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U.S. Syrians Divided; Americans Opposed to Syria Attack; Hernandez Back in Court

Aired September 6, 2013 - 13:30   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: World leaders at the G-20 don't agree what to do about Syria and the U.S. Congress is divided. It's a complex issue. And for tens of thousands of Syrians living in this country, who can do little more than watch what is taking place in their homeland, they, too, are also divided.

I want to bring in Mohammed Ghanem, director of government relations at the Syrian American Council.

Thank you for joining us.

Explain to us, because this is not a point of view we have often heard. But we are talking about people inside this country of Syrian ancestry. You support the president in his drive to launch this military strike in your home country. Tell us why.


I strongly support the president's request to punish Assad for the massive use of chemical weapons against innocents in Syria. It's got to be consequences for this heinous crime. Unless there are consequences, this could be equivalent to a blank check for Assad to use chemical weapons on a larger scale.

MALVEAUX: Do you have people inside of Syria that you talk to who are potentially afraid of what might occur if the U.S. strikes?

GHANEM: I'm definitely in contact with people almost all day long because that's what I do. People are concerned. On average, between 150 to 200 individuals, mostly civilians, get killed in Syria on a daily basis because of TNT barrels and scud missiles and aerial bombardments and all of these things that Assad has been lobbing on them for two and a half years.

So I think they -- Syrians, on three different occasions, have held nationwide protests, calling on the international community to protect them. So I think there are an overwhelming majority of Syrians. Even here in the United States of America, I speak for eight Syrian American organizations. They are overwhelmingly support the president's request. We think this is not going to be about starting a war. This will be taking a significant step toward ending this.

MALVEAUX: What do you think in terms of the limited mission and scope? The president talks about sending a message and degrading some of Assad's assets. He's talking about a fairly quick strike and getting out fairly quickly. Do you think it's enough?

GHANEM: I think there's an ongoing debate in Washington, D.C., and on Capitol Hill. The bill that passed the Senate Committee to make it policy to change momentum on the ground. It's a different picture in the House. In general, what I think and what people think is, if you want to spank Assad, Assad will tell the entire world that I stood up to the entire world, defied the entire world and faced them down. And Assad and his regime will continue to prosecute this little war against innocent civilians in Syria.

What we're hoping is for these strikes to be robust enough to change momentum on the ground so Assad realizes he cannot gas his way out of this conflict and he has to negotiate.

MALVEAUX: All right.

GHANEM: And we have to move towards a political change.

MALVEAUX: Mohammed Ghanem, thank you so much. We appreciate your point of view.

Of course, we just heard Mohammed Ghanem and he's saying he's in favor of a military strike inside of Syria. Just ahead, we'll talk about the other side of the debate. We'll talk to another Syrian American who is advising against military action. That's up next.


MALVEAUX: I spoke with a Syrian man living with the United States who agrees with the president that a military target inside Syria is the right course of action. But not all Syrians here feel the same way. We bring in Dr. Khaldoun Makhoul, a Syrian American, and he lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania and joins us via Skype.

Dr. Makhoul, very good to see you here.

You say you do not think this is a good idea. Tell us why.

DR. KHALDOUN MAKHOUL, SYRIA AMERICAN AGAINST SYRIA STRIKE: It's not good idea. We are completely against the war. Killing more people doesn't solve the problem. Let's make it about Syria, not about Assad. Let's make it about the Syrian people, about the people in Syria and stop killing.

MALVEAUX: How do you do that? What do you suggest be done? Are there other options, you think? Do you think anything should be done?

MAKHOUL: All the time, the peaceful solution on the table. But we have to work for it. President Assad accept Geneva Two after two hours when they announced it, after two hours from announcing it, he accepted it. The opposition did not accept it.

I believe the Syrian people should put their difference on the side. Put their mind to work it and take the Syria forward not back ward. Bombing people is not going to solve it. Killing people is not going to solve it. We have to find peaceful solution from both side. We have to build Syria, depend on the Syrian people what the Syrian people they want, that should be the same like here in the United States. In America now, last report came out, seven out of 10 people reject the war. I believe our Congress, our Senate, our president should listen to them.

MALVEAUX: Do you think there's -- I just spoke with another Syrian American who says that Assad should be punished. If he's responsible for the use of chemical weapons against the Syrians inside his own country, there ought to be some kind of punishment. Do you agree? Do you believe that?

