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Assad Declares Victory in East Aleppo; Activists say Civilians are Being Executed in Aleppo; Trump Rejects CIA Report on Russian Hacking; East Aleppo Says Goodbye
Aired December 16, 2016 - 17:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:15] JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Jonathan Mann. This is CNN "News Now."
U.S. president Barack Obama says he told Russian President Vladimir Putin to his face to stop meddling in the U.S. election process. The exact
phrase Mr. Obama said he used about Russia's alleged cyber hacking was, quote, "Cut it out." He made the remark during his final news conference
An incident off the Philippines between the U.S. and Chinese navies. The U.S. says China stole one of its underwater drones and Washington wants it
back. The Pentagon says this Navy research boat was about to pick up two underwater drones when the Chinese swoop in and grabbed one. The U.S.
insists the drones were not spying.
The evacuation of thousands of refugees from Aleppo has been suspended. The Red Cross is urging opposing forces in the area to reach an agreement
so it can continue getting people out. The U.N. official says hundreds of children are trapped inside the city and face death if they are not
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte isn't backing down on his controversial and frequently deadly war on drugs. He says it's not a crime
to say I will kill you if you destroy my country. Earlier this week, Duterte admitted to personally killing drug suspects when he was the city
mayor of Davao.
That's your CNN "News Now." Stay with us. AMANPOUR is next.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, Assad calls it liberation; the U.N. calls it a complete meltdown of humanity.
Risky evacuations as Aleppo falls. We speak to senior U.N. officials and we chart the mounting fear of residents as the Assad forces closed in.
Plus, blow back as Donald Trump rejects the CIA's assessment that Russia hacked in to the U.S. democratic system. A veteran, senior CIA analyst
tells me America's rivals will be rejoicing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK M. LOWENTHAL, FORMER SENIOR CIA ANALYST: For adversaries to realize, oh, these fellows don't have access anymore, this is wonderful, because
they won't be able to tell him things or they will tell him things but he won't believe it. We have just gained a tremendous advantage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And all week, we've been receiving harrowing reports from besieged Eastern Aleppo as the last pocket of Syrian rebel fighters and thousands of
terrified civilians succumb to an onslaught from the Russian Air Force and Assad's Iran-backed ground forces. And Assad declared this wasteland
liberated, desperate attempts to evacuate the men, women and children finally began on Thursday.
Syria's once thriving commercial capital, now a complete meltdown of humanity as the U.N. put it. With reports of summary executions by regime
forces and their allies and dead bodies piling up in the street, residents started posting goodbye messages on social media.
On Tuesday, I managed to reach Dr. Hamza Al-Khatib, an emergency doctor and director of the Al Quds Hospital.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Hamza, welcome back to the program. These are terrible, terrible moments. We're hearing anguish pleas from people still trap in
Eastern Aleppo. Can you just describe for me what's going on and how you're holding out?
DR. HAMZA AL-KHATIB, DIRECTOR OF AL-QUDS HOSPITAL: Actually, a lot of neighborhoods has fallen down and now it's under their regime control. So
now all we have left is six neighborhoods. We are really afraid that all of us, maybe arrested or killed.
Actually, most of the people are wishing that they maybe killed due to the shelling rather than being arrested and got shot in Assad precedence.
AMANPOUR: So we have also been told that certain fighters are getting text messages to say that there is a truce and there is an evacuation being
Have you got any first hand evidence of that?
AL-KHATIB: We're not taking that seriously because in the last couple of weeks, we heard about patients and injuries evacuation. We heard about
patrols, we heard about civilians' evacuation and nothing of that has happened. So we are waiting to see a real action that there is an
evacuation for the activist, for the civilians and for the group.
[17:05:00] AMANPOUR: We have heard from one of the teachers we contacted just like you in the last week, he said, "There are bodies everywhere. Oh,
you will find bodies everywhere. We are in massive need of a ceasefire and Aleppo is dying," he told us.
Do you know whether there have been executions? The U.N. and others have been saying, the forces coming in have gone door-to-door and there are
executions and bodies in the streets and in homes.
AL-KHATIB: Actually, that's very accurate. In the besieged part of the city, where I still consult the area, there are also a lot of bodies.
People are scared to go out in the street out of dead bodies haven't been taken to grave, to be buried in a graveyard.
In the west side of Aleppo, even the east side of Aleppo where the regime are taking control over there. A lot of the execution had been permitted.
