Return to Transcripts main page


Iraqis Believe Country Worse Off; Egyptians Fight Beard Ban; Syrian Jets Fire into Lebanon; Parents Blame Bully for Child's Death

Aired March 18, 2013 - 12:30   ET


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And there was Mohammed Rejeb still searching for victims. The dead were his relatives.

As the body of 11-year-old Abdullah was recovered, Mohammed said ...

MOHAMMED REJEB, HUSAYBA RESIDENT (via translator): Look at him, look at him. You would swear that he was sleeping.

DAMON: Seven years later, I want to find Mohammed again.

So, we gave one of our stringers who kind of works in this area a photograph, a screen graph from footage that we had of Mohammed and we told him the story, and then he began trying to track him down. It turns out he's pretty well known, but we think his shop is right around the corner here.

I want to give him a hug, but that's not appropriate here. I tell him he hasn't changed and that I thought often of his family.

REJEB (via translator): Look, that's my son. Remember the one who had the little baby? He was shot in his stomach by the Americans when he was in his car.

DAMON: His tone, matter of fact. He's so welcoming it's humbling.

We walk towards his house.

So, he remembers exactly how the military unit that I was with actually approached his house and his street, and we've come up from this narrow alleyway. And this part I do remember, but in that house right there, there was a foreign fighter who had just been killed by the U.S. forces.

It's a bleak tour. He points out another house that al Qaeda had taken over. And al Qaeda at the time actually threatened him because he was complaining to them about the fact that they were endangering people in the neighborhood by, you know, their presence there and also because they were bomb -- making all of these bombs and whatnot.

And then he proudly introduces us to his family. This young man now, (INAUDIBLE), was the baby that he was carrying in his arms when he first walked out of the house when we first met him.

And then I asked, why did he speak out and beg the Americans to save them?

REJEB (via translator): We had nothing left to lose. We wanted security. We wanted to get rid of this chaos.

DAMON: Then came the air strike.

REJEB (via translator): I never imagined we would pay this price. We never imagined the Americans wouldn't differentiate between friend and foe. It was all the same to them.

DAMON: He's unable to articulate his emotions that day. The rubble of the house that was pulverized is long cleared. Another home built on the lot.

Grass covers the place where those bodies were temporarily buried, rows of tombstones just a short distance away. Some of these graves still have what was used as the original tombstone lying next to them with the name just crudely carved into the rock. And it was all that they could do at the time so that they would remember who was buried where.

Today, Mohammed's views about the U.S. invasion are very different.

REJEB (via translator): I wish that the Americans had never come. They ruined our country. They planted divisions and brought in things that were not here.

DAMON: Ten years on, Iraqis are still paying the price for an invasion they had no say in.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Powerful reporting as always by Arwa and she joins us now live from Baghdad.

Arwa, you know, when you look at the country now and I know you've been back in and out over the last few weeks, you still have corruption, you still have high unemployment, there is still sectarian violence that continues. I'm wondering how typical you found Mohammed's view to be.

DAMON: You know, Michael, it really depends on who you talk to. And it's also a very complicated question and issue for Iraqis because the situation for them is really not that black and white as to whether or not they regret the U.S. invasion because, by and large, Iraqis, of course, wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. He was a brutal dictator. He oppressed the population, and there was so much hope and optimism when the Americans first came in, when that statue came tumbling down and the regime fell.

But these hopes that the people had, they were just so quickly dashed as this violence took over and Iraqis really, like we heard Mohammed saying, ended up paying a price that they never expected that they would have to pay, and it's really one that they continue to pay to this day. This is a war that completely and totally caused society to disintegrate. They're still dealing with a fair amount of violence, albeit the number of people being killed every day are down, but it's just a very complicated and a very emotionally complicated situation for people.

HOLMES: Yeah, and without getting too personal, you and I have spent months in Baghdad over the course of the war and I know how much you've cared about what it was you were reporting on. What's it been like over the last few weeks to be going back and meeting up with these people that you interviewed and dealt with for years, really?

DAMON: It's actually quite depressing and very sombering because the more people you speak to, the more prevalent we're hearing this statement of "I don't recognize my own country, I don't recognize my own people, I'm losing hope."