MAKHOUL: If we're going to say that, are we going to bomb the other side. We're going to bomb the people who kill some people and take their heart and ate it. We have to bomb the people who kidnapped archbishop. We have to put that on the side and stop punishing each other. And we should solve our problem in peaceful solution. We should talk mind to mind, not weapon to weapon.

MALVEAUX: Doctor, why do you any it is that the Syrian community as well is so divided over this issue?

MAKHOUL: Again, the situation was going on with killing and every time you think, my friend died, the other one going to say, my friend died, this going to say that. The Syrian Army killed this person. The other side will say, they killed my -- the terrorist took my friend. You will not forget. That's why we should put all the difference on the side, all this on the side, and we should think about Syria.

MALVEAUX: All right.

MAKHOUL: -- Syria, democratic Syria.

MALVEAUX: OK. We have to leave it there. But thank you so much for your point of view.

Really appreciate it, Dr. Makhoul.

MAKHOUL: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Just ahead on the NEWSROOM, 12 months ago, he was a rising NFL star playing for one of league's most powerful, most successful teams. Today, former New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez, heads back to court. We'll have the latest from Massachusetts.


MALVEAUX: The American people will hear directly from President Obama about his plan to launch military strikes against Syria. The president will address the nation on Tuesday.

And many folks have already made up their minds. They do not want to get involved in the civil war. They are voicing their opposition to members of Congress.

I want you to listen in to Senator Jeff Sessions. He's a Republican. He's holding this question-and-answer event with local Tea Party members. This is at a restaurant in Alabama. This is just outside of Montgomery. Let listen.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R), ALABAMA: I remember my exchange with Panetta, the Secretary of Defense Panetta that went viral on the TV. I was shocked. In Libya, they didn't ask Congress. They just did it. So I asked him, I said, well, what about -- well, he said, well, we've been to NATO and the Arab League and we're talking to the U.N. and we've got all these things. Then, if we choose, we'll talk to Congress. That was basically the testimony. And I said, I'm just speechless. The Constitution said the one people you need to ask is the United States Congress if you want to go to war or a military hostility. The one group to be talking with is the United States Congress. We cannot cede our sovereign authority through world bodies. And in one of our briefings, the people said that, I wanted almost like that wasn't what you were saying when President Bush, and he saw Congress's vote they did on both wars and got U.N. resolutions and support and had 40-some-odd countries going to war with us. If wasn't as if it was a total go-it-alone things.

Anyway, I'm really unhappy with where we are there. I'll say one more thing. I don't mean to be partisan about it. We've only got one president. We don't need to weaken the president or the office of the president. But I believe if President Bush told Bashar Assad, you don't use those chemical weapons or you're going to be sorry, we're coming after you, this will be a consequence you don't want to bear, I don't believe he would have used them.


SESSIONS: And so we get an uncertain trumpet. This was about the 11th time, they tell us, that some poison gas has been used in Syria, about the 11th time. I guess they figured we weren't going to do anything so they really killed a bunch of people then. I guess, doesn't that validate what so many of us were raised with, that peace through strength is a solid principal. People didn't see strength in the president's red line. They didn't believe it. Now they went on and killed 1400 people. I believe that's solid intelligence. They go out and kill people like that and then now we got to go to war or not go to war. It would've been better had he never used the weapons. It would have been better if they feared. I don't know.

So we'll go back. I'll be talking with my colleagues and we'll be wrestling with how to handle this. I've got good friends on both sides of the issues.

JEFF BARGANEER (ph), ATTENDED EVENT: Senator Sessions, Jeff Barganeer (ph). It's good to see you.

SESSIONS: Jeff Barganeer, it's good to see you.


SESSIONS: How's Brother Crooks?

BARGANEER (ph): He passed away. He was a great fan of yours. SESSIONS: We were buddies.

BARGANEER (ph): He would love to be here.

SESSIONS: He was a great American.

BARGANEER (ph): I stand here and listen to you, and I sure hope that in those secret meetings that you have good intelligence. This is not my question. I do have a question. I'd love to be able to stand here and talk to you. I'm not sure it was a chemical weapons attack. I think it was a pesticide attack. I think al Qaeda could get a hold of pesticides. It was not consistent with a chemical weapons attack. The emergency people came in there too quickly. They could not have come into an area with poison gas residue all over the place. I've read a very interesting analysis of this. I think it was set up to get the United States to come in there and do al Qaeda's dirty work.

