Return to Transcripts main page


Syria Showdown in the Senate; Syrian Activist Speaks Out; Making the Case for Striking Syria; Syria: The Assad Family Business; Judge Orders New Hearing in Montana Rape Case; Veronica Will Stay With Biological Dad for Now, Court Rules; Rodman Returns to North Korea; New Autopsy Finds Georgia Teen's Death Not An Accident

Aired September 3, 2013 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

We begin with continued denials from Syria and heated debate on Capitol Hill as the world waits to see if the United States will launch an attack against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons on its citizens. The regime has repeatedly denied that it was behind the attack that killed more than 1400 people, hundreds of them children, and that drumbeat continued today.

In an exclusive interview with Christiane Amanpour, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations said the allegations against the Syrian government are, quote, "false and unfounded." It would be an understatement to say that Christiane pushed back.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How do you sleep at night, Mr. Ja'afari, defending a regime, a government that has caused so much bloodshed and that has really crossed the line from any kind of civil war into weapons of mass destruction, into one of the highest crimes of international law?

How do you personally sleep at night?

BASHER JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I believe that the use of chemical weapons or biological weapons or nuclear weapons is a horrible, appalling crime, and those who perpetrate such a horrible crime, whether they are Israelis or others, should be held accountable.

To the internationally established mechanisms, not to the bully of the world. The policeman of the world, represented by the American intelligence reports, or false allegations coming from France or Britain or Saudi Arabia or Israel.


COOPER: By the way, that man has lied for years. He's been on this show lying as well as has that regime.

Just moments after that interview, a hearing began on Capitol Hill where Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials made the case for military action to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

During that hearing -- Kerry said that Assad has used chemical weapons multiple times estimated to be in the teens. Kerry said the United States needs to send a message to Syria and the world that when it comes to chemical weapons never means never and it's not the time to be spectators to Bashar Assad's slaughter of mothers, fathers, and children.

Kerry himself has a personal history with Assad. He's met with him several times over the years. Here's then Senator Kerry -- during a meeting with Assad in Damascus back in 2009. There was no talk of meetings, no talk of negotiations on the hill today. Kerry said it's time to act in a forceful but limited operation. He has this to say when asked if the administration would accept a ban for putting American troops on the ground in Syria as part of the resolution.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm absolutely confident, Mr. Chairman, that it is easy, not that complicated to work out language that will satisfy the Congress and the American people that there is no door open here through which someone can march in ways that the Congress doesn't want it to while still protecting the national security interest of the country.

I'm confident that can be worked out. The bottom line is the president has no intention and will not and we do not want to put American troops on the ground to fight this -- or be involved in the fighting of this civil war, period.


COOPER: The death toll, as it does each day, rose today in Syria. Opposition groups say 66 people died in violence today including six children.

Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been speaking with lawmakers since the hearing ended for the day. She joins me now live.

So, Dana, what are you hearing? What is the mood on the hill tonight? Do senators feel they got the answers they were looking for?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not all of them. A lot of answers still to -- questions still to be answered primarily because some of what they were told and really wanted to know about the military capabilities and so forth, they can't talk about in open session.

So there is going to be a classified briefing with this very same panel of senators tomorrow where they hope to get some answers.

I just actually spoke moments ago with Senator Marco Rubio who sort of leaned in in this hearing, sounded like he was going to be for this authorization vote, and then he said he's still not sure because he has some questions still. But I think for the most part, you did see even some of the most traditionally liberal Democrats, surprisingly, very much for this.

Barbara Boxer, for example, I went back and looked. She was one of the few senators back in 2002 who voted against the Iraq resolution. She made very clear that she thinks that this is very different. It is not an open-ended vote and it is something that she thinks is very necessary.

You heard that from a lot more of the Democrats and even some Republicans that maybe I would have anticipated.

COOPER: So -- I mean, OK, it seems likely the president was going to get the votes in Democratically-led Senate. What about the House?

BASH: That's a lot more up in the air, but the president got a huge assist from the House speaker today. Those are words I don't utter much, Anderson.


But he did get an assist from Speaker Boehner today and the House majority leader Eric Cantor who came out of a meeting with the president and said that they support his effort to go ahead and have these limited strikes against Syria.

Now the House speaker, the reason why this is so significant isn't just because he's his political opponent but because when it comes to controversial issues, he tends to stay on the sidelines, particularly those that separate people in his own caucus. And this particular issue, the fact that he came out for it could sway some people who were kind of on the fence.

