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Details of Benghazi Attack; Pussy Riot Band Member Freed

Aired October 10, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


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

Tonight, what really happened before and during the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11th? The U.S. State Department has now made it clear that it was a terrorist attack, plain and simple, having nothing to do with reaction to than anti-Islamic video that caused so much protest elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the onslaught on the mission. And right now, the U.S. Congress is holding a politically charged hearing in the heated environment of the upcoming presidential election. They're asking who knew what and when.

And those questions are important, because there have been confusing and conflicting accounts of what did happen from the White House, the State Department and others.

Listen to what Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said a few days after the assault.


SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.


AMANPOUR: One week later, President Obama reinforced that link.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.


AMANPOUR: But just a few days later, the administration's story started to change. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper now said that it was a terrorist attack, and possibly by Al Qaeda or affiliated groups.

And finally, yesterday, in a background briefing to reporters, the State Department disavowed any link at all to that video. So did the Obama administration have cause to believe that an attack was imminent in Benghazi? Was Al Qaeda involved?

I will talk to the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who knows more than a thing or two about those very important questions. I'll do that in a moment, but first, a look at the other stories that we're covering tonight, including from Russia, a Pussy Riot exclusive.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Performance art and protest landed them in a Russian jail. Now one of the Pussy Rioters is free and gives us her first interview.

Then imagine the world of a brave Pakistani girl.


MALALA YOUSUFZAI, EDUCATION ACTIVIST (through translator): So I thought that I must stand up for my rights, the right of education, the right for peace. So I did it.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Reading, writing, fighting the Taliban and now fighting for her life.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, Ambassador James Jeffrey is deeply familiar with security considerations at U.S. diplomatic sites around the world. He served as the American ambassador to Iraq, a post he left just months ago, in June, in fact.

Ambassador Jeffrey, thank you for joining me. You've been watching some of these hearings. First and foremost, do you think that we will get to the bottom of what happened? Are these hearings going to take us there?

JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I'm absolutely convinced we are. First of all, the hearings are part of the constitutional system, Christiane. It's an important step. Obviously, it's somewhat political, but that's OK. We are hearing a lot of important information.

But to get to the bottom of this is another process that's far more important. Under regulation and law, the Department of State has appointed an accountability review board, headed by former Ambassador Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen.

That group of five will look into this in all of its details, including all of the classified materials that cannot come out in this unclassified hearing. At the end of the day, that board, which I've been the subject of two of them from our losses in Iraq, I believe, will give an objective and complete appraisal. But we're taking a step in the right direction with this hearing.

AMANPOUR: So are you concerned about allegations and claims that security was kept artificially low in Libya, that there just wasn't enough, that repeated requests had drawn a blank or just a plain no? What should we look for in that regard? Are those middle level bureaucrats? How should we assess those accusations?

JEFFREY: Two things. First of all, we need to get to the bottom of this and we're beginning that process but it's not complete. My initial analysis is, first of all, you always need as much security as possible.

You have four variables. The local security provided by the host nation, they're responsible; the security that you have on the scene -- and we've heard a lot about that today in the hearing. Thirdly, the threat that you had.

And there we heard something very important, which is this is a kind of attack that we really saw, even in Iraq, let alone elsewhere in the Middle East. This was a military attack. It wasn't just a terrorist attack. It was fire and maneuver under indirect fire from marauders by a live force of pretty well trained military personnel, probably associated with Al Qaeda, but that is not yet clear.

It's very, very hard to defend against that. Then the last question is what was the overall posture and decision of the mission in terms of keeping the post open or reinforcing the post? And remember, we're trying to do our mission in a very, very risky environment. So all of those things fed together.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you then, you say this was unprecedented -- and in fact, the State Department has said that, too, unprecedented in terms of planning, the number of people, weapons, et cetera, involved. But when you and your predecessors in Iraq would have to request security, how does it work?

JEFFREY: Exactly. A very, very good question, Christiane, because there are normal bureaucratic procedures, and then there is, to get something done, it has to go in at a high level.

