about the bad news today, you were exactly right, but there's other bad news, as well, unfortunately. The housing numbers were pretty lousy. You mentioned manufacturing. I mean, it's hard to look at anything right now that's pointing in a very positive direction.

VELSHI: The interesting thing was both of you guys opposite ends of the political spectrum do agree that aggregate demand will be the solution. If we get somehow more people working, more people paying taxes, more buying goods, and that's ultimately probably our best solution out of this.

COOPER: Robert, is this a presidential problem? And is this an Obama problem? Among others?

REICH: Well, I think we're in a vicious cycle right now. I mean, workers are consumers, consumers are workers, consumers are 70 percent of this economy. And if as workers they are worried about losing their jobs or have lost their jobs, if their wages are dropping and median wage continues to drop and if they see their major asset which is their homes continue to drop in value, then obviously they're not going to be in any mood to spend.

And if they don't spend, there's not going to be more jobs, which is exactly why it's important right now to have more of a, dare I use the word, stimulus or a jobs bill or more active government that can counteract all of these recessionary trends.

COOPER: And Robert, you want to see taxes on the rich go up?

REICH: Well, I think as a matter you know, in terms of dealing with the long-term deficit, the rich have to pay their fair share. But right now, right now, we're talking about right now I don't want anybody's taxes to go up. And I want right now if I were going to make policy, I would say we want to have government right now with an active jobs plan in the United States, we want the federal reserve board, and the European central bank to be expansionary with regard to monetary policy, and we want fiscal policy to be expansionary around the world to the extent it is possible without igniting inflation.

MOORE: Bob, it already has been. One of the things that frustrates conservatives like me, Anderson, we've done this. I mean if you look over the last two, actually three years starting at the end of the Bush administration. As you know, Ali, the fed has had the pedal to the metal on the money supply. I mean we have record levels of money creation in this economy.

And Bob, as you know, we spent a whole hell a lot of money. And we spent, we borrowed $4. 5 trillion. This has been the biggest Keynesian stimulus experiment in American history. And I guess the points is just doesn't work.

VELSHI: Depression, Stephen. We don't know if we didn't hit it because of that.

MOORE: That's true. That's true. We don't know if we might have had that depression, but we do know if you look, for example, at what Reagan did in the '80s, which was an opposite approach of cutting taxes and trying to get spending under control.

And by the way Ali, also, slamming the brakes on the money supply to get inflation under control, we had a boom period after that. And I think it's the alternative motive.

REICH: But Stephen Moore, if I may, this is nothing like the recession of 80, 81. What we've been through, the great recession is much more like the great depression. It's a big, big burst of an asset bubble. And when an asset bubble burst, the government has got to do more than it typically does. The stimulus package, the first stimulus package was very, very small relative to the size of the shortfall in consumer demand, particularly when you add in that state and local governments were cutting like mad.

COOPER: Just very briefly, Stephen and Robert, both of you. What do you think the chances of going back into recession are?

MOORE: You know if you'd asked me that, 48 hours ago, I would have said I don't think there's a high probability, Anderson. But look, my meter on a recession went up today because of the bad news.

But I still think what's more likely, Anderson, is maybe one to two percent growth, kind of this slow growth which isn't enough to create the jobs we need.

COOPER: Robert?

REICH: I think we're about at the 50/50 yard line right now with regard to recession. But I'm concerned also about the underlying structural problems. Ali as long as so much of the national income is going to be people at the top the middle class just doesn't have the aggregate demand, the purchasing power to keep the economy going.

COOPER: Robert Reich, I appreciate your time. Stephen Moore, well two different perspectives. Ali, I appreciate yours, as well.

Let us know what you think. We are on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I have been sending out some tweets just in the last few minutes. I will tweet more tonight,

Up next, is it even remotely possible that all the video of all the atrocities we have witnessed in Syria just aren't what they seem? That they are lies. You're going to hear from a top Syrian diplomat in the United States who says that. We're "Keeping Them Honest" though in getting a firsthand report from the Syrian decedent who sees every thing that the ambassador denies.