One thing I should tell you, though, is that right now we are waiting for final language for how they're going to change what this authorization would look like to a person, to not find anybody who thought that what the White House sent up here was appropriate because it was much too broad. They were very worried about it.

At that hearing today, you actually -- if you look closely saw the Senate Foreign Relations chair and the top Republican Bob Corker kind of working out the language that we expect to see maybe even momentarily that they're going to put before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as soon as tomorrow and vote on it in order to get to the full Senate next week.

And we're going to see no troops on the ground. That's something that's going to be new and a time limit on this. I'm told maybe even 60 days with a 30-day extension. So that would be new, something that isn't in what the White House sent over the weekend.

COOPER: So that will be -- what's different -- will they talk at all about targeting in the resolution? What can be targeted and what can't be? Do we know?

BASH: I don't know for sure but I think that's highly unlikely that anybody in the Senate would want to kind of micromanage the military operation like that. Having said that, I think that there is going to be -- continued to be language like there is now, trying to focus on chemical weapons. But if you talk to people who are familiar what -- with what you -- legally what you can take away from authorizations like this, you know, it is -- it may be pretty broad --

COOPER: Right.

BASH: -- what you can call something that could affect chemical weapons even if it's conventional.

COOPER: Right.

BASH: With regard to targets.

COOPER: All right. Dana, appreciate the reporting. We'll continue to follow it throughout this hour. Lots to talk about tonight.

Joining me now are chief national correspondent John King, Fran Townsend, CNN national security analyst and member of the CIA and DHS External Advisory Boards. Also Ryan Crocker, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, he's been ambassador to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Ambassador, let me start with you. Secretary Kerry seemed to fumble a bit with his original answer about the possibility of boots on the ground, came back to it later, clarified it in much more definite terms.

Is that a fair constriction for Congress to place on military action? Do you think no boots on the ground or does it -- does it bind the president's hand?

RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: Anderson, I think that President Kerry was speaking for the president and for the administration. As far as I can tell, there is no interest in the White House or in Congress to put American troops on the ground.

COOPER: But -- I mean, but specifically putting language like that in a resolution, does that make sense to you?

CROCKER: I'm not sure it matters much one way or the other, whether it's in or out. I don't think there is any consideration of boots on the ground.

COOPER: And, John, it certainly seems like the president had some momentum shift in his favor today.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is no question. As Dana noted, the speaker and the majority leader of the House, the Republicans coming out right after that meeting at the White House set the tone for the day. Sort of a leadership moment, if you will.

We're going to fight just about everything. We'll fight about the debt ceiling, we'll fight about immigration, we'll fight about taxes and spending, but we're going to rally to the president's side here. That is very important because the House is the steeper hill. It doesn't mean they're there, it's a steeper hill. The big question is this public hearing in the Senate. Most of this will be done in private. The military planning will be discussed in classified hearings. But the people who get the classified meetings, more of them come out and they're in favor of this.

However, the public hearing today was more about public opinion. Six in 10 Americans oppose this and some members of Congress will take their cue from the polling in the districts back home. So today was about moving that ball with the public hearing.

To your point about Senator Kerry, he was trying to be, quote-unquote, responsible, saying if Syria imploded we might have to put boots on the ground to protect the chemical weapons, to keep them away from the bad guys. He quickly realized he should not have done that because that muddies the debate. And so he quickly retreated and spent the rest of the day saying, no boots on the ground, no boots on the ground.

COOPER: Do you think, Fran, that -- from a military standpoint, I mean, are they -- are they still looking at this in the same way they were last week?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Anderson, John and I were talking before we went on air and there's been a subtle shift in language. And so they began -- we ended last week with them talking about very targeted strikes, just punitive to punish for the chemical weapons.

And now today you'd hear Senator -- Secretary Kerry and the others on the panel talk about degrading the Assad's regime capability to deliver these weapons and the likelihood that that will shift the momentum on the ground in favor of the rebels. Not that that's their goal but they're now talking about degrading capability that will have that effect.

COOPER: Ambassador, do you see that shift, as well?

CROCKER: I've -- I think Fran is right. The discourse has changed a bit. We heard it today in the testimony, and I think it's a crucial point because the very worst thing we could do would be to take military action that does not effectively degrade Assad's ability to fight.

