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CONNECT THE WORLD

Iraq War Ends With Solemn Ceremony; Putin Puts Positive Spin on Russian Protests; Human Rights Watch Releases Scathing Report on Syria

Aired December 15, 2011 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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MAX FOSTER, HOST: From Shock and Awe to a somber end. Nearly nine years after those bombs rained down on Baghdad, the war has officially come to a close. Tonight, we examine the success of the mission and the battle- scarred country picking up the pieces.

Live from London, I'm Max Foster. Also tonight, question time for Prime Minister Putin. The Russian leader faces unprecedented interrogation from a restless public.

And what really happened to superstar racing driver Dan Wheldon. An official inquiry into this accident has the answer.

Well, it began with Shock and Awe. It ended with a solemn ceremony. Almost nine years after American forces rolled into Iraq, their military mission is finally over. But as the remaining troops return home, the country they leave behind faces an uncertain future.

The occasion was marked, not by celebrations, but the lowering of the flag of command, rolled up and cased in camouflage. The troops present were told they could leave Iraq with great pride, but many will return without friends and colleagues who've paid the ultimate price.

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LEON PANETTA, US DEFENSE SECRETARY: We remember the nearly 4,500 brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as the more than 30,000 wounded warriors, many of whom still struggle with serious, life-altering injuries.

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FOSTER: Well, for the Iraqis left behind, the sacrifices have been enormous. Tens of thousands have died. Many more have been left with horrific injuries.

In a few minutes, Michael Holmes will meet some of those struggling to put their lives back together, but first, Arwa Damon is in Baghdad, where she says the country's problems are far from over.

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ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is now eerily silent where America's final military ceremony took place, the casing of the colors, happening here in Baghdad as the US military officially ended its role here. There are still a few thousand troops in the country. They will be departing by the end of the month.

Among those in attendance, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, telling those gathered here that they should remember the lessons of war, and recalling, too, the American lives that were lost. But the US overall painting a fairly optimistic future for Iraq, although acknowledging that many challenges lie ahead.

But when it comes to the sacrifices of war, perhaps no one knows them better than the Iraqi population. You would be hard-pressed to find a single family here that has not lost someone they know or a loved one.

Many Iraqis incredibly disappointed, some of them bitter, as well, when it comes to the United States, because so many of them tell us that they had such great dreams when the US invaded. They believed that America would bring them prosperity, that they would be able to thrive, that they would open up to the outside world, and that they would find themselves a better future.

Instead, Iraq became embroiled in a bitter sectarian war, and al Qaeda took over huge swaths of the country. And while security has significantly improved since what many Iraqis called the dark days, they are still not entirely sure that that kind of violence will not reemerge in the future.

They say that there are incredible problems when it comes to governance. There is very little faith in the abilities of the current government to really form a government of national unity, and there are great concerns about the potential security vacuum that could be left behind.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.

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FOSTER: In a moment, I'll put those concerns to Iraq's foreign minister, but first, it was from Kuwait that American ground forces first entered Iraq, and as Martin Savidge reports, for many troops, it's also where their mission comes to an end.

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MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For those troops coming out of Iraq, Camp Virginia, here, is their first stop. It's also the first step on their way to get home in time, for many of them, for the holidays to be with their families.

They don't forget, though, that this is also an important time, and they are witnesses to history here, whether it's their first deployment or whether it's their fifth or sixth, as it has been in some cases in the soldiers we've spoken to, they all know that being here at the end of this conflict is a moment that they will remember and a moment that historians will write about.

It's also a moment that each soldier feels personally as they come across the border from Iraq into Kuwait. We had a conversation with a chaplain who's been up there and witnessed that moment, and here's how he described it.

CARSON JUMP, CAPTAIN, US ARMY: I mean, the fact that we're bringing some things to the close, as the chaplain, I get to go out, and we go to K- crossing and watch the guys cross the border and kind of say, "Hey, welcome to Kuwait. You're on your way home."

And it's an exciting time. You see guys jumping out of the vehicles, giving hugs, and just saying, "Hey, we made it, we did it, we're safe." And for a chaplain, that's a cool thing, because we also do the -- the other side of it, as well. And so, seeing this is important to us.

SAVIDGE: I've had that conversation with a number of soldiers, and they say they thought that crossing the border really wasn't going to be that big a deal. But in fact, they found out that it was a big deal. It meant that you were going from a war zone into a zone of safety.

