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CONNECT THE WORLD

The Case Against Robert Bales; Protest in Toulouse; McLaren Driver Wins Formula 1; New EU Sanctions on Syria; British-Born Wife of Syrian Leader Once Hope of Many for Change in Syria; Asma al-Assad's Influence in Syria; UK to Set Minimum Price for Alcohol to Fight Binge Drinking; Nations Rethinking Drinking; Study Says Canadian Minimum Pricing Plan Cuts Alcohol Consumption; Freedom Project: Filmmaker Investigates Sex Slavery in Eastern Europe

Aired March 23, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


MONITA RAJPAL, HOST: Tonight on CONNECT THE WORLD, charged with murder -- the U.S. soldier accused of a massacre in Afghanistan. Tonight, the Taliban tells CNN they won't recognize American courts and vow to take revenge.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is CONNECT THE WORLD.

RAJPAL: The U.S. has promised to deliver justice for Afghanistan.

But will the legal process do more harm than good to the countries' rocky relationship?

Also tonight, as the EU slaps a travel ban on the wife of Syria's president, those who knew her tell us why she's standing by her man.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I was scared, but you can't go in thinking about the fear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJPAL: The filmmaker who posed as a prostitute to expose the horrors of human trafficking.

A U.S. Army staff sergeant now faces formal charges in a massacre that rocked the already fragile relationship with Afghanistan's government and the Taliban. Seventeen counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder filed today against Robert Bales. And more charges could follow.

This is the start of what could be a long legal process in the United States.

But Afghans wonder if Bales will ever receive the justice they feel he deserves. They want him tried in Afghanistan.

We are covering every angle of this story.

Ted Rowlands is in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where Bales remains in custody.

Sara Sidner has the Afghan reaction from Kabul.

First tonight to you, Ted.

Yesterday, Bales' attorney had said that the case against his client would be very difficult to prove.

Has there been anything new said today by his lawyer?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has said the same thing this morning. And, in fact, he is reiterating this sense that, from an attorney's standpoint, in the U.S. judicial system, he feels like he may have a good case, saying that they're -- the bodies were buried before autopsies could be conducted. He's questioning the amount of ballistics information and questioning, basically, the amount of pure physical evidence that is at hand in this case and questioning the -- the witnesses, whether they'll be able to come from Afghanistan and whether they'll be identifying his client in this court of law.

Now, on the other side, this is -- you have to keep this in mind, that this is just a flamboyant defense attorney in the United States. The bottom line is you do have 17 people that were innocently gunned down in the middle of the night. And there is evidence -- there's videotape evidence of him surrendering himself.

But he continues his public questioning of the evidence at hand, that's for sure.

RAJPAL: Ted, there -- he's been charged with 17 counts of murder. But at last check, there have been 16 deaths or 16 bodies that were found.

Where is the 17th coming from?

ROWLANDS: Well, we're -- we're quite -- we're not quite sure. What we do know is that there was a rumor that maybe one of the victims was a pregnant woman. We know that is not true. But either there was a miscount at the beginning or somebody did perish from their injuries in the past few days.

But we -- we just haven't been able to nail that down, the discrepancy from the initial death toll of 16 to now these 17 charges of murder.

RAJPAL: All right, ted, thank you for that.

Ted Rowlands there in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Now, the fact that Bales could be sentenced to death has done little to ease the outrage felt in Afghanistan.

Sara Sidner joins us now live from CNN Kabul from the reaction from there -- Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, man, I wanted to say one thing about what we have been able to find out now from Afghan officials, that they're saying that no one has died of those who were injured. There were six people injured, including several children, four children. Two of those children have been let out of the hospital. So they have done quite well. They do have bullet wounds, but they are doing quite well now and mending. And no one has died.

So this is a bit of a question. But the -- the U.S. is saying that there are four men, four women and nine children who were killed in the Panjwai District, allegedly by Army Staff Sergeant Bales.

So we're still trying to kind of sort things out and try to figure out why they believe there were 17 victims, as opposed to what the Afghan government has written down, which is 16 victims of the -- let's talk a little bit about what we got today from the Taliban. The Taliban writing an e-mail to us, talking about their thoughts on this case.

And they say that they simply don't believe in the American judicial system. They say it's not reliable and that they will, take revenge, particularly against American soldiers.

So they have made this threat. They've made it not once, not twice, but three times since this incident occurred on March 11th, Sunday, around 3:00 a.m., according to NATO officials.

And so we are, you know, people just wait to see what is going to happen. There have been some incidents the Taliban has claimed responsibility for, in the killing of, for example, nine people who died in a roadside bomb blast. But there is a fear that there will be something else that's going to happen and they've certainly made that threat -- Monita.