But here is my question. You have something that none of us here have. You have a megaphone. You have a platform. You have a microphone. My question to you is that I see this president crossing the red line. He talks about red lines. I see him crossing one red line right after another. Fraudulent birth certificate. Everybody knows his documents were a fraud. Everything about this man is secret. Nobody knows anything about Obama. Nothing. Gays in the military, gun smuggling to the Mexicans, getting Mexicans killed, getting Americans killed, breaking the -- he violates the Constitution. He has a duty as the president of the United States to enforce the laws of the United States. He's refused to enforce the immigration law and he's refused to enforce Defensive of Marriage Act that was signed by Bill Clinton, for heaven's sake. He's violated so many -- he's crossed so many red lines and now Syria.

My question is, what do you think is the red line for Barack Obama? When is the United States Senate, when are our representatives going to say that he's gone too far and stop this man? Do you feel like, as a U.S. Senator, do you feel like you personally are incapable of doing something to stop him? Or do you feel like you're capable of doing something to stop him? If so, what is that?

Thank you very much.


SESSIONS: Thank you, Jeff.

Now, it is -- it is sad that so much -- such a large number of people have lost confidence in the president, his integrity or his willingness to lead.

But, you know, I can't agree with all of those things. I don't think they're probably factually correct. I just don't think that's true, some of it. But I do believe that they -- they from the way we saw in Supreme Court nominations, his own statement that he wanted judges to do empathy. Basically, that's saying he wanted judges not to follow the law, but to do whatever feels good at the time. And is a direct -- they do not respect the rule of law as the president of the United States. They are directly failing to follow immigration law. And they're directly -- there's no clearer failure to do their duty than not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, to your point. The Department of Justice has an absolute duty to defend legitimate actions of Congress. If there's any defense at all. And that clearly was a defense, legal defense. They just refused to defend the law of the United States when it was attacked in the Supreme Court. And as a former federal Department of Justice attorney, I think that was a huge failure. So I agree with that.

But we just have one president. And I would say, too, we got a long way from having the votes in the U.S. Senate. We just don't have the votes. I mean, 55 of us Senators defend -- when the chips are down, vote --

MALVEAUX: What started as a town hall, question-and-answer period regarding whether or not the U.S. should strike Syria has turned into really a question-and-answer from a lot of critical Americans there who are asking about broader questions about his policy, domestic as well as foreign policy. Senator Jeff Sessions addressing some of those.

But this is really just kind of an indoor peek, a behind-the-curtain peek, if you will, the debate that is taking place throughout our country whether or not the U.S. should, in fact, go in and cause a military strike inside of Syria.

We're going to have more of this debate on the other end of the break.


MALVEAUX: It was just a year ago, Aaron Hernandez, he was getting ready for the New England Patriots' season opener, right? Well, today the former NFL star, he is stepping back in court for his arraignment on a charge of first-degree murder.

Susan Candiotti has more.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Aaron Hernandez steps into a courtroom for the sixth time since his arrest, he's expected to please not guilty to the murder of his friend, Odin Lloyd.

MICHAEL FEE, HERNANDEZ'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He's bearing up under the pressure. He understands what's in front of him and he's committed to clearing his name.

CANDIOTTI: But the pressure is mounting. A separate Boston grand jury is also investigating whether the then-New England Patriot star was involved in the shooting deaths of two men last summer. A law enforcement source revealing to CNN, investigators have security camera video at Cure Nightclub that allegedly shows Hernandez and these two men, Daniel Abreu and Sofero Fertato, all there at the same time, but not interacting. Abreu and Fertato were killed in a drive- by shooting when they left the club in their car. A dusty SUV that belongs to Hernandez, and allegedly linked to the shooting, was found parked at the home of his uncle. Hernandez's lawyers won't comment on that investigation. For now their focus is fighting an indictment for execution style murder of Odin Lloyd. So far, there's circumstantial evidence, including home video surveillance that shows Hernandez returning to his house, holding what appears to be a gun, after he and two other men allegedly drove Lloyd to an industrial park and shot him.

Prosecutors say Hernandez later returned a rental car with a bullet casing that allegedly matched bullets at the murder scene.

The district attorney says this case may define his career.

UNIDENTIFIED DISTRICT ATTORNEY: There is added pressure. But I can't say in any way that we shirk from it. I think we welcome it.

CANDIOTTI: Hernandez's lawyers say they welcome the chance to challenge the evidence. At Friday's arraignment, we expect to hear new details of just what that evidence is.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Attleboro, Massachusetts.