Return to Transcripts main page


Torture in Post-9/11 World

Aired January 10, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


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

Torture: the issue has haunted the American conscience since 9/11. In fact, it still dominates the headlines in Washington, around the world and in Hollywood, where Oscar choices were announced today. And with five nominations for the controversial film "Zero Dark Thirty," a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden that begins with graphic scenes of torture by the CIA.

In the film, a CIA agent warns a prisoner what he's planning to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I be honest with you? I am bad news. I'm not your friend. I'm not going to help you. I'm going to break you.

Any questions?


AMANPOUR: Director Kathryn Bigelow's film has created a firestorm of debate from Congress to the pulse of the nation, comedy shows.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: We are long overdue for a thorough investigation into America's use of torture in movies. OK? Not in reality, of course.


AMANPOUR: In reality, though, the question of torture is a central focus in the nomination of John Brennan, President Obama's choice to lead the CIA.

Mr. Obama tried naming him once before back in 2008. But Brennan was forced to withdraw his name under heavy criticism and questions about the role that he played at the CIA when so-called enhanced interrogations were legal under the Bush administration.

Brennan has always denied that he was involved in this practice and President Obama ordered it stopped right after he was sworn in for the first time.

Brennan is, of course, the president's top counterterrorism adviser and one of his closest allies. So will he sail through the confirmation process on Capitol Hill? And should he? Could he lead the CIA back to its original mission of gathering foreign intelligence? I'll ask an insider's insider, Philip Mudd, who worked closely with John Brennan at the CIA.

But first, here's a look at what's coming up later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): An all-out war in Africa, perhaps even mass extinction, helicopters, machine guns, killing some of the most magnificent creatures and the people trying to protect them.

And imagine a presidential inauguration without the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is too sick to attend, but his people came, saying they're all Chavez.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, Philip Mudd, the former CIA official who, like John Brennan, withdrew his own name from consideration for a high-level administration position back in 2009 amid questions about his role in CIA interrogations.

Mr. Mudd, welcome to the program.

Let me first ask you, is John Brennan the right person, the best person for this job at this time?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL: I think he is. I don't think he's a good person. I think he's an excellent choice for the job. Look, typically you have a choice between an insider and someone who has political access; that is, someone who has the president's ear.

In this case, you have someone who knows the intelligence community for decades and someone who clearly knows the president very well. I think it's a great combination.

AMANPOUR: So what has changed then? Why the -- you know, the withdrawal of his own name back the first time around in 2008? And, as I asked, will this confirmation process go smoothly this time? Or are we going to have the same firestorm?

MUDD: I think those are two different questions. Here's -- a lot has changed. Mostly time. In Washington, D.C., you have a timespan that goes weeks or months. John withdrew his name 4+ years ago. I think a lot of people in Congress and elsewhere will say, look, that time when we questioned interrogations, some of those questions still exist.

But some of the questions we had about John have passed on. That said, I think the nomination process will be very difficult. He'll face questions about things like interrogations but also what happened on Libya, what happened with the storming of the U.S. embassy some time ago.

AMANPOUR: And also about "Zero Dark Thirty," I mean, I know it's a Hollywood film, but it has brought this issue back front and center. And to be fair to John Brennan, let me just quote from his original letter, where he'd withdraw, in which he said, "It's been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush administration, such as coercive interrogation tactics."

That was back in 2008.

Is that true? Do you remember him raising objections?

MUDD: No, actually, I don't. I was there at the (inaudible) summits. But I'm not sure it's entirely relevant. Look, people don't understand John's position at the agency. He was tactically number three at the agency. That's a management position overseeing things like budget.

I don't recollect him being involved in critical operational decisions at the agency. And though I'm sure these will be questions that will be raised by the Congress, I don't remember him having a critical role in things like enhanced interrogation techniques.