And our record with standoff attacks, Tomahawk attacks, is about 0-4 in the '90s against al Qaeda in the Sudan when we hit the wrong target, twice in Iraq, including Operation Desert Fox when the only thing that was destroyed forth was my house in Damascus by an angry mob. And once against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

So what we cannot afford is for Assad to come out of this and launch another offensive against the rebels the day after we stop shooting.

COOPER: You told "TIME" magazine and I quote, "Our biggest problem is ignorance. We're pretty ignorant about Syria."

What do you mean by that? Because -- I mean, that's alarming with the thought of military operation just about to be launched?

CROCKER: Anderson, we have -- we don't have people on the ground. Our embassy has been closed for, you know, a very long time now. So we don't have any eyes or ears on a very complex and rapidly changing situation. But beyond that, I'm not sure we've ever understood Syria very well. Hama, 1982, very few Americans understand the significance of that, no Syrian will ever forget it.

COOPER: That's when thousands of people were killed by Bashar al- Assad's father.

CROCKER: That's correct, upwards of 10,000 innocent Sunni civilians as he went after the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, destroying the center of Syria's fourth largest city. Two things came out of that. First, a deep sense of bitterness and hatred among many Sunnis that led to I think an underground radicalization which is why we have those currents in the opposition and the second, a regime that knew that payback could come some day.

Literally, three decades have been spent by Assad father and son developing a security military and intelligence apparatus that could withstand an uprising, if it came. It isn't Syria -- it isn't Egypt. It isn't Tunisia. It isn't Libya. And it is a much tougher proposition.

COOPER: And to that idea, Fran, limited strikes against a regime like this which has murdered some people for decades, and has its back against the wall, I mean, some equate it to poking a tiger with a small stick.

TOWNSEND: Well, that's right. And you ran the risk that they'll act in a desperate way, whether that is the --

COOPER: Which obviously -- I mean, their back is against the wall. For them it's a matter of survival.

TOWNSEND: That's right, so you worry about the release of what chemical weapons they have, the use of Hezbollah, you know, asymmetric attacks not only inside Syria but are in the region and around the world against Western targets.

KING: And the propaganda victory. If the world's greatest super power attacks him and he's left --

TOWNSEND: And he survived.

KING: Left intact to survive, and then still continue to win in the civil war.

COOPER: Ambassador, how concerned are you -- because a lot of people who don't support any kind of military involvement in Syria make the case, well, look at the opposition. You have these groups, these al Qaeda-linked groups, directly connected to al Qaeda in Iraq, the al- Nusra Front. How concerned are you about who might take over or battle for control if Assad does go? I mean, is there anything worse than Assad? CROCKER: You know, when you're dealing with absolutes and evil it's pretty hard to make comparisons, but a -- an ascendancy in Damascus of Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies would have horrific repercussions throughout the region and in Iraq and Lebanon, in Jordan, possibly in Turkey. What the consequences might be for Israel, I don't know but probably not good. So Assad is bad. Jabhat al-Nusra is at least as bad.

COOPER: And, John King, I mean, you talk about the public opinion a little bit. Do -- does it now seem likely you think that the president -- at least, I mean, we've heard from Dana on the Senate side, it seems likely he'll get approval. What about in the House?

KING: They don't have House yet but they do have momentum and so the question is, do these private briefings where the key -- the conservatives are coming back with a couple of questions. Remember there are a lot more anti-war Democrats in the House so it was also important that former speaker, now the Democratic leader Pelosi got out early and said her colleagues a letter trying to move the liberals, saying this is -- this is, you know, genocide, this is not -- this is not Iraq.

That's important. So then in the briefings now you have conservative Republicans who have no love lost for this president, no loyalty to this president. They need to hear from the generals in the classified briefing to the very questions we're talking about.

Why are we going to do this? Is it really going to make a difference or is it going to be a waste? Are we going to make a hero out of Assad? They want proof that they're doing this for a tactical strategic reason that is going to do something important.

And here's the one challenge for the president. Right before the Iraq vote back in 2002 the safe vote was yes. We can go back and look at that, maybe the mistakes and all that, but the safe political vote was yes, to be with President Bush. Many Republicans now believe the safe political vote for them, in the current dynamic, is no. That they're not going to lose an election by voting no.

So if the president doesn't make the case, the safe vote is no. So they have more work to do in the House but they're in much better shape tonight than they were last night.

COOPER: All right. Ambassador Crocker, appreciate you being on. John King, as well.

Fran, we're going to have more with you.

