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Will Syrian Ceasefire Hold? Terrorism and Modern Life

Aired September 12, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET



[14:00:18] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, will that hard won Russia-U.S. ceasefire actually work for Syria. The Russian opposition

activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky joins the show on Putin's great game on the global stage.


MIKHAIL KHODORKOVSKY, KREMLIN CRITIC (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): He needs to show that in the world, he is perceived as a strong man.


AMANPOUR: Also ahead, lessons learned 15 years after 9/11. He wrote the definitive work on al Qaeda, "Looming Tower" author, Lawrence Wright joins



LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, LOOMING TOWER: This is a persistent problem. It is a problem that defines our age in many respects. One that won't go away

any time soon. And I hope that that lesson has sunk in deeply to the American people. It is a challenge.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

The latest ceasefire in Syria is just a few hours old, but after a rare public appearance by President Assad leading prayers in Darayya, the first

day of Eid, he then vowed to take back every inch of lost territory, raising the obvious question.

Would this Russian-American deal hold any better than any of the previous ones.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have come here to give the message that the Syrian nation is determined to retake every

piece of land from the terrorists and to re-establish safety and security, to reconstruct and rebuild infrastructure and rebuild everything that has

been destroyed in all of its meaning from human and material meaning.


AMANPOUR: And this after Syrian/Russian forces launched a massive bombardment this weekend, just hours after ceasefire was announced.

Monitoring groups say nearly 100 people, including children were killed.

Last week, the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told me that Putin could stop Assad in a heartbeat if he wanted to. So what is Russian's global


With local elections happening next weekend, economic troubles at home may require an image of leadership abroad. Putin's party has a locked on the

polls, but his nemesis Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been allowed to field an array of opposition candidates.

Khodorkovsky who was once Russia's richest oligarch before Putin stripped him of his assets and sent him to prison for ten years is now living here,

once again a thorn in Putin's side.


Mikhail Khodorkovsky, welcome back to the program.

You know that Vladimir Putin is really making a play as a global leader, whether in Syria. He's just announced he wants to host new Israel-

Palestinian talks. And, of course, he has a lot to say about Brexit here, about Europe and about the United States.

Tell me what that means for him, and his election.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Putin wants to stay an irreplaceable leader. He needs to show that in the world, he is perceived as a strong

man. This is important for his electorate. And although it seems that his electorate is not interested in the West, in fact, it is, and Putin is just

playing this role, trying to show himself a strong man.

The most difficult thing for him is that he -- is when he's not noticed or when he is poked fun at.

AMANPOUR: How do you assess what Donald Trump said about Vladimir Putin? Let me play to you what Trump said about Putin just a few days ago.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The man has very strong control over a country. Now, it's a very different system and I

don't happen to like the system, but certainly in that system he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.


AMANPOUR: So Trump saying that Putin has been a leader more than Obama has been a leader.

What do you think?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I don't think -- I mean, not only Obama, but also Trump would not rule America as Putin rules Russia. And

when somebody, a hooligan is driving a car in the motor way, we are not saying this is a strong one, we're saying this is dangerous driving.

[14:05:06] AMANPOUR: All right. So now you say he's a dangerous driver, and you've got elections coming up next week. And these are important

elections. Obviously, Putin's party is going to win.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I would not even use the word election. I would call this quasi-election. You can't really use the word elections

when you know the result in advance. This result is achieved by all the efforts of the state apparatus. It's both television. It's special


Still, we think it's important to take part in this quasi election, because it's a political performance, I would call that. Because it shows the

people that there is alternative. That there are different people.

AMANPOUR: The Russian government is allowing your opposition candidates, the people who you back, to run.

Are you surprised?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Yes, it was a bit of a surprise for me, although not a very big kind of surprise. I thought that we could register

about half of our candidates, and we managed to get 19 out of 25 registered. 25 that we had originally.

Why this happened? I think because Putin had learned a lesson of the previous elections. He is very much afraid of the city protests.

AMANPOUR: It is said that the Russian people are really, really hurting from the economy. That millions have dropped back below the poverty level.

That the economy is stagnant. That wages, many of them have not been paid both in public sector and the private sector. And pensions are not keeping

up with the inflation, et cetera.

How much are people hurting? What is top of their agenda when they go to the elections? And will they make the government pay for that, as they do

in most elections?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): The important thing for people, of course, is -- the most important thing is their economy, is the economy.

But unfortunately, in their heads, they do not have the connection between their own pocket, their own fridge and what the state power does.

Putin still is beyond the fear or the public criticism. A lot has been done for this by the state media controlled by him, but also, by the law

enforcement bodies.

AMANPOUR: What do you make about Russia and the U.S. election? There are many, many, many suggestions and some in the U.S. government say evidence

that it was Russia that hacked into the Democratic Party e-mails, that Russia, Putin would prefer Trump over Hillary for many reasons, including

Trump seems to say that he would not defend NATO necessarily against any Russian aggression, that he would give Russia the so-called backyard sphere

of influence that it wants.

Do you believe that Vladimir Putin wants Trump to win?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): This is a very funny situation, I think. There is a conviction in the Russian political elite that Trump's

victory would be a victory for Putin. That Clinton's victory would be Putin's defeat.

