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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Another Shot at Closing Gitmo?; Living Below the Boston Bombing Suspect; Branded "A Devil"; Amanda Know Tells Her Story; Bombing Suspect's Legal All-Star; Another Shot at Closing Gitmo?

Aired April 30, 2013 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Boston.

The Tsarnaev brothers, though only accused of the Boston terrorist attacks at this point, are probably the most hated men in the nation. But only one of them, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is alive to answer for the alleged crimes and in this country everyone is entitled to a defense, even the seemingly indefensible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has his day in court he'll be defended by some of the best lawyers in the business. Only two weeks after he and his brother allegedly set off the bombs that took three lives and severely maimed so many others, the court has appointed the defense team with quiet rosters that read like a worst of the worst list.

Meet Miriam Conrad, one of the country's best respected public defenders. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Conrad has defended notorious clients for more than two decades. This isn't even Conrad's first terrorism case. She assisted in the defense of Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who tried to blow up a passenger plane in 2001 with explosives packed in his sneakers. Reid was sentenced to life in prison.

She also recently defended a Muslim American radicalized by online videos who plotted to fly remote controlled model airplanes packed with explosives into the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

TAMAR BIRCKHEAD, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA SCHOOL OF LAW: Miriam is really committed to the cases that have no chance of winning just as committed as she is to the cases that she could possibly win. She is really hard working and cares a whole lot about her clients and really a determined, tenacious lawyer.

TAPPER: Tamar Birckhead, an attorney who also defended Richard Reid, worked with Conrad in Boston's Federal Public Defender Office.

BIRCKHEAD: Miriam is extremely well regarded by the judges in Boston as well as by the attorneys in the U.S. Attorney's Office, the prosecutors. She has an excellent reputation and combined with her own intellect and natural talents she's a very effective attorney. TAPPER: She will have her work cut out for her. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with detonating a weapon of mass destruction. If convicted he could face the death penalty.

And for that reason prominent defense attorney Judy Clarke also has joined the team. Death penalty cases are her specialty. Clarke has defended the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph who is responsible for the Atlanta Olympics bombing, and most recently Jared Loughner, who went on a shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people and severely wounding Congresswoman Gabby Giffords when he shot her in the head.

All of them escaped the death penalty, getting life sentences instead. An outcome Tsarnaev's attorneys likely will be pursuing if prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty.

BIRCKHEAD: The primary goal that Miriam is going to have is saving her client's life. And the first step towards doing that is making a connection with the client, establishing rapport so that he trusts her, so that she can get the information that she needs from him and so that ultimately he respects and listens to her legal advice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Now in high-profile cases like this the public often delivers a guilty verdict before the trial even starts, but for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers, he is a 19-year-old who is facing the potential end of his life.

Joining us now CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, thanks for joining us. The government wants Dzhokhar to keep talking. Can the defense team use that to avoid the death penalty?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are really two larger strategies the defense will want to follow here. One is as you suggest trying to figure out what the prosecution wants, what the government wants so you can negotiate a way out of the death penalty. What can you give? That's one general area.

The other area is they have to investigate their client's life meticulously and completely. They have to be able to tell a story about their client, about why he was led so wrong. So if this ever goes to a jury, the jury will be able to say, you know what? No death penalty for this guy.

TAPPER: Judy Clarke has defended notorious criminals and avoided the death penalty for them before. Does this tell us anything about how the defense team is approaching the case? Is this now a priority, a top priority just keeping him alive?

TOOBIN: Jake, I cannot tell you what a legend Judy Clarke is in the United States legal system. I mean, this woman is widely regarded as a miracle worker. You listed three of the cases. The Unabomber, Eric Rudolph from the Atlanta Olympics. There's also Zacarias Moussaoui, the -- from 9/11. There's also Susan Smith, the woman who killed her children in South Carolina.

The worst of the worst and none of them got the death penalty. This is what Judy Clarke does. There's no one in the country better at it, and I think the combination of knowing how to negotiate with the government, plus knowing how to research your client's life, that's how it's worked for her so far. But she does have her work cut out for her.

TAPPER: Dzhokhar's lawyers are spending more and more time with him. And we know or we believe that he's not talking with investigators anymore. What kind of conversations do you believe that they are having with the -- with his defense attorneys?

TOOBIN: Well, I think, you know, one of the issues we have here is that we are operating on cable news time. And we think this is all going to be resolved very quickly. One of the things that a lawyer like Judy Clarke does is slow everything down. I think they might not be talking to him at all. They might be saying, you go get healthy. That's your job right now. Then we'll talk to you later.

Time is the ally of the defense. The country is mobilized. It's angry right now. This is exactly not the time the defense wants to be negotiating about anything. Slow things down. Then they'll talk to him about his life, get his full life story, not just this crime, and then worry about negotiating or trying the case.