Later, Aruba. New details in the disappearance of Robyn Gardner. The case against the last person seen with her. What he told police.

First, let's check in with Isha Sesay -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, David Letterman dealt with stalkers and blackmailers, but now he's facing a potentially deadly threat from jihadists. We'll tell you who wants him dead, why, and what he's doing about it?

That and much more -- when "360" continues.


COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest," in just a moment, we are going to play my interview from earlier today with the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations. The same men who compared the one in riots to the indiscriminate murder happening in Syria or should I say very deliberate killings.

More than 2,000 murders human rights groups say, 2,000 in my interview, you'll hear the ambassador toe the line of his government. That Syrian security forces have not attacked not killed civilians.

In the face of so much evidence with new videos coming out of Syria everyday, the ambassador repeats the claim made by Bashar al- Assad that armed gangs and terrorists are responsible for the violence. But we see no direct evidence of that.

Before we get to my interview, today the Obama administration took the hardest line yet against the Syrian government calling on President Bashar al-Assad to leave power and stop slaughtering his own people. Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and the European union immediately echoed that statement.

At the same time, a report out today by the United Nations said that it found patterns of human rights violations and systemic attacks against civilians that may amount to crimes against humanity.

Now, as soon as anti-government protests broke out earlier this year and protesters for being shot dead in the streets, the Syrian government including the president himself blamed the violence on seditious elements inside and out of the country. And claims that's what they're fighting. The government there has kept that message consistent.

You look at videos like this, a person shot in the street, and then government forces shooting at anyone who tries to retrieve their body. They're now using -- trying to get ropes and use a piece of metal to pull the body. And finally, they were able to.

But time after time, we've seen protesters shot dead in the streets or wounded in the streets and then government snipers shooting at anyone who tries to help that person. As other men try to remove the body, they were fired on, as well. We've seen that time and time again.

Now, all through this conflict, all through this bloody five- month-long conflict, human rights activists have reported aid workers who tried to rescue the wounded have been fired on also by security forces.

CNN can't independently verify and claims since our reporters are not allowed inside Syria.

This video shows an ambulance that was struck by gunfire, one of the attendants wounded. One of the most sickening sides to come out in Syria is violence perpetrated against innocent children like 13- year-old boy named Hamza, who took part in some of the demonstrations. According to his family, he was kidnapped, tortured, and killed. How could a 13-year-old child ever be a threat to a brutal long- standing regime? The signs of torture on his bloated body told the world the answer. Was this young boy part of an armed terrorist gang as the Assad regime would have you believe? Hamza doesn't know it but he has become a symbol of the uprising. Kids took to the streets some placed on their parents' shoulder, carrying signs and photos of Hamza.

Did these youngsters look like thugs and armed terrorists to you?

The senseless murders in Syria even of children prompted the U.N. secretary general to comment that the Assad government has lost its sense of humanity.

Unfortunately, the killing of kids has not stopped despite world revulsion. A 2-year-old girl trying to escape with her family this week from the government in the coastal city of Latakia, shot in the right eye and killed, a 2-year-old, not a threat to anybody, not even strong enough to hold up a gun.

Again, CNN can't confirm this, but activists, people took these videos say a government bullet took her life. One man called Assad a dog and a pig in this video. Two major insults in Arabic.

For five months now, human rights activists inside and outside Syria are telling the outside world that security forces have shown no mercy firing on crowds that peaceful protesters were simply asking for their civil human rights.

This rally was broken up by gunfire in March.

This protest was back in June. There may not be personal freedom in Syria, but the government sure has plenty of ammunition. And time again over al these months, almost half the year, this is what the world has witnessed, Syrians struggling to get their wounded or murdered friends or even strangers off the street. Still being fired upon when they try.

Now listen to what Bashar Ja'afari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, has to say about what's happening in his country.


COOPER: Mr. Ambassador, today President Obama called for President Assad to step down saying and I quote that "the future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad are standing in their way. His call for dialogue and reform have rung hallow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."

How do you respond?

BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I think this is an unacceptable statement coming from an important heavy weight administration in the war affairs. We were expecting the American administration to go in a different direction, actually.

