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New York Police Commissioner Talks Guns; Changing the Western View of Iran; Twins Chose Death Over Blindness; Next Four Years of National Security

Aired January 17, 2013 - 12:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL": One of the big criticisms is that while assault-styled weapons sound terribly menacing and some of the big news items include actions like Newtown that were carried out with an AR-15 or Bushmaster-223 and the Aurora shooting, et cetera, et cetera, the bigger problem is actually handgun violence.

And what happened yesterday does not address that. Is that not a grave concern to you? You're the commissioner of a major city that deals with handgun violence, ad nauseum?

RAY KELLY, POLICE COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY: Absolutely. That is the major problem for urban police in these days, concealable handguns.

Even so, I think what happened yesterday is a move in the right direction, and, also, the background check for al weapons exchanges or all sales, I think can, at least has the potential of reducing some handgun violence.

I mean, there's no easy answer here. There's no magic bullet. It's complex. No question about it.

BANFIELD: And, by the way, it's hard to even determine what constitutes an assault weapon.

It used to be defined by law from 1994 to 2004 under that ban. It's no longer defined by law yet.

But what will an assault weapons ban actually ban?

KELLY: Well, we're going to see what Congress comes forward with.

In 1994, there were 19 specific types of weapons or 19 specific weapons and a broader definition. It had -- it was able to take the high-capacity magazines, bayonet stud, a folding stock, those sorts of things were incorporated in the definition.

Really, weapons of war and I think part of the 1994 ban just had to do with the sort of cosmetics of it. People were frightened by the look of these weapons.

Whether or not that remains, I think it's one of the challenges for Congress to put a reasonable definition together. BANFIELD: And then, when the president seeks to make, you know, access to mental health better and also the sharing of mental health data more ubiquitous, doesn't that also open an extraordinary can of worms in terms of privacy issues?

For instance, if I want to go to see psychiatrist and I have suicidal thoughts, I could end up in a federal registry?

KELLY: I think it's an issue and it's a challenge. And, again, we're going to see what Congress comes up with because one-in-five people supposedly have some sort of mental issues in this country.

So, do they go into the database? What is the criteria?

BANFIELD: I mean, isn't the irony, Commissioner, that, if that is actually how we're going to expand the definition of those who need to be reported, well, they're just not going to go.

I mean, they're not going to the doctor and, hence, we're driving more of those people underground and making them harder to track.

KELLY: Yeah, I think, in general, what the president did, with his executive orders yesterday was to require, first, federal agencies to put more information into the database.

There's just a lot of information in the federal government that's not available in the database. The NICS, it's called, National Instant Background Check System.

And, also, requiring other governmental, state agencies, to put information, which I think is a good thing, but your concern about privacy is, I think, a real one.

BANFIELD: I mean, it's very, very complex as to how they're going to get around this while respecting the privacy rights, which is not outlined in the Constitution. However, privacy is a very big issue for the country.

Lastly, there have been a number of people -- I'm not going to say of your ilk, but certainly in law enforcement, some county sheriffs, et cetera, around the country who have said we're just not going to follow what the president's laws are. We're not going to enforce them.

What do you make of that? How do you react to your counterparts who say that?

KELLY: Well, I'm not certain what they're saying, but as far as the federal law, obviously, that's enforced by federal agencies. I don't know what the sheriffs are talking about. I assume most sheriffs are going to follow the law ...

BANFIELD: How about confiscation of weapons from those who perhaps have made these threats to psychiatrists? Those psychiatrists report those threats to local law enforcement and the action is that they're supposed to confiscate those weapons. If those sheriffs say, no, that's a Second Amendment infraction, not going to do it?

KELLY: Well, that's way down the road here. We've got to get a piece of legislation that works and see what Congress does with it. I don't know if we can predict what the reaction will be.

BANFIELD: You have a lot to read, I think, still, right? I mean, we're all just sorting through this, so I hope you'll come back and we can dig through this as we all begin to learn a lot more about what these executive actions and new congressional measures will contain.