RAJPAL: All right, Sara, thank you .

Sara Sidner there from CNN Kabul.

We want to talk more about the legal process facing Robert Bales and what may happen next.

Phil Cave is a retired U.S. Navy judge advocate, now in the private practice of U.S. military law. He joins us now from CNN Washington.

Mr. Cates, thank you very much for being with us.

We don't know yet what kind of a court that Mr. Bales will be tried in, even if it does go to court, because we understand he will still have to be, I guess, assessed by doctors to see if he's -- he's just mentally fit to be tried in a court.

PHIL CAVE, MILITARY DEFENSE LAWYER: Yes, that's correct. Ultimately, the -- if he goes to court, it's going to be a general court martial, because that's the only forum where you can seek to impose the death penalty, if that's what they decide to do.

But certainly in these early stages, prior to the Article 32 investigation, quite clearly, there is going to have to be a lot of examination and investigation into his background and his mental state at the time of the alleged offenses.

RAJPAL: And Article 32 would be what would be considered a hybrid court -- a court, that would be military and civilian, right?

CAVE: An Article 32, they will appoint, probably a colonel, a senior officer. He will hold a hearing. At that hearing, unlike a grand jury, Sergeant Bales will be present. He will have his lawyers with him. He will be able to interview and cross-examine witnesses, present witnesses his -- of his own, if he wants to, and get discovery of the evidence.

And that proceeding, when it does get started, will be open to the public. The media can attend. And so there's quite a bit of transparency to the Article 32 process.

RAJPAL: What needs to happen now, at this point, now that we know that what charges have been laid out against him, what happens now?

CAVE: Well, there are two things -- at least two things going on. At some point in the reasonably near future, they're going to start the -- the sanity board process. In other words, the command -- the commander has to direct a board of officers to conduct a sanity investigation and hearing and examination into his mental state, both at the time of the alleged offenses and whether or not he's competent to stand trial. And that's typically at least three forensic psychologists, psychiatrists, who would meet and conduct psychometric testing and also interviews of Sergeant Bales and also examine witness statements of another -- and other evidence that's available.

RAJPAL: Are there any other cases that are similar to this?

I mean I guess I'm trying to ask what kind of precedent has been set before?

CAVE: Well, I -- I think if you just go back to 2003, when the Iraq- Afghanistan combat started, this is, I think, the first where it's been a single soldier who's been involved in the alleged killings of so many victims.

Now, there certainly have been other instances. We have Haditha, Handonia (ph), the Stryker Brigade cases from Fort Lewis itself, where there have been multiple victims.

But in those cases, it's typically been several Marines or soldiers who have been the people accused of the killings.

RAJPAL: What's interesting about this case is that there's...

CAVE: So that -- that would...

RAJPAL: Sorry. Sorry to interrupt you, sir, but the -- his defense attorney, Mr. Bales' defense, is saying that this will be very difficult for the prosecution to -- to actually prove, a difficult case because there aren't any forensics. The bodies have been buried. There is no autopsy.

So what kind of a case will the prosecution have to build against him?

CAVE: Sure. And that's probably one of the things that's ongoing right now. The Army CID and certainly the Afghani investigators and potentially the Federal Bureau of Investigation might get involved. They've done that in some cases.

But, yes, they're going to have to do what they can to examine the crime scene, recover evidence. For example, if they can recover a -- I think we've heard today that they may have recovered some cartridge casings. So that plus remnants of bullet -- bullet fragments, they might be able to take those to a forensic comparison to the weapon. I believe we're hearing that he surrendered the weapon. So it appears they've got the weapon. And potentially, they can do a forensic bullet and cartridge case examination to compare the two and make the -- make the match.

And so that certainly would be part of the case, it would seem to me, that they will have to investigative. And I'm -- I'm certain that logistics and other factors are going to make that complicated. But in the end, I think it's difficult to conceive that they won't be able to put together some sort of case against Sergeant Bales.

RAJPAL: All right, Phil Cave, retired U.S. Navy judge advocate.

Sir, thank you very much for your time.

Appreciate that.

CAVE: Yes.

RAJPAL: Our top story tonight, formal charges filed against U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in the massacre that killed 17 Afghan civilians. Bales could face the death penalty.

The Taliban say U.S. courts are not reliable and are vowing revenge.

Still to come here on CONNECT THE WORLD, new questions, more explanations -- French leaders on the defensive over suspected mass killer, Mohamed Merah. We'll take you live to Toulouse.

Adding to the list of sanctions on Syria, the European Union targets the wife of President Bashar al-Assad.

Plus, calling time on binge drinking -- how to make staying on the wagon trendy.

All that and much more when CONNECT THE WORLD continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RAJPAL: You're watching CNN.