AMANPOUR: Yes, although he was, of course, chief of staff to the CIA director, George Tennant, and he did give interviews around the time. Frankly, shifting the position a little bit, in a "New Yorker" article, the very diligent reporter, Jane Mayer (ph), talks about him as a supporter of these enhanced interrogation methods. This was back in 2007.

Although she says that even Brennan acknowledged that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable, as he says, all these methods produce some useful information, but there's always a lot that was bogus.

As a CIA -- a former official yourself, do you accept now that these enhanced interrogation methods didn't produce the information or did produce the information that led to Osama bin Laden?

MUDD: I don't believe that you can make a direct correlation between enhanced interrogation and bin Laden. I do believe that you can connect what we did in terms of interrogating Al Qaeda prisoners and the decimation of the Al Qaeda organization below bin Laden.

Look, when you're an intelligence professional, you look at things like human sources, technical information, things like phone intercepts or email intercepts. I would categorize what we got from detainees as equality as important as things like human source intelligence and technical intelligence. It was critical.

AMANPOUR: What do you think that John Brennan is going to have to do to assuage the questions of senior officials in Capitol Hill? Again, about this film, they have written letters asking for answers as to what the CIA may have told the film directors and whether the CIA misled these film directors about the efficacy of waterboarding? Let's face it.

MUDD: I think john's answer -- and I don't sit in his shoes. But if I did, I think his answer should be pretty straightforward. Look, I wasn't the CIA director when this happened. I'll go over and look at what happened and see if there are measures I should take with our public affairs office to ensure that if we did do it right, that we do it right in the future.

But he wasn't there, if there was interaction with the O Dark 30 team, he wasn't there when it happened. So if I were him on the Hill, I'd be saying what do you want me to do? I wasn't there.

AMANPOUR: You've just said that information extracted under in-house interrogation -- critics call it torture -- has been critical.

Is that correct? Critically useful.

MUDD: That's correct, yes.

AMANPOUR: So do you expect this to continue? I know that the president has banned it. But so what? So what? This leaves a big hole in trying to find -- in trying to find terrorists or what does this mean if it was so critical? Many people disagree with you.

MUDD: Sure, but a lot of them weren't there, like Jane Mayer (ph) you mentioned, she wasn't there. I've seen some of her work. I don't think her work is particularly accurate in describing what I witnessed.

But you've got to remember, there's been 11 years, 12 years almost that have passed since 9-1-1 (sic). This information and these methods, I think, were really important 8-9 years ago.

But the Al Qaeda adversary has been crippled by things like predator strikes, human source penetrations, the operations that people like the Pakistani security services, who, while they're criticized, have been really effective in this campaign.

So we're in a different place than when we were conducting these kind of interrogations in years like 2003-2004.

AMANPOUR: What did you witness? You just said what you witnessed. What did you witness?

MUDD: What I witnessed was taking in information from detainees we held at facilities that, in piecing it together with other bits and pieces from things like (inaudible) email intercepts or other human sources was critical in creating a picture of an organization and creating sort of a kaleidoscopic picture.

None of these detainees is going to walk in the door and say, here's the Holy Grail. But if they can give us a fragment of a name, if they can identify someone we pick up from a safe site in some place like Somalia, that's never going to make "The New York Times". But that's critically important.

AMANPOUR: What are these processes that you saw? You say in some of these sites. I assume you're talking about rendition sites --


MUDD: Black sites.

AMANPOUR: Black sites? Outside the United States? Or inside?

MUDD: No, outside the United States.

AMANPOUR: What particular methods did you see?

MUDD: I didn't see the methods, but in -- as deputy director of counterterrorism, the methods we employed are well-known now, things like pushing people against a flexible wall. I think most Americans would look at these and say, when they see a movie like O Dark 30 (sic), what the CIA did -- CIA did was nothing what I imagine or nothing like what I see in a movie.

And that's one reason I'm uncomfortable with movies like O Dark 30 (sic). They depict a CIA that's a rogue organization and that does not represent the values of the American people.