But it also meant for every one of them, every time that border crossing happens, their war, their personal war, comes to an end.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Camp Virginia, Kuwait.

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FOSTER: Well, the decision to invade Iraq was deeply divisive, not just in the US, but across the entire world. But while no weapons of mass destruction were ever uncovered, the reign of Saddam Hussein was brought to a dramatic end. Let's take a look back, now, at how it all began.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.

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BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.

(BOMBS EXPLODING)

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BUSH: My removing Saddam Hussein from power, America is safer and the world is better off.

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FOSTER: So, was the military operation a success? Well, earlier, I put that question to Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

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HOSYAR ZEBAR, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I think the US presence in Iraq was successful, definitely, in removing the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, of helping the Iraqi people to build a democratic system, and to provide assistance for capacity building, for institution building.

But over the years, mistakes were committed -- by the US, by the Iraqi government, by the Iraqi people, I would say, or their representatives.

But here we are. I think today is a momentous day for all of us. Really, we believe that the effort has been worth it, despite all the hardship, all the pain that we have been through and our friends. But here we are today. Iraq is sovereign, is independent, and it's going to be a self-reliant country.

FOSTER: What was America's biggest mistake in Iraq?

ZEBARI: Well, I think there are many, but the outstanding one is the occupation period, actually, and willingly to turn the mission from liberation to occupation. I think that was the key mistake. And we all recognized the consequences a bit later and late, but it was costly.

FOSTER: There are those who think that Iraq isn't ready to take on those military roles that the Americans were carrying out, to properly secure the country, particular concern about the ability to -- defend those oil platforms and sovereign soil. There are those who want to divide the country going into democracy.

How confident are you that you can just pick up on those massive resources that the Americans had?

ZEBARI: No, definitely, there are many shortcomings in the Iraqi security structure and setup and air defense system and patrolling Iraqi air spaces and even maritime areas in the Gulf. This still would be an issue for mutual cooperation and support in terms of training, in terms of providing support over the horizon, I would say.

But the task is enormous, as you said. Indeed, we need to focus and to show a great deal of unity.

FOSTER: How concerned are you that actually Iraq could regress and go back to the dark old days, when there wasn't the control that exists today on the day the Americans are pulling out?

ZEBARI: I think the worst is over, and Iraq has been to hell and back and -- over the years. But I think there is a great deal of political maturity in the political leadership not to allow the country to be dragged, again, by terrorists or extreme groups or armed militias.

There would be those who will try to manipulate or exploit the security vacuum, but a great deal will depend on the future actions of the unity government to challenge those security threats and overcome them.

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FOSTER: Well, Iraq's foreign minister may be optimistic about his country's future, but as Michael Holmes discovered in Baghdad, it's a view that not everyone shares.

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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a Baghdad rehabilitation facility, victims of nearly nine years of war try to rebuild shattered bodies. They're not soldiers, not insurgents. They're regular, everyday people.

HOLMES (on camera): More than 30,000 US troops were wounded during this war. How do we know? Well, of course, every one of them was counted.

How many Iraqi civilians, though, were maimed by the bombs and the bullets over the years? Well, nobody knows for sure. Best guess, hundreds of thousands. But of course, all of those numbers have a name.

HOLMES (voice-over): Ahma Mousin (ph), age 30, caught in a marketplace bombing, paraplegic. Qatar Abbas (ph), age 34, shot in sectarian violence, paraplegic. Kareem Tasha (ph), 26, truck driver, shot at random while driving, paraplegic. Yousif Abed (ph), taxi driver, lost his leg after being shot in a market.

ALI MOHAMMAD ABBASS, DOCTOR, IBN AL-KUFF HOSPITAL: This will destroy their hopes in the future in this Iraq. What will be in this country after this war? They are very worried about the future.

SABA AHMED (ph), FATHER OF BOMBING VICTIM (through translator): It destroyed our lives. He's my only son. It crushed our morale at home.

HOLMES: Saba Ahmed is a broken man. His son, Hida (ph), was 12 when a roadside bomb went off as he walked home from school in 2006. He hasn't walked since.

AHMED (through translator): Live at home is like hell, now. His psychological state is not like that of other children who can go out. It's painful for him to see these other children.

HOLMES: Those who think the war is over because the Americans are going aren't living in today's Iraq. Nearly 200 Iraqis died last month, more than 300 wounded in horrific ways. Most of them innocents in the wrong place at the wrong time as bombs went off or gunfire erupted.