This is CONNECT THE WORLD.

I'm Monita Rajpal.

Welcome back.

French authorities are defending how the intelligence services handled suspected killer, Mohamed Merah. Bullet holes riddled the apartment building in Toulouse in Southwestern France where commandoes gunned down the 23 -year-old on Thursday, ending a 32 hour siege. France's prime minister is praising authorities even though they knew beforehand that Merah had traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Francois Fillon insists police had no grounds on which to arrest Merah before the killings of three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCOIS FILLON, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The fact of belonging to a Salafist organization is not, in itself, a crime. We must not mix religious fundamentalism with terrorism, even if we know very well the links that unite both of them.

No, there were no elements that allowed us to arrest Mohamed Merah. Once again, would not have the right to arrest someone on no charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJPAL: Well, as French leaders contend with growing questions, the city of Toulouse turned out Friday to honor the victims of the recent attacks. Toulouse mayor, Pierre Cohen, also called the rally to demonstrate against all forms of bigotry.

CN -- CNN's senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, joins us now live from Toulouse -- Dan.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Monita, that footage inside the apartment where Mohamed Merah staged his last stand gives you a real sense of the ferocity of the firefight. The forensic report now has shown that he died from two fatal wounds, one to the head and one to the chest, but there were 20 other bullets that hit him. And, of course, he is thought to have -- have fired at least 30 bullets at the police as they tried to storm that apartment.

But the big question now for the authorities is where he managed to get that massive arsenal of weapons, of ammunition, in a country where gun controls are supposed to be strict.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RIVERS (voice-over): The bullet-riddled apartment where Mohamed Merah made his last stand. It was here that he'd amassed an arsenal of automatic weapons and ammunition. He was a convicted thief and was last in court for motoring offenses. But he'd also become a disciple of al Qaeda and was arrested in Afghanistan after visiting a training camp. He may have learned to shoot there.

He boasted to police negotiators that he'd paid for his guns in Toulouse with the proceeds of crime.

But how did he find the weapons?

(on camera): In France, you can buy a replica gun like this. But to buy the real thing is much more difficult. You can get something like a Kalashnikov, an AK-47, but you would need permission from the police. But something like an Uzi .9 millimeter is completely illegal in France. And that's one of the weapons that Mohamed Merah used, suggesting he tapped into the black market.

YVES GOLLETY, FRENCH ASSOCIATION OF GUN RETAILERS: So this is a type of Kalashnikov, like -- like this -- like the Kalashnikov and like (INAUDIBLE).

RIVERS (voice-over): Yves Goletty is president of the French Gun Retailers Association.

GOLLETY: There is no border now. And it is very difficult to stop now all the illegal guns in France. I think it's difficult. You have many world -- world countries in -- in the world not far from France, a two hour plane, like Libya. You have a very big quantity of guns like Kalashnikovs which are in the -- in the country.

RIVERS: We met two young teenagers in the same area in which Merah lived. They boasted of a growing gun culture among them and their friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you've got good contacts, you've got guns. You've got arms, just like anywhere, just like in the States, just like in London.

RIVERS: And a few minutes later, while I was on air, graphic proof this wasn't just bravado -- a gun, maybe replica, maybe the real thing, cocked in front of our camera.

Merah's killing spree has galvanized many residents, who turned out on Friday for a show of unity. The city's mayor acknowledging the issue of where Merah obtained his guns needs to be investigated.

PIERRE COHEN, TOULOUSE MAYOR: In France, we're not exempt from having black market in arms. And a certain number of people are able to procure themselves weapons. Obviously, it's something we should maybe give more consideration to.

RIVERS: French police are routinely armed, but increasingly, so are the criminals they're charged with stopping. It makes the job of intelligence agencies so much harder. Homegrown terrorists no longer need to make a bomb. Like this teenager, they simply need the right contacts to buy a gun.

(on camera): And the police will now be going through that hall of weapons to see if there are any clues as to where he got those weapons from, how he got them, and, of course, Merah's immediate family remain in custody. His mother, his brother and his brother's girlfriend all still being questioned by the police here in Toulouse -- Monita.

RAJPAL: Dan Rivers in Toulouse.

Thank you.

Let's bring you up to date on some other stories connecting our world tonight.

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated an Ivy League college president to be the next leader of the World Bank, Dr. Kim -- Dr. Jim Yong Kim's nomination is seen as something of a surprise because his background is in medicine rather than economics or business. Kim emigrated to the U.S. from South Korea when he was five years old. Some see the nomination as a compromise with countries that are hoping a non-American might get the job.