Thank you, Mr. Kelly. Good to see you.

And Commissioner Kelly has also been working with the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, here of New York City. And we're happy to report that Mayor Bloomberg is going to join Anderson Cooper tonight on "AC360." That starts at 8:00 p.m. sharp, right here on CNN.

We're back after this.


BANFIELD: Iran's image in the western world is that of an irrational rogue country that sponsors terrorism and is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon, but my next guests who are former State Department employees have some serious questions about those very premises.

They just returned from Iran last week and they say there is a big disconnect between western coverage of Iran and the reality on the ground of Iran. They say Iran is not trying to acquire a weapon and that the last 30 years of sanctions against that country have not forced the Iranian government to make any concessions.

Joining me now, Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett, former members of the National Security Council and the State Department under both Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Hillary, let me start with you. Why do you make these assertions coming back from Iran? Did you have some very high-level meetings in which you were privy to information that, say, our State Department or our administration is not privy to?

HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, CO-AUTHOR, "GOING TO TEHRAN": Well, we met with a range of people. We met with people from the government, but students at the university. We were actually invited by the University of Tehran. We met with students, professors.

We met with a range of people in Iran and what we come back with is a sense that, walking in the streets of Tehran, going to the university, going into the marketplace, this is not a country that is on the brink of implosion, that sanctions are somehow going to cripple and force it to concede to American or any other demands.

And this is something that, when we did the research for our book, we found historically. We have seen American so-called Iran experts predict literally since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran back in 1979 that this political order is on the brink of implosion or regime change.

This is something coming back from our most recent trip to Iran just reinforced our research that that is not the case. For 32 years -- more than 32 years, they've defied these western predictions of collapse.

BANFIELD: But, Hillary, isn't it possible, though, that you're seeing this now because after their spring, their Arab spring, they suffered horrifically at the hands of their government and they're quiet because of it. It was literally the fists that crushed that. Isn't that possible?

H. MANN LEVERETT: I think there's a fundamental disconnect here, as well. There were protests in Iran in 2009 as there have been protests in Iran periodically over the course of the existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

None of these protests have ever led to the implosion of the system. And it feeds into this idea that somehow Iran was the start of the Arab Spring. This is really a logic-defying proposition.

As we see throughout the Middle East, the forces for change in the Middle East are forces to draw for Islamists to come into governance, for there to be more of an Islamist order throughout the Middle East. Those are what the forces for change are throughout the Middle East.

But we constantly hear from our American experts that these same forces pushing for Islamist political governance in Egypt, in Libya, in Tunisia, throughout the Middle East, they're going to somehow push for a secular political order to take over in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There is a basic disconnect in terms of how most Americans are shown what happens in the Middle East and particularly in the Islamic Republic.

BANFIELD: And I should specify. We always say the Arab Spring and, of course, this would be the "Persian Spring, " but it was very much one of the starts to these movements that took hold quickly and seemed to disappear almost as quickly as it appeared.

But I do want to ask about sanctions. And, when you say the sanctions are meaningless, there are plenty of examples of sanctions in the past that have been very meaningful and have actually effectuated change.

Why do you feel that the Iranian sanctions program is not working when so many say it actually is quite successful?

FLYNT LEVERETT, CO-AUTHOR, "GOING TO TEHRAN": Well, I think the people who say it's quite successful I would wager are not people who have walked around in the streets of Tehran over the last six weeks.

There's no way that you could do that and talk to a range of Iranians and think that this is either going to bring about the collapse of the Iranian economy or the surrender of their government.

We're not saying the sanctions are meaningless. They are imposing various types of hardships on people in Iran, but they are not having the kind of strategic effect that proponents of them here say that they will have.

And I would say, historically, there's no real example of a case where sanctions organized and instituted by the United States have led either to the overthrow of a government we didn't like or led it basically to surrender our policy demands.

