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Extrajudicial Killings By The Assad Regime; Communist Party Warns Possible Disastrous War Between U.S. And China; Injured Toddler's Future Waits on Trump Travel Policy

Aired February 7, 2017 - 17:00:00   ET



[0:00:04] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, systematic mass hangings inside Syria. Thirteen thousand victims,

more evidence of extrajudicial killings by the Assad regime, but with the president going nowhere, will justice ever be serve? The former U.S.

Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen Rapp joins the program.

Also ahead, just 17 days in office and this die warning to President Trump from Beijing. War between China and United States would be a disaster for

the whole world. We ask, is that really possible?

Good evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

In cold blood, the Assad regime is systematically killing the opponents it has imprisoned. That is the accusation, and new evidence produced today by

Amnesty International. And it follows our exclusive reporting almost exactly 2 years ago when an insider code name, Caesar, defected and

smuggled thousands of photos out of the country revealing to the world a program of extrajudicial torture and murder.

Amnesty International's report including this recreation now alleges that at Saydnaya military prison outside Damascus, the Syrian regime has also

executed as many as 13,000 people over the course of four years, most of them civilians, "They are only told that they've been sentenced to death

minutes before the executions are carried out. They never told when their execution will be carried out, and they do not know how they will die until

the nooses are placed around their necks, chilling."

The hanging, say Amnesty, were authorized at the highest level of the Assad regime. That chain of command is critical for prosecuting war crimes, but

the report comes at a point when Assad seems stronger than ever since the war began, bolstered by Russia and Iran, ignored by new American president

whose main focus in Syria is defeating ISIS.

So joining me now from The Hague deceit of the international criminal court is Stephen Rapp, the former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War


Ambassador Rapp, welcome to the program. You've been working on this and many similar issues for a long time. Just give me your assessment of how

important this Amnesty report is today.

STEPHEN RAPP, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE FOR WAR CRIMES: Well, it's extremely important. Of course, it's part of what we've seen before, but

the idea of 13,000 people being currently hanged, maybe with a one or two minute trial which, of course, doesn't meet any kind of standard. It's

basically a summary execution and often cruelly with the long and painful doubts. This is just part of a story, which I think conservatively we're

looking at 50,000 Syrian civilians tortured and murdered by their own government with direction from the highest level.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say the highest level. I want to read you what the report says and what Amnesty says. I mean, it's really methodical death

sentences have to be approved by the Grand Mufti of Syria and either by the defense minister, or the Chief of Staff of the army who deputized on behalf

of Assad. Then they assigned by the head of the military prosecuted, the military field court, representative of the security forces hangings are

overseen by an execution panel with military officers as well as prisoner medical officers. And these are based amnesty's conclusions on interviews

conducted with former prison guards and officials. Just that line of approvals, that chain of command, does that establish enough to be able to

accuse, you know, Assad and the highest levels of these extrajudicial killings?

RAPP: Well, certainly as I said before and when we were talking about 11,000 victims in the prisons in Damascus where our Caesar brought out the

photos three years ago, these are crimes that are happening in the establishment, so the Syrian security forces and services under the command

of the president. These and the kind of evidence that we have is massive and overwhelming, far better than they had, frankly, at Nuremberg or in The

Hague at the Yugoslavia tribunal or that we had in Africa and in Sierra Leone with Charles Taylor or in Arusha with the genocide trials against the

Rwandan leaders. This is very strong evidence that would make for a great trial, certainly, if we could organize them at the international level.

[0:05:07] AMANPOUR: Well, you know, you beg the question before I stopped playing you some of this incredible testimony by the victims. Is it likely

then given you, you know, certainty that this is such strong evidence that Assad will be brought to trial? I mean, there was a moment when look

wobbly for him there and now he looks very seriously cemented in power.

RAPP: Well, there are certainly moments when other people that were brought to trial look very stronger or when they had their days when they

thought they would succeed and we can't predict the near future. What we do know is that this documentation is now being presented the European

prosecutors. We have a case last week filed in Spain because of the sister of a victim that shown in the Caesar photos against nine senior officials

starting just below Assad and going down to the prison facility. The cases will come in the national system. There's a new U.N. mechanism established

to actually build dossiers on criminal conduct to use this kind of evidence from Amnesty, from groups like the Commission for International Justice and

Accountability to build very strong cases and find the courts that can pursue it.

So we're going to see justice. Whether we'll see it at the highest levels tomorrow or the next day, we will see it.