Well, Mr. Obama says the killing of a black teenager in Florida should prompt some national soul-searching. This comes as protests continue to grow over the death of 17 -year-old Trayvon Martin. Students at Florida high schools have been staging walkouts throughout the day. One group of students formed Trayvon Martin's initials on their school's football field. Trayvon was shot dead by neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, who was not arrested after claiming self-defense.

The U.S. president had this to say about the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But my main message is -- is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJPAL: The African Union has suspended Mali following a military coup in the West African nation. Mutinous soldiers stormed Mali's presidential palace on Thursday and ousted Mali's democratically elected leader, President Amadou Toumani. The African Union says a team will be sent to Mali to urge a return to constitutional order.

Pope Benedict XVI will start a new papal trip when he lands in Mexico in the coming hours. Before boarding the plane, the pope called for a fight against the evil of drug cartels and said people must do everything possible to fight this evil which destroys our young. Pope Benedict will also visit Cuba during his trip. During Friday's flight, he said Marxism no longer responds to reality.

Up next tonight on CONNECT THE WORLD, and an interesting tale -- take, I should say, on the world's most popular sport. We'll explain, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RAJPAL: You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London.

Welcome back.

I'm Monita Rajpal.

A McLaren driver won Formula 1 season's opening race last week and if Friday's practice in Malaysia is any indication, we may see another win for the team on Sunday.

Alex Thomas is here with those details -- Alex, hello.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Yes, the world's top Formula 1 teams and drivers going straight from Australia...

RAJPAL: Yes.

THOMAS: -- where it was -- it was Jenson Button who was victorious at the Albert Park Circuit, which they just put in and take out again. And now they've gone to Malaysia, a purpose built track, one of the new breed there. And McLaren still performing well, which is a bit of a surprise, because before the opening race, there was a real sort of guessing game going on about which teams had done best during winter testing.

So here we're seeing Button going fast. It's an opening practice earlier on Friday, ahead of the race on Sunday. They've got qualifying on Saturday, of course.

Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes, a seven time world champion, who's not done well since coming out of the retirement. But he was second fastest.

Then you had Jenson Button, that won last week's third fastest. And the big disappointment, really, Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion. He's won the driver's part of the last two years, just tenth fastest in the afternoon session. And he came away telling journalists that he thought the car was -- was rubbish, frankly.

So Red Bull, who dominated Formula 1 for the last two years, suddenly may be coming back toward the rest of the pack, which is fulfilling those prophecies of maybe a closer, more exciting session.

And whilst the sort of premier motor sport event is happening in Malaysia, we've got that, back in the United States this weekend, the start of the IndyCar racing season. The cars look the same, but there are subtle differences. Dario Franchitti, a Scotsman, has been dominating that over the last three years, winning the driver's title three years running. And he was speaking to Pedro Pinto earlier and saying he's looking forward to this year, particularly because of a new arrival.

RAJPAL: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARIO FRANCHITTI, 2011 INDIANAPOLIS 500 WINNER: We have a, you know, a big name driver coming in, with Rubens Barrichello coming in from -- from Formula 1 and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.

FRANCHITTI: -- and Rubens is, in my -- in my opinion, one of the absolute best in the world. And for him to come to the IndyCar series says a lot about it. And he's going to be tough to beat, though. You know, he's a good -- an old friend of mine, a good guy. But he is going to be hard to beat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS: And the follow-on for you will be on "WORLD SPORT" in an hour's time -- Monita.

RAJPAL: Now, it says here you're going to show me some football that apparently even I would watch?

THOMAS: Yes, you didn't read the live of the line the way that me and my producer (INAUDIBLE)...

RAJPAL: Apparently even I would watch?

THOMAS: -- for it. Well, I know you're not a huge football fan, you know, but...

RAJPAL: Well, that's -- I'm -- I'm dying to see what you're going to show me.

THOMAS: Take a look at what a Norwegian TV game show came up with. They call this bubble football. And it means that you're...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: -- you're not going to get hurt, even when you collide with other players. I think it's ridiculous, but we thought it was amusing enough to show you and our CNN viewers around the world.

RAJPAL: You know what would be fun to watch, to see some of the top football players...

THOMAS: Yes.

RAJPAL: -- like David Beckham or one of those...

THOMAS: I think even Leo Messi...

RAJPAL: Wayne Rooney or Leo Messi in that.

THOMAS: Leo Messi would...

RAJPAL: That I would watch.

THOMAS: -- struggle to score quite as many goals with the bubble wrapped around his torso and head.

RAJPAL: That can be a good team building thing for us here on CONNECT THE WORLD.

THOMAS: Sure.

RAJPAL: I'll have to see that.

All right, Alex, thank you very much.

Appreciate that.