We have heard yesterday about 20 person in the morning and another 17 in the evening and there was woman and children among them.
We have heard that civilians who are hiding in health center called Al- Hayat (ph), because it's a basement. They were taking cover from the shelling and the airstrikes.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Hamza, are you telling me that you've heard the regime has killed dozens of children, who were seeking shelter in a basement?
AL-KHATIB: Yes, yes, that's happened yesterday in Al-Klasa (ph) and there are almost two of our deaths from people who are still there.
We know that there are certain families here that know that they are against the regime, in our areas, so the regime has made a lot of execution
by the ID only. That children, or that child, or that woman or man is from a certain family so that's sentence.
AMANPOUR: Wow. I mean, you paint, really, really a horrible picture. Are you going to be safe and your family? Are you going to -- how are you
going to survive this?
AMANPOUR: Jan Egeland, a U.N. senior adviser on Syria and secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council also joined me to react to Dr.
Hamza's eyewitness testimony.
AMANPOUR: You just heard a really grim, horrifying picture painted by Dr. Hamza. And he's been there for a long time and he's been a very credible
The idea of children being executed, people being executed based on IDs that identify them as anti-government families or whatever they are.
What kind of evidence and credibility do you put into these reports of mass executions?
JAN EGELAND, U.N. SENIOR ADVISER IN SYRIA: Well, these harrowing reports starting to come in a steady stream from last evening through the night and
through this day really. And they are pretty consistent of, you know, killings, of arbitrary arrest but we cannot verify it because we're not
there. You know, we haven't been given access as United Nations. I believe the colleagues from the Red Cross and Red Crescent have not been
able to go there yet.
So there will be an hour in my view of investigation of accounting for this, those who are responsible for this and not only those who pull the
trigger but also those who command this whole operation.
But, today, we need to care for the wounded. We need to get civilians out. We need to protect of all those who have now shifted hands in terms of who
control them and all of that is a tremendous job. There are hundreds of thousands of people in need only in the Aleppo region and then millions
more in a wider circle.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you specifically to address what the Russian ambassador to the U.N. has been saying. You saw that fiery exchange
between the U.S. and Russian ambassadors. The Russian ambassador during his speech mentioned you specifically.
He said he received signals from Eastern Aleppo of cases of ill-treatment by government forces against civilians and he says that he received, you
know, from you these signals. And he said the Russian authorities there began immediate investigations into such accusations and today Russian
officials visited those what you called liberated regions, spoke to commander and civilians and he says not a single fact of ill treatment or
violation of international and humanitarian law against civilians in East Aleppo was discovered.
Is that a credible scenario to you?
[17:10:13] EGELAND: While it is true that I sent these reports as they were coming in last night both with the civilians and military authorities
in Russia, and I would simply say we need independent investigation. No, I mean, just as much as they do not believe what the opposition is saying or
what is happening in East Aleppo, how can we believe what an armed actor at the scene is doing?
There has to be third party real investigation on what has happened. There also needs now, to be, you know, protection of life for the days and weeks
to come, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people live now in this area and those who are being evacuated should have a free choice. Either to go
to government-controlled areas or to go to opposition-controlled Idlib. It's the golden principle that we always have to have running to re-
evacuation and that means they have to have a choice including your good doctor there. He should have a choice of where to be evacuated.
AMANPOUR: Well, let's see whether your voice, the secretary general's voice, the voices of all the international community have an effect and
create some kind of ceasefire for safe passage.
Jan Egeland, thank you very much for joining us from Oslo.
AMANPOUR: And as the situation got graver and graver, we heard on Wednesday from Mohammed Edel, an English teacher inside Eastern Aleppo. At
first, we managed to contact him by Skype, but with the offensive closing, Edel could only send us these audio messages by his mobile phone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMED EDEL, TEACHER IN EAST ALEPPO: If I have the chance, I will stay here in Aleppo. But you know we must leave with our women and our
children. It's the conditions that the regime wanted to implement on us. In fact, our displacement is because of the whole world that let us down.
It's because of the whole world doesn't care about the blood of our women and children. It's because of the whole world that sold our blood and
innocent souls to Russia and to the Iranians and the sectarian parties, unfortunately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Such tragic words from that besieged part of Aleppo. And Ben Rhodes is the deputy national security adviser for President Obama. And so
I put it to him this week that the Syria debacle will forever tarnish his boss's legacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Look, we have lost many nights sleep on this and spent hours and hours and hours in the situation
room wrestling with this question.
