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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Witness to the Final Hours of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi; New Developments in Syria

Aired August 16, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET

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


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And this week we're looking back at some of the top stories and interviews that we've been covering over the past few months, especially those that still dominate the headlines right now.

And what we want to do is update you on these stories and also on the people who remain at the heart of major world events. So tonight I'll speak with journalist Lindsey Hilsum. She's an eyewitness to the final hours of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

But first, to Syria, where the dictator Bashar al-Assad has plunged his country into a brutal civil war as he desperately tried to avoid Gadhafi's fate. Western countries seeking to intervene in Syria have been repeatedly stymied by Russia and China and their multiple vetoes in the United Nations.

When he resigned, the envoy, Kofi Annan, blamed all sides, though, saying that paralysis of the United Nations and name-calling simply did not move the situation forward. And many have said that the United States and its allies have been hiding behind those Russian vetoes.

But now we're starting to learn more about a possible plan B, covert efforts by the United States to aid rebel fighters. Several weeks before these new developments, I had spoken to the British foreign secretary William Hague, who said that perhaps the West would need to bump up its action in Syria and bump up its response there.

I asked him about recent diplomatic moves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Foreign Secretary, thank you so much for joining me from London.

HAGUE: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Let's get straight to Syria, which I know is occupying a lot of your time and attention. The latest round of meetings this weekend produced a communique, but there seems to be a lot of dissent and differences over what exactly was accomplished.

I know that you yourself; also Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, has said that this does call for President Assad to step aside.

What makes you think that?

HAGUE: Well, what was in this communique was what a transitional government in Syria should look like, and I think it was a step forward, having that. There were many things that we wanted in the communique that we could not reach agreement with the Russians and Chinese about. So it is only a step forward. I don't want to overstate this at all.

But what was in the communique was that a transitional government in Syria should include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups, and be formed on the basis of mutual consent, mutual assent, which means that each side can veto, if they wish, the people from the other side, who would be in a government.

Of course, that would mean that President Assad could not be part of such a government. No one can imagine the opposition agreeing to that.

And so I think it was good to have that established among the permanent members of the Security Council, that when there is a transitional government, that's the basis on which it will be formed. Of course, the challenge now is to try to implement that agreement.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. And do you believe, though, that Russia is on board with that statement? Because it's also been saying since the communique was issued that it actually forced a compromise not to call for President Assad to step down. So, again, there does seem to be a division.

What do you believe Russia understands by that communique, that Assad has to go? Or not?

HAGUE: Well, I think it's very clear, the meaning of it is very clear. Of course, as always, as with any diplomatic agreement, people can sometimes read into it what they wish to read into it. And Russia, of course, will want to say that they were able to defend their position. But, clearly, it was a change for all of us to be able to agree that that's how a government should be formed.

And no one can imagine, in Moscow or anywhere else, that mutual consent would involve President Assad being part of that government. So I think -- I personally think that is very clear.

But of course, we look to Russia to do what was also in the communique, which is to put pressure on all involved, now to implement that and to implement the -- all six points of the Annan plan, including a cessation of violence. And that, as I say, is now the next task.

AMANPOUR: So let's just take the cessation of violence first. The opposition, as you probably know, of course, has said that it's just a nonstarter. There's no reason for a cessation of violence, that this communique fell far short of what they had been hoping for, and that they weren't going to. And in fact, one of the opposition leaders told me that yesterday.

How do you envision a cessation of violence being established? And what do you think Russia will actually do now to exert its influence on Assad?

HAGUE: Well, I think several things need to happen. One is that Kofi Annan now needs to take forward what was agreed in Geneva and present that to all involved. That includes the opposition, who I hope, incidentally, will come together in the current meeting in Cairo in a single cohesive organization for the time being.

And also to the Assad regime, he has the five permanent members of the Security Council behind that. And I hope that Russia will indeed use its leverage, which is considerable, over the Assad regime to say this is the plan that now has to be followed. If that doesn't happen, then clearly we will want to pursue it in other ways.

I think if those things don't have any effect, then countries like United Kingdom will be seeking a Chapter 7 resolution at the U.N. Security Council to mandate the implementation of the Annan plan and threaten consequences for those who do not implement it.

AMANPOUR: The former British prime minister, Tony Blair, has said this weekend in a widely circulated interview in the "Financial Times," that it's time to change tactics on Syria, and to have much more muscular diplomacy and, indeed, as he called it, "the judicious use of force" to protect civilians and to encourage the kind of things you're talking about, the political reform and eventually the economic reform.