Let us know what you think at home. Follow me on Twitter @Andersoncooper. Let's talk about it during the break.

Coming up next, if you're a regular viewer of this program, you know the name Zaidoun. He's a fearless voice from inside Iraq. He's risked his life repeatedly over the years on this program to tell the truth about the violence and what he's seen inside his country. He's been sent to jail twice for it. Arrested by secret police. Last year Zaidoun told me that Syrians felt abandoned by the world. I'll ask him whether he still feels that way tonight.

And later, Assad and his wife, looking at these pictures, you'd think they were a normal couple out on the town. Assad studied ophthalmology. Was more known for his interest in rock music and politics. So what happened? How wrong was the West about him?

We're taking a look at who the Assads are behind the smiles, coming up.


COOPER: For more than two years now we've been speaking with a man who knows firsthand the destruction that has been taking place inside Syria. His name is Zaidoun. He's a Syrian activist who for years now he's risked his life to speak out on this program as his country has been torn apart, his city destroyed. Now as he himself has been thrown in jail two time for speaking out against the Syrian regime.

During one of our conversations back in May of 2012, Zaidoun told me that the world had abandoned Syria, doing nothing as people were being killed every day.

I'll speak with him in just a moment to find out how he feels now the United States is debating military action, but first, listen to what he told me last year.


ZAIDOUN ALZOABI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Everybody is happy watching us being killed on daily basis. Nobody is -- nobody cares for us. Everybody knows the story. It's OK, we know now the world is happy watching us being killed, and we will do it on our own. Even if it takes us 10 years, we are on the streets and we will not change. We will not retreat, we'll not give up.


COOPER: Well, Zaidoun left Syria about a month ago. He joins me now from Beirut.

Thank you very much for being with us. And it's good to actually see you. I don't think I've actually ever seen you. It's always been via phone.

When we spoke in the past, you told me that Syrians felt abandoned by the world. Do you still feel that way given the way things stand now, given the debate that's occurring right now?

ALZOABI: Yes, I still think so. I mean, we have come to the point the international community is so late in reaction where the -- where any action cannot be correct right now. It's too late for anything, I don't know whether we can survive anything. If the airstrike happens, limited hazard is expected, then the regime will be victorious. If the airstrike doesn't happen, this is a license to kill for Mr. Assad. This means it's too late for anything.

COOPER: So even if there is a -- if the strike is limited as is being debated right now, not something that's going to change the calculus on the ground, change the power of the regime, it's not going to tip the scales, it's just a design to punish, it's a design to try to make sure that the regime does not use chemical weapons again. You think that will be interpreted as a victory, the regime will spin that as a victory?

ALZOABI: This regime is criminal. This regime has been using chemical weapons for at least, at least five or six month so far. This regime can use chemical weapons for god knows how long, but what happens right now is not just promises of a limited strike. This means a prolonged crisis. Now for my -- and for me, even -- I mean, I'm against military intervention. I want peace. I still want peace.

I can see only a peace process, that happens many through Geneva Two, which is promised, I don't know whether that will happen or not, but limited strike, I know the propaganda of the regime. They will say, we defeated imperialism, we defeated the international plot, we defeated Zionism, they will use all -- every possible word, and they will dance in the streets.

COOPER: Do you really believe a political solution that negotiations are possible at this stage given all that's happened, given the nature of the regime, given the nature of the opposition at this point?

ALZOABI: It is -- it is difficult to see. That's why I'm saying -- I mean, hopes are really small. This is what I'm saying. But it is the only hope. Airstrikes will not give us anything. The only thing we can just see right now is the Americans talk to the Russians, find some solution, compromises from both sides, and then come out with a solution. I know the regime will hate, hate peace. It lives on killing.

COOPER: There is a lot of concern about al Qaeda linked groups, the al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups, do you believe that they have in some ways hijacked this revolution?

ALZOABI: Well, yes, to some extent, yes. There is. There is Qaeda in Syria. And if you remember, Anderson, one year ago I was warning everybody in the world through you, through AC 360 saying that if you keep just watching us, you will see al Qaeda in Syria. Now we have al Qaeda in Syria.

Al Qaeda is trying to hijack the revolution. I hope it will not. At one point of time, all the Syrian people should unite against terrorism. Terrorism does not fit Syria at all, and we will not allow it the way we should -- I mean, the way we are trying to topple the terrorist regime, we need to fight terrorism and unfortunately al Qaeda is becoming stronger day after day in Syria.

