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Little Change in Bahrain; Latest from Syria

Aired May 14, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Last year as pro-democracy revolutions swept through the Arab world, it looked as though Bahrain would also be swept up in the movement towards historic change like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya before it. But now 15 months later, little has actually changed in Bahrain. The crackdown on dissent continues and the government remains firmly in place.

So my brief tonight: is Bahrain turning into Syria? In other words, Bahrain, just like Syria, has seen no real political reform. And the ongoing instability there could be an opportunity, like in Syria, for violent agitators to take on a much larger role. We'll go live to Anderson Cooper on the Syrian border later in the program and we'll also talk to a spokesman for the U.N. monitors in Syria.

But first, what makes Bahrain different from other countries in the region?

Well, it sits at the vital crossroads between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Persian Gulf, which is of key strategic importance for the flow of oil. And it's also home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which is crucial to American security interests in the region.

Here's how the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, characterizes policy on Bahrain.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: As a country with many complex interests, we'll always have to walk and chew gum at the same time. That is our challenge in a country like Bahrain, which has been America's close friend and partner for decades.


AMANPOUR: Meeting the Bahraini crown prince in Washington last week, Clinton insisted that the country walk the walk and fully address ongoing human rights issues.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration also chewed gum, committing to a multi-million dollar arms sale with the regime. Bahrain's rulers, to their credit, commissioned an independent report which actually documented systematic violations by their security forces. That was last year. And they made specific recommendations. I'll talk to a government official about all of that in a moment.

But first, some of the worst brutality has been committed against, of all people, doctors and nurses. And my first guest tonight is Dr. Nabeel Hameed, who became a target when he treated injured protesters during the unrest.

Dr. Hameed, thank you for being here.


AMANPOUR: You're going to be going back next week to actually face trial.


AMANPOUR: What did you do?

HAMEED: Well, I didn't do anything. I just did my work. We treated basically patients -- and I still call them patients -- they're not protesters (inaudible) for me and for my other colleagues. They're patients. On the 17th -- or, sorry, the 18th of February I got an injured patient --

AMANPOUR: This year?

HAMEED: Last year, 2011, who got shot by a bullet to his head. I was on call, and it's my professional, moral and ethical duty to treat him. So --

AMANPOUR: The Hippocratic Oath is what doctors and nurses do --

HAMEED: Exactly. Exactly. So for treating him and then expressing my concerns about the way he was injured, I got labeled as a traitor. I got labeled as against the regime.

AMANPOUR: Did you get taken into jail?

HAMEED: Yes, I got taken on the 11th of April, actually --

AMANPOUR: What happened to you?

HAMEED: Something very bad. They took me into an interrogation center for about four days of torture. They made us stand -- now, I'm not alone. I was not alone. I was with the other doctors. They made us stand for days together, in my case, three to four days without sleep, without toilet privileges, without anything. And in between that, you get abused, you get spat at, you got insulted. And in between --

AMANPOUR: Did you get beaten?

HAMEED: Yes, even standing up there, everybody who passes by you just beats you on the head or the back. But the worst thing is a room, an electronically locked room with a certain beep-beep-beep, something like that when they open it. And when the doors open, all hells break through, because you start hearing these shouts of torture, of people inside.

AMANPOUR: So you can hear other people being tortured. And is that meant to intimidate you?

HAMEED: Most probably, because your turn is next. And yes. My turn was next. So I was in that room maybe two, three times. I can't remember, it's so foggy, that time. But when you're inside, you're still blindfolded and handcuffed.

And you get blows on your back with something like a whip or a pipe or a hose or something like that. You got thrown on the ground, somebody stamping on your body. You get kicks to your head and somebody even took a gun to my head and threatened me with it.

AMANPOUR: They threatened to kill you?


AMANPOUR: Did you make any confessions?

HAMEED: All of this was to make us make confessions, yes. And we were made to confess to crimes we didn't do. Actually, they took me and interrogated me for -- and they say I did not try to save that victim. I killed him, actually.

AMANPOUR: They accused you of killing the person you were treating?

HAMEED: Yes. So the accusation, the charges are so ridiculous, so comical, that they cannot -- they couldn't follow it up.

AMANPOUR: Let me just read you some of the accusations. The government accuses you and many of the other doctors and nurses who've been put in a similar position of being agitators of having fuel bombs, having light weapons, of lying and fabricating stories about so-called patients, of using the big hospitals (inaudible) -- and it should be said you're one of three neurosurgeons at that hospital -- as a base for anti-government regime, rather activity, inciting hatred of the regime. True?

HAMEED: I've been working in a hospital for 17 years. You can get my track record, or you can get my awards (ph). What makes me make -- want to make that? That's one thing. The other thing, what weapons? I don't know where the bullet goes out from open (ph). And the third thing is I'm a prime example of what happened. I have a patient, I tried to save him, and then you accuse me of killing him.