Still to come here on CONNECT THE WORLD, the pressure on the Assad regime builds -- how the European Union is targeting Syria's first lady.

Plus, battling a binge drinking culture -- that's the aim of the new (INAUDIBLE) government plan. Why it's not going down well with everyone.

And then, find out why Eastern European women are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. We speak to a filmmaker who went undercover to investigate the illicit trade.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RAJPAL: A warm welcome to our viewers across Europe and around the world. I'm Monita Rajpal. These are the latest headlines from CNN.

The US military announced formal charges against Robert Bales in the March 11th massacre in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. The US Army staff sergeant faces 17 counts of murder, 6 counts of attempted murder, and 2 counts of assault. More charged could follow.

Crowds gathered in Toulouse, France, to remember the victims of a string of shooting attacks. The city's mayor called for a rally in solidarity with the seven people who were killed and against the anti- Semitism and racism.

Students at several high schools in the US state of Florida staged walkouts on Friday calling for justice in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. US president Barack Obama called Trayvon Martin's death a tragedy speaking out on the killing for the first time.

The European Union is applying more pressure to the Syrian regime. The EU has frozen the assets of President Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma, his mother, sister, and sister-in-law. The women are also banned from travel to EU nations, though Asma al-Assad cannot be denied entry because -- to Britain because she was born here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CATHERINE ASHTON, EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: I do think they're putting pressure on the regime. I never underestimate that sanctions make a significant difference, because they to two things.

One is they target individuals, entities in ways that prevent them from carrying on with business as usual. And secondly, they make a strong political statement about how the international community feels about what's going on. Never underestimate them, sanctions are a really important tool. But they're not everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJPAL: Asma al-Assad is a western-educated former investment banker. It was widely thought her background would influence her husband's regime, but as CNN's Atika Shubert reports, those hopes have vanished as the brutal crackdown grinds on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Last Sunday, Asma Assad made this call for unity. "The nation unites all of us," she said, "whoever we are and whatever we think, and even if we do it wrong, it forgives us."

(GUNFIRE)

SHUBERT: Those words stand in stark contrast to the brutal crackdown ordered by her husband, Syrian leader Bashar Assad. Now, both husband and wife have been slapped with EU sanctions, freezing their assets, barring them from entering Europe. That may be particularly hard for Asma because, in many ways, London is her home.

SHUBERT (on camera): Asma Assad may be Syria's first lady now but, in fact, she grew up here in West London on this very street. It's a very modest neighborhood, as you can see, and her parents actually still have a house here.

SHUBERT (voice-over): The curtains are permanently drawn and the mail is piling up. Several months ago, Syrian anti-government protesters smashed the windows here. Her parents fled the house.

In Britain, she was known as Emma Akhras, educated at a girls' boarding school, a privileged upbringing that led some to believe she could influence her husband to lift Syria's history of repression.

British-Syrian Malik Abdel was her neighbor and knew her family.

MALIK ABDEL, NEIGHBOR: Marrying into the ruling family in Syria would automatically make you part of the elite. It would allow you unparalleled access to wealth and money and prestige, and I think the Akhras family was seduced by that lifestyle.

SHUBERT: She married Bashar Assad in 2000, the same year he succeeded his father as Syria's leader. At first, she struggled to forge a role for herself as first lady.

In 2005, Asma Assad asked Italian writer Gaia Servadio to organize an arts festival. But Asma's dreams of becoming an internationally recognized patron of the arts did not materialize. Servadio describes the day it all collapsed.

GAIA SERVADIO, WRITER: Then I could hear great deal of shouts. Then, I went in and a lot of these people were shouting at her, so she was -- I could see -- I could feel her -- one could see with one's own eyes that she was being put in a corner.

SHUBERT: She says Asma's ambitions changed dramatically.

SERVADIO: She became a pretty woman, purchasing clothes.

SHUBERT: And last year, as the violence worsened and the death toll mounted, e-mails leaked to CNN by Syrian activists seemed to show that Asma embarked on an online shopping spree, seemingly oblivious to the bloodshed happening in her country.

Elegant and articulate, Syria's first lady may once have represented a new hope for Syria. But as the new sanctions show, those hopes have been dashed.

Atika Shubert, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJPAL: So, how much influence could Asma al-Assad exert on her husband to put an end to the crackdown? For some perspective, we're joined by Andrew Tabler in Washington. He's lived in Syria and worked with Asma al-Assad. He's also the author of "In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle With Syria."

Mr. Tabler, thank you very much for being with us. How much influence --

ANDREW TABLER, AUTHOR, "IN THE LION'S DEN: AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF WASHINGTON'S BATTLE WITH SYRIA": Sure.

RAJPAL: How much influence or how much power does Asma al-Assad really have?

