Return to Transcripts main page


The Death of Rachel Corrie; Interview with Ann Stone of Republicans for Choice

Aired August 31, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


ALI VELSHI, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Ali Velshi, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to our special weekend edition of the program, where we bring two of the big stories we covered this week.

In a moment, the U.S. presidential election and a Republican activist who's in sharp conflict with her candidate, Mitt Romney, on the issue of abortion.

But first, a major court ruling in Israel that goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even as it sparks an outcry from Palestinians and their supporters around the world. It's the case of Rachel Corrie. You may remember, she's the young American activist who was killed nine years ago while she attempted to block a bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home in Gaza. The Israeli court ruled that the death was an accident.

It says the bulldozer's drivers are not to blame because they couldn't see Corrie. Other protesters who were with her that day say that's simply not possible.

I want to show you some photographs that were taken the day she was struck. She was wearing a bright orange vest, seemingly hard to miss, unless the bulldozer operator's view was obstructed as he claimed. Her companions say she was standing in clear view of the driver just before the bulldozer moved forward.

We can see both angles in these pictures. But we cannot be certain of her exact position when she was actually hit and went down. She was pronounced dead later that day in hospital.

The death of Rachel Corrie became a rallying cry for the Palestinian resistance. A play based on her writings has been performed in almost a dozen countries. A ship that attempted to bring aid to Palestinians in a blockaded Gaza Strip was named after her. The Palestinian soccer team created an annual tournament in her honor. And in Tehran, a street bears her name.

So what of the charges that the Israeli investigation into her death was not credible? I spoke to Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev about the case. But first, I interviewed Craig Corrie, Rachel's father. Take a listen.


VELSHI: Craig, thanks very much for joining us. I know it's been nine years but it probably doesn't ease your burden very much. What is it that makes you think that the Israeli investigation into Rachel's death wasn't fair?

CRAIG CORRIE, FATHER OF RACHEL CORRIE: Well, we've learned a lot by being in court. And so some of that is that simply, for instance, the investigator went out and picked up some information, but for instance, there was a film that was recorded from the Israeli tower. IDF recorded that film and the investigator didn't get that until a week after Rachel was killed.

Then when he got a copy of it, it seems he didn't get the entire copy, because the whole world has seen parts of that that were not presented to court, and the investigator said no more existed. So that's simply an instance of that.

And I'd also like to repeat that it is the long-standing position of our government in the United States, stated since the State Department said it in 2004, that it has not been a thorough, credible and transparent investigation, even though that was promised by Prime Minister Sharon to President Bush. It still has not been fulfilled.

VELSHI: That's interesting, because we were talking to State Department, trying to get some clarity on that. You spoke to Dan Shapiro, America's ambassador to Israel. And what did he tell you about this investigation?

CORRIE: Well, he told me that the position in American government has remained as it was stated back then. And of course, it's on record. It was in a letter to our family from then -- it was Colin Powell, who was the secretary of state at the time. His chief of staff wrote it, that letter. It was repeated a year later in -- by a person who was testifying in front of Congress and repeated it again.

So and then it's been repeated more recently by the White House and high officials in the White House. So I -- it's my understanding that that position has not changed.

VELSHI: And to be clear, when you say that position, what is it that they told you?

CORRIE: They told us that the -- that the investigation done by the Israeli military was not thorough and credible and transparent. And that was the promise that was made to our president (ph). I'll go on and say this: we have found a little more of the video; actually what was presented in court was a little different than was given to our government.

When you look at that further video, you can see the people coming with a stretcher to come out and pick up Rachel. Through that video, you can clearly see where Rachel's body was.

What was reported by the Israeli government to our government, the U.S. government, in a PowerPoint presentation that was given shortly after Rachel's killing, shows one segment of that video, just you know, a single shot. And it says, "Here's where Rachel's body was. See, here's the bulldozer and there's a mound of earth, so they can't see her."

Well, when you watch the full video and you see the remaining video that we've been able to get, you can see the stretcher bearers walking right past there. That wasn't the bulldozer that killed Rachel.

That wasn't where Rachel's body was. And that wasn't the position in which the bulldozers were going at the time. And when you see that further video, you can see that anybody watching that would know. So it's not just a mistake, it's a knowing mistake --


VELSHI: OK, so --

CORRIE: -- a material fact from high-level officials in the Israeli government to U.S. officials.

VELSHI: All right. So you think that high-level officials in the Israeli government were misleading to U.S. officials, but when you think about this investigation, what is your complaint, that it was sloppy and that it was the military protecting its own? Or do you think there was something higher up? Do you think there was more to it than that?