What the accountability review board and, to some degree, the congressional investigators will look at, is what kind of requests were made, what was the juice behind these requests and were they entrained to be decided? Were the decisions made and, if so, on what basis?

This brings in, again, the intelligence. Did we think that we had this kind of risk there? If we didn't think so, why not, because it clearly was there. So these are the questions that all of the people who will be looking at this need to dig into in more detail.

AMANPOUR: Is it important to know what Ambassador Stevens himself might have asked for or not?

JEFFREY: Absolutely. The ambassador always plays an important role in this, but he or she is not the only actor, Christiane.

You have the assistant secretary for diplomatic security, you have the assistant security for the Near East, and you have the top level people in the department. And it's a process that goes back and forth, somewhat informally; but at the end of the day, there is a paper record of who did what.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you this sound bite from Representative Jason Chaffetz, who was leading some of these hearings today. Let me just play you what he said today.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I will tell you, though, that when I was in Libya, good part of the day, never once did a person ever mention a video, never. And I'm fascinated to know and understand, from the President of the United States, from the secretary of state, and from the ambassador to the United Nations, how they can justify that this video caused this attack. It was a terrorist attack. Let's be honest about it.


AMANPOUR: So he's basically saying that the administration has not been honest. Do you believe that it's possible than an administration would try to be misleading about this kind of grave situation?

JEFFREY: In this particular case, I'm convinced that the initial reports led people to believe that. I would note the testimony today of Undersecretary for Management Pat Kennedy, who I know and have served with in combat.

Kennedy said he saw the same intelligence that Susan Rice saw, and that Kennedy would have come to the same conclusion at that time. This happens, unfortunately, Christiane, all too often. The original -- the initial reports we get are not completely accurate and people jump to conclusions in processing the paperwork.

Over time, it becomes clearer. But this is some -- it's quite plausible, in fact, that the administration got the wrong story, not by deliberate intent, but by happenstance.

AMANPOUR: Can we also call a spade a spade? Jason Chaffetz is part of the House Republican body that has cut hundreds of millions of dollars of security funding for these missions around the world. I mean, how much does that also play in a request going up and the answer coming back, sorry; we don't -- we can't afford it?

JEFFREY: It does play a role to some degree, but I don't want to start pointing fingers at people, Christiane. I will say that the Department of State has a very, very large budget. And our priority is -- has been in Iraq and elsewhere where I've served, to ensure that those high-danger posts -- and Libya was certainly a high-danger post -- got all the security that people thought was necessary.

Clearly, we needed more security there or we need a decision on closing the post. So we need to find out what happened. But money can be shifted and resources can be transferred.

AMANPOUR: And now on the wider issue of Al Qaeda, are you concerned? Because one of the things that did happen over the last few years was a degradation of Al Qaeda's ability, the drones and other measures. But it seems to be popping up again in Iraq. It definitely seems to be popping up in Syria, potentially in Mali. Are you concerned that we're now seeing another rise of Al Qaeda?

JEFFREY: I am concerned; it's different because each group pursues a different agenda. In Iraq, they're feeding off of tension between the Sunni and the Shia population as they did back in 2007.

In North Africa, we have very weak states who cannot (ph) cope with them. But the rise so far, take Iraq or even Libya, is not significant compared to the levels of violence before. But we need to watch this very closely.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador James Jeffrey, thank you so much indeed for joining me.

JEFFREY: Thank you very much, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: And the ripple effect of the attack in Benghazi may not be fully felt until the votes are counted next month in the U.S. presidential election.

Meanwhile in Russia, President Putin has a controversy of his own: the band called Pussy Riot went to jail to protest his policies. One of the band members just won her freedom and joins us for her first interview since being released. We'll be back after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now we turn to Russia and my exclusive interview with the just-freed member of that controversial group, Pussy Riot. A Moscow court set Ekaterina Samutsevich free, but left her two bandmates in jail today.

The punk group was charged with hooliganism, and sentenced to two years in prison for performing a song in a Russian Orthodox cathedral. That song criticized President Putin. This happened back in February. And the case has sparked an international outcry against President Putin and the suppression of free speech of political activism in Russia.