Uday Naji, a humble driver for the education ministry set off for work one morning last month. Minutes later, a bomb, stuck to the bottom of his vehicle, exploded.

The father of a three-month-old child lost his leg, victim, it appears, of one of a series of such bombings of government workers. Not high-profile people. Anyone who works for the government.

"I really don't know who did it or why," he tells me, bewildered. "I'm not an important person."

We leave Uday to visit Muna Adnan, a particularly heartbreaking case. The 29-year-old was he impoverished family's sole income earner, selling tea on the sidewalk last month outside their home when a bomb, planted seemingly at random, blew one leg off and damaged the other.

It was one of three bombs on that street that day. Killed 7, wounded 28. It is difficult to watch her physical and emotional agony.

(WOMAN CRYING)

MUNA ADNAN, BOMBING VICTIM (through translator): I don't know. I don't know anything. I just want my leg back. I don't want anything else.

HOLMES: "What did this girl do to deserve this?" Muna's father asks. "Her whole future is gone. What could we do? Put her on a cart and take her out to beg?"

(WOMAN CRYING)

HOLMES: Michael Holmes, CNN, Baghdad.

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FOSTER: Well, later in the show, CNN's Fareed Zakaria gives us his take on whether the war in Iraq has been worth it, and I'll be debating the military action with an anti-war campaigner and a former US spokesman for the United Nations under George W. Bush.

You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London. Still to come, Putin on the defensive. For the first time, the Russian prime minister addresses the outburst of anger after the country's disputed elections.

Plus, Indy car officials release their findings in the crash that killed Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

Then, later this hour, we're with Oscar winner and action man Christian Bale as he takes on the authorities in China, and this is no movie set.

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FOSTER: Now, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD on CNN, the world's news leader. Welcome back.

The Russian prime minister appeared on TV today for his tenth annual live question and answer program. Vladimir Putin put on a positive spin on public discontent, saying he was glad to see people protesting recent parliamentary elections because it showed freedom of expression.

When it came to the outcome of the vote, Mr. Putin shrugged off allegations of fraud.

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VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRIME MINISTER OF RUSSIA (through translator): As far as electoral fraud is concerned, and the fact that the opposition is not happy with the outcome of the elections, it's nothing new. That is the way it always is, and that is the way it will always be.

That is the definition of the opposition. It is fighting for power, and that is why it's looking for every opportunity to get close to power, to remove the ruling party, to point out its mistakes, and in the whole, this is also perfectly normal.

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FOSTER: Much more on what Putin had to say about Russia's political unrest a little later in the show. Here's a look at some other stories we're connecting our world with this hour.

Anti-government forces in Syria are reporting one of the deadliest attacks against the regime since the uprising began. Army defectors reportedly killed some 27 members of President Bashar al-Assad's security forces today south of Damascus.

The escalating bloodshed comes as Human Rights Watch denounced the regime for what it calls "crimes against humanity." The human rights watchdog is out with a scathing report bolstered by testimony from military defectors.

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SYRIAN MILITARY DEFECTOR (through translator): There were protests and chanting. Suddenly, our officer gave us the order to shoot at the people. It didn't matter how many would be killed. The important thing was for the protest to be disbursed, and we started shooting.

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FOSTER: Tonight, a surprise turnaround from Russia, one of the few remaining friends that Syria has left. Only two days ago, the Kremlin called the West's stance on al-Assad's regime "immoral." Now, Moscow is dropping its resistance to UN action, proposing its own resolution.

We go live to CNN's Senior UN Correspondent Richard Roth at our New York bureau. What can you tell us, Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Max, it's a bit of an adjustment for Russia's view on Syria and how it may handle the diplomacy at the UN. Russia had proposed a resolution a few months ago, but it didn't include any threat of sanctions or an arms embargo.

And earlier this week, there was a fierce diplomatic exchange, arguments, heated rhetoric thrown by the ambassadors at each other at very descriptive levels, I was told, inside the Council chambers, the degree of division on Syria between the West, including the French ambassador, and Russian ambassador, Churkin.

Now, Russia's issued another resolution, which is a little bit more open, and which demands a halt in violence by all parties, also calls on the government, the Syrian government, which it has supported, calls for the government to put an end to the suppression, quote, "of exercising of rights of freedom of expression."

Russian ambassador Churkin explained the Moscow view today to reporters at the UN.

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VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: We did address the situation in Syria, and we started out by noting that there are two things uniting members of the Council with regard to the situation in Syria.