CORRIE: Well, I think, first of all, you know, I mentioned about securing this tape. But if you look at the testimony -- for instance, there were two bulldozers at -- there that day. Each bulldozer had an operator and it had a commander who sat right next to him, a little bit to his left and a little higher.

And then there was also an armored personnel carrier that was there in command of the whole operation.

Well, for instance, the bulldozer operator and the commander had entirely different stories about, for instance, where they saw Rachel's body right after she was killed.

The bulldozer operator says that when he backed up, he saw Rachel's body between him and the mound of earth that he was pushing, which is where our witnesses, the people, friends of Rachel's took the pictures. And you may even have copies of those pictures.

The person sitting right next to him said her body was down the other side of this mound of earth and that he saw it lying behind a 2-meter-high pile of earth. I don't know how he could have seen her lying on the ground there. And he testified to that.

Well ,the person doing the investigation never confronted one of these people with the testimony of the other. He just put those two pieces of paper in a file and called it a day.

You know, what's up with that? If you're going to do an investigation, you go look for the truth. You go ask these people and you ask them over and over again. You confront them. You go and get the pictures that were -- Rachel's friends had, which were out on the Internet.


VELSHI: So, Craig, you say --

CORRIE: And people had it -- they had them available. You go talk to the ISM. You go and you find out what happened.

VELSHI: When you say what's up with that, what do you think is up with that? What is -- what do you think the reasoning is? Is just this a matter of the military not wanting to admit wrongdoing? Or do you think Rachel was deliberately killed and the Israelis don't want to admit that?

CORRIE: Our family has never, in nine years, said that Rachel was murdered. But when you go through all of this process and you see these statements and you see what was put here, you have to ask yourself, what are they hiding? And I think that's an important question.

VELSHI: And it's understandable, Craig, that as a father you want answers. Craig Corrie, thanks for joining us, and of course, our condolences again.

Well, now to how Israeli officials view today's ruling, we turn to Mark Regev. He's the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mark, thanks for joining us. What's your take on this? When you review all of this -- and I know you've had a chance to and you followed it well -- how do you see Rachel Corrie? Is she a victim? Was she misguided? Or, as the Israeli court said, deliberately put herself in harm's way? How do you -- how do you see Rachel?

MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN FOR PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, first let me start off by extending once again condolences to the Corrie family, as they've had a terrible tragedy. They've lost their daughter. And I think any human being has to empathize with him and has to feel for the Corrie family.

I don't accept the criticisms we've heard of the Israeli judicial system. We've had three investigations. There was the on-the-ground military investigation. Then there was a military police investigation. Then there was an investigation by a full general. And then all this has now been under the study of a civilian court, which has looked for months now at all the evidence.

So I understand that the Corrie family didn't get the decision they wanted from the courts. But we have in Israel checks and balances. We have independent courts. And it's clear to me that the judge got to the bottom of this matter.

VELSHI: So a part of what I seem to glean from Craig Corrie's complaint is that, of those investigations you just named, three of them were either military or police.

And there's generally a sense that these investigations, when something is alleged to have been committed by military or police, you know, a lot of the world thinks that the investigation is more fair when it comes from the outside.

But that the initial investigations weren't fair. You heard that Craig said that he had spoken to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who said that -- who apparently told him that he didn't think -- the U.S.' position is that the investigation was not credible, thorough or transparent enough.

What do you think about that?

REGEV: I can't speak for the U.S. government, but I do know that Americans and people who live in democracies can appreciate that an independent judiciary, who makes independent decisions -- and, quite frankly, yesterday, before this decision, we were speculating how the judge would rule.

The fact that he's ruled for us is a vindication of our case. I'd like to say, if I could, about the investigation as a whole, listen, it all came down to did the driver of that tractor, could he see that Rachel Corrie was in front of him?

VELSHI: Right.

REGEV: Now we brought expert witnesses to the court, and the Corrie family also, under our legal provisions, brought their own expert witness that the family nominated. Now all of them agreed, including the expert witness that the Corrie family nominated, that there simply wasn't vision, that they couldn't see -- the driver was unable to see if Rachel Corrie was in front of the tractor.

We really -- our rules are very strict. You cannot run over innocent civilians. It's as clear as that. And if we thought the driver had acted in such a way, he'd be in jail today. But all the independent investigation -- once again, the experts, both from our side and from the Corrie side, ruled that he could not have seen Rachel Corrie.