We even went to see a family who was part of the remnants of, you know, Baghdad's intellectual elite and they had actually decided to stick it out here throughout the worst of the violence, even though they did have the financial means to move. They always had hope back then even when the killing was at its worst and now they're saying that they don't.

And it's almost as if, now that the numbers are down, the violence is down, people aren't so focused so much on that issue of daily survival. All of these other fundamental issues in society are rising to the top.

And it's like so many Iraqis say, it's really about what kind of a life, what kind of quality of a life does an individual have? And for many Iraqis here that real quality of life is just lacking.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Arwa, one question I have for you here. I mean, one of the things that was extremely frustrating covering the White House under President Bush is that we really could not get a handle on a number of civilians, Iraqi civilians, who were impacted and killed by this war.

You have the numbers, the tallies for Americans, but not for the Iraqi civilians. You speak with this man. I get a sense that every family, every person there, is touched or perhaps knows somebody who's been killed.

DAMON: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, just about everybody who you speak to does. And the other thing, too, is, driving through most parts of the country, it's hard to find a neighborhood that hasn't somehow been touched by some sort of a tragedy.

The other thing, now that you mention it, that was quite frustrating, too, about reporting early on is that remember for the longest time the U.S. administration and military were actually denying that the violence was as bad as it was until the numbers became so high, the attacks became so frequent that they couldn't deny it anymore.

And now, you know, the tally for Iraqi casualties ranges from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.

HOLMES: Yeah, I've seen some estimates as high as 600,000. And like, Arwa, your reporting has been extraordinary. You've got more reports coming up in the days ahead, as well.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Arwa. Really appreciate it.

So if you wear a beard in Egypt, you can't serve in the police force, and there's a fight now to actually change that law. That's up ahead.


MALVEAUX: All right, so you're kind of clean shaven there. I think that's a nice look on you.

HOLMES: Only when I'm working. If I don't work, I don't shave.

MALVEAUX: Oh, boy.

HOLMES: I hate shaving.

MALVEAUX: That's a scary thing.

HOLMES: Yeah. I look scruffy. Yeah, I look mean.

MALVEAUX: Mean, huh?

HOLMES: No. Not at all. You know, around the world, you know, facial hair, of course, is common in some parts of the country.

MALVEAUX: It's also political too, right?

HOLMES: It can be. And it can be religious. Which brings us to this.


REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't matter if it's thick or thin, long or short, black or graying, if you wear a beard here in Egypt, you cannot serve on the police force.

Islamic law requires me to wear a beard, says police officer Hany Maher. That's why Maher and more than 50 officers have pitched tents, unpacked their belongings and staged a sit-in right next to Egypt's interior ministry.

They're not going back to work, they say, unless they go back with beards.

HANY MAHER, BEARD-BAN PROTESTER: We want to stay here until the president or the minister make a decision to give us this right.

SAYAH: The ban on beards for police officers here in Egypt started under former President Hosni Mubarak who was notorious for keeping Islamists out of politics and out of the police force.

Rights groups say one of the most effective tools Mubarak used to oppress Islamists was through brutal tactics by the police force.

Then came the 2011 revolution. Out went Mubarak. In came the promise of political and personal freedom for all Egyptians, including freedom for devout Muslim Egyptian men who believe their Prophet Mohamed said men should wear beards.

It's a teaching many Muslims accept, but not all.

I respect my religion's teachings and what it orders me to do says Officer Maher.

Energized by the revolution some police officers started sporting beards. The interior ministry suspended them. The bearded band of police hit back with lawsuits and protests.

We won't leave, says Captain al-Shakery. We want Egypt to be based on the values of the revolution, to not ban people based on gender or religion.

Egypt's battle over beards highlights the intense conflict that came after the revolution between Islamists and secularists. Fueling the conflict? Deep-seeded mistrust on both sides.

SAYAH: So, you wouldn't trust it?


SAYAH: Wael Abbas became world-famous blogging about human rights in Egypt and Abbas is convinced bearded officers are on a mission to Islamize the police force.

ABBAS: I will not be comfortable if the cop who stops me and asks me for my car license is a bearded guy. I will never be comfortable.

SAYAH: Egypt's bearded officers insist all they want is to serve on a secular force while honoring Islam.