I spoke with Ekaterina Samutsevich a few hours after she emerged from prison.


AMANPOUR: Ekaterina, thank you so much for joining me.

EKATERINA SAMUTSEVICH, BAND MEMBER, PUSSY RIOT (through translator): You're welcome.

AMANPOUR: How does it feel to be free?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Well, I have mixed feelings. First of all, of course, I've very happy to be out and to be, so to say, free. But I'm very upset that Nadia and Maria are still incarcerated.

AMANPOUR: Why do you think you were freed and the other two are still incarcerated?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Well, I don't have a straight answer to that. But at the hearing, we were talking about me not directly being involved in the action that was construed as a crime, and that legal stand, that legal accent (ph), so to speak, that was probably the thing that became an ironclad argument for the court.

AMANPOUR: So what do you mean you weren't actually involved?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Well, from the formal standpoint, the sentence said that the criminal acts were the actual act of the ladies, young ladies, dancing at the altar. But it so happened that the security guard led me out of the church before they started dancing. So from the formal standpoint, I was not directly involved in that action.

And today, that was the main point of argument against the sentence. And this is probably the reason why the court decided to commute -- to actually suspend my sentence.

AMANPOUR: Tell me what was your aim? What was the aim of Pussy Riot with this protest? Was it anti-church? Was it hate speech? What was it you were doing?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): The -- of course, no way did we try to express our hatred. We wanted to express our criticism of the actions of Patriarch Kirill and a few other officials of the Russian Orthodox Church. The hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

We believe that we live in a secular state. And in this state, the principles of secular society should be respected. The representatives of the church should not interfere with the politics of the country.

AMANPOUR: So you were specifically protesting the church's support for a third Putin term?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Yes.

AMANPOUR: So what is your message now to President Putin? Are you finished with protests? Does this end your action, your political action?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): No, of course not. We are not finished, nor are we going to end our political protests.

We do have a criticism. All of that remains in force. The situation in the country has deteriorated since our performance. And the trial itself is a testimony of that. There were certain violations that point to the problem.

And in addition to that, one can also see the flaws of the judicial system in Russia. It depends, to a very big extent, on the opinion and the stance of the president of the Russian federation.

AMANPOUR: So tell me what it was like for you in jail. How were you treated in jail, you and the other two girls?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): We were in separate rooms, in separate cells, so we were isolated in special holding cells. And we had three to four other cellmates and people were sort of cautious. We were always recorded. We were always on camera. There were some additional security measures. But then, they treated us in a more even-handed -- sort of in a calmer fashion.

AMANPOUR: So there was no abuse, there was no punishment, other than being in jail?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): No, of course not, no, no. Nothing of this sort.

AMANPOUR: And how do your other two friends feel? What do they say to you about being separated from their children, both of them are mothers of young children.

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Well, of course, they're very, very upset about doing their term in jail. But holding up very well. When they meet -- when we meet -- when we get together, when we were going to the courthouse, we were very happy to see each other and we just shared our experiences.

AMANPOUR: What do they -- what are they saying? I mean, what did they say to you after you were freed and they had to go back to jail?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): They congratulated me. They were very happy for me. And they wished me all the best. We hugged and we were all very happy.

AMANPOUR: So are you afraid as you continue? You say you want to continue your protest. But look, you've just been in jail for many months and there are increasingly laws and other such things that make protests very difficult in Russia. Aren't you afraid?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): To be perfectly honest, I never felt the fear. I never felt scared. There was nothing extra scary, even in jail. But naturally I will be more cautious in my actions, going forward.

We have to act in such a way so that they do not know, do not learn about the concerts ahead of time before it's too soon, so that we wouldn't be caught and jailed afterward. We would have to somehow get 'round the authorities to deceive them in some clever way.

AMANPOUR: But you would still go back to a cathedral, for instance?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Well, the concert of our group is such that we never go back to the same venue. Once we have one performance in one venue, the next performance will be in a different spot, in a different place on a different subject, on another political subject, but very different. So just based on this assumption, we were not going back to that particular cathedral.