COOPER: Would you deny those? Do you deny though that your president -- do you deny, though, your president his government has tortured and killed thousands of citizens in the past five months alone?

JA'AFARI: I deny categorically and unequivocally all these wrong references to bloodsheds and killings taking place in my country. The way they are described by the media.

COOPER: We see countless videos of children with broken bodies returned after weeks in detention. We've seen people being shot at as they try to retrieve the wounded and dead bodies of their friends and families on the street and we seen protests after protests broken up with tear gas and security forces, uniformed and not firing live ammunition to crowds. Are all of these lies?

JA'AFARI: I have also a countless other videos showing exactly the opposite. I'm not denying that we have losses of life, lives over there. I'm saying that we should be objective in our approach while analyzing what's going on in Syria.

What's going on in Syria is that we do have an opposition, legitimate national opposition, and we are listening to their claims, but at the same time, we do have armed terrorist groups that are resisting the Syrian forces --

COOPER: Who are these armed terrorist groups? And why is it after so many years in power they have all of a sudden sprung up out of the blue? I mean all of these began in Daraa when some children were arrested and being held and peaceful protesters came out after mosque one day calling for, asking for the children to be released and they were fired upon.

Some of them were shot dead. They weren't even calling for the government to be overthrown. They were calling from basic, for the kids to be released and then basic reforms and now because of the oppression, because of the response by your government, it has escalated.

JA'AFARI: The government is not running against the civilians. These civilians are our own people. We're there to protect them. We are running against the terrorist armed groups.

COOPER: What terrorist armed groups? Name them. Who are they?

JA'AFARI: Yes. Those who have killed so far 500 soldiers of our army and police officers and police soldiers and security forces.

COOPER: Again, you haven't named who these unnamed mysterious armed terrorists are.

JA'AFARI: They are the outcomes of the American invasion of Iraq, Anderson. They are the Salafist, they are terrorist groups, they are the brother Muslim military wing. They are all this kind of extremist groups in the area. All of them spread all over the area after the American/British invasion of Iraq.

COOPER: But you have had a -- I mean your government has been in power since 2000. Before that, Bashar al-Assad's father was in charge, very, you know, restrictive government. It seems incomprehensible that all of a sudden you have thousands of Salafists who are calling for the overthrow of the government.

It just doesn't make logical sense. I mean are you denying there were peaceful protests, peaceful, that there are peaceful protesters who have legitimate gripes, who have legitimate demands for basic dignity and freedom?

JA'AFARI: The government allowed peaceful demonstrations to take to the street, and they are protected by the police policy.

COOPER: That's not true. You know that's not true. I mean you're a very educated man. You simply know that is not true.

JA'AFARI: No, no, no.

COOPER: People were asking for children to be released, you're telling me they weren't fired upon? They weren't killed?

JA'AFARI: You don't know all the faces of the story, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, first of all, because you're not allowing us in. You are not allowing reporters to actually go to the front lines and see this. You're restricting reporters, so it's a little -- you don't know the truth when you're not allowing the international community to see the truth.

JA'AFARI: Anderson, this is wrong too because we have allowed delegations, big delegations of tourists and reporters into the country.

COOPER: Come on. You're right, and you keep them as assets or you control them very carefully.

JA'AFARI: No, we don't control anybody. We are there to protect them from certain armed groups.

COOPER: Sir, I have reported in Damascus, and I had a minder with me who watched everything I did and every single person I talk to. And that was the time when you didn't allegedly have armed groups going around. So, I mean to say that you're allowing free rein for reporters is just simply not true.

JA'AFARI: Anderson, you are biased and taking sides and you shouldn't do that because --

COOPER: I'm taking the side of the truth. And I have got to say I think what you're saying -- you have not offered any proof.

JA'AFARI: This is not the truth. I'm afraid this is not the truth. You are reporting what somebody told you. This shouldn't be done on CNN.

COOPER: Sir, I'm reporting what I have seen with my own eyes, and I have seen the corpses of little children who had their penises cut off. I have seen their broken, battered bodies, and I have seen protesters trying to get the dead bodies and wounded bodies of their friends, and colleagues, and family members and complete strangers, and I have seen people being shot at while they're trying to retrieve bodies.