TAPPER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

Coming up, it's his most famous broken promise from the 2008 campaign. President Obama's failure to close Guantanamo Bay prison because he did not have any help from Congress. But now with 100 inmates there on a hunger strike, President Obama said, he wants to try again.

And later, he could hear his footsteps through the ceiling. I'll talk to the guy who lived in the apartment below Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper coming to you live from Copley Square in Boston, Massachusetts.

Our "Buried Lead" today is the subject the president has not been asked about in a White House news conference since September, 2010, closing Gitmo. It's a promise President Obama made in his first presidential campaign and has failed to keep. Is the president ready for round two?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to go back at this. I've asked my team to review everything that's currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively, and I'm going to re-engage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that's in the best interests of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: And what are we hearing about Guantanamo? Hunger strikes, accusations of torture, just what's happening to the 166 prisoners still there?

Well, now we're getting an inside look thanks to one prisoner, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who's been there since 2002. His memoirs have been declassified by the U.S. government and today were printed by slate.com.

I'm joined now by their politics and foreign affairs editor, William Dobson.

William, thanks so much for joining us. I want to read part of what Mohamedou wrote in his memoirs. This was when he first arrived in Gitmo. Quote, "I considered the arrival to Cuba a blessing. I wrongly believed that the worst was over and cared less about the time it would take the Americans to figure out I'm not the guy they are looking for. I trusted the American justice system too much."

William, walk us through what has happened to him.

WILLIAM DOBSON, POLITICS AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS EDITOR, SLATE: Right. In 2001 shortly after 9/11 at the request of the U.S. government, Mauritanian officials, and Slahi is Mauritanian, that's where he was living. He was -- U.S. officials asked that they pick him up for questioning. He was detained and questioned for about two weeks when at that point he was put on a rendition flight to Jordan.

In Jordan he was interrogated for close to eight months and he was -- he was interrogated there under some of the harshest conditions. He was tortured. From there, the Jordanians said that they did not believe that this was a person who had any responsibility for past terrorist plots. The U.S. government wasn't satisfied with that response and so he was then sent to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, held for two weeks, and then ultimately moved to Guantanamo on August 5th, 2002, where he's remained ever since.

TAPPER: And where does his case stand now?

DOBSON: Well, in 2010, you know, he has been pursuing the U.S. -- going through the U.S. justice system to try to win his release. And in 2010 a U.S. district court granted him his habeas petition and ordered the U.S. government to release him. Basically saying you have no evidence to tie him to any charges. And so since that time, the Obama administration has appealed that decision and he is now waiting for his next rehearing probably sometime later this year.

DOBSON: And there are approximately a hundred of the 166 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay participating in a hunger strike. Do you happen to know if Mohamedou he is involved in the strike?

DOBSON: We don't believe that he is. I mean, in part, it probably wouldn't make sense for him to because here's someone who has an active case going through the U.S. court system and he is probably waiting to pursue that avenue. I mean, what we have in Guantanamo right now is 166 prisoners. I believe it's about 83 of which who have been cleared for release, 93 are participating in this hunger strike. The people participating in the hunger strike, many of those cleared for release, but who have lost all hope they'll ever be let go.

TAPPER: All right, William Dobson of "Slate." Thank you so much for joining us.

DOBSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, imagine seeing the FBI photos of the terror suspects and realizing that one of them is your upstairs neighbor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It took me at least a day to actually know what happened and that I lived underneath them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Later, she says the media portrayed her as a devil, but I'll talk to an expert who thinks Amanda Knox is not telling the whole story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Believe in Boston the flag says. Boston is strong. Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper here in Boston at Copley Square. We here at THE LEAD have been covering every angle of this story. We try our best to keep the spotlight on the victims and their recovery.

But in trying to figure out what exactly happens sometimes, of course, we need to learn more about the suspects. I spoke earlier with Al Ammon who lived in the apartment right below Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and he told me about an intense conversation he had with Tamerlan in a pizza shop just a few weeks before the attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AL AMMON, LIVED BELOW TAMERLAN TSARNAEV: He said that the bible is a cheap copy of the Koran. He said the American government used it as an excuse to invade different countries. He mentioned that the American government wanted to colonize Africa and the Middle East and he mentioned that most wars -- most casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were innocent bystanders gunned down by the American people.

He said they justify, the government justifies invading all these countries with the Koran kind of retaliated by asking him what about all these radicals that, you know, these suicide bombers that kill themselves, kill innocent people, and say it's for Allah? He said not all Muslims are like that and Islam is all about peace and love.

TAPPER: When did you realize that he was one of the suspects?

AMMON: Actually, I woke up to the police in my backyard and they told me to leave the building and escorted me away and then one of the police officers asked -- showed me a picture of Dzhokhar and asked if I knew him. I recognized Dzhokhar. I didn't recognize the older brother.