And the first is our strong concern about the developing crisis, and the second, the feeling that the Security Council can play a useful and constructive role in trying to resolve this crisis.

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ROTH: That last part, there, interesting because the ambassador has not been too in favor of the Security Council playing a large, constructive role, thinking that dialogue could be carried out by the parties inside Syria or regionally that the UN and the Council -- this is not the time to get involved. Russia had been upset, it claimed, over what happened in Libya.

Now, the immediate reaction, somewhat guarded, somewhat receptive. US Secretary of State Clinton in Washington saying the US hopes to Russia -- to work with Russia on the draft of the resolution.

However, Germany's ambassador and a British official saying it's not sufficient enough. There's still no sanctions, no arms embargo in this resolution. Max, back to you.

FOSTER: Richard, thank you very much, indeed, for that.

Now, the world is getting a look at what is said to be the first pictures of China's first aircraft carrier. US satellite imaging company Digital Globe says it captured this image during apparent drills in the Yellow Sea. Experts call the ship a potent symbol of China's aspiration to become a global maritime power.

Former French president Jacques Chirac has been found guilty of corruption charges, but he won't serve any jail time. The court handed him a two-year suspended sentence today. The charges stem from his tenure of mayor of Paris, which ended in 1995. Chirac's daughter made an emotional statement today outside the Paris courthouse.

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ANH DAO TRAXEL, JACQUES CHIRAC'S DAUGHTER (through translator): It is absolutely essential that the whole family remains more than ever strong and supportive for his health and for the rest of his days.

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FOSTER: The judge in the appeals trial of American student Amanda Knox has released paperwork detailing how her murder conviction was overturned. In the documents, jurors say they cleared Knox due to a lack of evidence.

Knox's then-boyfriend also was acquitted. Both had been convicted of murdering Knox's roommate in 2009, but they were freed in October this year. A prosecutor told CNN today he will probably appeal the acquittal.

Now, a big name in football advanced today to the cup for the Club World Cup final, but Barcelona suffered a huge setback despite their convincing victory. We'll explain next.

And a little later, what inspires an Oscar-winning star to take action in the face of intimidating power? Christian Bale tells us himself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London, welcome back, I'm Max Foster. Time, now, for the day's top stories in the world of sports.

We start with the death of an Indy 500 winner, Dan Wheldon. He was killed in a 15-car crash in the season-ending race at Las Vegas back in October. A two-month investigation found Wheldon died when his head hit a fence post.

Indy car officials say Las Vegas won't host next year's race, but may return to the schedule if safety improvements are made.

Let's bring in Don Riddell on this, because Don, the investigators called the circumstances leading to Wheldon's death "a perfect storm," didn't they?

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And let's just go back to that terrible race. It was supposed to be the end of season finale, it was supposed to be a wonderful event. A lot of the drivers were there with their friends and families.

And of course, it turned into utter carnage, with 15 cars involved in this crash. It was spectacular and it was absolutely horrendous.

And when you hear the details of Wheldon's final moments, you realize that he had very little chance. He couldn't get out of the way of the accident. He managed to reduce speed quite a lot, but he was still propelled into the air and he flew 325 feet before hitting this fence.

And tragically, this pole, this fence pole, was kind of in exactly the wrong place. It made contact with his head, and that ultimately is what has killed him.

Of course, the drivers and the people within the sport that want to see the safety improved are perhaps a bit more concerned about the details. Why were there so many cars on the track? Why was that track itself being used?

And Indy car seems to have kind of glossed over some of those factors. It says, look, there were a lot of factors at play, here. As you say, Max, it was a perfect storm. But they haven't been able to identify any one of those factors as the sole cause of this fatal accident.

So, I think it's going to be interesting in the next few days to see what the drivers themselves have to say about this report.

FOSTER: Yes, and elsewhere in sport, Barcelona going to Asia hoping to win yet another trophy, but there's an injury story here, as well, isn't there?

RIDDELL: Yes, their ambition came at a price today. They're actually going for a fifth trophy in this calendar year, 2011. They're going for the club world championship. They were playing today against the Qatari side, Al-Sadd, and they gave them a good whipping, to be honest, Max. They have beaten them by four goals to nil.

We're going to show you those goals, but I think what's really the most important thing is that's David Villa, there, striker, there, going over on his leg and breaking it. That is a bad break, too. It's going to keep him out for around about five months, which is really unfortunate for Barcelona.