JA'AFARI: You wouldn't be more sorry than us seeing these victims. They are our own people. And this is why we are saying that the American sanctions against us and the American president and Obama's called for our president to step down are both an instigation and incitement to violence. And sending a wrong message to the armed groups that they are under American protection.


COOPER: Up next, more with the Syrian ambassador. He says outside journalists should come to Syria and see what's going on for themselves. We'd love to.

We'll talk to CNN's Arwa Damon who was there, who tried. Let's see how that turned out.

Also, dissident Razan Zaitouneh, who cannot escape the daily reality in Syria.

Later, "Crime & Punishment," a CNN exclusive in the disappearance of Robyn Gardner, only we know what the leading suspect told police before they arrested him. Stay tuned and you'll know too.


COOPER: Before the break, you saw Syria's ambassador to the U.N. essentially sidestepping reality saying in so many words that a video of unarmed protesters being murdered by security forces is instead a video of armed thugs victimizing government forces.

Before we take a look at part two of my interview, take a look.

Sure looks like protesters being tear-gassed and then fired upon on the streets of Homs this week. The ambassador says that's not the case. He says outsiders simply can't understand what's going on.

But "Keeping Them Honest," is this so hard to grasp or easy to confuse with something else? Does it seem even remotely possible that in a dictatorship that tens of thousands of gun totting tugs would suddenly emerge and suddenly be doing this?

Remember, we've gotten images like this day after day, week after week, and month after month for five months running now. Is it possible as the ambassador suggests that none of them are what they seem? Do all of the human rights groups have it wrong? All of the countries imposing sanctions, the U.N., all the brave people inside Syria daring to stand on the streets with dignity and call out for basic freedoms, all who have spoken out on this program, are they all making it up?

If so, it would be one of the biggest conspiracies, the biggest lies the world has ever seen, which would make Bashar al-Assad history's greatest victim. Is that what you believe is happening?

Look at it again, another many -- many videos from Syrian. And ask yourself, does that seem likely? There, someone being beaten, shoved inside a trunk by what looked like uniformed government forces. Does this look like scenes of a dictator being victimized? Or a dictator victimizing people?

Keep in mind, these images, as you listen to this part two of my interview with the U.N. ambassador to Syria. Listen. Keep this in mind.


COOPER: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights accused your government -- and I quote -- "of a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systemic attacks against the civilian population which may amounts to crimes against humanity."

They go on to say that you are intentionally going after children. They say "children have not only been targeted by security forces, but they have been repeatedly subject to the same human rights and criminal violations as adults including torture with no consideration for their vulnerable status."

I mean how can children be targeted and then returned to their parents? Or do you deny that's happening?

JA'AFARI: Absolutely, children are not targeted by the police neither by the army. But let me comment on what you have just said. The report of the high commissioner is unfounded and biased. She didn't reflect any of our -- my government's point of view in the report. She didn't even go to Syria. She just relied on reports coming from Syrian refugees in --

COOPER: Sir, back in April, you yourself said that no international commission needed to come to Syria or was allowed to come to Syria because your government was perfectly capable of being transparent and doing your own investigations. But that certainly does not seem to be true.

JA'AFARI: No, no, no, absolutely. I'm sticking to my words, and we are not talking about the commission coming from Geneva. We have allowed after the presidential statement adopted by Security Council, we have allowed a mission, humanitarian mission from OCHA.


COOPER: But it's been five months, sir.


COOPER: Right. Well, back in April, apparently you said you didn't need this. So now under pressure, you are allowing some groups in. Your president has been promising reforms from before he took power back in 2000. Before the VAT party congress in 2005, he was promising reforms, and other than a few banking reforms, there's been nothing. And now, yet again, he's promising reforms months from now. Why should anyone believe your president? JA'AFARI: Because all these reforms that President Assad talked about are now being fulfilled on the ground but you --

COOPER: But this was back in 2000?

JA'AFARI: The media are ignoring this. They are launching and waging a humanitarian war against us.