TAPPER: Were you completely stunned by the news?

AMMON: Yes. It took me at least a day to actually cope with what happened and that I lived underneath him. I couldn't really believe that especially the younger brother was involved. I only met him once, but he seemed like a really nice guy. This is only two weeks before everything happened. He was asking about friends, seemed like he was still interested in a social life. Just didn't seem like he had anything planned.

TAPPER: Even looking back at that conversation with what you know now, does it seem like he was angry enough to do what he did?

AMMON: From what my impression that I had then, interaction with him, I wasn't suspicious afterwards. Just seemed like he was -- he strongly believed in his religion and had his disagreements with Christianity and the American government, but didn't seem different than most people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: She was branded foxy Knoxy in the tabloids and she was accused of murdering her roommate in a sadistic fashion, but now Amanda Knox is telling her side of the story. But is she leaving anything out? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper live in Boston. Welcome back to THE LEAD. Our "World Lead," she was an American exchange student in Italy. She says she was the victim of a backward legal system. But Amanda Knox's case was full of complex and conflicting evidence and her team worked very, very hard at pushing one thing -- that she was innocent, taken advantage of by the Italians.

That effort continues with her new memoir "Waiting To Be Heard" is hitting book stores today. Knox is hoping the book will once and for all convince readers she had nothing to do with the grisly murder of her British roommate. Before her appeal Knox spent four years in an Italian prison. She told ABC News that she was wrongfully branded a devil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANDA KNOX, AUTHOR, "WAITING TO BE HEARD": I was in the courtroom when they were calling me a devil, I mean, it's one thing to be called certain things in the media and then it's another thing to be sitting in a courtroom fighting for your life while people are calling you a devil. For all intents and purposes, I was a murderer whether I was or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is she telling the truth about what happened or not? How you answer that question has a lot to do with where you're getting your facts. One person who was following the case from the very beginning is Barbie Nadeau, the Rome bureau chief for "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast."

She is also the author of "Angel Face, Sex, Murder, and the Inside Story of Amanda Knox" and she said Knox is not telling the whole story. Barbie, thanks so much for joining us. Give us a reality check here. What is Amanda Knox leaving out of the story as she retells her version?

BARBIE NADEAU, ROME BUREAU CHIEF, "NEWSWEEK" AND THE "DAILY BEAST": Well, I think in the case of any memoir there is a lot of selective memory and internal editing I suppose in what she is saying, in what she do. You know, she really glossed over the night of the murder for example. She has an alibi that she had together with her former boyfriend.

But what she failed to do I thought in the book was really explain to the readers why they didn't have an alibi that was congruent the night they were interrogated. You know, their stories changed several times in the course of the initial interrogations. She chose to just stick with the alibi that they settled on.

You know, as someone who followed the case very closely, I would like to know how it was that the stories were changing and kind of what was going on in those moments in the initial interrogation, how they remembered what they were doing the night of the murder.

TAPPER: So Amanda Knox and her family have had a very aggressive publicity campaign and the American people have been given this impression that she was an innocent young woman who was the victim of a ravenous and insane Italian legal system. What are the American people not necessarily being told or what are they not necessarily understanding about the case?

NADEAU: Well, I think the Italian legal system is very, very complicated, very complex. There are three levels of each case has to pass through. There is an automatic appeal. Cases are basically heard three different times by three different panels and judges and I think sometimes in the United States we assume it is not like we do it, it must be wrong.

I think people misunderstood the Italian system is slow. The fact that the trials were twice a week, you know, sometimes six weeks off for various breaks and things like that. I think people thought that must mean the Italians were inept or incompetent but lots of cases get tried here.

Lots of serious cases, organized crime cases, and serious terrorism cases tried successfully here in Italy. I think you can't just write off the system because it is in a different language and the structure is different from ours.

TAPPER: Very briefly, as a journalist, have you been disappointed in how the American media has covered this case?

NADEAU: As an American journalist based here in Italy, you know, I followed the trial. I went to the hearings. I understood the hearings. I read the documents in Italian. I felt there was a lot of information that was lost in translation and I think that really had a lot to do with Amanda's very successful public relations firm.

And I think that they were very willing to do the translations for the Italian media or for the American media excuse me. And in doing so, I think some of the details were left out. When Amanda Knox was convicted the first time around people were shocked in the United States. People in Italy understood that's probably what was going to happen because they understood the case as it was happening.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

You are looking now at live footage of the finish line they're painting. They painted last night right near where the attacks were, two weeks and one day ago. We saw them paint it last night. It is usually painted the night the marathon ends, but they had to wait until last night for obvious reasons.

That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper. I will now leave you in the able hands of Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is currently in "THE SITUATION ROOM."