AMANPOUR: Tell me why they're doing this against doctors and nurses. Why?

HAMEED: We became automatic witnesses. That's a problem. When we saw protesters straightaway we became automatic witnesses. And to take our credibility away, accuse us of a crime. And that's basically the wrong thing that was done.

AMANPOUR: The government, the king commissioned an independent human rights report. By all accounts, it was very candid. It was chaired by a top, top level international justice. What did you think when that commission was made public, that report, because it was read over state television.

HAMEED: It will have, I mean, try to drive a walk on -- and what's the date, in November, when the commission finished its report and make it public, you couldn't even hear anybody on the stage, because everybody was sitting and looking at the TV.

We were looking for results. Everybody in Bahrain was looking for results. The doctors were looking for the dropping of our charges, letting us go back to our patients, practice our beloved work. We're doctors. We're never politicians. We were never politicians.

AMANPOUR: Are you part of the opposition now?

HAMEED: No, no.

AMANPOUR: Would you consider yourself an activist or --

HAMEED: I was never a politician. I will never become a politician. I'm a doctor, and I stay a doctor.

AMANPOUR: You're --

HAMEED: But I'm a forced activist maybe now.

AMANPOUR: What does that mean?

HAMEED: It means they made me come out to first explain my case and then to explain what's happening on the ground to so many other people like me.

AMANPOUR: So you've had to be the mouth of the protests?

HAMEED: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: What do you think when your crown prince was in Washington this weekend? He is known to be more a moderate voice, to have engaged with the opposition, to have wanted more tolerance and more reform. When he met with Hillary Clinton, what did you think and -- ?

HAMEED: I have great respect for our conference (ph), but there's something to be done, something needs to be done in Bahrain. I'm just going around telling that nothing is happening in Bahrain. Everything is back to normal. That's not really true. And it's not going to solve it.

And but when the Americans gave somewhat of a support by giving arms back to Bahrain, it's giving (inaudible) support, a little bit more of impunity to what's happening on the ground.

AMANPOUR: Doctor, stand by for one second, because I want to turn now to Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa. He is a royal family member and he speaks for the Bahraini government.

Sheikh al-Khalifa, thank you for joining us from Manama.

I want to ask you, sir --


AMANPOUR: I want to ask you, you've listened to some of what Dr. Hameed has been talking about here. I mean, really, sir, doctors and nurses, how is it possible that your government can really legitimately take them in and do the kinds of things that you've been doing to them, which you've documented in your own independent human rights report?

AL-KHALIFA: Christiane, the period of last year was a dark period in the chapter of history of Bahrain. We stepped up to our responsibility by commissioning the independent commission. Everyone thought it was going to be a whitewash.

However, it was a very damaging report. Now His Majesty has -- gave us three months to implement those recommendations and we are in a much better place today than we were a year ago.

AMANPOUR: Except that --

AL-KHALIFA: And those cases have been transferred to the civilian courts and we are going to get over this.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Hameed is sitting right here with us. He's got to go back and face trial next week. His charges have been somewhat reduced. But you heard what he said here. I mean, it really does defy belief to put these doctors and nurses on trial.

What can you say to this doctor sitting here, who says that he was just doing his job? And could you expect him to leave protesters, no matter who they might be, to die on a surgical table in the hospital?

AL-KHALIFA: Professor Sharif Bassiouni (ph) never contested the integrity of the independent judiciary here in Bahrain, especially the civilian courts. And therefore the doctor with you, the guest, has been charged with a misdemeanor.

And we have full faith. It's not the end of the road. And we have full faith in the judiciary system and therefore we look forward to what the verdict will be. And there will be an appeals process as well.

AMANPOUR: Let me just ask at this point, Dr. Hameed, do you have a brief comment, a brief question for Sheikh al-Khalifa?

HAMEED: Yes, I thank you, Sheikh, for the comments. But one brief comment is that Mr. Bassiouni (ph) have said that the due process for the -- for all the arrests, the procedure of court, the military courts, is false. And on these bases, it's very difficult to take a case to another court. But you're taking this case to another court, actually on the basis of Bassiouni's (ph) report.

All the cases against the doctors should have been dropped a long, long time ago. And one more point, I mean, we are all Bahrainis. We love this country. And we want to go back to the old Bahrain. Why will not building on these -- why would not dropping the cases of the doctor as a show of good faith in order to go on the road?

AMANPOUR: Sheikh al-Khalifa, you hear the doctor loud and clear, and that's what many people want to know. Can you rebuild any kind of tolerance here?