AMANPOUR: It often is a long process when you talk about building a dossier. So, I want to play for you some of the Amnesty video where they

have interviewed for instance, a form of prisoner and this man is Anas Hamado (ph). He's a farmer from Latakia, Syria and he was arrested back in

2011 when the Civil War broke out or really when peaceful protest broke out. He was just protesting. He spent a year and three months in

Saydnaya. Let us play what he told Amnesty.


ANAS HAMADO, FARMER (through translator): When they bring food, it sounds like a battle in every cell. They take out the head of the cell with two

others to be beaten. You hear sounds, you hear drops to the floor. You begin to shake. You can't control it.


AMANPOUR: You know, he's giving his perspective of what he knew was going on around him. I guess how important of these testimonials that Amnesty

has got from live witnesses, so to speak, and do you think that since the Caesar photos came out, more people are coming forward. Is that what's

going on?

RAPP: Well, I certainly see it that there's greater cooperation from survivors communities. There are refugees ready to begin cases and that

are meeting with the attorneys and prosecutors. So, I think our opportunity to build cases when we can have jurisdiction abroad. I want to

make sure you understand that that's going to require citizen victim in the country that brings it or require that one of the perpetrators, sometimes a

low-level perpetrator turn up. But these will be cases that as the one in Spain that can charge people get out in their poll (ph), read notices that

restrain people's travel.

And, you know, if you're watching these cases in Germany of 90-year-old camp guards that were at Auschwitz more than 65 years ago and these

individuals are today being held the trial. Well, the people that are committing these crimes will never be able to sleep in their lives because

this kind of evidence will be there and available to prosecute them.

AMANPOUR: And evidence, in fact, not just from victims, but also from, according to Amnesty, a former prison official. This is a very strong

quote about the continuation of these executions. He says, "Of course there are executions. It will not stop. If people are still going into

the prison, there is still torture. If there is still torture, there are confessions. And if there are still confessions, there are executions."

To that end, do you expect even more evidence to stop pouring out?

RAPP: Well, I expect that they contain -- I mean, that the horrible tragedy as we talk today is that these crimes are ongoing with their people

being hanged right now and tomorrow. They are innocent people like this farmer or like the brother of the woman in Spain who was delivering

groceries on a route for business in their homes. These people will be picked up for who knows what reason, and tortured to death, really to

terrorize the population into believing that there is no future, no democratic future, no chance for the rule of law and -- but that's --

they're not going to prevail. Not in the long run. Politically, they may have their day, but it's impossible for them to rule the country through

this kind of terror and not to face consequences across this world.

[0:10:04] AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I 'm sure your words and your certainty is going to be very heartening to people like Caesar who risk

their lives and their families to tell the stories. He, again, is the person who wrote this whole story with 55,000 pictures that he amassed and

smuggled out.

We have -- well, we should have a lot of those pictures on our wall. We broke the story along with the Guardian two years ago and I just want to

play, I just want to play, you know, some of this terrible pictures what -- one of the forensic pathologists told us when we interviewed him about

this, two years ago on this program.


AMANPOUR: So let's get now to image number nine --


AMANPOUR: -- which is what? I mean obviously to me it looks like this man is being beaten terribly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's exactly what happened. He has been beaten terribly. You can see the tramline bruises, which the forensic

pathologists are characteristic of repeated blows with the rope -- rods- like object. You can see that that parallel. This person has been moving as the strike slammed when they get up and down his torso. In addition,

he's very thin and he's got bruises on his neck that he's being savagely beaten.

AMANPOUR: The final picture for us is figure 8 where, again, you see beating, but specifically you see several bodies. So it lenses us to what

when you saw that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean this is something systematic. There are images that I have seen of bodies lined up in that dozens, and you can see that

somebody has beaten, beaten and you can see next of them somebody has got injuries on their arm. This is, you know, a lot of things that happened to

a lot of people.


AMANPOUR: What is the U.N. doing for instance?

RAPP: Well, the U.N. has established this and it was unprecedented. I understand there's been a commission of inquiry working out of Geneva doing

a good work on the numbers of victims on the kind of crimes, but it hasn't really worked on criminal responsibility tying the crimes to the major


The justice for these people and these are people like our brothers and sisters and mothers and sons that are suffering these crimes and they were

-- and they need justice in which you're all work for it.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Stephen Rapp, thank you so much for joining us.