This dilemma is one of many challenges for a young revolution struggling to create a democracy where secularists and Islamists can live side by side.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Cairo.


MALVEAUX: Now, that's playing out.

Duchess Catherine says she wants a boy.

HOLMES: She does, but Prince William, he may have other hope, yeah, for the gender of their child we're talking about. And this ...

MALVEAUX: A reminder to watch CNN's new show "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper, starting today at 4:00 Eastern for our U.S. viewers.

HOLMES: We look forward to him promoting us ... MALVEAUX: Yeah.

HOLMES: ... don't we?


HOLMES: Well, the Hoff is back in Berlin.


DAVID HASSELHOFF, ACTOR: Wow, more people down there. Hello. I've been looking for freedom. I've been looking so long. I've been looking for freedom. Still the search goes on.


MALVEAUX: All right. American actor David Hasselhoff, who's a huge celebrity actually in Germany as well, appeared at a rally over the weekend to save part of the Berlin Wall from demolition. He and others argue that the remaining sections could be preserved as a memorial.

HOLMES: Yes, and he's got a point too. By the way, Hasselhoff's song that you heard him singing there, "Looking For Freedom," is actually a number one hit in Germany after he first sang it atop the Berlin Wall back in 1989, before, of course, east and west Germany reunited. Boy, that makes me feel old. I was there when the (INAUDIBLE) opened.

MALVEAUX: Yes, I was -- really?


MALVEAUX: Were you?

HOLMES: Uh-huh. Yes. Berlin there at the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. That makes me feel really old.

MALVEAUX: Did you see it come down?

HOLMES: Yes. Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: Oh, amazing.

HOLMES: There for a week over there for period (ph), yes.

MALVEAUX: I had a little piece of the wall. I visited three months later.

HOLMES: Oh, you got -- oh, that's (INAUDIBLE).

MALVEAUX: Yes. Everybody should -- everybody should have a little piece of that wall.

HOLMES: Exactly.

MALVEAUX: Yes, memorialize it. England. This is where you've got some news here. This is the royal baby. Catherine, she says she wants a boy. The Duchess of Cambridge revealed her preference while talking to a soldier as she handed out some shamrocks at the St. Patrick's Day ceremony.

HOLMES: Yes, she also revealed that her husband, Prince William, however, would like a girl. Well, of course, we're all going to have to wait until summer to find out whether the royal nursery is decorated in pink or blues.

MALVEAUX: Oh, you could go with green. That's OK.

HOLMES: Yes, or green. Yes, exactly.

MALVEAUX: We turn to the situation now in Syria. Developments that could actually make things even more tense over there.

HOLMES: Lebanon's state news agency is saying that Syrian war planes actually shelled villages in northern Lebanon today. Sources saying those jets targeted the town of Arsal, which is close to the border.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, Nick Paton Walsh in Lebanon, joining us here live from Beirut.

So, first of all, tell us about this -- what we actually saw over Damascus over the weekend.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You saw the First Lady Asma al Assad making a rare appearance at the Damascus opera house speaking to the mothers of soldiers who died fighting, trying to raise funds and awareness for them. A rare public outing. We often see her emerge after moments where the regime's perceived to have some degree of crisis. I think people may be looking back at last week when the regime appeared to be boosting conscription, trying to get people to join up to the armed forces. And I think they tend to put her out in public to try and remind people that it's business as usual. That she's still able to do what she can in central Damascus. But there's no doubt at all the capital is an exceptionally tense and surrounded place and this may just be another sign that perhaps the regime is, in fact, cracking.


HOLMES: And then what -- Nick, what about this cross border? What does it mean? I mean what's the significance of it? What could it lead to?

WALSH: Well, this is an area on the border we understand from military source pretty much actually the kind of hazy border lands. Arsal is a mountainous town there. A lot of rebel sympathy for Syrian rebels from there. This is a first time that particular area's been struck. I spoke to a local there who heard two Syrian war jets flying overhead. Three rockets landing. Apparently they hid barren empty buildings and there were no injuries.