AMANPOUR: So on that note, what about the premise that many people are saying the CIA has, frankly, developed into a paramilitary organization, a terrorist hunting organization and many of its supporters, many people who care about the CIA, say that it should get back to its original business.

Is that even viable? Is there -- I mean, is the time past for that, or is that what's going to be John Brennan's challenge?

MUDD: I think that'll be a challenge. Balancing what is now a 12- year-old war and the future problems that the CIA face, a rising China, a reemergent Russia, looking at problems like drug trafficking from cartels in Mexico, the campaign for terrorism isn't done.

But I would agree with people who say, look, we have to have a security organization in the United States government that focuses on collecting secret information overseas and analyzing it so we can better educate customers, consumers like the president, to make good choices. I think we have to have a balance.

AMANPOUR: And finally on the issue of drone strikes, another very controversial method employed by the CIA, including recently a assassination of frankly an American citizen, one of the al-Awlaki descendants.

Obviously there was Anwar, who was accused of terrorism, but there was also his son, who was a teenager and who was killed. And there are a lot of complaints about the secrecy around this process.

Doesn't the CIA, doesn't the administration have some answers to give about assassinating American citizens?

MUDD: That's not an assassination of an American citizen. That is an act of war when you have an adversary --


AMANPOUR: -- 16-year old. Sorry, I'm talking about the grandson, the 16-year old.

MUDD: If you're going against a guy like Anwar al-Awlaki, I can't tell you everybody who's in the car.


AMANPOUR: He had already been killed. He had already been killed. This was a separate two-week later. The question is, Americans want answers to American citizens who are being killed in this process. Do they deserve answers?

MUDD: I think they do deserve answers but you have -- but in the heat of battle, if you want to stop attacking adversaries who are trying to put somebody over Detroit, Michigan, to explode an aircraft, that's going to be a bloody campaign.

I was there during part of this campaign. I don't lose any sleep over it. And I believe I'm an American who represents American values. I think Americans should ask for and require answers. But war is hell. Get over it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think this is going to continue, then, this hellish war, these drone strikes? You talk about Al Qaeda being decimated. It's not really, is it? I mean, it's popped up; back again in Iraq and Syria, in northern Africa.

MUDD: No. That is not Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda organization that conducted the attacks of 9-1-1 (sic) is decimated. There are groups that say they represent Al Qaeda's ideology, sort of the Al Qaeda ripple effect in places like northern Mali, northern Nigeria, Iraq. They still pose some threat to the United States.

But what I witnessed when I returned to the CIA from the White House in 2002, that is an Al Qaeda organization that was driving operations in Madrid, London, and trying to drive operations in the United States. That organization -- and the tribal areas of Pakistan -- is almost done.

AMANPOUR: Philip Mudd, much to be discussed. And we'll continue this convention. Thank you for now.

MUDD: My pleasure. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And we will be right back after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, where we turn now to the mass slaughter of some of nature's most magnificent animals happening still in Africa. Can you imagine growing up in a world without elephants. One of the all-time favorite children's stories is called "Babar the Elephant," and surely every parent has had a hard time with these pages.

How do you tell your small child that a hunter has shot and killed Baby Babar's mother? And it's happening again in real life in Africa, as I say, a slaughter of elephants and rhinos on such a massive scale that their very existence is threatened.

Just this week, poachers murdered an entire elephant family, 11 of them shot dead in Kenya in the country's single worst slaughter ever recorded. And all of this because people want ivory trinkets, because people believe rhino horn has some kind of medicinal benefit.

This isn't about excessive hunting. The U.S. says it's organized crime with black market ivory and horn worth some $8 billion a year. They use helicopters and machine guns to kill animals from the sky.

Stopping it is no longer only about protecting the planet's natural resources.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: But it is also a national security issue, a public health issue and an economic security issue.


AMANPOUR: And so the U.S. pledges action. But what can it do?

