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Palestinian Elections; Libya's Future; Getting Osama bin Laden

Aired October 18, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


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

If there's one thing that will determine the future of the Middle East, it'll be a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. There have been no peace negotiations for the past year, and on top of that, there are deep divisions amongst the Palestinians themselves.

This issue hasn't featured much in the U.S. presidential race and the question is will the United States throw its full weight behind restoring a peace process in the Middle East after the elections? Whatever happens, this Saturday, Palestinians in the West Bank will hold their elections for the first time in six years, voting for municipal, local leaders.

It takes place against a backdrop of a deep sense of frustration with a split between Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, with a stalled economy and, as I mentioned, the stalemate with Israel over final statehood.

What's so unusual, though, about this election, is the number of women running. In the conservative city of Hebron in the West Bank, it's unusual to find a Palestinian woman with a job, let alone in a position of political leadership. But that's exactly what my next guest is trying to change.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Maysoun Qawasmi is leading the first all- female independent ticket and their slogan: "By participating, we can," doesn't exactly roll off your tongue. But what's happening could eventually be a game-changer.

I spoke with Maysoun a short time ago, from Hebron.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me. How difficult is it to run as a woman? I mean, your campaign poster does not even show your pictures.

MAYSOUN QAWASMI, PARTICIPATION LEADER: We need a lot. We need to work 10 times than any less than our companion to convince the people that we are running to fix a lot of problem. We are running.

We bring us with us a woman rights issue, a society issues. What I'm trying to do now to bring a change in the positive way that the woman must be the decision-maker, as a decision-maker, because she understands about especially the municipality, also the committee, also the -- our society. Let's choose a strong woman, a good woman, can bring the rights for the society.


QAWASMI: I am a ring a bell now. I am break the ice now. I am try to do my best. I -- let's beginning to make a change.

AMANPOUR: As you try to do your best and try to break the ice, how difficult is it or not when you're on the streets, when you try to talk to the men, for instance, or any voters to convince them that you will bring them, you know, garbage collection and good services?

QAWASMI: You are talking with me at the last day in the -- in my campaign, in the campaign. And Saturday, after one day, we have election in Hebron. And you can't imagine if, from the first day until now, it's now different for me.

The people now understand that the woman can make something. They are now looking for the people as a human and not a man or a woman. They understand my issues. When I am traveling and make a meeting with a big family, you know, in Hebron, the party coming after the family, the big family control about all the society.

And then the party are coming. I'm talking with a party. I'm talking with a man. I make a meeting with a woman. I'm traveling all over the -- where we can meet the people. I'm going to the shop markets. I'm working with a pupil in the -- student in the university. Now they support me.

Before three days, I can't say that perhaps I will see you better than before. In the first days, they told me, you are crazy. What are you doing? Why you are running for the elections of a female list? If the Palestinian look, if you are caught, that's enough for you as a woman.

But when they hear me in the local radio, they understand my issues. They are talking with me live in the radio, and they told me, now we understand you. You see your voice. You see your program. You see that you are working, not in just in the woman issue. You are working with our society.

So our society, to help us as a woman, as a -- as a man, as a woman, because we need a lot. You know, Hebron needs a lots of service. Hebron needs the people help us in the decision-maker. Hebron needs to control about all of these issues.

We are under the occupation, the (inaudible) the Old City, the woman are suffering, the men are suffering. The youths are suffering. We're still waiting to fix our problems as a new member in the municipality. They told me about the problems. They told me that when now I am at the person, I have a --


QAWASMI: -- seat. They gave me a paper. They could text with me. That can you fix for us as this problem.

AMANPOUR: OK, OK. (Inaudible) --

QAWASMI: -- positive way that they are talking with you as the -- like you are win.

AMANPOUR: Yes. OK. Let me ask you this question.


AMANPOUR: How did your family react to you running for election? How many children do you have? How did they think about it? And what about your husband? I read that somebody told you that your husband is going to take a second wife because you're neglecting your duties at home. How did that go down?

QAWASMI: Yes. OK. This is a clever question. You know, you must have to believe -- and not a board (inaudible) for the elections without our husband's support us as a woman. As my husband support me very well.