I think, Christiane, what we would say is, you know, President Obama has been willing to use military force in different scenarios, including to
protect civilians in Libya when we had a clear military option to stop an advancing force on the city of Benghazi.
I think the challenge that we face in Syria, even as we've exhausted every diplomatic effort, even as we've been the largest provider of humanitarian
assistance for those in need, we have not had a military option that we felt could resolve the situation, could make the situation discernibly
You have a brutal dictator backed by Russia and Iran. You have a variety of extremist groups who are fighting on the ground. And really we have not
had a military option that we believe could be implemented to resolve the situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: When we come back, a U.S. president at war with the CIA. President-elect Donald Trump denies an intelligence assessment that Russia
hacked into the U.S. election in his favor. A senior agency analyst gives us his assessment -- next.
[17:15:36] Welcome back to the program.
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump took aim at the U.S. Congress and the CIA this week by terming "ridiculous" the agency's determination that Russia
did in fact hacked into the Democratic National Committee and also the Republican National Committee, but only published the Democratic hacks with
a specific aim of hurting Clinton and helping Trump.
His fellow Republican seemed to disagree with him now as the Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell called for an investigation into this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Let me say that I have the highest confidence in the intelligence community and especially the Central
Intelligence Agency. The Russians are not our friends.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now one former deputy CIA director says a foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an extensional threat to our
way of life.
And I've been talking to a former senior CIA analyst Mark Lowenthal. He says the worst possible thing for the CIA and for the country is to be,
quote, "Be meat in someone's partisan sandwich."
AMANPOUR: Mark Lowenthal, welcome to the program.
LOWENTHAL: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: As former CIA senior analyst, what is your first gut reaction to this brouhaha between Donald Trump and the CIA?
LOWENTHAL: I think it is not just Trump and the CIA. It is the president- elect and the entire intelligence community. I think it's unfortunate that they're getting off to such an awkward start in the relationship because
they need each other. And his beginning -- the way this is beginning, it just, it isn't good. It isn't good for a long term, successful
relationship for either entity or for the United States.
AMANPOUR: Can I quote to you what a former CIA director Mike Hayden has said?
AMANPOUR: "To have the president-elect of the United States simply reject the fact-based narrative that the intelligence community puts together
because it conflicts with his a priori assumptions -- wow."
What is the actual danger, or if you like personalizing or politicizing, you know, intelligence.
LOWENTHAL: Unfortunately or fortunately, policymakers can reject intelligence out of hand if they disagree with it. We are not speaking ex
cathedra, that's why I hate the phrase we speak truth to power. We don't necessarily have the truth. But I think the way in which he has rejected
it is really the difficult part. Just dismissing it out of hand, not saying, you know, there may be something here.
I mean, we've had intelligence rejected in the past. It's always a difficult moment for the intelligence community when this happens. But
there is an edge to this that I think is really the problem here.
AMANPOUR: Do you recall a particular intelligence that was rejected with consequences?
LOWENTHAL: Well, during the Cuban missile crisis, all of the intelligence analyst said that Khrushchev was not a gambler. He would never put
missiles in Cuba. He wouldn't do it. And John McCone, who was the director said you guys got to go back and look at this again. I think
you're wrong. And it turns out McCone was right.
During the 2004 election, President Bush, he sort of fallen out of love with us, and "The Wall Street Journal" was attacking us and the vice-
president was attacking us and some issue came up and the president said probably, look, they're just guessing. They don't know what they're doing.
They're just guessing. So in moments like that happen, you realize the one thing we really want is access. Not because we feel it's cool, but because
we want to be there to help them make their decisions.
And once you're dismissed and once you've lost access, that's just very difficult at that point. And it is not good for the policymakers, either.
Because they live in a continuous stream of information, and they need to stay abreast of this so when the crisis comes, they have a certain facility
to deal with it easily. And in his rejecting the daily brief, that becomes a problem.
AMANPOUR: Let me play you this segment of an interview about the daily briefings and get your reaction to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If something should change from this point, immediately call me, I'm available on one minute's notice. I don't have to be told, you know,
I'm like a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOWENTHAL: With all due respect to Mr. Trump, it is not the same thing everyday. These are stories -- it's like journalism. The stories develop
over time. And the sooner you can immerse yourself in the story, the sooner you're -- the better you're able to deal with it when the crisis
comes. And to think that you could just dip back into the information at the moment of crisis and be up to speed, I don't think he understands the
nature of the problems with which he is dealing.