My next guest, Jeffrey Gettleman of "The New York Times" has been documenting this mass slaughter for years, the demand, the new kind of traffickers and the latest efforts to scheme and conceal elephant tusks and rhino horn that have become the new blood diamonds. I talked to him just before he went off on another assignment into the African bush.


AMANPOUR: Jeffrey Gettleman, thank you so much for joining me from Nairobi. Your work has been amazing.

We all thought this poaching crisis had sort of stabilized and yet now this incredible spike.

What has made it so bad over the last few years?

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, EAST AFRICA BUREAU CHIEF FOR THE NYT; PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AMERICAN JOURNALIST: I think it's pretty simple. It's the economic growth in Asia. And what's interesting is a lot of these economies are becoming more modern, more sophisticated, more advanced, like China, Vietnam, other parts of Asia, but they still adhere to traditional beliefs.

And in many parts of Asia, ivory and rhino horn powder are valued for ceremonial purposes, for religious purposes, cultural purposes. And that is creating this huge demand for ivory and rhinoceros horn across Africa.

It's like the war on drugs. There's such a big demand coming from outside Africa for these products and the price of ivory now is, you know, has reached the stratospheric levels of $1,000 per pound. So most people I talk to say the answer is curbing the demand and somehow persuading people in Asia that they shouldn't be buying ivory, that to buy ivory means you're killing elephants.

And even more than elephants, you're killing people. And that's something else that I've discovered in the course of these stories is that this isn't just about animals. A lot of lives are getting lost in the effort to protect the animals.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play you a little clip, in fact, from one of your online documentaries about this, in which you document the really unfair fight between the rangers and these increasingly militarized poachers.


GETTLEMAN: Just a few months, Paul (ph) and his men stumbled upon a group of South Sudanese poachers at this carcass site.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Out of all the contact, that day I was scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In fact, I thought I was well organized. I could not imagine that the poachers could make me withdraw. There was no alternative.


AMANPOUR: So there's this guy in helmet and carrying a gun, a ranger in Congo, saying that those people who were looking and killing these elephants way outgunned him.

What happened there?

GETTLEMAN: Well, a couple things. I mean, one is that a lot of these rangers that are trying to protect the animals, that they're not -- they're not military people. They're not soldiers. They're ecorangers. They know a lot about the environment, about animal behavior. But they don't necessarily know a lot about infantry tactics.

And they're up against hardened soldiers who've been drawn into this ivory trade because the profits are so high. And that's what I discovered, is that you have government armies, like the Ugandan army, the South Sudanese army, the Congolese army.

And a lot of these are American allies. The American government is giving these armies money and training. And on the side, they're going off and poaching elephants.

At the same time, you have rebel groups, some of the most notorious rebel groups in Africa or anywhere in the world, like the Lord's Resistance Army that originated in Uganda, they have now gravitated up to Congo.

And they're slaughtering elephants, trying to use the ivory to fund their mayhem. And that's what's happening. Ivory has become so valuable that it's becoming a conflict resource.

AMANPOUR: A little bit like conflict diamonds. And we've got these really tragic pictures of elephants, carcasses of elephants without their tusks. And they are disturbing.

What can the United States do? You're talking about armies like Uganda funded and really helped actually aiding and abetting this kind of thing. And how are these armies doing that? I understand there are AK-47s and helicopters.

GETTLEMAN: Well, it's a lot of things. I mean, elephants happen to live in remote areas where there are not a lot of people. And in central Africa, a lot of those areas are completely lawless. There's no government control. They're wide open spaces that are basically free-for-alls. So these armies and rebel groups just go into these areas, do what they want, slaughter the elephants.

I wrote about an incident where 22 elephants were found together, all of them killed, including some small, you know, baby elephants maybe 1 or 2 years old with little teeny stubs of ivory in their faces. And it looked like, from all the evidence, that these elephants had been killed by a helicopter.