It's a real problem for Spain, as well. He is Spain's leading goal scorer. He's going to be out for the first half of next year, which means his participation in the Euro 2012 championships is going to be a real problem. Remember, Spain defending their title at that tournament.

Barcelona, meanwhile, will have to go into the final of this competition without him. They're going to be playing Santos on Sunday, and that could be a great game. Of course, Santos have got Neymar in their lineup. He is a target for Real Madrid, a player that Barcelona could be seeing a lot of if he makes the move.

But a good game to look forward to on Sunday.

FOSTER: Good stuff, Don. Thank you very much.

Still to come on CONNECT THE WORLD, Vladimir Putin talks protest. Thousands in Russia took to the streets after this month's disputed elections. Now, the prime minister is taking credit for the demonstrations.

A little bit later, CNN's Stan Grant goes deep into China with a Hollywood star, but it's no movie junket this time. Christian Bale explains why he tried to give Chinese security the slip.

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FOSTER: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD on CNN. Time for a check of the world headlines this hour.

Almost nine years of US military operations in Iraq have come to an official end with the lowering of the flag of command in Baghdad. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the occasion marked an opportunity for the country to forge ahead on a path to security and prosperity.

The lawyer of a man who went on a killing rampage in Belgium says he feared returning to prison and losing the life he had built up after serving time for rape and drug trafficking. Nordine Amrani killed five people and wounded 130 on Tuesday before killing himself. Belgian police had called Amrani for an interview on a sexual assault case before the attack.

Former French president Jacques Chirac has been found guilty on corruption charges, but he won't serve any jail time. A court handed him a two-year suspended sentence on Thursday. The charges are from his almost 20-year stint as mayor of Paris that ended in 1995.

A human rights watchdog blames Damascus and its army chiefs of killing and torturing Syrian pro-democracy demonstrators. Human Rights Watch wants the UN to take the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad before the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin appeared on TV today for his annual live question and answer program. He was asked some tough questions this time about the recent elections and allegations of fraud, but as CNN's Phil Black reports, he had plenty to say in return.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was an impressive studio set.

(APPLAUSE)

BLACK: A standing ovation, and more than a million questions flooding in over phones and computers. Right off the top, Russia's prime minister was asked about recent political protests. He took credit for them.

PUTIN (through translator): I was glad to see the faces of new, intelligent, healthy, and energetic people who are actively expressing their position. If that is the result of Putin's regime, I'm glad about that.

BLACK: The prime minster backed the disputed parliamentary election results, saying they reflect the preferences of the people, and he believes the opposition movement is really trying to discredit the coming presidential election and its eventual winner, almost certainly himself. He proposed an ambitious solution.

PUTIN (through translator): I am proposing to the central electorate commission to install live web cameras at every polling station across the country, at more than 90,000 of them, and let those cameras work around the clock, day and night, to take it onto the internet so that the entire country could see what is going on at every polling box to completely remove all concerns about falsifications.

BLACK: Earlier this week, a news magazine published a photo of a ballot form with an obscene message for Vladimir Putin. Two magazine executives were fired because of it. Journalists blame pressure from the Kremlin. Mr. Putin says he wasn't offended.

PUTIN (through translator): I have seen that remark, and it amused me a lot, and even made me happy.

BLACK: He said Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire oligarch who also plans to run for the presidency, is a strong and worthy opponent. That's likely to fuel opposition fears Prokhorov is a Kremlin stooge working to divide the opposition vote.

And some of Mr. Putin's most colorful language was used to describe US senator John McCain. He was asked about a McCain tweet suggesting the Arab Spring could be coming to Russia.

PUTIN (through translator): Mr. McCain was taken prisoner in Vietnam and had been held not just in jail, but was put in a pit where he was kept for several years. Any person under those circumstances would hardly remain mentally sane.

BLACK: Senator McCain tweeted in response, "Dear Vlad, is it something I said?"

BLACK (on camera): This was Vladimir Putin's tenth annual talk show, and it went for four and a half hours. Many of the questions were soft, others complimentary. But this year, he was also gently asked direct questions about political unrest, democracy, and corruption. That hasn't happened before.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Joining me now to put -- well, some reaction, really, to Putin's performance is Oleg Kozlovsky. He's a Russian democracy and human rights activist. Thank you so much for joining us, Oleg. I mean, what did you make of the performance? He did take the tough questions, and he answered them head-on, didn't he?

