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Rows of Dead Bodies in Syria; Egypt Releases Mubarak from Prison; Manning Wants to Live as a Woman; No More Fukushima Leaks; Wentworth Miller Comes Out and Protests Russian Laws; James Kirchick Protests Russian Laws; Bo Xilai's Fall from Power

Aired August 22, 2013 - 12:00   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: The United Nations under growing international pressure to act in Syria. Opposition groups say more than 1300 people are dead in what they call a massacre in the Damascus suburbs.

IVAN WATSON, CNN ANCHOR: And in Egypt, former President Hosni Mubarak is out of prison, but that does not mean he's free.

MALVEAUX: Plus, here's something we did not see coming, Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking military secrets. Well, now he wants to live out those years as a woman.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

WATSON: And I'm Ivan Watson, filling in for Michael Holmes.

I'd like to welcome viewers here in the U.S. and around the world to our program.

MALVEAUX: This is a tragedy. Rooms full of dead bodies, many of them children. They have been -- the world demanding action now. These images, very difficult to see, very disturbing, they are said to be of victims of a nerve gas attack in Iraq. These are the bodies of children we're talking about, wrapped in white cloth, lined up shoulder to shoulder outside a makeshift morgue. Rebels say it is proof that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of civilians near Damascus, maybe as many as 1,300. The Syrian government denies the claims, but officials have yet to allow a U.N. weapons inspection team access to that site where those attacks allegedly took place.

WATSON: Now, our Fred Pleitgen, he now joins us from Damascus. CNN is one of only a few international news networks reporting from inside the country.

Fred, I know you just got there, but you've already had time to visit a government run hospital. What are people there saying about this alleged chemical weapons attack?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ivan, we're just starting to scratch the surface and start trying to find out what exactly happened there yesterday. The interesting thing at the Mesa (ph) University Hospital, which is the one that I visited earlier today, was that they told us that yesterday, around the morning time, they got mass casualties and it was clear that there was massive fighting going on in those areas where that alleged chemical weapon attack took place. They said they got lots of bodies in, but they said that these bodies had severe wounds but none of them showed any signs of being subjected to any sort of chemical agent. That was something that I found very interesting.

Also, we managed to speak to a couple of people who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the ones where these attacks allegedly took place, and they also said that, yes, there was a lot going on yesterday. There was a big government offensive. They said war planes overhead, artillery raining down on those areas. Of course the ones Wadalia (ph), as well as Uta (ph). But they also said they themselves did not feel any sort of chemicals in the air. They did not have any trouble breathe. They didn't feel strained. So, by their accounts, they say they don't believe that any sort of chemicals were used.

Of course, that doesn't disprove the images that we're seeing, those horrible images that you were talking about before. We are, of course, reporting from the government controlled side of Damascus and so, therefore, a lot of these people are sympathetic to the Assad government. But certainly from the reports that we're getting here, they say they don't believe that chemicals were used in those attacks.


WATSON: And these are survivors that you've been talking to?

PLEITGEN: Well, these are - no, these were hospital staff. These were hospital staff. They didn't let us talk to any of the patients themselves. One of the reasons was, they were still seeking further permission for us to actually be there. But they did allow us to speak to -- the other people were actually residents of the areas that are adjacent to the ones where these attacks took place. And consistently, all of those people were saying that there was a massive military operation going on, but what sorts of agents were used in that military operation is still very much unclear. Of course, all of this is still very circumstantial as we try to dig deeper and see what exactly took place there in very much close to central Damascus, Ivan.

MALVEAUX: All right, this alleged chemical attack came almost exactly one year after President Obama warned that any such attack would trigger American intervention and he called the use of chemical weapons this red line. Well, this morning, Senator John McCain told CNN that the U.S. needs to hit Syrian air fields and planes as well.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's obvious from the pictures when you see the dead bodies of children and women and others stacked up, and the fact is, it's already been established that he has used it before. So, as I said, it shouldn't surprise us when we use it - when he's used it again. It's horrific and outrageous and the admin - the president, a year ago, said they would be -- if they crossed the red line, that there would be response. We know - we know now, of course, that they've already used it. I'm sure and confident that they - that they used it again, and they will use it again unless they are rained in and prevented from doing so.


MALVEAUX: And, you know, Ivan, what's so difficult about this is that, you know, Fred was saying, they cannot determine, first of all, who is doing it on either side and they don't really understand what exactly happened yet. That is something the Obama administration is trying to figure out, you know, before they act. But this is a red line that seems to continue to move.

WATSON: Absolutely. And Senator McCain, of course, one of the most vocal people in Washington for an interventionist policy coming from Washington and, of course, a big critic of the Obama administration as well.