COOPER: So, you're saying the international community has been on the side of Salafists? Of Al Qaeda? Of people who would kill members --

JA'AFARI: Absolutely.

COOPER: You're saying the U.S. is on the side of Al Qaeda- related groups that Britain is, as well, that France is, as well, the Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, turkey? All of them are somehow now in an international conspiracy with unnamed terrorist groups and gangs against your regime? Does that just sound logical?

JA'AFARI: You are putting in my mouth Anderson you are putting in my mouth something I didn't say. I didn't refer to Al Qaeda.

COOPER: Salafist groups which are in league with Al Qaeda?

JA'AFARI: No, you don't know all the details with this very important terminology. You have to be more acquainted with the words I know. You are outside from the area.

COOPER: You recently accused the West of hypocrisy for describing rioters in England as gangs. I want to play some of what you've said.


JA'AFARI: What happened in London, Birmingham, Bristol is only 1 percent maybe of what happened in some restive areas in my country.

However, some people they don't want to acknowledge the reality.


COOPER: Are you saying that what happened in England is the same as your government using snipers and warships against your own people?

JA'AFARI: This is your own version of the events. I didn't say that. I didn't compare the two situations. I just wanted to shed some light on hypocrisy of the British prime minister while addressing the situation in my country.

Any gangs wherever they are should be dealt with accordingly by the security forces whether they are in England, in Syria, or in USA, the peaceful demonstrators are tolerated in Syria according to the law.

COOPER: But sir -- JA'AFARI: Under police protection.

COOPER: It's untrue.

JA'AFARI: This is your opinion. This is your opinion.

COOPER: I talked to many -- I talked to protesters. I've talked to human rights activists inside Syria who say this is not true. A woman whose husband was arrested and kidnapped, taken away, and held for weeks and weeks without her having any knowledge of what happened to him. I talked to these people.

JA'AFARI: You may have talked to one or three or 10 or 100, but Syria is 23 millions.

COOPER: I've heard from many protesters whose loved ones get injured or get shot, they can't go to hospitals because your security forces are inside the hospitals and will arrest anybody who is taken in.

JA'AFARI: This is another lie, Anderson. This is wrong because we have had many delegations coming to Syria, journalists, reporters, and officials. Today, we have almost 300 members of Russian delegation. Reporters, journalists, politicians, they visited everywhere in Syria and haven't seen any wrong doings.

COOPER: And journalists are not allowed to visit everywhere in Syria, I know this. We have tried.

JA'AFARI: This is wrong, Anderson. This is wrong, I'm sorry. This is wrong because 72 reporters were in Syria just couple of days ago. Yesterday, 60 other reporters came.

COOPER: And you're telling me they have absolute free access to go wherever they want, talk to whomever they want. They can go Homs.

JA'AFARI: Absolutely.

COOPER: They can talk to protesters in the street, really?

JA'AFARI: Absolutely. And you know what? The humanitarian mission of the United Nations is going to Syria on Saturday and you will see with your own eyes that they will fulfill their mission and get back with a report.

COOPER: Ambassador, I appreciate your time. I do appreciate you coming on. It's a difficult thing, and I appreciate you talking to me.

JA'AFARI: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you, sir.


COOPER: Well, it's worth repeating, any claim that outsiders cannot understand what's happening inside Syria would be a lot more credible if the Syrian government actually gave outside independent reporters and observers permission to see for themselves unaccompanied by government agents who steer them away from people they want to talk to.

Arwa Damon managed to brief look inside Syria mostly from Damascus. She joins us from Beirut, Lebanon, tonight, and we're also joined on the phone by Razan Zaitouneh, who sees this story up close first hand every day.

She got little choice no matter she's a Syrian human rights activist. Her husband was taken off the street streets, held for months and only just recently released. She's continued to speak out bravely for months now.

Razan, when you hear Syria's ambassador to the U.N. deny the bloodshed, deny the killings, say it's, in fact, government security forces were being killed by armed gangs and that they're not targeting children at all -- what do you think?