He told me, you are a strong, go ahead. I will support you everywhere. And I can share you your life now as a mother. I can help you and my sons and daughter help me very well in my campaign, because it's a very difficult times of me, 10 days, those 10 days, it's very hard. As a mother, as a woman, as I'm working also in the media.

Let's say what my sons are doing, that they support me all the time. They told me that we are respect you very well. We try to find a wife like me.

And some people told me that be careful, Maysoun. Perhaps your husband will marry. I told him. I told all the people what they are saying, like a joke, I told them, never, ever my husband. He support me. And he know me very well. He need some woman beginning.

And I have the five children, three sons and two daughters.

AMANPOUR: What do you want to show your daughters and your sons? What do you want to prove to them?

QAWASMI: Yes. Yes. I want to show for my family, even my son or my daughter or my husband that if we participate everything, we can make magic, really. And I want to tell my daughter that take your rights by your hands as a woman, as a girl and try to do your best to respect your family, respect your society.

And do something that the people respect you, the history will respect you. And that's what my son told me. That's, Mom, be careful. The history will respect you, what you are doing for the woman in Arab world, not in Hebron, not in Palestine.

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

QAWASMI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And of course, on Saturday, we'll know whether Maysoun and her list won.

She also said to me afterwards that she wants to help change the world. And if she doesn't win, even if she does win, she wants to go on eventually to run for mayor -- great ambition. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And turning now to Libya, as we regularly reported on this program, that country looms larger than life in the U.S. presidential election campaign.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last month has turned the deaths of the American ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other U.S. officials into a political football.

My next guest, Ali Tarhouni, was the interim Libyan prime minister, having played a key role in marshaling international support and funding for the revolution that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi last year.

But he says he refused to run for prime minister in the recent elections because he doubted that the new leaders wanted to swallow the tough security medicine that he was prescribing in order to confront and rein in the militants.

Chris Stevens was Tarhouni's good friend and I asked Tarhouni whether he thinks the government will now tackle this issue head-on. I spoke to him --


AMANPOUR: Ali Tarhouni, thank you so much for joining me from Tripoli.

As you can no doubt see, Libya and what happened in Benghazi has suddenly become a major campaign issue in the U.S. presidential race. How do you feel about that?

ALI TARHOUNI, FORMER LIBYAN FINANCE AND OIL MINISTER: Well, actually, I wish it didn't because I think that's part of it, loss of Chris and his three comrades. He was a good friend of mine and he was a good friend of Libya. And I hope that he would have been alive, watching that debate.

AMANPOUR: You saw him not long before he was killed. Did he ever express concerns for his security?

TARHOUNI: No, actually, Chris never did. We met during the war. And those were the tough times. And we were in the liberated land, in Benghazi in particular. That's the first time I met him. And he would be strolling in, you know, in my office or I would see him in the coffee shops or I would get a phone call that he is meeting and having dinner with the tribes.

He never really -- and after the -- we moved to Tripoli, I saw him quite often. As I said, I saw him three days before he left Benghazi. He never, ever expressed any concern about his security.

AMANPOUR: Now I know you're not in the government now, and I know you're not in charge of any kind of investigation. But obviously, they're continuing reports about who's being identified; some are now talking about the founder of Ansar al-Sharia.

What do you know about these groups? Is it likely that that group could have committed this attack, this organized attack?

TARHOUNI: I honestly don't know. The one thing, for example, I was the acting prime minister last -- until last December. And when I handed the government over to Dr. Keib, I could tell you for sure that we didn't have any organized form of Al Qaeda.

We have individuals who are radical, if you like. But what exactly happened and who murdered Chris, was it spontaneous or was it an organized group, I honestly don't know. And I wish that the Libyan government and the conference (ph) would do more in investigating this, because I feel and as the city that he loved, Benghazi, feels, that we are responsible, no matter what happened.

He was the ambassador of the United States. He was a friend of this country. He really believed in this revolution. And I believe that we owe it to him. We owe it to the United States to investigate and find who committed this murder.

AMANPOUR: So you're basically saying that the Libyan authorities now are not investigating?

TARHOUNI: No, no; I think they are, but I'm not sure that they are doing enough. And part of it, Christiane, is that we're still in a flux. This country is not as secure as you think it is. We don't really have a national army. The internal security apparatus is still haphazard.