And when we come back, we look to challenges for the East and West as tensions steadily rise between China and the United States. Is war really

on the Kurds? We dig into some harsh warnings coming from Beijing, next.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Donald Trump has quickly moved to radically change some U.S. policies. But, if what he's been telegraphing

to China comes to past, there is no telling the consequences from threatening trade tariffs, taking a call from Taiwan's president, and

questioning the One China Policy, and at one point talking tough about stopping the South China Sea buildup.

China's "People Daily," the mouthpiece of the Communist Party warns today that a possible disastrous war could be on the horizon if the two

superpowers can't find a way to work together. In a new report from the Eurasia Group, details how the new U.S. president should strategically deal

with Beijing. Co-author Evan Medeiros is the managing director and he served as the top adviser to President Obama on the region. He joined me

earlier from Washington.


[0:15:05] AMANPOUR: Evan Medeiros, welcome to the program.

EVAN MEDEIROS, FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA TOP ADVISOR: Thank you. It's great to be here, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Could we just start with this paper, the "People's Daily," which is described as a mouthpiece of the Communist Party putting out some pretty

dire warnings about possible confrontations in the disaster that a military conflict would entail for the world. How do you read and assess that

warning from Beijing?

MEDEIROS: Well, fundamentally that editorial is focused on promoting a narrative of greater U.S.-China cooperation. Fundamentally, it signals

anxiety on the part of the Chinese leadership. They're very concerned about what they see as uncertain signals coming from the Trump


He's packed the administration with a variety of advisors that are very well-known China hawks, and he himself, the president himself has

articulated a variety of positions that concern Beijing, in particular on the Taiwan issue. So at the core, the Chinese leadership is very nervous

because they're worried about a period of instability in the U.S.-China relationship.

AMANPOUR: So the Taiwan issue, I mean, everybody thought that it was this either deliberate, calculated chaos theory that women to believe the Trump

administration employees or he was sort of, I know somehow trapped into making this call or taking this call from Taiwan, how do you assess that

call from the Taiwanese president and the fallout from it? Can the U.S. recover from that?

MEDEIROS: Well, regardless of whether or not the Trump administration sort of back their way into this or whether it was some deliberate grand

strategy. We are where we are, which is the president of the United States has said that he's not prepared to reaffirm the One China Policy, something

that eight U.S. presidents have done, and that creates real challenges for the U.S.-China relationship.

The Chinese see the One China Policy as the foundation for the relationship, not something to be negotiated about. And this is I think

the first major challenge that the Trump administration is going to face.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe from what you know about this administration that they are likely continue a more belligerent tone towards China?

MEDEIROS: Well, what I can say is that the president himself has articulated this policy through a variety of statements including tweets on

One China, so the president himself would have to change his mind. That looks like a difficult thing to do and not something that this president is

inclined to do.

He made a variety of commitments during the campaign that were then reflected in a series of very robust executive orders last week. The, you

know, the travel ban on Muslim countries being the most obvious one. So, you know, their proclivity to do 180 on this seems like it's going to be

relatively low.

AMANPOUR: Well, then let me ask you about the next thing that presumably you all think is very, very difficult and that is the whole idea of the

South China Sea, all these islands. You know, during a confirmation hearing, Rex Tillerson said the following, and let us play it for you about

what the U.S. would do to protect those islands.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is a kin to Russia's taking of Crimea.

It's taking of territory that others might claim too. We're going to have send China clear signal that, first, the island building stops and second,

your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.


AMANPOUR: That's a pretty belligerent thing to say. What does that actually practically mean when a Secretary of State says that?

MEDEIROS: Well, that's very robust language. It's basically drawing a redline and saying that the U.S. would be prepared to blockade the seven

artificial islands in the South China Sea. Now, the key fact is that the administration has already started to walk back from that very robust


In Tillerson's subsequent written statements to the Senate, he softened it and then, of course, when General Mattis was in Japan last week he talked

about how the U.S. military doesn't need to take any precipitous actions on the South China Sea.

So I think we're not likely to see these kinds of robust statements because the administration is clearly recognized that they're not prepared to go to

war with China over the South China Sea.

AMANPOUR: You know there's so much -- people say that the relationship between the United States and China is going to be the most important

relationship, you know, going forward.