Well, our Chris Cuomo, he'll be talking with President Obama and probably asking some questions about this -


WATSON: And about some thorny U.S. foreign policy issues. His exclusive interview will come tomorrow here on CNN.

MALVEAUX: We'll be watching.

And in Egypt, deposed President Hosni Mubarak, he was actually released from prison today. He was transferred, this to a military hospital. This is in Cairo. He's going to be under house arrest.

WATSON: Now, Mubarak's release, it's raising questions about whether the Arab Spring revolution in Cairo and Egypt was all for nothing. It was the revolution that forced Mubarak from power in 2011. The man who replaced him, Mohamed Morsy, was ousted in a July 3rd coup. And right now Egypt is in turmoil.

MALVEAUX: Want to bring in our Nick Paton Walsh who joins us from Cairo.

And, Nick, first of all, explain to us what's happening here. Mubarak, he has been released but he's in a military hospital and he still faces some serious charges regarding death of protesters. So what has been the response, the reaction, the fact that he's kind of in this limbo area?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been limited reaction in many ways. And, in fact, we haven't seen the massive popular protests you may have thought would be provoked by a move like this presumably with military consent.

It's been a day of some drama, in many ways. Prosecutors saying a few hours ago that they had authorized his release from the Tora prison, where he's been for a number of months, to the Maadi Military Hospital. We saw a helicopter lift off from the prison. Egyptian television showing it land near the hospital grounds. An ambulance, it seems, there to ferry the former president inside the military hospital. We're talking about, you know, an 85-year-old infirmed man here.

We haven't actually seen him in any of those pictures, but (INAUDIBLE) to the government portraying it, almost showing the army taking back into its arms literally the former president of Egypt. And you really would have thought that this is a huge gamble for the military, for the interim administration at a time of such volatility in Egypt over the brutality of the crackdown over the last week, still fresh in people's minds.

But it may also have been the reason why they felt safe to make this kind of move. Perhaps they wanted to show loyalty to the old guard here. Perhaps they wanted to show they look after their own and felt that maybe people are tired of protests, tired of unrest and they have enough of a curfew and security force presence on the streets (INAUDIBLE) deal with any protests. But most importantly, Suzanne, we're not seeing that at the moment.

WATSON: And the timing, of course, is astounding here. Now, the military is continuing its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. As you said, today the spokesman for the group was arrested and he's just the latest Muslim Brotherhood member to be taken into custody. Nick, is the military trying to send a message that it's very much in charge right now?

WALSH: Absolutely. I mean they have been dominating the (INAUDIBLE) the past few days. We hear through state media repeated arrests, (ph) Sunday of the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie. But since then, lower figures, again and again, names popping up as having been arrested. They've pretty much been booted off the political stage here. Not that they really felt political negotiation was an avenue open to them. And that may well force them under ground. But the government is taking such authoritative control of the narrative here and it does have a degree of popular support for what it's doing, despite a lot of people absolutely dismayed by the treatment of The Brotherhood's peaceful posttest as many of them shot dead during the security forces crackdown.

We're seeing really, I think, Egypt waking up to the fact the clock may have turned back significantly despite perhaps people aware that their presence on the streets can really bring down governments.


WATSON: Thanks, Nick, reporting from Cairo, overlooking the Nile River there.

Now, also in the Middle East today, Israeli forces say at least three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel. Lebanese media reported that four rockets were fired towards what they call the occupied Palestinian lands. Sirens sounded after the missile were launched. According to Israel's Channel 2, there are no reports of injuries. Israeli defense forces said one rocket was intercepted between two cities in northern Israel. The others fell outside of Israeli territory.

MALVEAUX: And Bradley Manning is beginning his prison sentence with a stunning revelation here. The Army private says that he wants to live as a woman. He plans to seek hormone therapy behind bars. This is in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

WATSON: Manning made his announcement just a day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military documents to WikiLeaks. His struggle with gender identity, it came up during his trial. And a picture released by the military shows Manning in a wig.

MALVEAUX: Chris Lawrence, he is joining us from Washington.

So, Chris, explain this for us, because we saw Manning's attorney appear on "The Today Show" this morning. He's not asking for gender reassignment surgery, so he is specifically asking for hormone treatment. Is that something that the military system, the prison system, can actually comply with?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not voluntarily, Suzanne, no, because it's not so much a prison issue as a military issue. The Army does not provide hormone therapy much less sex reassignment surgery. So basically even if Bradley Manning was a soldier in good standing and he walked into a regular Army base, the medical clinic, they would not prescribe him these hormones.