AMANPOUR: Have your feelings for President Putin changed? What do you feel? What is your message?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Well, my attitude to President Putin has not changed. I have a negative attitude. I do not want to talk to -- to turn to him personally. To me, this is just a formal position that, unfortunately, has turned into mega-authorization project of one single individual.

And that's the problem of authority in our country, as I see it today. And I would like to see an end to that. I do not want to see these -- this authorization regime that we're seeing in the person of President Putin.

AMANPOUR: Do you think the other two girls will have to serve out their sentence? Do you see any path for them to be released any time soon?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): I think anything is possible and today, the situation showed that it's really unpredictable. We can't make any kind of forecast, but how it's really going to play out, I'm not sure. I really had not expected this release to happen today.

AMANPOUR: Your case, the case of Pussy Riot, caused huge amount of attention in the outside world, and a lot of support for you.

Inside Russia, it's more complex. You did get overwhelming support. Do you think that what you did has damaged President Putin, has made him think differently about things, has changed the situation in any way?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Oh, yes, certainly. I am -- I believe that a lot of people have started thinking and maybe took a stronger point of view, vis-a-vis Putin, and the authorities as we see them today, and their policies.

AMANPOUR: And the fact that they let you go and not the other two, do you think that's a clever tactic by the authorities to sort of divide you, divide and conquer, let one go, keep the other two?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): Well, I would say this is very clever and sort of cunning policy. But it's hard to say why they decided to take that particular course of action.

This divide and rule (ph) policy, I don't think it's going to work out. I don't really think so because the rumor is that there is a kind of split in the group, there's no truth to them. There's never been any kind of split. We remain together and that's why we're strong. We're not even, you know, there's not a hint of a split. And if anyone tries to picture us as being split, this is completely untrue.

AMANPOUR: And finally, after all of this, what is your message to the Russian people themselves?

What would you tell them?

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): I'd like to express my hope that our action in the cathedral was correctly understood by the people. There was no religious hatred or animosity. This was a political action aimed at the -- at the authorities, at the convergence of the religious powers and the political powers.

And I want people to understand that.

AMANPOUR: Ekaterina Samutsevich, thank you so much for joining me.

SAMUTSEVICH (through translator): You're welcome.


AMANPOUR: And she still says she won't be cowed.

When we come back, the courageous young Pakistani girl who challenged the Taliban for the right to go to school and who paid the price, a soul that can't be silenced, a spirit that has captivated the world, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, in the spirit of fighting for your rights, we've been following the gripping story of Malala Yousufzai. She's the brave 14-year-old Pakistani girl who captured her nation's heart by simply insisting on the right to go to school. Yesterday, as we know, the Taliban shot her and two other girls.

She was airlifted to a hospital and survived the initial surgery. Doctors say she is now recovering slowly. But her story, her poise, her passion and her commitment beyond her years are extraordinary, as CNN's Reza Sayah found out when he talked to her a year ago, just as she was to receive an award for bravery.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some people might say you're 14. You don't have any rights. You just have to listen to Mom and Dad.

YOUSUFZAI: No, I have rights. I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing, I have the right to talk, I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.

When I looked at my people and my school fellows and the ban on the girls' education and the -- and the Taliban, so I thought that I must stand up for my rights, the right of education, the right for peace. So I did it.

SAYAH: How do you handle the Taliban, a group that's violent?

YOUSUFZAI: First of all, I would like to talk to them.

SAYAH: What would you say?

YOUSUFZAI: I would say that what -- I would demand, "What do you want?"


AMANPOUR: Yesterday, the Taliban showed this extraordinary girl what they want. And today, they gave us -- they gave her this spectacularly cruel response.

"If she survives this time," they said, "she won't next time. We will certainly kill her."

But theirs isn't the only response. The attack has sparked outrage throughout Pakistan and around the world.

And imagine a world without Malala's bright heart and brave voice, a world without the dream that things can get better.

That's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.