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Afghanistan Still Tough for Women; Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike; Examining the Khan Academy

Aired May 10, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour; welcome to our special weekend edition of the program, where we bring you some of the big stories we covered this week.

Tonight, the black hole that is Guantanamo Bay prison. Desperate detainees who would rather starve to death than remain in legal limbo forever. I'll talk to a military lawyer who questions how his own chain of command is handling this prison.

But up first tonight, a photograph that tells a story more powerful than any words can express. This young Afghan woman is known simply as Aisha. Back in 2010, her face became famous around the world after her nose and ears were cut off in an ugly ritual where the daughters end up paying for the sins of the fathers.

This living example of Taliban cruelty in that region of Afghanistan and the oppression of women came just a few months after President Obama announced the U.S. would begin pulling troops out of the country the following year.

The question left hanging, of course: what would happen to the millions of Afghan women subject now to the whim of the Taliban?

Nancy Pelosi was America's most powerful woman at that time. She was Speaker of the House, and I asked her if America was abandoning the Afghan women. She told me the U.S. planned to leave the country secure and safe for women. But now as the long U.S. war there winds down, that seems far from certain.

The same can be said of Aisha's future. She came here to the United States to build a new life and a new face. CNN has been following her journey for the past 21/2 years and as you'll see in this report, her search for a happy ending is far from over.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): It is a work in progress. Twenty-two-year-old Aisha's face and her life imperfect and incomplete, her nose and her ears were hacked off by her husband and her in-laws. She'd been in a marriage borne out of Taliban justice.

As so often happens to young women in Afghanistan, she was handed over when she was 12 years old as blood money after her uncle was accused of murder.

AISHA (from captions): Otherwise, they said, we will sentence you to death. And my father agreed.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Aisha says that her in-laws physically and verbally abused her for five years.

AISHA (from captions): In Afghanistan, when a woman is given to settle disputes, this is the treatment she receives.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Too many Afghan women know this suffering. A recent poll ranked Afghanistan as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.

Aisha dared to run away from the abuse. She was caught, though, and imprisoned and then returned to her in-laws, and that's when they mutilated her face and left her for dead. But somehow she survived and found her way to help. She was brought to a NATO military base, where she was treated.

AISHA (from captions): When I was in the hospital with Americans, that was the first time when I felt like a human being.

How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm good; how are you?

AISHA: I'm good.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And then she was moved to a women's shelter in Kabul. Nine months later, her haunting image appeared. And now she was even more of a target for the Taliban. So she had to leave the country. A U.S. foundation agreed to bring her to California for a new face and a chance at a new life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you in America?

AISHA: (Inaudible).


AISHA: (Inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to get your nose?


AMANPOUR (voice-over): But because of the years of trauma she had endured, she was deemed not ready to take on the additional burden of massive and difficult surgeries. And so she was moved across the country to New York, where a team of women began to give her some counseling, some life skills and the education that she's never had, starting with her ABCs.

ARIELA PERLMAN, AISHA'S TEACHER: This is our first project that we did together. Sometimes we felt like we were with a 3-year old, a 7-year old, an 11-year old, a 15-year old, a 45-year old, depending on what she was feeling at the moment and what she felt she needed to communicate.

SHIPHRA BAKHCHI, PSYCHOLOGIST: Her behavior could be erratic. She could be having fun and you know, wanting to be social and talkative one minute and then locking the door and throwing the covers over her head another minute. And her behavior was impulsive and very difficult at times.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Even though she made some progress in therapy, Aisha was still emotionally empty because what she needed, what she wanted most was a family to call her own.

And soon she met an Afghan family from Maryland, Mati, his wife, Jamila, and daughter Mina (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible). What do you like here?

MATI ARSALA (from captions): Uncle Mati?


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Aisha won them over and persuaded them to take her in. And now for the first time in her life, she was choosing her own path and she seemed happy.

JAMILA ARSALA: I like here because I'm going to the pool. I put my purse like this. When she (inaudible) going to the playground there is a swing and she loves to swing.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): After seven months with this family, Aisha would have the first of many surgeries to start rebuilding her face.

AISHA: I'm OK, I'm happy. My surgery, I'm not scared.

MINA ARSALA (PH): I'm pretty sure once she gets all her surgery she'll have a lot of guys drooling.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is Aisha after that first surgery. She would look worse before she would look better. And she had surgery after surgery after surgery.

AISHA (from captions): It was very difficult in the beginning. But then I got used to it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (from captions): Do you like your nose? How do you feel about it?