So his attorney is basically going to have to sue the Army to force them to try to do this. I spoke with some Army officials who've said basically that Manning will be treated like any other prisoner and that the assignment to Fort Leavenworth, where he will serve his sentence, is based on gender. It's an all-male facility and that right now this official said Manning is still a man in body, and so that's where he'll serve his sentence at Leavenworth where they do not provide hormone therapy.

WATSON: Chris, if he was able to get some kind of hormone treatments, who would pay for them?

LAWRENCE: It would be the government and ultimately the taxpayers, if he was able to force the military to change its policy to do so, or perhaps down the road if he was able to petition on medical grounds to be transferred to a federal prison because the civilian courts have actually been a lot more lenient on this. There are prisoners in the civilian prison system that have received hormones and actually prisoners who have lawsuits right now trying to argue that the prison system should pay for full sex reassignment surgery. So getting transferred out into federal prison, might have a better chance there.

WATSON: Thank you, Chris. It's a remarkable wrinkle.

MALVEAUX: Yes, it's a very difficult situation.

WATSON: An unexpected turn in this drama around Manning.

MALVEAUX: Yes. WATSON: Well, up ahead on AROUND THE WORLD, an American reporter has become the story rather than reporting it, staging a protest, get this, on Russian state run TV.

MALVEAUX: And here's something you don't normally see at the beach. Check it out there. It is not a pleasure boat. We're going to see this in a minute.


MALVEAUX: Here are stories making news around the world right now.

Workers at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant say detailed inspections show that there are no additional leaks at this time. There were hundreds of tons of highly radioactive water that leaked from one tank this week. Well, the water is so toxic, a person standing close to it for an hour would be exposed to five times the yearly recommended limit for those plant workers. A level three danger warning has been issued at this plant which is considered serious. That is the highest it's been since the earthquake and tsunami triggered that meltdown at the plant back in 2011.

WATSON: The star of the popular TV show, "Prison Break," is coming out, and he's blasting the Russian government. Actor Wentworth Miller revealed he's gay in a letter to organizers at a film festival in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Miller was invited to appear as a guest of honor, but he told organizers, as a gay man, he cannot attend because of Russia's new anti-gay laws.

And Miller isn't the only person protesting Russia's new rules in a very public way. James Kirchick, an American reporter and pundit, appeared on Russian's English language TV network, RT, or "Russia Today."

MALVEAUX: So he was actually booked on this show to talk about Bradley Manning, who's the American soldier convicted of sending those classified information, the documents to Wikileaks.

But Kirchick, he had something else in mind. I want you to listen to this.


JAMES KIRCHICK, AMERICAN JOURNALIST AND COLUMNIST: I am not really interested in talking about Bradley Manning. I'm interested in talking about the horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now, and to let the Russian gay people know that they have friends and allies and solidarity from people all over the world and that we're not going to be silence in the face of this horrific repression that is perpetrated by the -- by your paymasters, by Vladimir Putin.


MALVEAUX: Phil Black is joining us from Moscow. Phil, that amazing moment there when he hijacked the show and the discussions there, do the Russians, do they actually get to see this? Do they see the protests and what he's actually saying here?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not in this case, the answer's no, Suzanne.

"RT" is really designed for an overseas audience. As you heard, they broadcast in English there. It's been described by some as a soft power exercise for the Russian government. Others, including net journalists, say it's a propaganda network.

Editorially, they claim to take a different view from what they describe as mainstream media. What that normally means is that, on air, they report pretty critically on alleged hypocrisy on the part of Western governments, but rarely if ever critically on the Russian government.

They have been reporting on this anti-gay propaganda law, but reporting really more on the outrage and the reaction overseas than the law itself and raising questions, asking questions about that reaction and whether or not it is reasonable, justified, and what could possibly be motivating it.

WATSON: And remarkable that he came equipped with those rainbow suspenders as props to really push his point home.

Phil, the anti-gay laws in Russia, they ban anyone from publicly supporting gay relationships. You can be jailed or fined.

And while this is very controversial around the world, a majority of Russians actually support these laws. So how effective are these protests in Russia?

BLACK: It is an important point, Ivan. The majority of Russians support these laws. It's a conservative country and culture, very closely aligned with the Russian orthodox church.

Big parts of the country are Muslim as well and independent polls show that, yes, most people back it.

So, in the short-term, no, the protests will not change the law. Gay activists here say they know this. They appreciate the support, though. They appreciate the solidarity, but they also say that they know that for these attitudes to change in this country Russia is going to have to change from within.

MALVEAUX: Phil, real quickly, just to follow up here, this is not something you're going to see in Russia, but I imagine because of international media attention, they are going to be able to see that on the Internet. They would be able to watch in a different forum, yes?

BLACK: Very true, yes, the Internet is open in this country, and Internet usage rates are really soaring.