VELSHI: Right. Those are various reports that this is a -- this was a common practice, that these protesters would wear these bright orange vests and we have pictures showing Rachel Corrie. In fact, we've got pictures taken the day she was killed, where you see various angles and you see the cabin of that bulldozer and you know, again, we weren't there. So we don't know.

But it does look that -- it looks like she could -- you could see the pilot. You could see the bulldozer driver in one of the pictures from her perspective, this one that we're looking at right now.

Bottom line is you said that if you felt that this driver, the bulldozer operator, had done something deliberately, he'd be in jail. There have been complaints about the Israeli military, by human rights groups, who say that the military is not held accountable adequately for these types of things.

What's your response to that?

REGEV: Well, let me respond, first of all, by pointing to the pages of testimony -- and they're all open and they're open to transparent discussion. But when -- the judge said today that when the driver of the tractor saw the activist, saw Rachel Corrie, he actually moved away on a number of occasions, trying to avoid them. That's also part of the testimony.

So it's clear to me that he didn't see Rachel Corrie because we have evidence, clear evidence of his previous behavior, where he tried to avoid her.

I also want to say that you actually said something that is not true. At the beginning of this piece, when you said Ms. Corrie was trying to protect a house that was going to be destroyed or something, that's not true.

In the court decision, it's very clear the Israeli military was in operation to clear a zone of bushes and shrubs and small trees which were being used by snipers.

There were also explosive in that areas, EIDs (sic), I mean, this was a combat zone between hardcore terrorists and armed military. And we were trying to, once again, to expose sniper positions and get rid of these dangerous explosives. This was not -- had nothing to do with savings homes.

VELSHI: We -- obviously that's in dispute because it's very clear by the organization that Rachel was working with that that's what they were doing there. They were trying to prevent homes from being destroyed.

Let me ask you on another topic --


REGEV: Can I --

VELSHI: Yes, go ahead, Mark.

REGEV: Can I respond to that?


REGEV: Can I respond to that, please? I mean, the organization that Rachel was part of, Rachel Corrie, is not known for its objectivity. This is a very hard-line radical organization that does not believe in peace and coexistence.

They say that Israel has no right to exist. They've got a very black- and-white view of our conflict with the Palestinians. We are the devils, we're terrible and the Palestinians have never done anything wrong. They're very -- I'm not sure you can accept their testimony as objective truth.

VELSHI: All right. Well, unfortunately, we don't get to hear Rachel's testimony in this particular case.

Mark, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate you being on with us.

Mark Regev is a representative of the Israeli government.

REGEV: Thanks for having me.


VELSHI: In a moment, we pivot to the U.S., where the convention to nominate Republican Mitt Romney brought out the party faithful, except when it comes to the issue of abortion. More on that when we come back.




VELSHI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Ali Velshi, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Last week, Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin blew the doors off the presidential race when he laid out his thoughts about abortion in the case of rape.


REP. TODD AKIN (R), MO.: It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something.

You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.


VELSHI: Akin took a beating for his use of the phrase "legitimate rape." Republican candidate Mitt Romney even called for Akin to quit the Senate race. But his position that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances is, in fact, written into the Republican platform.

Ann Stone is a Republican and a pro-abortion advocate. She is the chairman of Republicans for Choice, and that may sound like an oxymoron, but Ann was in the trenches at the Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida, this week, when I spoke with her.


VELSHI: Ann, welcome to you. I have heard you say that, in prior years, you have had to go to these events with a bodyguard.

ANN STONE, REPUBLICANS FOR CHOICE: Absolutely. That's one of the ways I measure our progress. This year I didn't need a bodyguard.

VELSHI: Why do you want to measure that sort of progress? Why do you want to be in a party where there's another big party that has no problem with this position?

STONE: Well, frankly, because it was my party first. And I'm the consistent Republican and they're not, because Republicans are for getting government out of the board room, so they should be for getting the government out of the bedroom. If we really, truly believe in individual rights, this is a position that is totally antithetical to everything else the Republican Party stands for.

And, in fact, if you ask Republicans if government should be involved in this decision, they say, no, it should be the woman. Well, that's pro- choice.

VELSHI: Ann, you have been -- you've been a Republican. You've been a conservative for a long time, in fact, I read that this happened when you were -- when you were a kid, really, and you really supported conservative values for a long time.

But this has been this way for a long time. There have been conservatives and Republicans who have been against abortion, and not just that they demonize it. So there are groups like Log Cabin Republicans, gay Republicans and, from the outside, people wonder, why are you part of this group that demonizes you?