We imposed sanctions on Iraq for more than a decade, killed more than 1 million Iraqis in the process, half of them children, and the Iraqi people didn't rise up to overthrow Saddam. They didn't, you know, change Iraqi policies. It took a disastrous U.S. invasion in 2003 to do that.

Sanctions are not going to have the effect that people are being promised that they'll have here.

BANFIELD: I could talk to you both for hours. We didn't even scratch the surface of the nuclear capabilities and the allegations that are made against Iran on that front, but Hillary and Flint, thank you so much, and it should make for some very interesting reading. Appreciate your time.

F. LEVERETT: Thank you very much.

H. MANN LEVERETT: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Got a controversial story that's coming to us out of Belgium and we want to bring it to you. It involves two twin brother, both of them shoemakers, and both deciding that they had had it with living.

When they found out they were going blind, they decided they wanted to die, and Belgium lawmakers said they had the right to do so with help. We'll let you know what the next step was.


BANFIELD: Forty-five-year-old Belgium twins get a devastating medical diagnosis. One that they feel they can't live with. So they decide they want to be euthanized. And doctors did it. And that decision is raising a lot of legal questions and moral questions. And CNN's Jonathan Mann has the story.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eddy and Marc Verbessem, identical twins, inseparable in life and in death. The Belgium brothers lived together in a village near Antwerp. Already born deaf, the twins found out 18 months ago they were both slowly going blind, suffering from a genetic form of glaucoma.

DAVID DUFOUR, TWINS' DOCTOR (through translator): Their physical condition was rapidly deteriorating. They became increasingly dependent of their parents and they were afraid their parents would die before they did. They did not want to lose their parents and end up being alone.

MANN: In all likelihood, in an institution. The 45-year-old twins had communicated with each other using sign language. The thought of losing their sight with no way to converse was too much. After talking to several psychiatrists, they sought legal permission to be euthanized. An option their parents initially resisted. A neighbor says she understands the decision.

ELKE ENCKELS, NEIGHBOR (through translator): I think it is good. If you don't have anything else anymore in life, if you can't see, can't hear and can't speak, what else can you do? And they both had it.

MANN: Despite the fact their illness was not terminal, after a lengthy search for a willing doctor, the brother's request was granted. By then, they had their family's support. And on December 14th, doctors at a hospital in Brussels gave both men a lethal injection. The doctor who oversaw the euthanasia says it was a weight off the brothers shoulders.

DUFOUR: They were happy and cheerful. We had coffee in the cafeteria and everything went well. Finally they spoke to the hospital chaplain, which meant a lot to them. It was very helpful and reassuring. They said good-bye to their parents and to their brother and then they waved at us and that was the end of it.

MANN: Belgium is one of a handful of countries where euthanasia is legal, but the twins case has re-ignited debate over whether it really should be.


BANFIELD: And Jonathan Mann joins us live from Atlanta.

Jonathan, this is just such a perplexing story. Blindness aside, these twins had no other ailment seemingly. Their health was fine, and yet legally this was allowed to be carried out?

MANN: Absolutely right. They weren't in pain and they had long years ahead of them. But under Belgium law, severe psychological suffering is enough to justify a doctor's decision, if they want to make that decision, to help patients commit suicide. And that's, in fact, what happened.

And to make a point, they couldn't hear. They were losing their sight. But they used sign language as deaf people, as blind-deaf people, and there are tens of thousands of them in the United States, for example. They could have used tactile forms of sign language. So it really was a very particular decision and it's, you know, not one that agrees with a lot of people's instincts about right and wrong.

BANFIELD: And you sort of alluded to it, that the doctors agreed. Is that a moral decision the doctors have to make there, or are they required to do as they're asked by the citizenry? MANN: Well, there is a law in Belgium and it basically says that when people are in profound suffering -- they don't necessarily have to be suffering from a terminal disease -- but when they're suffering in a profound way from something that's incurable, doctors can decide to exceed to their wish. And 1,000 people did it in the year 2011, which is our last year for statistics.