RAZAN ZAITOUNEH, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS (via telephone): I can't believe that these people until when they will keep lying and keep repeating their lies time after time and again and again. I think that the only way the Mr. Ambassador changes his speech when one member of his family gets arrested or tortured or maybe killed under torture, like what happened, for example, with Ismael Ratif yesterday in Latakia.

It's impossible that they still deny all what is going on in spite of that reported by videos, by the testimonies victims, of all these violations.

COOPER: Razan, when you hear the ambassador say that peaceful protesters are actually protected by police. That seems like just a complete slap in the face to the thousands who have risked their lives to turn out in the face of tear gas and bullets and thugs with batons.

ZAITOUNEH: Mr. Ambassador, actually, he's just saying not anything else. Until this moment, we have 2,186 names of killed people, civilians, who were killed by the security and by the army around the country besides dozens of thousands of prisoners.

Dozens of them killed under torture in prisons. If that means protection in his vision, it's different thing. I don't think anybody can call this kind of dealing with people as a protection.

COOPER: Arwa, the ambassador says the journalists can report from wherever they want, whenever they want and the government minders are just there to protect them.

You're there reporting. I was there years ago and I had a minder who was watching everybody we talked to. You were there just recently. Were you free to go anywhere you wanted and talk to anyone you wanted?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Anderson, of course, we weren't. We were assigned a government minder who was given a piece of paper that was pre-approved, which pertained to the certain neighborhoods that we were allowed to film in.

We were repeatedly asked to go to places outside of Damascus and we were just get told that it was quite simply not safe enough because of the so-called armed gangs, every single time when we were in the presence of these government minders.

And we were out in the streets of Damascus. It was very carefully orchestrated, very carefully regulated. There is absolutely no semblance of free journalism whatsoever when you're operating inside Syria.

COOPER: I think we just had a technical problem. Arwa, are you still there?

DAMON: Yes, I am.

COOPER: I'm having technical problem hearing Arwa. Razan, you know, when the ambassador says that the Syrian government is not targeting children, which is now exactly the opposite of what the United Nations has been saying that, in fact, children are being abused just like adults are.

What do you think? I mean, how many kids have you seen? How many kids do you know about who have been arrested? Who have been held for often long time, and who have been killed?

ZAITOUNEH: (AUDIO BREAK) Until this moment, they don't distinguish between the children and other people and beside that, the government takes the children as hostage for their fathers or their -- or their brother. It happens all the time.

The last one, it was a kid from (INAUDIBLE). He is only 13 years old. They arrested him two days ago because he they wanted his father. So they're arresting children all the time and we have -- many of the children got killed under torture in the prisons.

COOPER: Arwa, I don't understand the logic of what the ambassador's claiming. He's claiming that the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, that the entire international community, basically, is now in league or trying to support or defend hard-core Islamists who he believes and he says are these armed gangs, these armed terrorists.

When you were there, did you see any evidence of armed gangs or terrorists? I'm not denying there may be hard core Islamists who oppose the government -- but is that what's driving these protests?

DAMON: No, Anderson, it most certainly is not and if, in fact -- and this is what does exist is that this French armed element most certainly does not demonstrate or is not representative of the mainstream demonstrators.

We actually got taken by the Syrian government surprisingly to an anti-government demonstration in the Damascus suburb wall. We were there and I have to say, we were dropped off, and we were specifically told to be careful of the individual standing in front of the mosque who were wearing long sleeves because that's where they were hiding their knives.

Now we deliberately ignored the government warnings, we ended up venturing into the neighborhood. We saw absolutely no evidence whatsoever of these armed gangs. Our government minders kept calling me on the phone, telling us to be careful of the armed gangs, telling us they were coming after us.

But, again, we saw no evidence of this whatsoever. All we saw was a group of individuals who were quite simply asking for their basic rights. To be free, and for the government security forces to stop shooting at them indiscriminately.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, Razan Zaitouneh -- as always, thank you for talking to us.

Up next, CNN has exclusive new details in the case of Robyn Gardner, the American woman missing in Aruba. What her traveling companion, now a suspect, told authorities before his arrest and why authorities says some of his statements are simply not adding up.