AISHA (from captions): It's good.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Aisha still has more surgery to go. After doctors finish her nose, they'll begin to reconstruct her ears. But to live in the United States and to be independent, she needs at least to learn how to read and write. As it stands, she's got the education level of a young child.

JAMILA ARSALA: So she stays at home; she do her jewelry. Then she watch movies or some series. This is her life now.

MATI ARSALA: She is in her own world. She is going to through these things, you know.

JAMILA ARSALA: We talked with her about that after this process you have to come back to your real life. It will be not so easy.

AISHA (from captions): You know that I am not afraid of anything in life. I can handle anything as long as I am good and healthy.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): On this swing, Aisha doesn't worry about her future, and she's soaring free right now. But how softly will she land?



AMANPOUR: And with the future of Afghanistan, its women and Aisha hanging in the balance, we'll turn to another ongoing crisis in Guantanamo.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The hunger strikers there have been silent, letting their lawyers speak for them until now. You'll hear the powerful words of one of the detainees when we come back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the special weekend edition of our program. As we've been reporting, the hunger strike by more than 100 detainees has focused the world's attention again on the legal black hole that is the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

President Obama has certainly taken notice in a recent press conference. He reaffirmed his commitment to close Guantanamo. And he challenged Congress to step up and help get it done.

But critics charge that there are things the president could do today to change the situation. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the 166 detainees would rather starve than spend another day in limbo.

One of them is an Afghan man, now in his early 30s, known only as Obadullah. Obadullah's only daughter was born just two days before he was taken into custody. She'll be 11 this summer, and cries for her father, that she has never seen.

In March, Obadullah wrote a detailed account of his hunger strike, which was just recently declassified by the Department of Justice. He writes, quote, "I'm losing all hope because I've been imprisoned at Guantanamo for almost 11 years now, and still do not know my fate."

So Capt. Jason Wright is a U.S. Army officer whose job is to defend detainees in military tribunals. He represents Obadullah, who's the lowest on Guantanamo's legal totem pole. And he also represents the highest value detainee, the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And Capt. Wright joined me from Washington.


AMANPOUR: Captain, thank you for joining me.

CAPT. JASON WRIGHT, U.S. ARMY, ATTORNEY: Thank you for this opportunity.

AMANPOUR: I think there is no doubt about the guilt of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and he will eventually one day maybe see his day in court.

But let me ask you about Obadullah. We have just delivered his case on camera. Is he charged with anything? Is he deemed by the legal system to be guilty of anything right now?

WRIGHT: He has not been charged, at least as of today, by the U.S. government. And we've been informed that there are no plans to bring charges against him for the, quote, "foreseeable future." Right now, he's facing the prospect of indefinite detention.

AMANPOUR: I mean, you know, it really boggles my mind, even though I've been reporting this for a long time. I want you to walk me through how he even managed to end up in Guantanamo in the first place.

WRIGHT: Yes, in 2002, in Afghanistan, in the province of Khost, Afghanistan -- Obadullah was living with his family. And during the nighttime hours, U.S. forces raided his home, based on a single source intelligence report that there were mines in the area and that he may have been part of some sort of bomb cell.

At that point, he was taken into custody by U.S. forces and transferred to various places within Afghanistan and then eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay in October of 2002. He is -- there's no allegation that he has ever attacked anyone, ever harmed anyone.

Instead, the U.S. government contends that there are approximately 20 land mines located near his family's compound across the street, and they've attributed those land mines to him. And secondly, they claim that he had a notebook on him that had some sort of rudimentary diagrams of land mines.

AMANPOUR: So what can you tell me about that stuff? Because from what I read and from the statements that have come out, some of that military equipment was left over from the Soviet time, predated 9/11, what was found by his compound.

WRIGHT: That's right. Obadullah needs a day in court.

We recently had a defense investigation with a very senior level investigator to Afghanistan and it covered a great deal of exculpatory information or otherwise information that exonerates him about the nature of the land mines, the fact that they were Soviet grade; they were very likely left during the period of the Soviet occupation and also it calls into question a lot of the single source intelligence against him.

But this young man has now been detained indefinitely for 11 years and cannot even get a day in court to plead his case.

AMANPOUR: So you say he can't get a day in court. But from also what I know and what you've told -- what you've reported is that the U.S. government or the system has dropped the charges against him anyway two years ago.

WRIGHT: Exactly. And the only charges that the administration could potentially bring would be those of what's called material support to terrorism and also conspiracy.

And recently, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down those two alleged war crimes as a matter of law, saying that it was a violation of the ex post facto clause, essentially to have these two crimes as part of the Military Commissions Act.