This happens every day in Belgium. Every year. It's basically an opportunity that Belgium accords its citizens that in some circumstances, in most circumstances, goes to people with terminal diseases. People who know they are dying of cancer, for example. For some smaller number, it's for people with degenerative neurological diseases. People who fear that they're losing their sense, losing control of their lives. This is just a very extraordinary example.

BANFIELD: It's just such a sad, sad story. Jonathan Mann, thank you. Fascinating. Thank you for that. Jonathan Mann reporting for us live.

And besides Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg also have legalized euthanasia. In Switzerland, assisted suicide is allowed but not euthanasia. And if you're wondering what the difference between the two is, in assisted suicide, the doctors help their patients to end their lives and they don't directly carry out the procedure, but in euthanasia, they directly helped carry that out.


BANFIELD: President Obama faces tough national security challenges over the next four years. Guarding against plots by terrorist groups certainly a top priority for the president. But the U.S. also faces the possibility of cyber attacks. Attacks that could really disrupt communication and banking and transportation. And our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has an in-depth look into those threats to national security.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Terrorists are emotionalizing in Mali, which could become the next launching pad for plots against America. A new challenge for national security. Keep us safe. Sounds simple. But over the next four years, America's security could be tested in complex ways. Forget the cold war. There's not even a centralized al Qaeda in one country.

JOHN BRENNAN, HOMELAND SECURITY & COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: There are still terrorists in hard to reach places who are actively planning attacks against us.

LAWRENCE: The U.S. is trying to make sure Yemen, Mali or Somalia don't turn into the kind of safe havens al Qaeda had. But outside Afghanistan, the Obama administration has been hesitant to put more boots on the ground. So they'll continue to rely heavily on drones.

MICHAEL VICKERS, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR INTELLIGENCE: Predators and reapers are the signature weapon of the war against al Qaeda. LAWRENCE: President Bush launched the first wave of drone strikes, mostly targeting al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Then, President Obama took office and increased the number of targets. He expanded the program into Yemen, where al Qaeda was planning attacks on the U.S. and into lawless Somalia.

The Pentagon and CIA have been working together in those areas. And over the next four year, officials want to specifically grow the partnership between intel and special operations forces.

VICKERS: It is central to our ability to solve our most pressing national security challenges.

LAWRENCE: Perhaps the most pressing, a cyber attack that disrupts communication, transportation and vital services across multiple states.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: These kinds of attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor. An attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life.

LAWRENCE: It may not even be physical destruction, but fiscal. Computers crashing, files erased, bank accounts cleaned out. Experts say the Obama administration needs to do more work with the private sector to defend vulnerable American companies.

JAMES LEWIS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: What we need to worry about are either the terrorist suddenly becoming interested, because it's not that hard, or some of the nation states that are less responsible, like Iran, deciding it's time to play a little more aggressively.

LAWRENCE: The president's former national security adviser says right now there's no real punishment for cyber attacks.

GEN. JAMES JONES, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: But ultimately we're going to have to have some sanctions that are effective and some consequences that are meaningful, and some ways, ultimately, to counter those technologies.

LAWRENCE: Well, in fact, the U.S. government took the first step down that road when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that the U.S. military would have the right to launch a pre-emptive military strike if it detected that a major cyber attack was imminent.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.


BANFIELD: A reputed mobster is gunned down in front of a restaurant in what looks like a contract killing. And this is no scene from the "Godfather." It's real. And it just happened in Moscow. And we've got the details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Russian investigators are searching for the assassin who gunned down a reputed mob boss outside of a restaurant in Moscow. Authorities say Aslan Usoyan was shot once in the neck in what appears to be a contract killing. According to state-run media, Usoyan controlled organized crime groups in Moscow and right across Russia. He had survived two previous assassination attempts. Not this one, though. And a restaurant worker who was wounded in the shooting is now said to be in critical condition.

That's it for me. And CNN NEWSROOM continues, however, with my colleague, Suzanne Malveaux.