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John Kerry Back from Iraq; Interview with Jill Tahmooressi; FBI Raid Rescues 168 Children

Aired June 24, 2014 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Secretary of State John Kerry is wrapping up his trip to Iraq. This speaks to the urgency of his mission to try to get leaders there to unite against militants who are overtaking huge sections of that country. Today, the secretary pressed semi-autonomous Kurds not to quit the political process. He later told the Kurdish president, he said he's willing to participate in the formation of a new government in Baghdad.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, the brutal offensive by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is raging again at Iraq's largest oil refinery. Security forces are still in control of the strategic site, but several security officials tell us militants have seized it, adding to about a dozen cities, towns, roads, border crossings and an airport captured recently by ISIS.

Secretary Kerry talked with out Jim Sciutto about why President Obama is insisting that Iraq's sectarian and ethnic leaders unite before the U.S. takes action.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: If he made the decision without trying to see whether or not you can have a government that can work or reconstitute the military, then you have a whole different set of options.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But you said yesterday that the president was prepared to act before there is political compromise.

KERRY: He might be. Well, he's always prepared to act, under any circumstance. He reserves the right to use force if he has to, if it's going to accomplish a goal. But the primary effort is to get the government to form so that you have something backing up what you're doing, so that you have a military here which can be reconstituted. So, you have political leadership that can pull people together, and they will feel invested in their government and prepared to push back. Why did you have a whole, what, six divisions, fold in front of several thousand, you know, terrorist fighters come? Because they weren't invested. Because they cut their own deals. That's a failure of governance. And if you can reconstitute that government, then you can have a strategy. You can have a holistic approach to the solution.


BERMAN: If you can put that government back together again and that's a giant if at this time.

Let's bring in our military analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, former liaison officer to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Also with us, Jenna Jordan, who is an assistant professor of international affairs at Georgia Tech.

Rick, I want to start with you, because you've spent a lot of time in the north, in the Kurdish region with Iraq, who, by the way, they have pushed for autonomy there. But I've never heard it with language I've heard in the last 24 hours. Where the Kurdish president said, we're through with the rest of you. The situation is so bad, we can't see a reason to get back in. What incentive do they have to join the political process now?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't really see one for them, John. This is probably the real opportunity they have for realistic attempt at independence, and I think they are going to push it. This may not come along again in the future. If they put that government back together, they will back in the autonomous region of course, but they will part of what ever they come back to fix Iraq, a confederation or back the way it was. Given my background, I'm a big supporter of the Kurds and I think Mr. Barzani will pursue an independence option.

PEREIRA: The hope is they'll all be at the table.

And John will tell you, Jenna, that I am the optimist. But how realistic is this idea that the U.S. can wait for the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites all come together, equally inclusive and have a government that represents them all?

JENNA JORDAN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, GEORGIA TECH: Yes, I also tend to be an optimist. I think it's an essential solution. I think it's one of only ways to remove some of the moderate support ISIS has right now. Having a government in which they feel included and represented it really essential. So many feel disenfranchised and so up set with the Maliki government and they have gone on the side of ISIS. That's a major problem. Undermining that support is a really essential way to undermine ISIS, which is important to be able to really realistically challenge sort of having an independent city-state in the area.

PEREIRA: But is it doable, Rick? Is it doable?

FRANCONA: I think there's an option, but I think realistically you are not going to be able to who those moderate Sunnis away just yet. That will come later. What may play out is that they have jumped in with ISIS because they are so angry, this animosity toward the Shia. But this is a temporary alliance. This is what we saw in 2006. They were part of the opposition, and then as we were able to get to them, they became part of the Sunni -- the Sunni awakening. We might see that again when they get tired of living under the draconian form of Sharia Law that ISIS is going to impose. BERMAN: You are essentially depending on ISIS to govern badly in

order to win Iraq back.

And, Professor, do you think that ISIS knows this? How do you think they will approach now governing this territory they now control and can they hold on to it?

JORDAN: I think this is a real challenge for ISIS. I think they have overreached. They are unlikely to be able hold on to the amount of territory they have right now. The point is many of them were moderate Sunnis, the former Basra regime, the Saddam Hussein loyalists. And those participating in the Sunni awakening are probably going to be very unhappy with the kind of rule that ISIS wants to have. It's very harsh, Islamic -- a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. And those are two main challenges that ISIS really face in holding on to territory and being able to maintain control.

BERMAN: This may take a lot of time, more time than some Iraqis are willing to give it. More time than the U.S. is willing to give it.

Professor Jenna Jordan, Lt. Col. Francona, thank you for being with us. Appreciate it.

JORDAN: thank you for having me.

PEREIRA: Ahead @THISHOUR, a parents' worst nightmare, your child far from home and in jail. It's the reality for the mother of this jailed Marine. She's going to join us with an update on his condition coming up next.