Also ahead, no laughing matter. A violent threat made against late-night TV host David Letterman. We'll tell you who is making it ahead.


COOPER: "Crime and Punishment" tonight. In Aruba, CNN exclusive, CNN has obtained a transcript of a police interview with Gary Giordano before his arrest.

Now he's the Maryland man being held in connection with the disappearance of this woman named Robyn Gardner. They were vacationing together. They met online.

According to the "Washington Post," she was last seen around 4 p.m. on August 2nd in a restaurant with Giordano. About two hours later, he reported her missing and told police he lost track of her while they were snorkeling in rough water.

According to the transcript CNN obtained, Giordano told police he feared for his life when he signaled Gardner to turn back and didn't look for her as he swam to shore. But authorities now say Giordano's account has inconsistencies.

They say the sea was calm at the time. In the interview, police also grilled Giordano about his finances and about travel insurance policy he bought for himself and Gardner before their trip.

And tonight, there are also new details about photographs found on the camera that authorities confiscated from the couple's hotel room.

Martin Savidge joins me now from Aruba. So Martin, CNN obtained the transcript of an interview with Giordano. What did we learn from the transcript?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's really pretty amazing because we obviously wanted to talk to Gary Giordano. We've wanted to talk to his attorney to get their side of events and that has always been denied to us.

So, essentially what we have here is the statement that Gary Giordano gave to Aruban authorities on August 5th. That is the day he was taken into custody. But it's just hours before he's actually detained it's really his account, it's his own words.

So what we find is that very early on, authorities have already zeroed in on maybe that money is the motivation here. Because they started asking him about what does he do for a living? How much money does he make? What alimony does he owe? How much of a mortgage does he pay every month?

Then they start asking about the insurance policies. But after that, it moves on to the issues of the events of that particular day, and it gets to the point of being in the water. They ask him, well, how far offshore were you snorkeling?

And he says, you know what, I don't really remember. I pointed it out to police yesterday. How deep was the water, they asked him. He estimated it was about 20 feet when he finally touched Robyn Gardner and said I'm going back to shore. He turns, starts heading that way.

Well, then the authorities said, well, when you were swimming back, did you look back to see if Robyn was swimming after you. He said, no, I didn't do that. In fact, he said I only looked back when I hit a rock.

Before that, I did not look back. I was only busy saving my life.

This is the first time, Anderson, we've ever heard him say that he was in trouble and apparently, he was fearful he might die in the water. And, of course, we know Robyn Gardner never came out of the waves, according to him.

COOPER: And what about these new photos from this camera that was apparently in the hotel room where they were staying?

SAVIDGE: Right. Police revealed to us that they did, in fact, retrieve a camera. They think it's Gary Giordano's. I said, well, what photos were on there, they wouldn't tell us that.

Now, it's being said that these are photographs, some of them are around the island, but others are explicit photos. That's what investigators told me.

I said do you mean naked photos, explicit sex photos? They wouldn't say -- only explicit. Others have said they're beyond pornographic. The authorities here say that she did not appear under duress.

But then I again question Taco Stein, with the prosecutor's office, and he admitted he hasn't seen the photos himself. He was listening to what investigators told them.

So, it's not clear what her state of mind was.

COOPER: And anything new about this travel insurance policy he allegedly took out on her?

SAVIDGE: Well, the authorities have confirmed to us tonight that it is $1.5 million, two policies. One he took out on himself, the other he took out on Robyn Gardner.

We know that the beneficiary he named for himself was his own mother. When I asked authorities, well, who was the beneficiary for Robyn Gardner? They wouldn't give me any comment. They said they would have to talk to Gary further on that particular issue. Right now, he's not talking.

COOPER: Martin, thanks very much. And, obviously, still have not found Robyn Gardner at all in Aruba. Martin, appreciate it.

Still ahead, serious threats against comedian David Letterman. Why a jihadist Web site is urging his followers to kill him? We'll have details on that.

What caused me to lose it also during last night's "Ridiculist."



COOPER: Sorry, this has actually never happened to me.


COOPER: We'll be right back.


ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Isha Sesay. Anderson is back in a moment.

First, a 360 news and business bulletin.

Breaking news: A suicide attack in Afghanistan. What we know right now, there were two explosions near the United Nations office, and an Indian cultural center in Kabul. Police say there are casualties.

The FBI is looking into a death threat against David Letterman posted on a jihadist Web site. It says Letterman's tongue should be cut off after he joked about an al Qaeda al Qaeda leader killed in Pakistan. A FBI spokesman says these threats are common but they check them all out. James "Whitey" Bulger's long time companion pleaded not guilty today to charges of harboring him. Catherine Greig allegedly helped the reputed gangster elude police from 1995 until this June when they were arrested.

And a big shake-up with Hewlett-Packard. The company is looking to spin off its personal computer business, and it's killing off the Touch Pad tablet that it launched less than two months ago. HP CEO has said his vision focuses more on software.

Now back to Anderson.

COOPER: The "Ridiculist," in case you weren't watching, I couldn't quite keep it together last night.


COOPER: All right. Sorry.



COOPER: All right. I promise no bathroom puns. We used them up all last night. "The Ridiculist" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The Ridiculist," and tonight we have no choice, but to add last night's "The Ridiculist." I'm adding myself again. Also known as that time I completely lost it on national television.

Now, I was talking about Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who reportedly peed on the airplane right there on the cabin in front of the other passengers.

Now, we went back and checked, and I just want you to know that last night's "The Ridiculist" contained not one, not two, but 21 puns about the incident. I'm talking jet stream, oui oui, incontinental airlines, thespian, there was also pee-off reference -- pee off, pee off. Twenty one puns all soaked in good old fashion bathroom humor.

Now, in case, you're keeping score at home, it was number 16 that finally took me down. Let's take another look.


COOPER: Now, all I can say is they should thank their lucky stars it wasn't depar-two. Sorry. Sorry. That made me giggle every time I read it. He hasn't commented on this incident. Depar-two. I know you got it, but -- all right.


COOPER: Sorry. Sorry, this has never happened to me. Sorry. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: All right. I have to admit it. It's a little embarrassing to lose it like that especially because I giggle like a 13-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber.

Now, I was hoping no one would notice this giggle fit, but I got a lot of tweets about it. But in times like this, it helps to know I'm not alone. In my defense, it took almost three full minutes of toilet jokes to get me to that point.

For Matt Lauer, all it took was one little double entendre.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: You say the size of the package is very important?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It actually is important because a trick that some of these retailers will use is to shrink the size of the package. We've seen a lot of consumers switch to store brands, switch to generics, and they're going to continue to make that switch.


LAUER: I'm sorry. Something struck me as funny. Oh, gosh!


COOPER: Now, on the Home Shopping Network, all it takes is one caller making one little request.


UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Say hi to Abby for me.


UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: She's been sitting here with me. She's my baby dog.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You might have just done it. You might have pushed me off the edge.


COOPER: I like that she's holding the gold chain all throughout that.

And in England, a mere mention of a certain planet can instantly turn television hosts into Bevis and Butthead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is the Roman goddess of love, is it A: Venus, B: Pluto, or C: Uranus? If you know the answer -- call right now, 0901 499 1200 -- the lines will open.



COOPER: That's funny.

And on the local news, forget about it. All it takes is a traffic report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, traffic is just fine.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I should just toss it to John because there's nothing else to say. You're going to make me suffer, aren't you?


COOPER: I feel better now. He snorted.

Sure, it's been kind of strange having people critique my laugh on Twitter all day. Writing things like, quote, "I watched the Anderson Cooper clip and now my cat is desperately searching for a wounded chipmunk."

But people have been writing really nice things as well, like, quote, "OMG, watching Anderson Cooper giggle is like watching a unicorn fart rainbows."

I think that's a compliment. Whatever. It made my meltdown -- if my meltdown made you smile, I'm glad, because, really, at the end of the day, if laughing about a possibly drunk French actor openly relieving himself on a plane is wrong, then I don't want to be right.

Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"JOHN KING, USA" starts now. See you tomorrow.