So he very much is stuck in this legal limbo, a man that we believe is fully innocent of any wrongdoing. And, again, he was never been -- never claimed to have hurt or harmed any Americans or any Afghans or anyone, for that matter.

AMANPOUR: And who was basically taken in because an informant tipped off the authorities and who knows why, maybe for money or whatever.

WRIGHT: Correct.

AMANPOUR: What can the system do for Obadullah right now? Because President Obama does have the executive authority to be able to transfer people like him. Why is he not doing that?

WRIGHT: I was encouraged to hear President Obama last week, ask the American people why are we doing this? And you're right. I think the next question is what can we do about it.

And when it comes to Obadullah, an Afghan villager, and the other 16 Afghans, I think President Obama can work with President Karzai to come up with a good solution to send these men home. That's fully within his power, I believe, to do that, to work with the government, the legitimate government of Afghanistan, to send their citizens home.

The same can be said of the other 86 detainees who have been cleared for release, who are innocent, who have done nothing wrong in terms of the American government, who can also be sent back to their home countries or otherwise repatriated. That's within the president's administrative authority.

AMANPOUR: And what is Obadullah's condition right now, because he is one of the more than 100 on strike, on hunger strike.

WRIGHT: That's right. I have seen him several times since the strike began, and his condition continues to worsen. I'm very troubled with the loss of his weight, the degree of hopelessness that is pervasive at the camp.

The administration has responded to the hunger strike by actually increasing the severity of the conditions of confinement by reducing the temperature in the cells, by taking away communal living, by according to recent accounts from Obadullah, by denying him the opportunity to use soap and a toothbrush and restricting his access to the outdoors to one or two hours a day and modulating that such that sometimes he's only permitted to go out at 1:00 am or 3:00 am.

And so it's just -- it's really disturbing that these men are suffering in such a way.

Yet the response to this has actually been to worsen their conditions of confinement.

AMANPOUR: And Captain, honestly, I am struck -- there you are, sitting before me in full military regalia, medals and ribbons, and you are talking to me about your own military, the military in Guantanamo is doing to these people what you're now complaining against and trying to get them released from.

How do you even go to work every day? It's you against your country's system.

WRIGHT: Well, they're -- I'm essentially the military's version of a court-appointed lawyer and our job is to zealously defend anyone that we represent. Obadullah is innocent until proven guilty, much like all the men in Guantanamo Bay. It's important for the rule of law to make sure that there is effective assistance and counsel.

And that's really what we're doing here, as defense attorneys, as habeas counsels. It's making sure that the principles of democracy mean something, that the rule of law means something in America. And it is an honor to work in this capacity and to make sure that the principles that our country hold so dear are being fulfilled each and every day.

AMANPOUR: Well, you're giving it a good college try.

And very finally, one word: do you believe that he will be released any time soon?

WRIGHT: I hope for Obadullah's sake and for the sake of the other detainees involved in the political protest, I hope that there -- someone will be released soon.

I think that would be an important step for the Obama administration to signify to the detainees and to the world that Guantanamo Bay must be closed for these men who have -- who are innocent and who have -- who need to go home to see their families. So, yes, I hope so and we look forward to hearing more from the president and working with him as he continues to develop his plan.

AMANPOUR: Captain Wright, thank you for joining me.

WRIGHT: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, imagine the whole world was your classroom. One man's vision has created a groundbreaking Internet academy. And it's innovative methods educating students around the globe. We'll have an apple for this remarkable teacher when we come back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And we turn now to a man who is trying to educate the entire world for free. It all started in 2004, when a financial analyst, Salman Khan, posted some tutorials on YouTube.

About 10 years later, his teachings have become known as Khan Academy, a website with more than 4,000 lessons on subjects that range from basic math to economics to art history.

Six million people visit the site each month and it doesn't stop there. Khan wants to reinvent the way children learn in classrooms around the world. He joined me in the studio to talk about it.


AMANPOUR: Salman Khan, thank you for coming to the studio.


AMANPOUR: So a very young man, 35 years old, hedge funder who turned into now an online teacher. How did this happen?

KHAN: It was -- I was an analyst at a hedge fund in 2004. One of my cousins was having trouble with math. She was in New Orleans; I was in Boston, so I started tutoring her remotely. Word got around in the family that free tutoring was happening, so by 2006, I was tutoring about 10-15 cousins and family members every day after work. I still had my day job.

And one of my friends said, well, to help you scale up a little bit, why don't you put some lessons on YouTube? And I thought, you know, horrible idea; YouTube is for cats playing piano. It's not for --


AMANPOUR: Like a joke?