And when you're in there in the situation room and discussing this, all eyes turn to the end of the table. They turn to the president for his
decision. They don't turn to the vice-president.
And yes, sometimes it is the same story over several days, but it is not exactly the same story, because these stories develop and they have nuance
and what we would like to see is the policymaker, and we see this usually. That after they've been doing this for X number of years, they become much
At certain point, there is good on some subjects as the briefers are, which is wonderful. And if you're just going to dip in and out of the moment of
crisis, you're not going to have that wealth of knowledge and that facility of dealing with the issue.
AMANPOUR: Everybody overseas has some kind of conspiracy theory about the CIA. Is this going to give comfort to adversaries and allies?
LOWENTHAL: Look, we have a very effective, very good intelligence community. We are very good at what we do. We're not perfect, but we're
very good. And for adversaries to realize, oh, these fellows don't have access any more, this is wonderful, because they won't be able to tell him
things or they'll tell him things and he won't believe it. We have just gain a tremendous advantage.
And I think it gives discomfort to our allies who realize that it may be harder for them to press points with the United States, because the
intelligence doesn't have its usual seat at the table.
AMANPOUR: Well, let us ask specifically then about Russia. Obviously, this is all about Russia hacking into the U.S. democratic process, and now
the CIA saying that it was doing so for the benefit of one candidate, Donald Trump, and against the benefit of the other candidate, Hillary
There is a lot of concern in Europe with upcoming elections, whether in France or in Germany, not to mention in places like the Balkans and the
Baltic state. People are very concern about the influence of the Russians in this regard.
What can you tell us through your observation of the current scene?
LOWENTHAL: Well, I would say that even if Russia hadn't done it at this point, they've gain a tremendous advantage just by the fact that people say
they have done it. So in terms of Putin's goals, he's already won just by people thinking he has done it.
Putin clearly, you know, he wants influence. He wants to be reaccepted as a great power, and now he's able to show, look, I can do this. People
think I can do this. So as I said even if he hadn't done it, and I assume that there was some level of Russian cyber activity about our election, he
has already gained a lot.
And so now we have the German election coming up, we have the French election coming up. Those are important elections. And it's going to
create doubts in these democracies about the electoral process and that's another gain for Putin.
AMANPOUR: Let me just read you in conclusion something that everybody is going to wonder why I haven't asked yet and that is that Donald Trump said
about the CIA, these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
AMANPOUR: So how do you live that down?
LOWENTHAL: First of all, I was involved in that estimate, so I understand this. Sometimes we get it wrong. Nobody ever said we get it right all the
time. But the fact that we got that one wrong against all the other ones that we get correct, it's a balance sheet.
And on balance, obviously, I'm biased, Christiane, but on balance, we do very, very well. That one we got wrong. But the interesting thing about
that one, and we don't have time to discuss this, the estimate didn't effect anyone's decision. Nobody made a decision to go to war based on
that estimate. The estimate was wrong, no question, but the funny thing was, it had no influence in anyone's outcome.
So, I mean, you have to accept the fact that sometimes we get it wrong. We don't want to, but that's just the reality of what we do, because what we
do is very difficult. We are trying to guess -- we're trying to judge the intentions of other -- of foreign actors. That is very difficult to do.
And I think, you know, even though we got the Iraq thing wrong, time to move on. New cases, new issues, new sources, new depth of experience. Our
experience dealing with Russia is much better than dealing with Saddam Hussein. I would say it's time to put that one aside.
AMANPOUR: Mark Lowenthal, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight.
LOWENTHAL: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And when we come back, we'll return to Aleppo. Imagine terrified civilians making one last appeal to the world. This time, they
are not begging for help or compassion, they are saying goodbye.
[17:26:25] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, Aleppo is dying, a terrified resident told us this week. Now imagine Aleppo saying goodbye.
The people we've met there all this past week during the massive offensive to retake the city warned us what might happen to them. Now the U.N. says
horrific atrocities are being committed. Despite some evacuations, those who remain trap inside reached out through the Internet to say goodbye and
we give them the last word.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no place now to go. It's the last place. I hope we can speak to Periscope again. At least we know that we were free
people. We wanted freedom. We didn't want anything else but freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This may be my last video. More than 50,000 of civilians who rebelled against the dictator, al-Assad, are threatened with
field executions or dying under bombing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING THROUGH FOREIGN LANGUAGE)