AMANPOUR: But there are many, many concerns about the hacking and the interfering with the election, with the electoral mechanisms and the

systems in various states.

Do you believe that the state of Russia, even though Putin denied it, is trying to manipulate the outcome of the election, particularly in certain

states, like Illinois for instance?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I don't have information that that could use as evidence. But in my own political work in Russia, I can see

how actively people, the government is manipulating the Internet.

How the government secret services are hacking other people's accounts, postal, and just general missives such as general's communication, they are

interfering. So I would not be surprised if I learned that these mechanisms are used in the west as well by Russia.

[14:10:11] AMANPOUR: You have said that you yourself are not popular enough in Russia to run, so you're not going to run for president in the

presidential elections, and you're obviously not running in the parliamentary elections.

But are you afraid for your life? You know, ten years in prison. You've seen how political opponents have ended up dead either by poisoning here in

London, they've ended up dead in hotel rooms in the United States and elsewhere, and even in Russia, on the streets.

How do you sleep at night? Do you have nightmares?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): For ten years in prison, I knew I could be killed at any point. If Putin decides this is a necessary step, I won't

be there.

Today, it will be much more difficult. They will have to use much more efforts.

AMANPOUR: So you're not looking over your shoulder all the time?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): You'll know. I just think that I should live as Putin once said about Anna Politkovskaya. He said about Anna

Politkovskaya, as a dead person. She is more dangerous to us than the -- than when she was alive. I think that's what I have in mind.

AMANPOUR: Wow, OK. Well, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, thank you very much. Of course, Anna Politkovskaya was that famous, brave, crusading journalist who

was assassinated seven years ago in Moscow.

Thank you very much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: And we had hoped to also interview the important Putin ally, Aleksey Pushkov tonight. A head of parliament -- he is the head of

parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, but he canceled, citing election travel and we hope to have him on at a later date.

When we come back, looking back on a day that will live on in infamy. It is 15 years since 9/11. And our world has radically changed. Author,

journalist and Al-Qaeda expert, Lawrence Wright, is next.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Terrorism and the fear of it have become a fact of life in the 21st century. Going back to the most terrifying and indelible terrorist act and

images the world has ever known.

Sunday marked 15 years since those September 11th attacks. 15 years changed forever by that one terrible day.

Lawrence Wright is one of the acknowledged scholars on al Qaeda. And he's just released a new compendium of his reporting. I asked him about the

terror years.


AMANPOUR: Lawrence Wright, welcome to the program.

WRIGHT: It's good to be with you again, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So you wrote what everybody calls the definitive al Qaeda book, "Looming Tower," 15 years on from 9/11.

What have we learned in those 15 years?

[14:15:00] WRIGHT: You know, I never thought honestly that 15 years after 9/11, I would still be writing about terrorism. So I think one thing that

we've learned is this is a persistent problem.

It's a problem that defines our age in many respects. One that won't go away any time soon.

And I hope that that lesson has sunk in deeply to the American people. It is a challenge. I think the other thing that we haven't learned that we

need to learn is that terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States or the west.

We can deal with this problem. The real catastrophes have come with our own overreaction, especially on speaking of the invasion of Iraq.

AMANPOUR: I just want to take you back to -- right after 9/11, and the things you found and what you've been writing in your latest book.

For instance, referring to a Jihadi who had hosted several of the 9/11 hijackers who had been interrogated by Ali Soufan, who at the time was FBI

in Yemen days after 9/11. This is what you write.

"Abu Jandal had heard about the attacks, but he didn't know many details. He studied the pictures in amazement and he said they looked like, quote,

"a Hollywood production." But the scale of the atrocity visibly shook him. God help us, he muttered. Soufan asked what kind of Muslim would do such a

thing. Abu Jandal insisted that the Israelis must have committed the attacks on New York and Washington. Quote, "The Sheik is not that crazy,"

he said of Bin Laden."

What did you take from that quote?

WRIGHT: I'm still dealing with, you know, misinformation that is out in the world. It is unbelievable how this persists the idea that someone like

America did it to our -- we did it to ourselves or the Israelis were behind it. These kinds of conspiracy theories endure, without any evidence.

AMANPOUR: To me, what left out was that even somebody so close to Bin Laden just could not believe that this kind of atrocity would be committed.

And others who you talk about, for instance, another very important Islamist thought that al Qaeda had committed, quote, "Group suicide with


I mean, there is a lot of people, whether al Qaeda types or other conservative, even radical Islamises, who thought this was the worst thing

for Islam.

WRIGHT: It is the worst thing for Islam. It visited a catastrophe upon this entire religion. What's interesting to me in this observation that

you're making, Christiane, is that originally people were appalled by the scale of the violence. And now, there is a tremendous effort to match it

with equally gruesome imagery.

And I think that's one of the things -- one of the secrets that we're dealing with in trying to counter this Islamist narrative, is how beguiling

the imagery is. And that 9/11 was so -- we were so fixated on those images. And I think that ISIS has been trying to compete with that through

their beheadings and their gruesome forms of torture that they openly advertise. The people that were appalled by 9/11 now must stand back and

with their mouths agape.