AL-KHALIFA: Absolutely. I think we can build Bahrain once again to be in a better position than we were. A lot of the charges have been dropped. He himself has said that two, I think, out of the three have been dropped, and I think the third charge will be looked at as a misdemeanor.

But I think the better -- the bigger picture is how do we get to building capacity and have reconciliation so that Bahrain can be better than where we were before?


AL-KHALIFA: Let's not forget that the responsibility has to go all the way around, and everybody has to put in his fair share.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this. The King of Bahrain, King Hamid (ph), basically said that "any government that has a sincere desire for reform and progress should understand the benefit of objective and constructive criticism." That was after the release of this report on human rights.

You've just said that it was very candid, it wasn't a whitewashing you're trying to implement here. But the fact of the matter is that even those who praise that report -- and there are many -- simply say you're not implementing it, at least not in any significant form or fashion. It's just cosmetic. There's no accountability, not a single senior level government or security official has been held to account for the very abuses that your own report documents. How can anybody take it seriously at this point?

AL-KHALIFA: The achievements of those recommendations are online, nearly 30 of them have been implemented, either fully or partially. We have to wait for the legislature to pass new laws to implement the balance of the recommendations in full.

Now we've set up very important new departments. Their internal affair departments and the ministry of interior and the national security agency. But I think what's mostly important is the special investigative unit in the attorney general's office, where people can go in confidence and raise any matters of allegations of torture.

And we feel that the investigations have not stopped. They will continue. There are over 100 cases that are being investigated and 50 officers in different ranks are being prosecuted as we speak.

AMANPOUR: I mean, we --

AL-KHALIFA: So we are by no way thinking this is the end of the road. We are moving on.

AMANPOUR: But as you know, and it's been reported, those people under investigation, up until this moment, are mostly low level. It doesn't go high level and that is a question that many people are asking about your credibility. I do want to ask finally to you, do you not think that the slower you go, the more opportunity you leave for a vacuum that's now being more and more occupied by violence?

AL-KHALIFA: Yes, I mean, we think that at the pace that some people think we're moving which is slow, will further radicalize their polarized society that we have. However, we can't rush into things and we intend to move at a quicker pace and to achieve the goals that we have for a better future in Bahrain.

AMANPOUR: Sheikh al-Khalifa, thank you very much.

Let me ask you, last question, Dr. Hameed, as I asked, do you think position now are entrenched? Or do you believe that at this pace there's any chance for any real dialogue and reform?

HAMEED: I would like to disagree with the sheikh, because what I see on the ground is actually a reversal. There is another security clampdown. It's becoming more and more hard to speak. I'm not really assured that when I go back to Bahrain that I won't be questioned because I voice my concerns. So it's back. It's not improving. It's actually getting worse. That's what you're worried about.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Hameed, thank you very much. And we will keep our eye on your situation and all the others in Bahrain.

And we will be back with our report from Syria, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back. And now we turn to Syria, where the hope of a cease-fire continues to dwindle as the violence continues. Thousands of Syrians have been desperately trying to reach safety by crossing the border into Turkey. And that's thrown a huge humanitarian challenge right into the hands of the Turkish government.

Our Anderson Cooper is at the border, and he's just visited camps housing more than 10,000 Syrian refugees. Anderson, thanks for joining us. Tell us what you're seeing, the very human story at the heart of this violence now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: It is really a human story. You know, there's some 23,000 Syrians now in camps all along the Turkish border. There's more in Lebanon. There's more in Iraq. And, Christiane, you've been to a lot of refugee camps around the world. These are probably the best ordered, the cleanest refugee camps I've ever seen.

And most importantly, they're safe. But the refugee camps are, no matter how clean and safe they are, they are miserable places. These are people whose lives have been destroyed. Their businesses have been destroyed. They -- just about everybody you meet has lost somebody and it's a question of how many people have you lost.

You know, you ask a parent to show you a photo of their son, and they'll show you photos of their son's corpse on their cell phone. And everybody has these photos. Everybody wants the world to know what is happening inside Syria, and they feel that the world has sort of been watching, watching these YouTube videos that we've all seen, watching the few reporters who've been able to get in, and yet not enough has actually been done. They feel like people do not really understand their story and understand what they are facing inside Syria.

AMANPOUR: And as you mention all of this, of course, there is some kind of conversation going on. We don't know where it'll end up -- about what to do if, in fact, this cease-fire mission fails completely. I think you've just been talking to Senator McCain, who's one of the chief U.S. proponents of more strong U.S. intervention. What has he said to you that you can share with us?

COOPER: Well, I mean, he has called for a long time for international intervention, whether it's NATO or some sort of international force, even a no-fly zone. He's wanted a much more of a robust response. He's very critical of the Obama administration, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, last week said that it's not time to say that the U.N. mission, that the peace plan there has failed yet. Senator McCain says it has clearly failed and it has failed quite a while ago.