COOPER: Zaidoun, I appreciate you talking to us again and I'm glad your family is OK. And thank you for talking.

ALZOABI: Thank you so much, Anderson. Thank you so much. Thank you. COOPER: Well, if there is a military strike in Syria, what if any support can the United States expect internationally?

Joining me now live is Mike Doran, he's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Kirk Lippold, former commander of the U.S. Cole, and Fouad Ajami, senior fellow at Sanford University's Hoover Institution.

Commander, let me start with you, after today's testimony do you have a sense of what a military operation would look like -- about what the targets would be, about what the impact would be? Do you think the administration has a really firm grasp on that?

CMDR. KIRK S. LIPPOLD (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER OF THE USS COLE: I think they have a firm grasp on what they would like to achieve, however, when they go in for a strike taking out hopefully the facilities that would allow the Assad regime to continue making chemical attacks. What they're not thinking through is that the Assad regime also gets a vote on whether or not they choose to respond, whether they themselves respond, whether they use surrogates like Hezbollah to strike Israel.

The U.S. has no vested interested in seeing an expansion of the conflict. But on the same token, the Assad regime has every expectation and desire to see it expanded because that's going to draw more players into the regional conflict and in fact hamper our ability to execute a limited short-term military operation.

COOPER: And, Mike, Fran in the previous blog was talking about kind of -- she's sensing a shift in terms of what the operation would be targeting. Do you sense that, as well?

MICHAEL DORAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I sense a shift -- I shift of rhetoric. I'm not sure it's a shift of strategy. Senators McCain and Graham, they demanded more support for the -- for the opposition, and so President Obama began speaking about degrading and not just the -- not just destroying capability.

And that's all well and good, but we really need a paradigm shift in the White House. It's extremely important that this attack be carried out. I agree with what Kirk said. There's got to be some concept that follow on, there's got to be concern about it, but America's credibility is on the line.

Throughout the whole region, there is a strong sense that the United States is running for the exits. It's not just because of what happened over the last week, it's the sequestration, it's the whole concept of a pivot to Asia, it's whole host of things. The absolute reluctance to get involved in Syria. All of these things have created an impression throughout the region that the U.S. is an undependable ally and the first priority of the administration has got to be to correct that impression.

COOPER: Fouad, what did you see in these hearings today?

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, SANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, I think I agree a bit with what Mike Doran said. I think we have shifted to some extent. We now have to -- we have begun to show greater faith in the opposition, in this rebellion. You could hear it in Secretary of State Kerry. All of a sudden, he's now talking about the fact the Syrian opposition is broadly conceived, is broadly representative --

COOPER: In fact, you're saying the USC is kind of a more moderate shift.


AJAMI: Absolutely, all of a sudden --

COOPER: Right.

AJAMI: It just materialized.

COOPER: Right. I didn't know. That surprised me.

AJAMI: All of a sudden. Is this sudden, sudden moderation came upon the Syrian rebellion. Look, they want to do the strikes. They want to do them and therefore you can make the argument -- they have to make the argument that somehow or another we have a rebellion on the ground that could inherit this regime.

For two and a half years, we talked down the Syrian rebellion. For two and a half years, we said al Qaeda is there and that we would be the air force of al Qaeda. For two and a half years before Secretary Kerry, there was Secretary Clinton, and Secretary Clinton was a theorist in how bad the opposition was, and that we didn't want to be partners of al Qaeda.

We have to have faith in the Syrian people and if you're going to do these strikes, you have to trust in the ambiguity of what will happen later. In truth they really don't know what will happen.

COOPER: No one knows.

AJAMI: No. Absolutely not. And in a way, if you strike at the Bashar regime, you could -- you could be lucky. There could a lucky missile that will take out the head of the snake, the head of this mafia. So I think it's (INAUDIBLE) we've entered the fog of war.

COOPER: Mike, Defense Secretary Hagel was saying today that several key allies support the -- U.S. military action, the region France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE. A, how critical is that support to the strike and even though some of these places may support it in a limited way, is that enough?

DORAN: Well, let me make two points about that. One is it's extremely important, but it's the raw material to be used to actually build a coalition, to support the opposition in the way that Fouad was just saying. We -- one of the things that's happened because we have receded and we have refused to touch Syria, is that our allies have all gone off in their own direction and they have looked for alternatives to look -- to support their interest, alternatives to the United States.