BERMAN: @THISHOUR, a decorated U.S. Marine spending another day in a Mexican jail, wondering when, if he will get his day in court. Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi was taken into custody almost three months ago after he drove into Tijuana with three firearms in his truck.

PEREIRA: Now, all of those guns are legally registered in the U.S. They are not legal in Mexico. Fast forward 80 days later, he is still in jail.

Sergeant Tahmooressi's mother, Jill, is joining us now from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

We're so glad to speak to you, Jill. I'm sorry we're still talking about your son being in Mexico. Give us an idea, you talk to him every day, how is he holding up.

JILL TAHMOORESSI, MOTHER OF SGT. ANDREW TAHMOORESSI: He's trying to stay hopeful right now. He has a level of confidence with his new legal team. We're on legal team number three, however this time I utilized an expert criminal defense attorney from California to help me select, and so we are confident that at this time there will be some movement. We don't have a court date yet but we hope to by next week have a date. BERMAN: What's been the legal issue there? Why did it take song to

get a decent lawyer for your son? Do you feel like the system there is stacked against him?

TAHMOORESSI: Well, I was just an individual mom trying to find a Mexican attorney. I did use the Department of State lists from the Tijuana consulate services. However, we were highly disappointed with the first legal team. They were not -- they were not setting forth a truthful statement on Andrew's part. And then the second attorney, though very compassionate and passionate, is not experienced in criminal law, as with the third team that we've selected with the help of legitimate guidance.

PEREIRA: Jill, I have to ask you give you some props here. You say that you are just one mom working and look you have done some things. You have done some things. Two lawmakers have now visited your son. That is the force of a mother's love right there. Tell us what they said, what they are doing, if they are feeling confident there's going to be some movement on getting your son out.

TAHMOORESSI: Thank you so much for bringing that up. It gives me goose bumps to think that there are elected public official that do care about one Marine that's being held in one jail. So Representative Salmon, in his second visit in Mexico. And with him last Saturday came Ed -- Representative Ed Royce, from California. So it gives Andrew a lot of hope that he's not abandoned, that there are people fighting for his freedom north of the border. I know he was really positive when he called me Saturday and let me know that he had the visits from the two representatives.

BERMAN: This is so much to go through. What does this do to you and your family does it test your faith in the idea of justice, or in the assistance of the U.S. government to fix an issue like this?

TAHMOORESSI: Well, it definitely tested our faith. I'll tell you that Andrew has been through a huge ordeal though he will not call it hell because hell is the absence of God and literally God has saved him. He is still alive because God has saved him through his first torture in the prison, La Mesa State Penitentiary. Faith definitely gets us through.

We're frustrated because, at the level of White House, our commander- in-chief -- Andrew still is a Marine until 2016, when his reserve contract ends. And we did the We the People petition that President Obama actually set up as a platform to communicate to him and we reached the 100,000 signature threshold May 30th, which wasn't easy to do. And that is a threshold where it will require a White House response. So Andrew is frustrated because every night he asks has the White House responded yet to the petition, and it breaks my heart to tell him no. There's not a response yet.

PEREIRA: But, Jill, you are working really hard for your son. He's got to know that. We know it. We want to keep in touch with you. We want to follow this story through. We should point out, Andrew now being held in a prison in Mexico. Tell him we're sending our hopes that he hangs on and hangs in there, Jill. TAHMOORESSI: Thank you. I will.

PEREIRA: Take care.

BERMAN: All right. Ahead for us @THISHOUR, FBI sting rounds up alleged pimps and rescues 168 children from the sex trade. But what's hard to believe is how some of these kids fell between the cracks. Stay with us.


PEREIRA: This is quite a tale to tell you. 168 children and teens are safe today after a nationwide crackdown on pimps. The FBI led raids in more than 100 cities across the nation over the past week and rescued children and teens who have been forced into the sex trade.

BERMAN: The FBI arrested 281 alleged pimps and promised to crush those who would crush these children.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: These are not far away kids in far away lands. These are our kids on our street corners, our truck stops, our motels, our casinos. These are America's children.


BERMAN: These are our kids, America's children.

Joining us is Ernie Allen, the president of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Ernie, we heard it right there, these are America's children from all of America's places. Give us a sense of where the FBI found them.

ERNIE ALLEN, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN: Well, John, the director, Comey, said it exactly right. They're everywhere. They found them on street corners. They found them in hotel rooms. They found them in truck stops. These are kids who are put in places where those who seek sex with children can go. So they are literally in every city. Not just in big cities, but in middle American communities across this country.

PEREIRA: Ernie, this is a story that makes me crazy and it has for many years. Help people at home understand that these children, these children, ended up in sex trafficking in the first place. How were they preyed upon?