So we're still in a transition period. And the country's armed to the teeth. We don't have border guards. So in this setup, what you call a government is still a very weak structure. Even if we want to investigate things, tend to be quite slow.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Tarhouni, you know better than anybody that unless you get these disparate militias, even those with terrorist connections, unless these come under some kind of central control or are disarmed, it's going to threaten your whole democratic experiment.

Is the Libyan system at this point able to do that and what will it take?

TARHOUNI: I think what it takes from the new elected prime minister, Ali Zeidan -- and I talked to him and I told him that I will help him out - - it takes courage, actually. It takes some leadership, because I think the country's ready.

And just to go back to what Chris did, Chris helped the major -- played a major role in swaying the public in the United States.

And this help that Chris did is basically -- I want that to be very clear, that, yes, we are in a transition period. But Gadhafi is dead. In a very short period of time, we formed something, a resemblance to political parties. We have an elected parliament.

So I wish that Chris is around to see at least that transition, that first transfer, a peaceful transfer of power. So there's a lot of good that has taken place. But I agree with you. That good cannot be cemented unless the security issue is tackled head-on.

AMANPOUR: Well, the question is, are the Libyan authorities -- is your country today able to tackle them head-on?

TARHOUNI: I think there's a lot of efforts, and I think everybody realize that the killing and the murder of Chris has basically changed the rules, if you like, changed the -- how the view, the world view the Libyan revolution. And it's a great loss, not only personally but also to the Libyan revolution as well.

AMANPOUR: Why did you decide not to stand for prime minister? It had something to do with this shaky commitment to security.

TARHOUNI: I think this is -- I think this is part of it. I think that, you know, the -- one legacy from the war that the country came to know is that I take -- I take tough decisions and I take responsibilities. And when I outlined what I wanted to do, the NTC at the time said that that's too tough of a medicine.

And what I really wanted to do, I wanted to speed the process of not only building the national army and border control and the internal security, but also want to deal with the qataib (ph). And a lot of these revolutionaries, they are good. They are the one who actually liberated the country.

But part of the problem is that you have, well, groups now; we call them post-liberation revolutionaries. And these are small qataib (ph) that are running around and they are not under any control. They're -- part of it is involved in the smuggling. And these need to be confronted.

It's not a question of debate. It's not a question of -- but the true revolutionaries, they could be part of the solution. We achieved a lot and we could lose it if we're not really aware of these threats. These are -- these are serious threats on the stability of the country.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Tarhouni, thank you very much for joining me.

TARHOUNI: You're most welcome.


AMANPOUR: I had spoken to Mr. Tarhouni earlier this week, and the investigation continues. The United States is still waiting to find out who committed that act of terror against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

And when we come back, we'll go to Egypt and a group of children whose dreams are literally built on mountains of garbage.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. We've talked a lot about the U.S. presidential race and another major topic that's figured largely is Osama bin Laden. Will what happened to him decide the race? In just 19 days, Americans will decide between President Barack Obama and the challenger, Governor Mitt Romney.

And in a contest that was supposed to be fought over the economy, the front line of the battle has really become foreign policy.

Romney has hammered away at Obama over his handling of the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, as we just mentioned. Foreign policy, of course, was supposed to be a slam dunk for Barack Obama.

We now know that after a decade with the trail having gone cold, Obama began his presidency with a top priority. That was to get Osama bin Laden. And he did, even though it had been President George W. Bush who had famously promised to capture the Al Qaeda chief dead or alive.

So how exactly did the president get the world's most wanted terrorist? The story's been told by various people who were part of it.

But Barack Obama has told the whole story to only one reporter, and he is Mark Bowden, my guest today. And his story is, indeed, riveting. He's a journalist and an author who's just written "The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden."

And you did make your name with that fantastic blockbuster, "Black Hawk Down," over the U.S. and Somalia, which was riveting. And you tell these stories in such an unprecedented way, investigative, the access to all the characters and the unfolding storytelling.

So we want to begin with a question that I think many people have.

Was there ever any doubt, really, that when the American forces were in that moment that they would not kill Osama bin Laden? Did the president ever really think that bin Laden would be captured alive and go to trial?

MARK BOWDEN, AUTHOR: He said that he assumed that they would probably kill him. And as he put it to me, he would have to have been naked and on the ground for him to even have the possibility of surrendering.