Take for instance, Turkey. Turkey is -- I wouldn't say it's supporting the Nusra Front, al Qaeda in Syria, but it is turning a blind eye. It's opening up its borders, it's allowing al Qaeda to flow in. Why? Because it wants to topple the Assad regime. It doesn't have the -- it doesn't have the ability to do it on its own. The United States didn't build a coalition to do it and so it has found other ways to do it.

What we're seeing now throughout the region is all of these powers looking after their interests without the United States. It's very dangerous for the United States because we have significant interest in the Middle East and at some point we're going to get pulled back in. We've got to get back in on our own terms.

COOPER: Well, Commander, you commanded the USS Cole, which is obviously hit in a terrorist attack. We've now heard from the regime in Syria saying that they and their allies and Hezbollah, which they've described of being one force, would strike out at U.S. ships in the Mediterranean. How vulnerable, how likely do you think it is that there will be some sort of repercussions for whatever strike against the U.S.?

LIPPOLD: Well, just like us stating that we needed to do something in response to the chemical attacks by the Assad regime, the Assad regime also lend credibility to themselves has to follow through on their threats, as well, otherwise, they will be seen as enable, ineffective and not standing up for the long-term existence.

So I think we have to take it at face value. We need to be prepared to do it and the discussions going on today in Congress and elsewhere in the halls of the Pentagon are actually very good. It is forcing this administration to do what it should have done a long time ago and that is detail the second and third order effects of what we're going to do when we go in there and conduct these strikes, how we're going to get through them.

If it expands to a broaden region, what are we going to do to try and contain it? How are we going to deal with Israel if they get struck? These are very good discussions. They are discussions that the American people need to hear and know that the administration is thinking through, otherwise, we'll be seen as rushing into this, which we do not want to do and again, try and frame it like Mike said on our terms.

We need to remain engaged in the region. Let's do it in a manner that we will look like we're backing our president, backing our national security interest, and achieving the strategic objectives that our nation needs to stay safe.

COOPER: Commander Lippold, appreciate you being on. Mike Duran as well. Fouad, stay with us. We're going to talk more.

Up next, running Syria along a family lines, a family affair. Former dictator al-Assad not only pushed his son, Bashar, on a bike but gave the country to him. The man and the now parallel universe he and his wife are living in, the mafia like rule of that country. We'll look at that.

Also the strange death of a Georgia teenager, a promising young athlete, CNN has obtained exclusively the results of an independent autopsy requested by his family. New developments in the case ahead.


COOPER: The image Bashar Al-Assad tries to show the world is one of a modern leader. He is on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. He was educated in London. He is fluent in English and French, and he is married to an attractive British-born fashion plate known for her love of expensive French shoes. She is considered so western. Vogue" magazine profiled her back in 2011 dubbing her a rose in the desert.

Appearances can be deceiving. Syria is a family business. The Assads a dynasty, a mafia really, despite the hopes that Bashar Al-Assad was going to be a reformer, the reality is like father, like son. Here is Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Bashar Al-Assad took control of Syria, it was called the Damascus spring. Hopes were high for a more peaceful and open society. That's because Assad was widely known as mild, unassuming and in favor of modernization, a sharply different image from his father, Hafez Al- Assad, a brutal and repressive dictator accused of using chemical weapons against his own people.

ANDREW TABLER, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: There is a mafia like character to the Assad family itself.

KAYE: Bashar Al-Assad was different from his family. Author, David Lesch, says growing up he was a polite boy who never lorded his status over his friends.

DAVID LESCH, AUTHOR, "THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF ASSAD": The family growing up lived in a very sort of typical, modest three-story home in Damascus, residential building where they lived on one floor of that building. For most of his childhood, he still lives on one floor of that very same building to this day.

KAYE: Assad ended up studying ophthalmology in London and was known more for his love of volleyball and rock music than for his interest in Syrian politics. In London, he met British-born Asma, a glamorous investment banker, who would later become his wife. In 1994, Assad was suddenly called back to Syria after his older brother was killed in a car accident. He was now next in line to rule, and took over in 2000 after his father died. But the hopes of the Damascus spring didn't last long.

LESCH: Many from the so-called "Olgar" that had been in Syria under their father, had been in leadership positions basically came to him and said, listen, son, this isn't how we do things here. This is going to undermine our legitimacy. This is going to undermine the position that we've worked very hard to get and maintain over the decades and so, what ensued about six, eight months later was what many people called the Damascus winter.