TABLER: Not a tremendous amount. She came to the country shortly after Bashar took power. Then marrying the president and then tried to carry out a number of reforms in the country, but they really just did not get off the ground.

A few charities were formed. But even the laws for those charities on which they would be based, new modern laws that she touted, were not passed. And in the end, her influence ended up being very, very little on the decision-making of the Assad regime.

RAJPAL: Knowing what you know of her, would it even be difficult for her to speak out against what her husband's regime is accused of doing?

TABLER: It would be difficult, but Asma al-Assad's trajectory into the heart of the regime has been going on for some time.

When I was working as a media adviser for some of her charities, it was very clear to me as well as a number of others, that she had very clearly made her decision, that she wanted to see some changes in Syria, but she was very much the president's wife, and throughout the last year has been standing by her man as the Assad regime's forces have used extreme brutality to suppress the uprising there.

RAJPAL: When you hear these reports of these e-mails that have gone back and forth between her and her husband, the fact that, according to these e-mails, that she's gone on this shopping spree while this brutal crackdown is taking place. What goes through your mind in terms of the Asma al-Assad that you've known and had worked with?

TABLER: Deep disappointment. But it brings back memories. Like I said, this has been -- this trajectory for her and for the country, unfortunately, has been going on for some time. Reforms just didn't happen. This regime can't reform, and she tried, I think, in a very early stage of her life in Syria to help that process, but it just did not materialize.

It's deeply disappointing. Deeply disappointing for many Syrians who followed her. Asma Assad is a Sunni from Homs who married into an Alawite family.

It's got to be shocking for the people who live in Homs, the majority Sunni population, as they were shelled last month for nearly 30 days. And for her to stand by her man and to go on this online shopping spree more than raised eyebrows among those who know Syria and know her.

RAJPAL: She's also well-educated, Western-educated, born and brought up in West London, as we heard there. Is there a sense that, perhaps, that she's in denial?

TABLER: I'm afraid so. I think, though, that she very -- I think she's very intelligent. I think she understands exactly the choices that she is making. It's true that it would be very hard, once you had children with the president, to break away.

But everyone is defined by their choices, the trajectory of this crackdown is very clear. Over 8,000 people have died. Many, many more are in detention or believed to have died under torture. This isn't going to get any better anytime soon, and that's the reason why the EU, which used to be one of Asma al-Assad's main supporters, issued these sanctions today.

RAJPAL: All right, Andrew, we appreciate your time. Andrew Tabler, there, author of "In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle With Syria. Thank you so much for your time.

Coming up here on CONNECT THE WORLD, hitting drinkers' pockets. The UK government plans to hike the price of alcohol coming up next on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RAJPAL: You're watching CNN, the world's news leader. This is CONNECT THE WORLD. Hello, I'm Monita Rajpal.

Calling time on cheap booze. The UK government plans to introduce a minimum price for the sale of alcohol. It's scenes such as these that authorities want to clamp down on, so-called binge drinking, which has become a major problem in many towns across the country. The plan would prevent supermarkets selling alcohol at deeply discounted prices.

It is estimated excessive drinking costs the country more than $4 billion a year. British prime minister David Cameron says that's a scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: I said months ago that we needed to get to grips with the problem of super-cheap alcohol that's fueling violence on our streets and causing mayhem in our accidents and emergency units and damaging the health of the country. And I think this minimum unit pricing is a big part of the answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJPAL: So, what does the new plan mean for drinkers' pockets? According to research analysts, a can of strong cider, currently retailing at around $1.40 here in the UK would rise to $2.50. But one alcohol industry spokesman isn't impressed by the plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GAVIN PARTINGTON, WINE AND SPIRIT TRADE ASSOCIATION: The problem is, it doesn't actually tackle binge drinking or problem drinkers. The international evidence is that problem drinkers are least likely overall to be deterred from drinking by price rises.

What we need is a far more sophisticated approach, less of a blunt weapon. Minimum pricing will simply punish the poor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJPAL: Well, is raising the price of alcohol the answer, though? CNN's Erin McLaughlin hit the street to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a typical Friday evening here in London. People leave work and come to their nearest local pub for a few drinks to unwind. And government officials say they don't want to stop these rituals, especially for those people who are drinking responsibly.

They say, however, they do want to impose a minimum price on alcohol to stop what they call preloading behavior, that is people who go to their local supermarkets and buy large quantities of alcohol for very cheap prices before hitting the local pub, where prices are much more expensive. Government officials say that kind of behavior has led to mayhem in city centers across the UK.