And I'll add to that that when the SEALs were fired upon, when they first entered the compound, that pretty much, I think, sealed the fate of any of the adult males in that building, because they were hardly going to wait around to see if someone was going to open fire on them again.

AMANPOUR: But you learned some new details from President Obama about -- was he interested in putting bin Laden on trial? A lot of people would have said that would have made him, you know, a great propagandist. It would have made him a martyr.

BOWDEN: Well, he was interested in doing that. And he's been very consistent in saying that he feels the appropriate venue for prosecuting these terrorists is in a federal courtroom. He's encountered a great deal of political opposition to that. He tried it with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and they basically had to back down.

And what he told me was he felt that if they brought bin Laden back, he might have had the political capital to really do what he would most like to do, which is put him on trial in court.

AMANPOUR: Not afraid, then, that it would mean a recruiting tool for jihadists around the world?

BOWDEN: To the contrary, he feels that, you know showcasing the American criminal justice system, showcasing our society as one of laws as opposed to one of strictly power, is the most effective way of getting across the message that he feels he wants the United States to convey to the rest of the world.

AMANPOUR: So let's go back to the beginning of this particular story. Barack Obama is president; he comes into office and in 2009, you are told that he tells his people, here's the deal: I want this hunt for Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri -- his second in command -- to come to the front of the line. I worry that the trail has gone cold. This has to be our top priority.

How much do you personally credit the president with moving this agenda? Or was it the CIA? Was it the special forces who had been trying to find him for a long time?

BOWDEN: I think it was all those things. But I do give President Obama a lot of credit because I think that when you have the man at the top asking for monthly progress reports, nobody wants to file a monthly progress report with no progress in it.

So even though I don't believe the analysts at the CIA had ever flagged in their efforts. I think the people above them, all the way up to Secretary Panetta, to those in the White House overseeing it, all felt, I think, the urgency of the president's desires. So I do believe it had an effect.

AMANPOUR: And tell me, the trail had gone cold, right? I mean, President Bush, at one point, had said -- kind of suggested that it doesn't matter anymore, you know, Osama bin Laden, we're moving forward.

BOWDEN: I don't really know that President Bush ever said that. But he was conducting two wars on his watch, one, Iraq, had become a really heated conflict and took up a great deal of their time.

And, you know, and the White House, they all talked to me, including the president, about what they said the limited bandwidth at the top, how much time do you have to spend in a give day on a particular issue? And when you've got these two wars that are taking up a lot of your decision- making time, you know, how much time do you have to spend on looking for someone who you've basically lost?

AMANPOUR: And yet it's become a huge victory for President Obama. And you didn't just talk to him; you're one of the only ones, if not the only one, who's talked to the whole group of national security and intelligence people involved in this.

So I want to go to the options. We know from previous reporting that there were two main options -- at least we thought there were only two main options, and that would be either to bomb the compound and take your chances that you get him -- but, of course, it would have caused a whole lot of collateral damage.

And the other was as happened, which was to go on a raid and extract him, capture or kill him, which actually did happen. But you write about another option, the air option, that none of us knew about until you wrote it. What is that?

BOWDEN: Well, it was a very small missile about the size of my forearm fired from a small drone. And it -- and it basically functions as a sniper shot. And they had been watching a tall man pacing in the garden outside the compound -- or inside the compound walls. And he would come out every day.

And so President Obama rejected the notion of bombing immediately as something that would cause too many collateral -- too many innocent casualties. And they came back to him with this option, which would have, if it worked, just hit the pacer or, in this case, since it turned out to be bin Laden, would have just killed bin Laden.

AMANPOUR: And they didn't do it because?

BOWDEN: They didn't do it because there were -- it's an -- it's a new weapon; it's not as tested. If it missed, he would be gone again. They probably would never find him. And the other piece of it was that, even if they got him, they wouldn't know who they got.

AMANPOUR: Hold that thought, because this is, indeed, a fascinating story. We need to have more time with you to hear the rest of this story, and we're going to continuing this fascinating conversation tomorrow.

It is a cliffhanger, and we will look forward to it.

But that is it for tonight. Thank you for joining us.

Please join us again tomorrow when we'll also bring you the story on the garbage wars in Egypt. See you then. Good night from New York.