MEDEIROS: Well, it is interesting that Donald Trump is not yet had a phone call with Xi Jinping. Last Friday, the national security advisor talked to

one of Xi Jinping's top foreign policy advisors. That's interesting, but I think that it's unlikely that Xi Jinping is going to get on the phone with

Donald Trump until he can get two assurances. Number one, that Donald Trump is prepared to reaffirm the One China Policy, because otherwise it

would be a huge political vulnerability for Xi Jinping during a very sensitive year of leadership transition in China. And number two, that Xi

Jinping is not going to be embarrassed by Donald Trump.

[0:20:01] The Chinese look at what happened in the phone call with the Australian Prime Minister Turnbull and they're very surprised by that that

--and they wonder to themselves if the U.S. president is going to treat one of the U.S.'s closest allies in Asia, Australia, like that, then what does

that mean for China or -- and potentially other countries in the region.

So I think it's essential for the U.S. president and the Chinese president to develop a working relationship, because there's so much on the table

right now from North Korea to economics to Taiwan to South China Sea. But I think that it's probably going to take sometime to develop that

relationship and it will be interesting to see when they actually talk, because it probably will require the Taiwan issue to be addressed


AMANPOUR: And very briefly, many people are suggesting that putting out the TPP, you know, sort of talking against free-trade deals and obviously

talking against the sort of climate deal is going to de facto hand China sort of leadership role certainly in the region on these issues, do you see

that happening a vacuum being created that China would fill?

MEDEIROS: So, I think that's too robust the claim that a vacuum is created. There's no question that China has an opportunity to present

itself as an advocate for globalization. But, of course, the reality is just the way the Chinese operate their own economy, restricting access,

adopting mercantilist policies, you know, begs the question about really whether or not they can represent a new phase of globalization given their

mercantilist tendencies.

But, it's an opportunity for China. Xi Jinping, to his credit, is grabbing this opportunity that's why he went to Davos, but we'll have to see going

forward whether or not the Chinese are able to turn the opportunity into a reality. Now, the Chinese are actually going to have to go out and

negotiate trade and investment agreements that are mutually beneficial for the region.

AMANPOUR: Evan Medeiros, thank you so much for joining us, of course, with that important report out today.

MEDEIROS: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much.

MEDEIROS: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And as President Trump baffles the course to get his Muslim nation ban reimposed, protesters continue to battle that ban. This time,

200 people, including the New York rabbis took to the streets last night and about 20 of those rabbis were arrested for blocking the street near

Trump Tower.

The Jewish opposition to the ban stems from a better history when they returned back instead of being offered refuge from the Nazis, that

according to the government not to repeat that deadly judgment.

After a break, we imagine the ban's hustle impact on one divided Iraqi family. That's next.


[0:25:05] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine the world with former administration officials break with tradition and criticized the current

one within days. John Kerry, Susan Rice, and a host of Obama administration national security officials have filed a motion to lift the

ban, insisting it will not make America safer and saying they were unaware of any specific threat that would justify it.

Quite the contrary they said, the order disrupts thousands of lives, including the life of one Iraqi family as our Dr. Sanjay Gupta found out.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Last week I traveled to Michigan to meet this weak 2-year-old boy, Dilbireen. A year ago, Dili was

living in this refugee camp in northern Iraq when a fire sparked by heater left him permanently disfigured. Dili and his parents were granted medical

visas to come to the United States for care at Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston.

In December, when Dili's new baby brother was old enough to travel, they applied for his visa so the family could reunite with Dili. The

application was denied. Now, when Ajeel and Flosa appealed that decision, January, the baby's visa was denied again and this time their visas were

revoked, because they were, "Unable to establish clearly that their stay in the United States would be temporary."

Today, the United States not only has a new president, but also a new executive order, a 90-day travel ban that bars Iraqi citizens from entering

the United States.

"It's hard not knowing if they're going to give us a visa or not," Ajeel says. "We're not going for a vacation, we are going to do the surgery on

our child and return back home."

And despite the temporary stay to this travel ban, Ajeel has turned away at the door, denied entry into the consulate, unable to plead his family's

case. He's given no explanation, all part of the chaos and confusion surrounding this executive order.

Dr. Shirzad Khaleel, medical coordinator for the U.K. Charity Road to Peace which arranged Dili's care in the United States has a message for American


"We hope you guys do the right thing for the sake of humanity," he says. "All this children are victims of ISIS."

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


AMANPOUR: Victims of ISIS, indeed. And so many of these people, especially Iraqis work with the U.S. military. And now this is what

they're getting.

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

Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.