OLEG KOZLOVSKY, BLOGGER AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, I think Putin looks very confused, now, and he doesn't have a strategy how to deal with this new wave of protests that he has never seen anything like this before.

So, I think he's trying at the same time to demonstrate his confidence and to do some -- to make some concessions that won't at the same time make him look weak. And it's difficult.

FOSTER: It was quite a big concession to suggest these cameras in all the voting booths, wasn't it? Because the suggestion is there was fraud going on in these voting booths, and he's saying, well, there wasn't, it was just a reflection of the vote and it won't happen in the presidential election. Were you reassured by that?

KOZLOVSKY: Well, actually, just putting web cameras on polling stations doesn't solve anything. As long as you have the same people operating these polling stations, the same people counting the votes, there are 100 ways to obstruct those cameras, to just do something outside the field which is seen by those cameras.

And there are so many ways they use to organize this fraud that actually just this one concession doesn't change anything. It's the least they could do, and it's not enough.

FOSTER: What about the -- his views on the protests? He was suggesting that actually the fact that this was allowed to happen was a reflection of how he's opened up democracy in Russia, and he welcomed it. Are you concerned that he may clamp down on it, he isn't being honest, or what do you -- what did you make of his view of the protests?

KOZLOVSKY: Well, they clearly didn't know what to do about it, and during the last week, there were moves trying to ban or at least make impossible such a huge rally, or to then --

(AUDIO GAP)

KOZLOVSKY: I think they just don't know what to do with this --

(AUDIO GAP)

KOZLOVSKY: They made the right decision, they preferred not to use violence this time.

(AUDIO GAP)

FOSTER: OK, Oleg Kozlovsky, we're losing the sound a bit there, but thank you very much, indeed, for joining us with your view on that Putin debate.

Just ahead on CONNECT THE WORLD, he may be Batman on screen, but Christian Bale tells us how a Chinese activist is teaching him the real meaning of courage. Hear it from the Oscar winner himself next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Now, he's known for his role as Batman, a caped crusader for justice. Now, Oscar-winner Christian Bale is taking on a real-life campaign.

He's in China for the premier of a film he shot there, and Bale is using that opportunity to highlight the plight of a blind human rights activist who's been a prisoner in his own home for more than 15 months. But as CNN's Stan Grant reports, in China, celebrity can't open all doors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIAN BALE, ACTOR: Why can I not go visit this man?

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hollywood actor Christian Bale is used to action, but this is no movie set.

BALE: We've been stopped.

(MAN SPEAKING IN CHINESE)

GRANT: Plainclothed Chinese security, who would not identify themselves, determined to stop him and our crew contacting a detained human rights activist.

GRANT (on camera): Watch it, Christian.

We're trying to get out of here. Once again, we've been stopped. We've been stopped right here, and as you can see, they're pushing Christian, here. We're just trying to leave peacefully. We're trying to leave peacefully.

GRANT (voice-over): As we leave, the guards give chase in their car.

GRANT (on camera): They're still right on our tail.

GRANT (voice-over): Christian Bale says this is not what he'd hoped for. He'd made an eight-hour car journey from Beijing to try to meet a personal hero, the blind, self-taught lawyer, Chen Guangcheng.

BALE: I'm not being brave doing this. The -- the local people who are standing up to the authorities and insisting on going to visit Chen and his family and getting beaten up for it, and my understanding he's being detained for and everything. I want to support what they're doing.

GRANT: Bale has been in China for the premier of a film he's made here about the Japanese invasion of Nanjing in the 1930s. Bale could have rolled up the red carpet and left, but the actor, whose movies about suffering and injustice, could not leave China without highlighting this real-life struggle.

Chen Guangcheng has campaigned against alleged forced abortions and the treatment of villages in China. In 2006, he was sentenced to more than four years in prison for disrupting traffic and damaging property. He denies those allegations.

Chen has not been allowed to leave his home since his release last year. Local Chinese authorities in Shandong province have his house and local village in lockdown, no one allowed in to see Chen. Authorities here declined to comment on the case.

The United States has championed Chen's cause. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has raised his case during past visits to the region. Christian Bale now wants to add whatever weight he can.

BALE: This doesn't come naturally to me. But this was just a situation I said I can't look the other way.

GRANT: Bale has followed CNN's coverage of Chen's case and approached us to try to meet the blind activists. His hopes were high until this.

BALE: What I really wanted to do was shake the man's hand and say "thank you" and tell him what an inspiration he is and ask what can we do to help him?