STONE: Well, let's put it this way: people who believe in women's rights, people who cherish this right to choose, want me to stay in the party. You want me where the fight is. In fact, I've invited more people to come and join me. One of the problems is a lot of people who think like me have left out of disgust. Well, that was the wrong thing to do. They've ceded territory to the other side.

Now I need to also tell you that one of the things the party leadership does is they give -- I guess I could call them the crazies -- they give the crazies the platform in order to make them feel that they have some control.

And they say, oh, well, yes, our candidates can just run from the platform. But the problem is it does set a tone and it makes people all over the world think the Republican Party is crazy. I mean, they all think we're like Todd Akin, which that is not true.

VELSHI: OK, and --

STONE: That man is a class unto himself.

VELSHI: You know, I was overseas when this news first came out. Here's what Mitt Romney said about it when he was asked about this position about abortion. Here's what he said to CBS. Listen.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, my position has been clear throughout this campaign. I'm in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest and the health and life of the mother.


VELSHI: All right. He said that on Monday. Well, I'm going to ask you in a second whether you agree with his position.

But what happened, you see, he said this after Todd Akin had made his comment. And Todd Akin, when he was asked, said, "Well, Paul Ryan shares my view."

Paul Ryan is now the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party. What do you think of that?

STONE: Well, Ryan very quickly said, no, I'm going to take Mitt Romney's view. He is the leader of our ticket. And that will be my view. That's what I'm running on.

So who knows. We may get Ryan to moderate his view.

Certainly, Akin may, in fact, do more for my side than anybody else has, where it's going to make them come back a little towards the center, realizing that he represents the real right-wing crazy fringe.

VELSHI: Ann, even Mitt Romney's position, which is much more moderate than Todd Akin's, is fundamentally not where you stand.

Are you going to vote for Mitt Romney?

STONE: Let's put it this way. Mitt Romney says he's for abortion only in the case of rape, incest, life of the mother. But is that a personal position or is that one he would legislate on? That's the question that we're trying to determine. There's so many people that call themselves pro-life that say they're against abortion.

But if you ask them, will they legislate on it or is this something women should decide or government, overwhelmingly they say it should be the woman.

VELSHI: But part of the platform -- part of that platform that you don't agree with, also says that they want judges in place who will -- who will protect the rights of unborn children.

STONE: And saying that -- and they said things like that before Ronald Reagan put Sandra Day O'Connor in, before they -- before Bush put Souter in, saying it and doing it, I'll tell you, more than one candidate has said the platform represents who the party is. This is where I am and that's how they deal with.

VELSHI: So you think -- you think --

STONE: Whether or not the voters will get that message this time is another thing.

VELSHI: What is the message, though? It's not clear from you what you think. Do you think Mitt Romney -- would you vote for Mitt Romney, based on what you heard him say? Because he said clearly where he stands on abortion.

STONE: Right now, we're still assessing whether or not myself (sic) or my group is going to work for Mitt Romney. I don't see us endorsing him. Whether or not our members choose to vote, we're telling them to vote their conscience.

There's some that will and there's some that won't. I will say this, Obama has been a great unifier for the Republican Party. You have a lot of people that are pro-choice. They told me this time, please don't make a lot of trouble because it's more important to get rid of Barack Obama. We'll deal with Romney and his people afterwards.

VELSHI: I still haven't heard whether you're going to vote for Mitt Romney.


STONE: That's my personal choice.


STONE: At this point, the question is still open.

VELSHI: Ann Stone, thanks very much. Good to talk to you.

STONE: Thank you.


VELSHI: After the break, a different view of women's rights, a unique way to fight for change when the battlefield is the bedroom, when we come back.




VELSHI: A final thought tonight, imagine a world where saying no to sex can bring down a government.

In the small African nation of Togo, President Faure Gnassingbe and his father before him have held power for four decades. But last week, a female leader of the opposition called on the Togolese women to, quote, "keep the gate of your motherland locked up" -- that's a quote -- for a week.

Well, that's one way to put it. It isn't the first time women have used sex to bring about social change. The women of Togo were inspired by the Nobel laureate, Leymah Gbowee, who led Liberian women in a sex strike in 2003. It ended years of civil war and led to the election of current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The whole practice started 2,500 years ago, when the Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote "Lysistrata," a comedy about the women of Athens who withheld sex to end the Peloponnesian War.

The comedy is still fresh and so is the idea that, in places where men hold all the power, withholding something has a power of its own. That's it for the weekend edition of the program. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.