And the only people with helicopters in this part of Africa are these African militaries.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the detection methods. We read about an increase in seizures, in airports such as, I don't know, Hong Kong, Malaysia. How much are they cracking down in terms of importing and customs? And how sophisticated are the smugglers getting in trying to conceal these shipments?

GETTLEMAN: Well, that's a really good question and something I left out.

A lot of this turns on corruption. The only way to move large amounts of ivory after you've killed the elephants through these different African countries, thousands of miles into the markets of Asia, is by bribing off officials all along the way. And there's a lot of evidence that there are -- there are, you know, corruption is playing a big role in this ivory trade.

Now at the same time, these criminals are getting more organized. It's like the Colombian drug lords using submarines to bring in cocaine to the United States. You know, I've heard stories about ivory packed in boxes of chili peppers so that the sniffing dogs at the airports that look for ivory would be thrown off by the scent of chilies.

I've also heard of ivory being tied to the anchor of a ship at port so when the custom authorities board the ship and start opening up containers and looking for illicit goods, the ivory's actually hidden underwater along the anchor chain. And then the guys haul it up and put it back on the ship after the customs officials leave.

We're talking about huge amounts of money.

AMANPOUR: Huge amounts of money, as you say, and it's incredible, these methods that they're going to and these lengths. And we have these unbelievable pictures of rhinos being airlifted out of danger zones.

Rhino horn, I understand, is now even more expensive than gold. Some of the schemes that you write about, of people coming to hunt these. How does that work?

GETTLEMAN: It's really almost too much to believe. I mean, rhino horn is now worth $65,000 a kilogram, which is more than cocaine, more even than the price of gold. And the reason why is people in Vietnam believe rhino horn can cure cancer. And they are willing to spend whatever it takes to get their hands on ground-up rhino horn powder.

And I wrote about this case in South Africa where this one ring, this Asian gang was using prostitutes to pose as big game hunters. And these women would go out on these safaris and take pictures next to these dead rhinos. And in South Africa, it's actually legal to hunt rhinos in certain conditions.

So these Asian gangs were using these women to increase the number of rhinos they could get and then cutting off the horns and shipping them to Asia to sell for a cure for cancer. And there's been this huge effort to try to educate people and say, hey, listen, actually, rhino horn can't cure cancer. But it just seems to be falling on deaf ears.

AMANPOUR: Getting back to the United States, the U.S. has military officials that have soldiers in Africa, some of them to help the Ugandans, some of them to track down Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army.

But they also have equipment. Can they not be enjoined in this battle? Can they not put up their helicopters and, I mean, make it a real battle to stop these poachers?

GETTLEMAN: Well, that was one thing that we looked into. And we asked the Defense Department. We said, hey, listen; you're on the ground in these areas where these elephants are getting killed. Do you have any flight records of the helicopters? Do you have any information about who was flying where when?

Because we're talking about the middle of Africa where nobody else is really watching. But the sense I got was the U.S. missions in Africa are pretty tightly focused, like going after the Shabaab, Islamic group in Somalia, and helping African allies do that, or helping African allies go after Joseph Kony in the jungles of Congo.

And so I just -- I got the sense that it was -- you know, this is an issue that's just emerging right now and there really hasn't been a clear response of how to get -- how to get your arms around this and prevent people from slaughtering these elephants.

AMANPOUR: Jeffrey Gettleman, thank you very much for joining me with this very important story.

GETTLEMAN: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And when we come back, suppose they threw a presidential inauguration and everybody came except the president? In Venezuela, where one party has held power for 14 years, the partying goes on without the guest of honor.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a presidential inauguration without the president. Yesterday we told you about the uncertainty and the instability in Venezuela, as President Hugo Chavez remains in a Cuban hospital.

But that didn't stop his supporters, who rallied in Caracas, defiantly proclaiming that they are all Chavez. Venezuela's national assembly has voted to give him all the time he needs to get better and amid howls of criticism from the opposition, the Supreme Court insists that he can be sworn in later.

Meantime, though Chavez is sick, the Chavistas are alive and well.

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