ALLEN: Well, Michaela, most of these kids are vulnerable already. These are kids, many of whom leave home voluntarily. They're runaways. They're throw-aways. They're homeless kids. They're kids who are targeted out of the child welfare system. So in most of these cases, there's not a mom or a dad somewhere looking for them. They are hidden victims. And they're easy marks. They're easy prey for the traffickers who prey upon them. Who offer them sustenance, kindness, shelter, even love. So these kids find out how to survive and they become 21st century slaves.

BERMAN: You mentioned the kids who were in the system. About 10 percent of the kids who were rescued were part of the child welfare system. Presumably, that means there have been government eyes on them. You know, how did they slip through, then, the cracks there, with the government watching them, helping them?

ALLEN: Well, John, the child welfare system in this country is overwhelmed. And kids run away. Kids leave. There's a major case last year in which the traffickers targeted foster care to recruit their victims.


ALLEN: Many states when a child disappears from care, they still don't report those kids as missing. There's legislation on Capitol Hill right now that will fix that. But these are hidden victims. Nobody's looking for them.

PEREIRA: This needs to be on our radar. We need to be covering the story. This makes me crazy. Here's a question. These arrests are big. It's a big deal. It's important that they're getting the pimps out of the equation. But there's a never-ending well of people willing to step in and fill that role. How do you stem that demand?

ALLEN: Michaela, you're exactly right. 1,450 pimps and prosecutors have been prosecuted since the Innocence Lost Initiative in 2003. But other people spring up in their stead. We're never going to solve this problem until we begin to address the demand. And that means not only do we need to arrest the pimps and rescue the kids, we also need to arrest and charge the customers. What they're doing is a crime. They don't match society's stereotype. These are businessmen, teachers, all of that. We've got to attack the demand side.

PEREIRA: We've also got to make sure those kids are not just put back in the system to have this happen to them again.

Ernie Allen, thank you so much.

Only thing I'll disagree with him, I don't believe any child is a throw-away kid. I don't believe that. I really don't.

Ahead @THISHOUR -- oh, you'll like this story -- did the queen sit on this scary-looking throne while visiting the set of "Game of Thrones" today?

Think she did?

BERMAN: I know the answer.

PEREIRA: OK. We'll find out when we come back.


PEREIRA: The queen made a royal visit today to set of the wildly popular HBO show which happens to be on his DVR most days. "Game of Thrones." In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, met the actors and some production staff and got to see the iconic throne. The big question is, did she seat herself in said throne?

BERMAN: Kings Landing it turns out is in Northern Ireland.

Max Foster joins us to talk about this.

Max, did the queen sit on the iron throne?

MAX FOSTER, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, guys, there are thrones and there are thrones, aren't there? This is the queen. Her throne is something like 800 years old or something. This one's got a while to go before it even qualifies for such a position.

But, you know, I got the impression she's not a fan because I think any fan of "Game of Thrones," having been so close to it, would have just jumped into it. So I think she was definitely there on an official visit. Wasn't a fan. But she did get a little miniature version to take home with her so that may be appearing at Buckingham Palace. Perhaps put a doll on it or something and use the throne in that way.

PEREIRA: How lovely. So she's not a fan of the show necessarily. We know they don't just make these visits randomly. What was behind this visit then?

FOSTER: Well, you know, it's extraordinarily really. You think about "Game of Thrones" as a product, it's just so successful, isn't it? This is a real example of how a TV show can have a massive impact on one country. So they estimate that having the film, the show filmed there, has brought something like $140 million into that local economy, 900 permanent jobs, thousands of other temporary jobs. It's a country of less than two million people. So that was really why she was there. And an extraordinary success of this show, I think she's a fan of what it can achieve.

PEREIRA: I can understand why she doesn't watch. Most of the kings and queens end up dead, impaled. Painful deaths, Max. I can see maybe she wants to shy away from that.

Max Foster for us in London.

PEREIRA: Great to have you @THISHOUR. I love.

BERMAN: We're going to move on from the queen to the president.


BERMAN: Don't know if he watches "Game of Thrones." What he thinks the best perk of being president might be. He talked about this during his summit on working families. He mentioned Air Force One.

PEREIRA: Totally. Of course.

BERMAN: All presidents love that. But his favorite thing, listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was telling folks the other day one of the best perks of being president is anybody will hand you their baby.




So I get this baby fix like two or three timings a week.



PEREIRA: He gets to give them back, too. Oh, look at that shot. That's so cute.

BERMAN: My wife is now thinking about running for president because that's all she wants to do is hold babies.

PEREIRA: Hold babies.

And never have to change them too, right, that's the thing.

BERMAN: Exactly.

PEREIRA: He then gives them back to mom and dad. And they can say, my baby was held --


PEREIRA: Well, that's true. Thanks for making that awkward.

Thanks for joining us @THISHOUR.

You're amazing.

BERMAN: "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts now.