AMANPOUR: You know, Larry, I was stun to hear the prime minister of France say just over the weekend that France is actively surveilling 15,000

potentially radicalized people, obviously in the wakes of their terrible, terrible, three massive attacks in the space of just over a year. 15,000

in the heart of Europe.

WRIGHT: The State Department, U.S. State Department estimates that about 10 percent of the French population as Muslim as many as 70 percent of the

prisoners are.

What a stark measure of alienation. That is -- you know, and Muslims who have not been able to integrate into the French society, and French society

which has not been able to accept them. This is a problem that's going to endure for a long, long time.

AMANPOUR: It's just, to dial back a little bit, immediately after 9/11, when George Bush famously, famously used very sort of strong language, but

let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: My administration has a job to do. And we're going to do it. We will rid the

world of the evil doers. This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.


AMANPOUR: The word crusade, the phenomenon of war on terrorism has been, you know, groundly criticized and discussed and disputed.

Was the language, right or wrong, do you think?

WRIGHT: It was a terrible mistake. Characteristic of the ignorance that America had about how charged these words were in the regions that we were

involved in. And the idea that we're going to wage war against evil doers and terrorist broaden the aperture to include so many different people and

difference groups.

[14:20:14] AMANPOUR: Given that, isn't there also some truth to the phenomenon in America of the neo-cons and the rise of very important people

like Paul Wolfowitz aided by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney who had a global view ever since the beginning of the Cold War, against the Soviet

Union, that it was America the good versus the rest, the bad.

Wasn't this a war that they actually were dying to embrace as a way of perpetuating vital American values around the world?

WRIGHT: Absolutely. And nobody has been held accountable for one of the biggest catastrophes in American foreign policy history. By some accounts,

the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, just set aside the blood letting. They've cost America $4 trillion to $6 trillion over the 15 years that

we've been engaged.

And we did not invest that money in making the world a better place. We invested it in making it more miserable, creating chaos in Iraq, to

stimulating new enemies in Afghanistan. So the net result of that investment has made the world a far worst place. And I do hold responsible

those people that you named.

AMANPOUR: What should America have done after it was attacked?

WRIGHT: I think that we should have gone into Afghanistan as we did. And what happened is we decimated al Qaeda. The Taliban was scattered. Al

Qaeda was at that point totally rejected all over the world even by the Muslim world. And at that point we should have withdrawn. And allowed the

U.N. and other agencies, international agencies to help Afghanistan reconstitute a working government.

Instead, what happened before we actually got Bin Laden, we just declared war in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. And took our most

valuable operatives and out of the ball, and went into Iraq, leaving al Qaeda to re-grow itself and the Taliban to reconstitute itself.

So in my opinion, you know, those two wars were a catastrophe that allowed al Qaeda to resurge, and for -- eventually for ISIS to get its feet on the

ground in Iraq and the chaos that ensued and become the entity that we know today.

AMANPOUR: Yes. And now the Syrian people and the Iraqi people and so many people in the West paying the price with so much violence from ISIS today.

Lawrence Wright, thank you so much indeed.

WRIGHT: It's always a pleasure. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And coming up, Hillary Clinton was a New York senator that fateful day, 9/11. 15 years later, at an event commemorating the victim,

this weekend, presidential hopeful Hillary fell ill.

We imagine a world when coming down with something put a pox on politics. That is next.


[14:25:20] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where you can't slow down, you can't rest and you absolutely cannot get sick.

This weekend, after attending a 9/11 memorial in New York, after more than a year of relentless campaigning, the Democratic presidential nominee,

Hillary Clinton, fell ill. And these pictures have boomeranged across the world.

Several hours later, the campaign revealed the former secretary of state had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday.

But, surely, this can't be a case of a human being having an off day. Nope. Like so many things Hillary, the media are having a field day, off

to the races with another debilitating case of indignant outrage. This must be another typical Clinton conspiracy to fool them, with a total

transparency breakdown.

Talk about transparency breakdown. What about Donald Trump's tax returns. Where are they? Can't a girl have a sick day or two? Don't get me

started. Because when it comes to overqualified women having to try 100 times harder than under qualified men to get a break, or even a level

playing field, well, we know that story.

And seriously now, the 14th president of the United States, Franklin Pierce, rose to that role after earning the nickname Fainting Frank for

twice collapsing in two battles in 1847.

Who can ever forget George Bush Senior throwing up all over the Japanese prime minister and then fainting at a state dinner? And he oversaw the

fall of the Soviet Union and even won the first Gulf War.

Considering the media outrage of Hillary failing to tell them that she had pneumonia on Friday, consider the media actively shielding some great

American presidents, agreeing for instance, not to show these photographs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose polio kept him confined to a

wheelchair. But did that stop his new deal for America? Or winning World War II.

And then there everyone's favorite president, John F. Kennedy. Now he saved the world from possible nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban missile

crisis, called for a new frontier in space and generally inspired whole generations around the globe.

While the press kept secret, his painful struggle with Addison's disease, leading the world in sickness and in health.

If the boys can do it, why not the women.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and


Thanks for watching, and goodbye from London.