It's been a month now that the cease-fire was supposedly in effect. And yet every day we continue to see more attacks by the regime against civilians, against the Free Syrian Army. They -- the Free Syrian Army, as you know, is trying to fight back, but they are very, you know, relatively speaking, poorly armed, poorly equipped and poorly trained. They simply cannot really take on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

And at the same time, the regime has not been able, over the last 14 or 15 months, to stop this uprising from continuing. So you have these continued battles back and forth and yet no one side is really able to win.

AMANPOUR: Right. Anderson, thanks a lot, and of course much more from Anderson Cooper on "AC360" later tonight. Thanks for being with us, Anderson.

And we're going to turn straight now to Kieran Dwyer, who's spokesman for the U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, particularly for the U.N. stabilization mission in Syria.

Kofi Annan has said that small group of observers is all that stands between the violence that we've been talking about and a much deeper civil war. Is this cease-fire working? Does it have any hope of working?

KIERAN DWYER, U.N. PEACEKEEPING DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: It's -- the cease-fire is certainly not working properly yet. The parties, as Kofi Annan said, showed on the 12th of April that they could stop the violence when they all chose to do so.

But since that time, we've seen a return to violence, lessened in some areas of the country. And what we've learned on the ground is that it's different in different towns, even in different neighborhoods. But so far we don't have a proper cessation.

AMANPOUR: Can 145 who are there right now unarmed monitors and perhaps the 300 who were meant to be the sole complement (ph), can they actually do anything?

DWYER: We actually have 189 on the ground today, plus 61 civilians, which you --

AMANPOUR: But can they do anything?

DWYER: -- human rights workers. They're in seven locations. What they do every day is they patrol in around those neighborhoods. They meet with the government authorities and try to impress upon them their responsibility to stop violence.

They meet with the opposition forces and do the same thing. They cannot force the parties to stop fighting. And that's at the heart of their mandate. They don't have an enforcement capacity.

AMANPOUR: Are you worried about it engulfing more of the countries in the region, for instance, it's just sort of trying to engulf Beirut, Lebanon.

DWYER: Kofi Annan said last week to the press his real concern that if this doesn't work, if the parties don't pull back from the brink of violence now, there's real concerns for the geopolitics of this area. We know that there's a history of violence across the area. We know that this could really have major implications, even more so for the people of Syria and then wider.

AMANPOUR: You must have your ear to the ground. I certainly do. And there are -- there is an increasing buzz about what to do when we finally agree that this cease-fire is not working. Some people are saying this is just an attempt to buy time, this agreement that Kofi Annan himself is saying is not working, buy time for some stronger action. Do you think that that's going to happen?

DWYER: U.N. peacekeeping certainly doesn't see this as a process of buying time. We are putting unarmed people on the ground in -- right in harm's way in a very volatile situation. We are working at trying to give the parties a chance to pull back from the brink.

AMANPOUR: Do you see that they want to have that chance? I mean, let's just take the government. Does it want that chance to pull back from the brink? Do you see any evidence of it?

DWYER: We see and hear different things every day. We meet with government officials who assure us that, in fact, they are trying to pull back from violence. And then we see continued violence. So we're not seeing a completely consistent picture everywhere in the country. Similarly, with the opposition forces, they tell us that they want to see an end to violence and then we see violence.

AMANPOUR: But you yourself have said that it's not an equal situation, that the biggest onus is on the government.

DWYER: The government is the government of a country. It has the responsibility for law and order in that country. And it is clear that they have a lion's share of responsibility.

AMANPOUR: Now the government has said all along that it's fighting terrorists. I mean, all along, we have known that that is actually just a justification and a spin. However, it looks like that some of these violent terrorists are now filling this vacuum. Who do you think, given that your peacekeepers are on the ground, was responsible for the Damascus bombing that killed so many people?

DWYER: The shocking explosion last Thursday killed over 50 people and injured hundreds of others. We haven't been able to conduct forensic investigations into those situations. It was too dangerous to do so immediately. So we don't have evidence to say who may have been responsible.

But there's a huge concern that if the parties don't pull back from the brink here, that other extremist groups, we know their names and so on, could cause havoc out of the situation that they're presented with here.

AMANPOUR: And one last question, five seconds, how long is Kofi Annan going to let this situation carry on in this level?

DWYER: It's up to the security council to determine whether this is working sufficiently, to give it more time or whether they see other ways.

AMANPOUR: You can't put a time period on it?

DWYER: No, not for me to put a time period, the security council.

AMANPOUR: All right. Kieran Dwyer, thank you so much for joining us.

DWYER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And we'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: And that is it for tonight's program. And in the meantime, though, our inbox is open, We read every single email. Just imagine that. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.