But the key thing here is that this will spread to all four neighboring countries now after the conflict. Lebanon has tried to state out in a policy its government's called disassociation despite the different sects here being very closely aligned to the fighting going on inside across the border here. Things like this just risk setting off the incredibly dry and volatile situation inside Lebanon. Nothing's happened just yet, but people are already on tent (ph) hooks here because of sectarian problems already coming to the surface.

HOLMES: All right, Nick, thank you very much. Nick Paton Walsh there in Beirut.

MALVEAUX: This is really disturbing. This is an extreme case of bullying. This is actually out of Mexico. This is a seven-year-old boy who dies after a lung infection. His parents say it is because a bully forced their son's head into a toilet.


HOLMES: A very disturbing story for you now from Mexico, where authorities are investigating the death of a seven-year-old boy who died after a severe lung infection.

MALVEAUX: His parents actually say he was a victim of extreme bullying. And Rafael Romo, he explains why.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): A black ribbon at the school's main entrance honors the memory of a first grader. The seven-year-old died two weeks ago from a severe lung infection. His parents have filed a criminal complaint with authorities in the Mexican state of Jalisco, claiming their son was a victim of an extreme case of bullying. They say a classmate forced their young son's head into a toilet, which caused a serious infection.

EFRAIN ORTIZ, VICTIM'S FATHER (through translator): We've been told they forced his head into the toilet. The water got into his lungs causing the infection that eventually traveled to his brain.

ROMO: The boy's mother says she suspected something was wrong one afternoon when her son returned home from school.

MARIA DEL SAN JUAN AVALOS DE LA CRUZ, VICTIM'S MOTHER (through translator): He was really sad already. I asked him to join us for lunch and said he wasn't hungry at all.

ROMO: The boy died just a few days after leaving the hospital. Other parents and students at the school say he was the victim of a bully who has victimized children before.

JOSEFINA GONZALEZ ZERMENO, STUDENT'S MOTHER (through translator): One day my son told me that the bully had stabbed him with a knife. I didn't believe him at first. One day I ran into the bully's mother, but she dismissed my complaint.

ROMO: This boy says the alleged bully choked him once and frequently terrorizes other kids. Some parents claim the bully had been suspended for several days after pulling down a classmate's pants.

School officials decline comments citing privacy reasons. An investigator with the state's attorney's office confirmed to CNN they're investigating the boy's death as a case of bullying.

This investigator says the alleged bully denied any involvement when he was interrogated in front of his parents.

JOSEFINA MAYORGA NAVA, STATE PROSECUTOR (through translator): First of all, the parents are appalled and can't explain the situation. They also want to get to the bottom of this because they're the parents of the child being accused. But I believe they're not anywhere near accepting their son's responsibility if that's indeed the case.


MALVEAUX: Rafael joining us.

So, Rafael, first of all, I mean it's a very sad story. Do we have any sense, these parent who've lost their child, can they -- can they prove, can they, you know, make a case here that they know that this was because of the bullying incident?

ROMO: So far not conclusively, but what some Mexican media reports say that part of the investigation is going to center on the fact that there was some fecal matter found when the autopsy was performed. So that may indicate that indeed this incident of extreme bullying, such an incredibly tragically incident, might have indeed caused the death of the 7-year-old boy.

HOLMES: And how old is the alleged bully? And did school officials know about it? Did they do anything?

ROMO: He's 12 years old. And there was evidence of at least one prior case in which school officials took action. But Mexican law prohibits any sort of punishment against anybody who is 14 years of age or younger. So there's really not a whole lot that authorities can do against him at this point.

MALVEAUX: You know, we know bullying is a -- it's a big problem here in the United States. Is it -- is it also really an issue in Mexico as well?

ROMO: It is a huge problem in Mexico. And the good news is that, in the last few years, awareness of the problem has been raised by school officials, the federal government. And there was a law approved in 2011 that addresses specifically that. The law calls for schools to take measures, preventive action, to stop the problem.

MALVEAUX: All right. Rafael, thank you. Really appreciate it.

HOLMES: Disturbing stuff indeed.

All right, on that note, that will do it for me. Thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD. Great to have you back.

MALVEAUX: Nice to be back. Always good to see you.

HOLMES: All right, see you tomorrow.

MALVEAUX: You got it. I'll be here.

HOLMES: All right.