GRANT: Bale will return to the US with the spotlight on his film, China's entry into next year's Academy Awards. He hopes that the spotlight also continues on the plight of Chen Guangcheng.

Stan Grant, CNN, Shandong, China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Well, a short time ago, Christian Bale told CNN why he was so keen to take this action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BALE: I was inspired by the footage I'd seen with Stan Grant which Brad had shot early in the year where Stan had remained absolutely passive and just been talking with him, asking why he was not able to visit this free man.

And he is a free man. That's the thing that people have to remember. This is completely illegal and the only thing that this incredible man, Chen Guangcheng, has done is that he's a human rights lawyer, he's self- taught, he's blind, and he has gotten benefits for disabled people, he's aided famers with illegal land takeovers with that, and he exposed a program of forced abortion and forced sterilization.

And for that, the man was thrown into jail for four years. And he's done his time and should now be free. But that's not true.

Him and his family, his young daughter and his wife, have been kept prisoner inside of their house by these thugs who shine floodlights into his house at nighttime so that they can't sleep. His young ten-year-old son is not allowed to even visit his family.

And where does this end? That's what we're trying to find out, and that's what we're trying to help with speeding up, getting this inspiring man back to a normal life again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: You'll be able to hear much more from Christian Bale coming up on "BackStory," including how he and the CNN crew got away from the government agents with their footage intact. That's just around 15 minutes, actually, from now. Do stay here on CNN.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD, and when we come back, one war, two points of view. Analysts weigh in on the US war in Iraq. Was the nearly nine-year effort worth the cost in lives, destruction, and money?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: Returning now to our top story, the US military mission in Iraq, it's formally over. American troops lowered the flag of command that flew over Baghdad this morning. It happened nearly nine years after the Shock and Awe bombardment that led to the downfall and death of Saddam Hussein.

More than 4500 American troops died during the war, and the cost in Iraqi lives was immense. Some reports put the number of dead at 150,000, most of them civilians.

Now that the US is out, some are asking what was it all -- or was it all worth it? And Fareed Zakaria weighs the costs and the benefits of war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS": There are some clear benefits. Iraq is a functioning democracy. It is not a perfect democracy, but it is functioning.

The north of Iraq, the Kurdish areas, are actually quite modern, quite progressive. They have their problems, but compared to the standards of the Middle East, they're not doing badly at all.

In the south, the picture is more mixed. Parts of Basra, which is a part of Iraq, look more like Iran than anywhere else. In fact, they're in some ways religiously more conservative. But on the whole, you would have to say that Iraq being a functioning democracy has had an impact.

It has also not become an Iranian client state, the way many people thought. Look, Iran is a neighbor, it's big, it's powerful, it has had historical ties with Iraq, but it also fought an eight-year war with Iraq, and most Iraqis remember that war and remember the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were killed by Iranians.

So, there is enough animosity and tension there that the Iraqi government is not going to become a tool of Iran's.

The big picture, the big question, of course, is whether these benefits that have come from the invasion of Iraq where worth the cost. The cost in Iraqi lives, tens of thousands, perhaps more, maybe two million refugees. The cost in American lives, and the enormous cost to the American treasury, probably a trillion dollars.

A lot will have to go right in Iraq over the next decade or two to justify these extraordinary costs. Who knows if that'll happen? The long view of history is long, indeed. But so far, it seems to me, the costs seem high and the benefits, while real, don't quite justify those enormous costs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Well, that's Fareed speaking, there, giving his thoughts on the Iraq War, and I want to discuss it further, now, with people on both sides of the debate.

I'm joined in London by Tony Benn. He's a former British member of parliament and anti-war campaigner, and from CNN Los Angeles, Rick Grenell. He's -- he served as US Communications and Public Policy -- Public Diplomacy Director at the United Nations during the George W. Bush presidency. Thank you both for joining us.

First, Mr. Benn, I guess you're pleased it's all over, at least.

TONY BENN, FORMER BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Well, Bush became elected president, his first objective was to bring about a regime change in Iraq, and he worked for that, and in the end persuaded Mr. Blair to go along with it.

And it led to a war which has cost 800 million, perhaps a trillion pounds. It's killed 5,000 American soldiers and injured about 15,000. It's killed 150,000 Iraqis, as far as I can make out.

FOSTER: So, absolutely not worth it.

BENN: Well, it's just like the Vietnam War told at the time, it was absolutely essential. But it wasn't necessary, it wasn't legal. They said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He didn't, because when they got there, they didn't find any. And I think it was a -- it was a great mistake.