So when you say consequences, under a Chapter 7 U.N. resolution, are you ready as an international community to use or threaten the use of force?

HAGUE: What I'm talking about in the immediate future or near future that should be in such a resolution is sanctions or the threat of sanctions on those not cooperating. And I hope also, by the way, that the Friends of Syria, this Friday, will agree other wide-ranging sanctions that are from countries that haven't yet implemented them on the Assad regime.

Clearly, without division on this with Russia and China, there isn't any realistic prospect at the moment of a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes or contemplates the use of force. So that's not attainable at the U.N. Security Council.

I don't think we should rule anything out for the future, though. This is a rapidly deteriorating situation in which many thousands of people have now died, terrible torture is being committed. No one knows what will happen over the coming months if we don't achieve that transitional government. And so we should take nothing off the table for the future.

AMANPOUR: Well, then, let me ask you -- you mentioned torture and, as you know, Human Rights Watch is coming out today with a massive document, describing an archipelago of torture in Syria, at least 27 sites around the country, military sites, intelligence sites, other such sites of torture by the Assad regime.

So what can -- when that comes out, what is the response? Does Assad get referred to the Security Council? Or, rather, to the International Criminal Court? What happens?

HAGUE: Again, we're up with this -- up against the same problem. Syria is not a party to the International Criminal Court. And a nation can only refer to the International Criminal Court by the U.N. Security Council. And we've no indication that Russia or China would do that. And so we are blocked for the moment on that route.

What we're doing in the United Kingdom is helping to gather the evidence of abuses. I have sent teams to the borders of Syria, to gather evidence from people fleeing Syria, about the crimes that have been committed.

The Syrian activists who documented the terrible massacre at al-Houla were trained by the United Kingdom. So we are trying to make sure the evidence is amassed, so that one day, justice can be done, whether by the people of Syria or by the international community.

AMANPOUR: You say it's deeply frustrating for you and also the opposition is saying that it's deeply frustrating for them. They feel that the international community is sitting on its hands while more and more of them are dying.

Let me play you this little bit of an interview that I conducted with a defected Syrian army soldier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABDALHAMID ZAKARIA, DEFECTED SYRIAN ARMY COLONEL: Honestly, the international community deserted us. No one cares about all the bloodshed in Syria. We only heard words and promises. But in fact it's just much ado about nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Foreign Secretary, what's your reaction to that?

HAGUE: Oh, I can entirely understand that that is how many people in Syria will feel, because it is hard for them to see the things that we are doing. And of course, they're not necessarily party to all these disagreements I've been talking about on the U.N. Security Council and all the difficulties of taking action, a whole range of actions that we might like to take.

But I would stress that it's entirely wrong to say we're not doing anything, that we're doing nothing. We have, in the European Union, imposed sweeping sanctions on Syria. We've cut off a large part of the government's revenues. We are sending a lot of humanitarian aid to the region. We are doing the work on documenting abuses.

We're giving practical support to the opposition outside Syria. We're encouraging other countries to impose sanctions. And we are doing this painstaking work with Russia and China to try to advance a common position that would lead to a peaceful solution.

So we're doing all of those things. The world has not forgotten Syria. And as I say, we must not rule out doing anything in the future.

AMANPOUR: I hear exactly what you're saying. So my question, then, is how long are you going to give it? Because look, I'm talking to the foreign secretary of Great Britain, who, along with the French, organized a muscular response in Libya.

And as you know, that went through the Security Council. But previously the British, along with the Americans and the international community, have done it independently of the U.N., for instance, in Kosovo.

So you can do it. I know you don't want to do it right now; you want to go through the U.N. How long are you going to give it until you decide, if you ever do, that there has to be some kind of intervention?

HAGUE: I don't think it's possible to give a precise answer to that question, nice though it would be to be able to do so. It does, of course, depend how the situation develops. And there are important differences between the situation in Syria and in Libya, not least that lack of unity with all of our partners on the U.N. Security Council, hard though we have worked on them.

And it's a much more complex situation on the ground, and would require a military intervention on a vastly greater scale than was the case in Libya in order to be effective. So these are obviously all factors.

But we're clearly going to need to apply more and more pressure to the Assad regime. I hope that with the Friends of Syria meeting this weekend, which about 100 countries will be attending, that we can really ramp up that pressure, not just from America and Europe, but from large parts of the rest of the world as well.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Secretary William Hague, thank you for joining me.

HAGUE: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And as Syrians continue to fight a desperate civil war, another Arab country is giving us reason to hope.