KAYE: It was a return to the familiar repressive rule of the Assad family a continued hard line against Israel and the west, and brutal crack downs against any internal decent. But all the while, the public face of Bashar and Asma Al-Assad has been the picture of calm, of a normal and loving family posting pictures on Instagram, all the while ignoring the realities of the growing uprising.

TABLER: I think that there are some people that have two natures and Bashar Al-Assad and his wife are this kind of couple. They are very deceptive. They are very alluring for particularly those who don't understand what goes on in Syria every day.

KAYE: Despite the growing threat of military intervention, Assad has publicly vowed never to leave Syria.

LESCH: This is someone who will be president for life. This is someone who drunk the Kool-Aid of power. This is someone who now believes all the fans around him praising him on a daily basis.

KAYE: The once mild mannered ophthalmologist, now comfortable with his power. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Let's get more insight to the Assad's family rule in Syria. Back with us, Fouad Ajami is a senior fellow at the Stanford University's Hoover Institution. You got a ruler of a mafia.

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S HOOVER INSTITUTION: I think Randi's piece really tells the story. Since we are using the metaphor of the mafia, think of his brother that died as Sunny and think of Bashar as Michael Corleon, the cold-blooded guy who inherits the job accidently and turns out to be very good at it.

COOPER: So Bashar Al-Assad's brother was supposed to inherit it and the father put the focus on?

AJAMI: Absolutely. And there is another brother who is even worse, the commander of the fourth division that does the real killing. So Bashar inherited this job and came into it and in the end he was compelled, I think, to show that he has to prove himself and the strong figure in this family, after the death of Hafez, the mother of Bashar and she was known early on in this rebellion to urged to Bashar to crack down even harder, to live up to the legacy of his father.

COOPER: So his mother is pressuring him?

AJAMI: Absolutely -- to show you even how, again, killing the mafia metaphor, then again there is also a tough sister, and she married this gangster, you know, he was one of the barons, intelligence barons of the regime and he was killed last year in an attack on the Ministry of Defense and again, in the division of labor there were maternal cousins of Bashar and their job was to be bag men, to rob the country blind. So they began with the talk about Arab nationalism and turned out to be complete extortion. COOPER: So a huge business interest and made a lot of money.

AJAMI: We don't know what the fortune of the assets would be. It runs in the billions. They treated the country as a kind of killing for themselves. They robbed Lebanon. They had run a racket in Lebanon for 30 years. They've held up the Arab oil states to ransom and received billions from them. Syria has oil in the northeast. It's not an oil producing state in a big way, but there is enough oil and the oil money is also regime money. It's also Assad money.

COOPER: Explain the religious divisions, I mean, he has support among alowhites. Explain why that is important.

AJAMI: Well, it's so amazing because even in my own lifetime, the alowhites were really the drawers of water, they were maids, they were servants, but they found their way to power and thanks to the French. They went into the armed forces because the good Sunni boys never went into army. So they had no other means of income, with no social skills, talent for business became soldiers and they ended up conquering and you have Hafez Al-Assad pulling it off a coup d'etat in 1970 and the word use is right, bequeathing the country to his family.

COOPER: Fascinating. Fouad, thank you very much.

Up next, a new autopsy report that's fueling calls for new investigation into the death of a Georgia teenager whose body was found inside a rolled up wrestling mat. The new report says it's not an accident.

Also ahead, a 360 follow, another dramatic twist in the high profile custody battle over a little girl named Veronica, a new setback for her adoptive parents.


COOPER: Let's get caught up on some other stories we're following, Isha is here with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a former high school teacher who was sentenced to 30 days in prison for raping his 14-year-old student will get a new sentencing hearing. The Montana judge who imposed the controversial sentence now says it may be illegal. The minimum appears to be two years. The judge is also under fire for remarks he made about the young victim.

A 360 follow, Oklahoma Supreme Court has delayed the transfer of a little girl named Veronica to her adoptive parents in South Carolina. Under an emergency stay, Veronica will remain with her biological father until the court issues a custody ruling. The high-profile case has already gone to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Former basketball star, Dennis Rodman, says he plans to talk to Kim Jong-Un about only basketball and nothing more during his five-day visit to North Korea. There was speculation he might try to negotiate the release of jailed American citizen, Kenneth Bay. Anderson, this surveillance video helped Chinese police get a robber. He apparently thought wearing nothing, but boxer shorts and a bag was a great disguise, but employees identified him as a co-worker. My only question is how.