KHAN: But I gave it a shot and it was soon clear that people who were not my cousins were watching the videos and that kept growing and growing and growing. And then by 2008-2009, felt like there's an opportunity to create a new type of institution, so set it up as a charity, a not-for- profit, and --

AMANPOUR: You say a new kind of institution. From what I gather, this is about revolutionizing the way people are taught, revolutionizing education. How? And why does it need it?

KHAN: Yes. You know, a lot of what I talk about in the new book is this idea that our model of education has never been questioned. All of the debate is how do we optimize it. But our model is one that we inherited from Prussia 200 years ago, and Prussia does not exist anymore. So it's time to rethink it.

And it's this very industrial revolution model of we group students in these age-based cohorts; they go together at a set pace; you have these stations, which are these classes and these subjects where you try to apply some information. Some students it sticks; some students it doesn't. That's the better product; that's the worst product. You evaluate them.

And what's becoming more and more clear is that pretty much ensures most students will end up with severe gaps in their knowledge. You get a C on an exam, the system -- internationally -- the system pushes you to the next subject even though they haven't identified those gaps.

And they accumulate by the time you get to algebra, calculus, you have so many that even if you're innately smart and you have a great teacher, you have trouble engaging in class.

AMANPOUR: You've coined a term, which I think -- it's flipping the classroom or flipping.

KHAN: Yes, so this -- it's actually a term that other teachers came to me with. And it's this general idea that traditional classrooms are lecture-based. Teacher talks at the front; students are all pointed at the desk. And they passively listen and they take notes. There's very little interaction.

Every now and then there might be a question from some of the braver students. What a lot of these teachers started saying is there are these interesting lectures on YouTube and on Khan Academy now.

Why don't I let students use -- watch those at their own time and pace and then they can pause and repeat if they get stuck; they can look up a term. They can look up a more basic concept and not be afraid or shy that they have to cover that thing.

And then when they go to class, instead of it being lecture-based, it could be problem-solving. It could be what used to be homework and you used to do it at home and no one was there to help you. You can now do it in the classroom and you have the teacher to help you and you have your peers to help you.

AMANPOUR: Because you know, obviously, some of the concerns are raised, particularly amongst teachers and the traditional educators, is that what this will do is make teachers redundant, I mean literally and figuratively, that this is going to take away that vital concept of having that mentor, having that teacher in the classroom.

You know, every child, their great joy should be to have found that favorite, really impressive teacher.

KHAN: Yes, and that's actually one of the main purposes of writing the book, was to say, no, it's the exact -- rather than taking away from the mentorship that a teacher can do or the inspiration that a teacher can do, it's actually supercharging that.

In a traditional model, a teacher's spending a lot of time being distant from the student, giving a lecture. And a small percentage can be devoted to actually interacting and being that mentor and being that inspiration.

We're saying now all of that can be. So all of these good things that we all agree are what make great teachers great, the mentorship, the inspiration; instead of that being 10 percent of class time, that can now be 100 percent of class time.

AMANPOUR: And you've got something like -- I mean, correct me if I'm wrong. I think you've got about 3,000-plus videos on YouTube.

KHAN: That's right.

AMANPOUR: What kind of effect are you having globally? In other words, are you taking this beyond the United States? Is this for people in countries that -- you know, many people don't have access to education.

KHAN: Yes. You know, it's been pretty clear that, as we've kind of been being pulled out here, where these NGOs outside of the U.S. say, well, look, you have content. Can we put it on DVDs? Can we put it on thumb drives? Can we take it out to orphanages? Can we take it out to villages? And there have been groups doing this; we've been hearing tremendous stories.

There's a orphanage in Mongolia, where some volunteers from Silicon Valley went out there. And there's this girl, Zia (ph), who once started using Khan Academy for herself. But she got somewhat inspired by this ability to reach others. And she's now our main translator into Mongolian. So she's produced 100 math videos in Mongolian. This is a 16-year-old orphan.

AMANPOUR: And what about in some of the areas around the world where, for instance, women haven't been able to get educated because of the system?

KHAN: Yes, I mean, this is, you know, because --

AMANPOUR: Have you heard back? Have you got feedback?

KHAN: We have. You know, we get -- we get hundreds of letters every day. And we get feedback from people, saying, you know, I have -- don't have access to a school or in my culture, it's not acceptable for girls to be going to school. And this is giving them access without necessarily even having to leave the house.

AMANPOUR: Salman Khan, thank you very much indeed.

KHAN: Thanks for having me.


AMANPOUR: And that's it for the weekend edition of our program. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York. And you can always find us at our website, and, of course, on Facebook and Twitter.