Do you think booze is too cheap in Britain?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From a personal perspective, I think that the sufficient amount of tax has already been levied on alcohol, so as far I'm concerned, it's not too cheap. And I don't believe that minimum plans, such as raising the price of the tax, will actually affect anything. People that want to get drunk will still get drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think alcohol's just too cheap at the moment. You can buy a crate of beer for two pounds four c if you really look hard enough. It's too cheap. Too cheap, too easy. And the youngsters find it too easy to buy alcohol.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People are still going to drink if they need to or they want to are definitely going to do it regardless of how much alcohol is.

MCLAUGHLIN: Alcohol companies say they are in agreement with many of Britain's drinkers. They say that a minimum price for alcohol would do nothing to deter binge drinking, instead only server to punish people with low income.

Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJPAL: So, how are other nations rethinking drinking? Australia is using social media. It's "Hello, Sunday Morning" program born in Brisbane is helping the country as whole take a break from booze. People use the site to find support to stay on the wagon.

In Finland, the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated. No discounts or special offers are allowed.

France has a law on the books to control how alcohol is marketed. That means there is no advertising directed at young people and no alcohol- related commercials on TV or at the cinema.

Which brings us to Canada, where its minimum pricing plan is getting a thumbs-up from a landmark study. The center for additions research of British Columbia has evidence that the program does cut alcohol consumption.

Well, the author of that study is professor Tim Stockwell, and he joins us, now, live from Victoria in Canada. Professor, thank you very much for being with us. What kind of evidence do you have that it does actually help?

TIM STOCKWELL, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA: Well, we've been collecting data from a number of Canadian provinces who've been running the minimum price policy for a number of years.

Here in my home, British Columbia, we started looking at data from the last 25 years as to every time the minimum price was increased and the sort of minimum prices we have are around about 35 to 45 pence a unit of alcohol, and they're adjusted periodically.

And we've found that for ever 10 percent increase in that minimum price, the overall consumption has declined by about 3.5 percent. But the declines in harms, like people admitted to hospital, people dying of alcohol-related causes, are being reduced by a much greater degree, by about 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

RAJPAL: Is it relative, though, sir? I mean, I grew up in Ontario in Canada, and when I was there, it didn't seem as though binge drinking was a huge problem.

That said, coming over to Britain, yes, you see it, it's pretty apparent. On a Saturday -- Friday, Saturday night, you see it quite evidently that binge drinking is a problem. So, would that same kind of method work here in the UK?

STOCKWELL: Well, the international evidence is very clear. Our little study was just looking at minimum pricing, but these studies on price generally in drinking show all the scientific reviews, and there's hundreds of studies, data covering hundreds of years, in fact, show very clearly when you increase the price overall, consumption goes down, crime goes down that's related to alcohol, deaths go down, hospital visits go down.

It's not the kind of thing that people necessarily like or they will agree with if you ask them on the streets. But the science is extremely clear.

RAJPAL: The interesting thing, too, though, is that how do you know that affecting people's pocketbooks will also change the culture of drinking that is quite evident in this part of the world?

STOCKWELL: Well, I think the culture -- culture tends to be created around an environment that's created. And I think the environments created -- certainly since I left Britain 25 years ago -- is for the supermarkets to get in and sell really cheap alcohol so people can preload.

And there's so much more public intoxication. It's so different from when I used to live there. And a culture has developed around cheap alcohol. And if that's rolled back, I think we'll see the other side of responsible, enjoyable drinking being more emphasized than the current patterns people are concerned about.

RAJPAL: How big of a problem was drinking in British Columbia before the price hike and how much of a difference have you seen now?

STOCKWELL: It's one of the -- it's hard to answer that, because this is something that was introduced almost 30 years -- 25 to 30 years ago. And there isn't just one price policy that comes in at one point in time and stays there. This is a policy that's been adjusted and tinkered with. It's been ignored for years, and then it's suddenly been played with, and the price goes up.

So, it's really a question of what happened each time the price went up, and that was the subject of our study. And everything changes in the direction that it should. As I said, consumption and harms go down.

RAJPAL: All right.

STOCKWELL: We're also now looking at other provinces. We're looking at Saskatchewan to see what's happening there, as well.

RAJPAL: OK, Professor Tim Stockwell, there, in Victoria, BC. Thank you so much.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. When we come back, posing as a prostitute to document the scourge if human tracking. We speak to the brave young woman who risked her life to show the world a shameful trade.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RAJPAL: This is CONNECT THE WORLD live from London, I'm Monita Rajpal. Modern-day slavery, it is a global scourge that CNN has taken a stand against in a campaign we call the Freedom Project. The goal is to help stamp out human trafficking.

Seventy-nine percent of the trafficking trade's victims are exploited in the sex industry. In the past 12 months, the campaign has taken us to Nepal, where actress Demi Moore met with women rescued from forced prostitution in Indian brothels.