So, yes, all the international reporting on this issue, on any others, can be accessed by people in this country. As I said, because so many people are using the Internet, that's said to really be having a big impact on the political landscape of this country. It is for the moment the one uncensored platform for dissent here.

MALVEAUX: All right. Phil Black, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

WATSON: And it seems like almost every month or so that we see the Russian police cracking down on LGBT attempts, LGBT pride parades in Moscow and other cities.

MALVEAUX: And you lived there for a time. You said it wasn't like that before, yes?

WATSON: I was there in the late '90s and there were so many problems at that time, enormous problems, but I don't remember this kind of animosity.

In fact, I do remember seeing some pretty outrageous gay clubs in Moscow that were the scene of, you know, the center of a lot of night life at that time.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you.

WATSON: All right, well, James Kirchick talked to our Anderson Cooper about his appearance on that Russian TV show, and Anderson asked him if he considers his actions courageous. Here is what he said.


KIRCHICK: No, I don't consider what I did brave or courageous. I think those are words that should be used for people in Russia right now risking their lives to combat these laws.


WATSON: Kirchick had a lot more to say and you can catch that with "Anderson COOPER 360" at 8 p.m. Eastern.

MALVEAUX: Ahead on AROUND THE WORLD, the story of a rising political story and the fall from grace, a scandal in China.


WATSON: Welcome back to CNN.

Suzanne, we're going to take you to China now and the spectacular rise and fall of one of the country's most ambitious politicians.

In a city about 200 miles south of Beijing, Bo Xilai appeared in a courtroom today denying the charges against him, even accusing one prosecution witness of selling his soul.

MALVEAUX: Bo is on trial for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. It is quite a remarkable turnaround for a man that once was a party favorite and once tapped to be president. Today his wife sits in prison, convicted in the murder of a British businessman, and outside the courtroom there is a heavy police presence. Bo's trial is making China nervous.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're just here trying to tell the story of this trial, and if you push it aside, we won't be able to do that. I thought this was an open trial. That's what state media said.



WATSON: You can see David McKenzie dealing with Chinese officialdom and he has more on this extraordinary story from China.


MCKENZIE: Chongqing, a mega city of some 30 million in the southwest and center of China's biggest political scandal in a generation.

Bo Xilai ran the city, the son of a famous revolutionary, (INAUDIBLE), a princeling tapped to join the untouchable ranks of the party, a Chinese politician that broke the mold.

FRANK CHIN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND COLUMNIST: Bo Xilai was unique. He was not a party hack. The way I think 99 percent of party officials are.

MCKENZIE: Bo organized massive rallies, packing stadiums with communist party faithful in TV-friendly spectacles, a throwback to the days of Mao that startled both friends and enemies.

LI ZHUANG, DEFENSE LAWYER (via translator): He was good at using media to glamorize himself. He successfully fooled ordinary people. They weren't able to see his real intentions and political ambition.

MCKENZIE: Bo signaled his ambition by bringing in powerful police chief, Wang Lijun. Together they arrested thousands of alleged criminals in a smash, black campaign.

Bo Xilai and his police force had almost unlimited ambition. If you look, this was supposed to be the cloud computing center of the Chongqing police force. It is enormous, cathedral-like.

His lofty aims and brutal tactics made him enemies.

LI (via translator): During his four years while in Chongqing, he marked his cruelty in history with a number of people he arrested, executed, put in reeducation camps and thrown into jail.

MCKENZIE: For communist party royalty, Bo's downfall began in an unlikely place, the shabby Lucky Holiday Hotel, where Bo's wife Gu Kailai's business dealings with a British family friend went horribly wrong.

Court documents show that Gu Kailai lured Neil Heywood to this hotel for a late night meeting. She plied him with expensive whiskey and then, when he got ill, she laid him on a bed like this and poured rat poison down his throat.

Local authorities tried to cover up Heywood's death, surrounding the hotel and cremating his body.

It may have all ended there had Bo's police chief not fled, asking for asylum, then surrendering to the Chinese government and revealing the cover-up.

CHIN: Corruption is so widespread that if they wanted to target somebody, they can almost always find something to use against a person, and I think that Bo had a lot of enemies in Beijing and, when this came up, it was a godsend.

MCKENZIE: Bo Xilai was stripped of his party membership, his wife Gu convicted of murder.

From the very heights of power, Bo Xilai could now face the death penalty.

David McKenzie, CNN, Chongquing.


WATSON: It's an incredible political thriller in China.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, unbelievable, the turn of fate there.

WATSON: Ahead, her words have sparked a huge online reaction.

One CNN iReporter writes a gripping account of her study abroad trip to India last year, describing the country as a traveler's heaven and a woman's hell.