Libya, the first truly democratic elections in nearly 50 years were considered successful when they took place last month. The country is on track to establish a constitutional democracy where Moammar Gadhafi once ruled with an iron fist.

Veteran correspondent Lindsey Hilsum covered the Libyan revolt from its very earliest days. And I spoke to her about a new book, her new book, "Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution."

I asked her what she found most surprising when she was doing her research.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: You've been around the world, we've crossed paths so many times. What surprised you the most about this particular story?

LINDSEY HILSUM, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I think it was -- I didn't really know about Libya before I went in. And I was just blown away by the people. They were so enthusiastic. They were so determined and they were so funny.

And I realized you had this strange situation where you had this man, Gadhafi. He was like a toad. He'd been sitting on the top of this country for 42 years without moving or changing. And yet these people were so alive.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about Gadhafi, because you've met him, I've met him. He seemed so crazy. Was he?

HILSUM: I think in the end he was crazy. I think it was a classic example of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don't think he was crazy necessarily when he first came to power in 1969. And as I chronicled in the book, he was greeted with huge enthusiasm. I met many people who loved him.

One of the people in the book, Mukhtar (ph), talks about how as a kid he saw Gadhafi as a rock star. He thought that he was the most fantastic thing ever, having won a prize at school which was a flight on an airplane because he'd written an essay about how great Gadhafi was.

But as time went on, Gadhafi had these idiosyncratic ideas about how the country should be ruled. He saw himself as a philosopher king. And some of his ideas were nuts.

AMANPOUR: I remember interviewing him when he said, you know, just not long before he fell, that my people love me so much they will die to protect me. That kind of delusion, what effect did it have on the people who you talked to, who were then rising up against him?

HILSUM: I think Libyans have a sense both of humiliation as well as fear. Of course, the main thing was fear, because this was a brutal government, but also they felt embarrassed that this man, Gadhafi, this crazy guy in the robes with the Botox face, that he was the one who represented them.

AMANPOUR: And you do talk about this terrible prison massacre that took place in the late '90s, Abu Salim prison. My question to you then is -- was it Tunisia and Egypt that really prompted the Libyans to rise up and say, well, if they can do it, we can do it?

Or was there an even deeper reason for them to want to go after Gadhafi?

HILSUM: It was both. I had never heard of the Abu Salim massacre before I went and then I went to meet some of the families. And there was one little old man, he came up to tell me his story. He told me how his brother-in-law had been kept in this terrible prison.

And that he had taken -- every two months, he had gone up and to Tripoli and taken food and clothing and that he said, "I did that for 14 years, leaving the stuff at the gate, before they told me he was dead," because his brother-in-law had been one of the 1,270 men massacred in cold blood in Abu Salim prison in 1996. And people don't forget things like that. People don't forgive with things like that.

AMANPOUR: And that massacre --

HILSUM: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Was Gadhafi and his interior minister, the fabled and hated Senussi --

HILSUM: Yes, his brother-in-law.

AMANPOUR: -- a show of strength?

HILSUM: I -- it -- we still don't know why did they do it, because these were prisoners, political prisoners, mainly Islamists, who had rioted because their conditions were so terrible in the prison. Many of them were dying of TB.

And the prisoners thought they had done a deal to get better conditions. But then they herded them into this courtyard, put these soldiers around the roofs and gunned them down.

One of the people I speak to in the book, who was an eyewitness in another cell, talked of how he saw the walls of the courtyard turn red.

AMANPOUR: Let me talk about how it's not easy, also, to cover these conflicts. I mean, you and I have been around. But this last year was terrible for our brotherhood and sisterhood. In Libya, we lost Tim Hetherington, we lost Chris Hondros, we lost Anton Hammerl, all photographers. How difficult and scary was covering Libya?

HILSUM: Well, I was mainly in the east on the eastern front, and it was very scary at times, because it was -- it was kind of wild. Sometimes we were a danger to ourselves as journalists because we need to be told we can only go this far and no further, because we will go as far as you can go.

AMANPOUR: It's the only way to do it, though.

HILSUM: And -- that's right. But that meant that we could get right up to the front line and even cross the front line. And it was hard sometimes to tell where the front line was.

And then shells would come in and then -- and then there was all sorts of craziness because these guys, the rebel army, they were forever firing into the air. What goes up must come down. People were being injured because of that.

So it was a pretty chaotic situation. Misrata was the most dangerous place. That was the city which was under siege, and the journalists we -- who we lost, two of them were killed there because they were being shelled the whole time.