And our own Sara Sidner took the investigation to a village in Cambodia, where she found girls as young as five being sold to foreign predators looking for sex.

Well, some of the most vulnerable women to sex traffickers are from Eastern Europe, and in tonight's Big Interview, Zain Verjee talked to one brave young woman who has been investigating why. Mimi Chakarova secretly filmed the sex trade, even posing as a prostitute to document how an endless stream of young women are being conned into a life of unimaginable abuse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): "Do you want to work as a waitress?" she asked.

"I do. Where?"

"Dubai."

"I'll go." $500 a month, wow! Of course I wanted to go. Looking back, I think, my God! How could I have been so stupid?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Naive she may have been, but as revealed in acclaimed documentary, "The Price of Sex," Vika is not the only young woman from Eastern Europe to be lured on a false promise by sex traffickers.

MIMI CHAKAROVA, FILMMAKER, "THE PRICE OF SEX": The system is so brutal. What these pimps and madams do to these girls -- and I have to call them girls, because many are not old enough to be women -- is devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): She sold me. I was taken to a brothel, and I was forced to be a prostitute. We were always working, sometimes 50 clients a day. I have the same thoughts now that I did then: I'd be better off dead than living like this.

(CRYING)

VERJEE: These are just some of the harrowing stories unearthed by Bulgarian-born photo-journalist Mimi Chakarova. She has spent a decade investigating why women from Eastern Europe have become particularly vulnerable to this illicit human trade.

CHAKAROVA: The pimps pocket everything she earns.

VERJEE: A scourge she learned about when she returned to her hometown, having left after the fall of Communism to find a better life in the United States.

VERJEE (on camera): Why is it that Eastern European women are so vulnerable?

CHAKAROVA: They're vulnerable because of the economic conditions in the region. When you don't have any job opportunities, when you are a single mom, or if you're at an age where you don't have the opportunity to go to school and you're seeking employment, you're going to take a risk and go abroad.

VERJEE: How are they lured abroad and into foreign countries? How does it work?

CHAKAROVA: You know, initially, they were lured by false agencies promising them jobs, and that was in the early 90s. But it changed. Over time, other women started recruiting women.

VERJEE: Which is almost worse.

CHAKAROVA: It's so much worse, because women are more likely to trust other women.

VERJEE: What would have happened, do you think, to you had you stayed back in your country?

CHAKAROVA: I came from the same conditions. I grew up in a small village in Bulgaria. We had the same path, the same road.

And this has been a huge quest for me, making this film, which is how is it that I took a left and some of these girls took a right when we came from the same place? How is it that I didn't fall into it So, part of the reason of investigating this is personal, but also driven by guilt and obligation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If I said no, they would throw me from the 15th floor and no one would do a thing. They'll drown me in the ocean or bury me in the desert.

VERJEE (voice-over): At enormous personal risk, Chakarova took her camera into red light districts in Turkey, Greece, and Dubai.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Be careful with your camera.

CHAKAROVA: Should I put it down?

VERJEE: She even went undercover, posing as a prostitute to try and document the reality of the trade.

CHAKAROVA: Everyone assumed I was a prostitute from Eastern Europe. I played along.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much you worth?

CHAKAROVA: One thousand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thousand?

CHAKAROVA: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much would you let me have for 500?

VERJEE (on camera): What kind of an experience was that for you? Were you scared?

CHAKAROVA: You're scared. I was scared. But you can't go in thinking about the fear, because they can smell it, they can sense it. And then, when you do witness it, you cannot think of your own safety while you're in the middle of it. You have to deal with that after you leave.

It was going to be hard to get anyone to talk on camera.

VERJEE (voice-over): The award-winning documentary, which is showing at the Human Rights Watch festival in London, also features interviews with those who fuel the trade, pimps, and clients.

VERJEE (on camera): What is it that encapsulates the message of all the girls that you've spoke to, that you want people really to understand?

CHAKAROVA: Every time I would meet a young woman, I would ask the same question, which is, "Come on. You were offered a job, but you knew that this was going on. You saw it on the bus stops, you heard it on the radio, you saw television shows about girls being trafficked and sold into prostitution against their will. You must have known."

And the answer is consistently the same, which is, "Yes, I knew about it, but I didn't think it would happen to me."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJPAL: Zain Verjee, there, speaking to Mimi Chakarova about how she is trying to stamp out human trafficking with her documentary the price of sex. And you can read Mimi's blog on our Freedom Project web page. There, you can also learn more about the extent of modern-day slavery and what is being done to help victims. It's all at cnn.com/freedom.

I'm Monita Rajpal, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you for watching. The world headlines are up next after this short break.

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