FOSTER: Rick, any regrets?

RICHARD GRENELL, FORMER US COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR AT THE UN: Well, first of all, let's just say that the world is absolutely a better place without Saddam Hussein. He developed and used weapons of mass destruction on his own people in the forms of weapon-grade anthrax.

So, I'm not sure how anyone could justify how using weapons-grade anthrax on your own people is not using and developing weapons of mass destruction.

Let me also say one point about the legality of this. I was there at the Security Council, and there was a unanimous vote in November of 2002, Resolution 1441, by the UN Security Council, which unanimously said that Saddam must come clean and show what's missing, because there were a lot of questions about what he was saying that he had.

Clearly, Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and we calculated that he was developing more and may use more.

So, I'll give you the point that we didn't find as much as we anticipated in terms of future development of weapons of mass destruction, but there's no question the UN had 16 resolutions against the guy and he had used weapons on his own people. So, the world is a much better place than we now -- without Saddam, it's a much better place.

FOSTER: And Tony, it is an easier thing to criticize with hindsight, isn't it? Because at the time, there was a great deal of concern about Saddam Hussein, and people did agree that he was a bad person and he should go. It was only with hindsight that we knew that there wasn't the evidence that had been pretended --

BENN: Well, he did say, because I went to interview him in 2003 just before the war and asked him if he had weapons of mass destruction, he said, "No." I didn't know whether to believe him that he didn't.

"Do you have links with al Qaeda?"

He said, "No," and I knew that was true because Osama bin Laden hated Saddam, who was a secularist, didn't believe in religious government.

And I think it was just the United States wanted to invade Iraq and control Iraq, and that's what it was about.

FOSTER: The decisions, Rick, that went on behind the scenes, how tense were they? Was there -- or was the administration completely behind this, or how much debate was there? Because the truth is, there wasn't the evidence at the time. There was just indication.

GRENELL: Well, that's actually not true. There was a lot of questions raised. And you've got to remember that we were in a post-9/11 world, and the UN couldn't answer the questions and Saddam couldn't answer the questions.

The simple fact is that Saddam kicked out the -- the UN inspectors, and the UN inspectors were raising concerns. No one at the time in the Security Council was saying that Saddam didn't have these weapons. You have to remember that. In a post-9/11 world, the most the other side was saying is, "We just don't know, and we want more time to investigate."

(CROSSTALK)

FOSTER: But Rick, with hindsight --

GRENELL: What we later found out is that --

FOSTER: Could I just ask you --

GRENELL: -- is that Saddam was lying not only to his own people, but to everybody else.

FOSTER: But with hindsight, with so many lives lost, was it worth it? I realize you were part of the decision, you supported that. But is there any sense of regret, or would you do the same again?

GRENELL: Well, first of all, the cost was very high. And no one who is a part of a family that lost a loved one can ever say that the cost was worth it. I mean, we certainly recognize that. And there were a ton of mistakes. There were a lot of mistakes in the process.

But I think the world is better and no one can argue that the representative government that we have now in Iraq is worse than a tyranny.

FOSTER: OK.

GRENELL: What we had under Saddam --

FOSTER: OK.

GRENELL: -- was a tyranny. And I always -- I'm very uncomfortable with the left trying to say that a tyranny --

FOSTER: OK --

GRENELL: -- and the peace that comes from a tyranny is somehow good.

FOSTER: OK, another quick word from Tony. Is there any positive to this in that it's not going to happen again. If you look at what happened in Libya, it was completely different policy --

(CROSSTALK)

BENN: Well, but you --

FOSTER: -- because of what happened in Iraq.

BENN: No, but Iran is the next case. There's a lot of pressure, now, to attack Iran. The Israelis want to do it, the Americans seem very keen on it, and it would be an ever bloodier thing. I think it could almost trigger a third world war if Israel were to attack Iran.

So, I think the lessons we learned from Iraq should now be in our minds when we consider the argument against Iran.

FOSTER: Tony Benn, Rick Grenell, thank you both very much, indeed, for joining us on the program.

We leave you tonight with images from Kuwait where soldiers from one of the last American combat units in Iraq streamed across the border today. Nearly nine years after the war began, their mission is now finished. From Kuwait, they will fly home to Fort Hood in Texas and be reunited with their families.

I'm Max Foster, thank you for watching. The world headlines and "BackStory" are up next after a short break.

END