So, yes, it was a dangerous -- it was a very dangerous situation, but I think that we all felt -- we felt compelled to cover this story because this was one of the most extraordinary and exciting stories of our time. This was history happening before our very eyes. I didn't want to be anywhere but Libya.

AMANPOUR: You were in Misrata when Gadhafi's body was finally brought there, after he'd been killed. What was that scene like?

HILSUM: It was extraordinary. They -- I mean, Gadhafi's death was savage. He was pulled limb from limb and then they put his body in a sort of meat storage facility. And I think it was very gruesome, but for Libyans it was really important.

They went through, one by one, and people filmed this body on their smartphones. Now for that, I look at it and go, ugh. But you know, they needed to know he was dead. It was somehow very important.

I met the guys who had captured him. They said they weren't the ones who killed him. I'm not sure about that. And they had taken off him some of the paraphernalia, his boots with the Cuban heels, the little amulets, African good luck charms and --

AMANPOUR: What's a Cuban heel?

HILSUM: A Cuban heel is like an inch and a half. He wanted to be taller than he was. Even --

AMANPOUR: He was already tall.

HILSUM: But even so, he wanted to be taller, he wanted to bigger than anybody. And a -- his golden pistol, which I actually got to handle. He had this golden pistol with a fleur-de-lis pattern on it, which was just extraordinary.

But you know, he still had this hold over people. In the book, I have a story of a young woman, whose father was murdered by Gadhafi's people in London. And when she found his body, she found him lying in a pool of blood. And he had meat skewers through his face.

She went to see Gadhafi's body, and she -- and I asked her how she felt, and she said, "You know, I looked at him and I thought, he's so small. He's just a man." And then she began to cry and she said, "You know, the last time I saw a body like that was when I saw my father's body."

AMANPOUR: And it's incredibly difficult to cover what's going on in Syria right now.

HILSUM: Yes.

AMANPOUR: And we've lost friends there. We've lost Marie. We've lost Remi Ochlik and Tony Shadid -- and I'm going to cry. Aah!

HILSUM: Yes. It's very difficult. It's very, very difficult. I mean --

AMANPOUR: How did -- how does one summon the strength and the passion to keep going and doing this? And what did Marie tell you, her last encounter with you when she was going from Beirut?

HILSUM: Marie -- see, I had dinner in Beirut with Marie before she sneaked over the border into Homs, into Syria. And I said I couldn't go, it was beyond my danger threshold. I couldn't do it. But she said -- she said, "Anyway, it's what we do."

And then I spoke to her -- I spoke to her on Skype just a few hours before she was killed by a shell that came into where she was staying. And she said, "Lindsey," she says, "this is the worst we've ever seen."

And she felt very passionately that that story of what was happening, the killing of civilians, of women, of children by the regime in Syria, it had to be told and that it was incredibly important that she should be there as an eyewitness.

And I agree with her. But she was my friend and she paid with her life.

AMANPOUR: Well, I hope that people are listening and I hope the paralyzed political reality that we're living and watching right now is somehow galvanized by all those eyewitness reports that she sent out and that others are sending out now from Syria.

HILSUM: Oh, so do I, although I don't think it's simple. But I can't believe that there's nothing that can be done. There has to be a much stronger, at least a much stronger diplomatic push and much more work with the Russians, because children are being massacred. Children are being massacred and we're sitting here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Moammar Gadhafi came to power when he was only 27. Impressive, but Britain's William Hague began his meteoric career when he was a lad of 16. From prodigy to political powerhouse, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the author, Harper Lee, begins her classic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," with this quote from British writer Charles Lamb.

"Lawyers, I suppose, were children once," he said.

Imagine a world where politicians were children once. Earlier this evening was Britain's distinguished foreign secretary, William Hague. But that same polished public servant was once a dazzling schoolboy prodigy.

Back in 1977, at the tender age of 16, young Master Hague gave his first political speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool, England. His audience included Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And as you'll see, it was she who led the applause for his youthful, robust defense of conservativism. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAGUE: But most of all, they want to be free, free from the government, the government they think should get out of the way. Don't intervene, don't interfere in their lives. And I trust that Ms. Thatcher's government will, indeed, get out of the way.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

HAGUE: There is at least one school -- I think it's in London -- where the pupils are allowed to win just one race each for fear that to win more would make the other pupils seem inferior. That is a classic illustration of the socialist state, which draws nearer with every Labor government, and which conservatives have never reversed.

It's all right for some of you. Half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And Ms. Thatcher later told him that his speech had been thrilling. Twenty years later, he would become the leader of the Conservative Party, and in 2010, he would be named Britain's foreign secretary.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, amanpour@cnn.com. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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