COOPER: Yes, I don't understand that at all. It doesn't make sense. Isha, thanks very much.

Coming up next, the mysterious death of a Georgia teenager whose body was found inside a rolled up wrestling mat. A new autopsy report shows it was not an accident.


COOPER: Crime and punishment tonight, an autopsy report obtained by CNN is fueling calls for new investigation to the death of a Georgia teenager, Kendrick Johnson last January. Authorities at that time ruled it an accident, but to Kendrick's that never made sense for a number of reasons.

Starting with the fact that Kendrick's body was found inside a rolled up wrestling mat in his high school gym. Now a second independent autopsy paid for by Kendrick's parents says his death was not an accident at all.

Victor Blackwell has been following the story for months. We want to warn you in his report there is a photo of Kendrick taken after his death and may be disturbing to some viewers. Here is Victor's report.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kendrick Johnson was a high school, three-sports star in the South Georgia town of Valdosta.

KENNETH JOHNSON, KENDRICK JOHNSON'S FATHER: Played football, basketball and ran track.

BLACKWELL (on camera): Good at all of them?

JOHNSON: Good at all of them.

BLACKWELL (voice-over): So when 17-year-old Kendrick was not at the basketball game on January 10th and then did not come home, his parents, Kenneth and Jacqueline Johnson knew something was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Come to Lowndes High School now. There is a dead body out here.


UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Lowndes High School, in the old gym.

BLACKWELL: That body was Kendrick. This is a photo of him. He was found the next morning upside down in the center of a rolled six-foot wrestling mat. JACQUELINE JOHNSON, KENDRICK JOHNSON'S MOTHER: I just got weak, nervous.

BLACKWELL: Investigators believed Kendrick got stuck in the mat while reaching for this shoe that had fallen into the center of that mat. Lt. Stryde Jones is with Lowndes County Sheriff's Office.

LT. STRYDE JONES, LOWNDES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: We examined all the alternatives that were presented to us and the only one that fit, the physical evidence and the forensic evidence and the testimonial evidence that we received was this an accident.

BLACKWELL: But it didn't add up for Kendrick's family and this picture of Kendrick only served to fuel their concerns.

KENNETH JOHNSON: As handsome as my son was and you see him like that is -- so crazy. I really feel he was murdered.

BLACKWELL: The photo has gone viral online, shared thousands of times through social media. Crowds backed the small southern town demanding answers. In May, they got them. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed the sheriff's theory, cause of death asphyxia saying he was smothered by his own body weight, no significant injuries.

JACQUELINE JOHNSON: Saying there was no foul play. He had no bruises, no nothing.

BLACKWELL (on camera): Did you believe that?


BLACKWELL: And you still don't believe it?


BLACKWELL (voice-over): In June, at his parents' request, Kendrick's body was exhumed and taken to Florida for a second independent autopsy, this time the findings were dramatically different. The report obtained exclusively by CNN sites the cause of death as unexplained apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma, blows to the neck, not an accident. Despite the new report, the state and local authorities stand behind their findings.

Supporters for Kendrick's family are calling for a Department of Justice investigation and Kenneth Johnson says he will not stop until he finds the person that killed his son.

KENNETH JOHNSON: No matter who you are, how much money your parents have, the color of your skin, every one deserve justice, everyone.


COOPER: Victor Blackwell joins me now. It's not just the Johnson's questioning the investigation, the coroner says the scene was compromised, how so? BLACKWELL: First, Anderson, the coroner, Bill Watson says that law in Georgia is the coroner is to be called immediately once the body is found. We checked and that's true. Kendrick's body was found at about 10:00 a.m. and he was called at about a quarter to three. Once he arrived, the body had been moved. Now the sheriff's office says that they did nothing wrong on that scene.

We also received an e-mail from him a few days after our interview on camera in which he told us that I want to put up part of the e-mail, Anderson and he writes in that e-mail, "I would appreciate it if you would destroy this interview with me. I do not want this to be shown whatsoever. I feel our situation should not be aired." We have air that interview here on CNN and of course, that request only fuelled the skepticism from the Johnsons and their supporters.

COOPER: All right, Victor, we'll continue to follow it. Victor Blackwell, thank you. We'll be right back.


COOPER: I hope you join us one hour from now, a special edition of "360," a panel discussion about the testimony today on Syria. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.