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Trump Pledges Forceful US Response to Syria; Marie Colvin's Family Suing Syria over Her Death. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 10, 2018 - 23:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, holding Syria to account. From the targeted assassination of journalists trying to expose

the truth to a suspected targeted chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Is the world finally prepared to unite against Bashar al-Assad?

Former US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken joins me here in the studio.

And the family of the renowned war reporter Marie Colvin tell me about the new evidence they say proves that she was deliberately killed by the Syrian


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

President Trump has abruptly canceled his upcoming trip to South America. The White House says that he's focused on a forceful response to the

suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria. And intense discussions are underway right now at the White House, at the UN Security Council and

presumably NATO too about how to respond to that suspected poison gas attack in Douma where more than 40 people were reportedly killed.

It's the third such attack since President Trump launched a cruise missile on Syria last April. And here's Nikki Haley, America's UN ambassador,

speaking at the Security Council when all these discussions began.


NIKKI HALEY, US AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We're beyond showing pictures of dead babies. We're beyond appeals to conscience. We've

reached the moment when the world must see justice done. History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its

duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria.


AMANPOUR: But Russia denies any chemical attack occurred and Syria's ambassador to the UN took that a step further.


BASHAR JAAFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN (through translator): Russian doctors have proven that these patients have not been subjected to any

chemical substance. What we are witnessing here is a Hollywood scene.


AMANPOUR: Joining me here in our London studio to dig into all of this is Antony Blinken. He's the former US deputy secretary of state and also the

senior national security advisor to President Barack Obama where he dealt with an earlier Syrian chemical weapons crisis, that infamous red line, use

of sarin gas in Ghouta in August 2013.

Antony Blinken, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: We'll talk about that missed redline in a moment. But, first, how is one meant to analyze and react to the conflicting accounts? You can

see what Russia and Syria are saying to what the US and the rest of the West believe was, like all the others, a chemical gas attack.

BLINKEN: Look, unfortunately, Russia has become a master at deceit, denial and misinformation and this is right out of their standard playbook.

The last time around, a year ago, when President Trump reacted, they did the same thing. The Syrians did the same thing. They said no one had

died. And they said they were actors. And they had they had been bussed in from somewhere else.

But all of the evidence that is coming out of Syria is very concrete and it's very clear. And if the Russians really believe there's any doubt,

they should allow an investigative team to get in there and guaranty its security.

AMANPOUR: Which they haven't yet. They've said that their own Syrian Red Crescent have gone in and said that there was nothing there.

BLINKEN: That's right. And that's about as valuable as the paper it's written on.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about President Trump right now, because let's face it, unlike President Obama, he did take action against the sarin

attack, as I said, and he did send a barrage of cruise missiles. But that didn't stop what happened.

Now, he's contemplating another forceful reaction, but he's also under an enormous amount of internal domestic pressure with the Mueller

investigation and the raid on his personal lawyer.

BLINKEN: That's right.

AMANPOUR: I guess I want to play you a soundbite from a furious President Trump and then ask you about compartmentalizing this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here we're talking about Syria, we're talking about a lot of serious things with the greatest

fighting force ever. And I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now and actually much more than that. You could say it was

right after I won the nomination, it started. And it's a disgrace. It's frankly a real disgrace.


AMANPOUR: I mean, it's almost undignified for me to play that when you're talking about a chemical weapons attack, but is the president of the United

States, who is having to make very serious decisions with his military, calling up his allies and presumably planning something that's serious,

what do you feel? Can he compartmentalize?

[23:05:07] I mean, the Clinton administration went through this when Clinton had all his impeachment, all the women scandals and was sending

cruise missiles into Iraq at the time.

BLINKEN: Christiane, it's incredibly difficult for any human being, particularly a president of the United States, under this kind of pressure

to compartmentalize.

All the more tragic that President Trump didn't put out everything that he knew about contacts with Russia from day one of his administration to get

this off the table. If there's nothing there, this could've been done with a year ago. Unfortunately, he's had it pulled and dragged out of him and

out of his administration and here's the result.

But the bottom line is he has people around him who will be focusing 24/7 on Syria, not on anything else. They're advising him. Hopefully, he's

listening to them.

And what he has to do is this. He has to take account of what happened last time and recognize that a strike is not a strategy. There was an

opportunity a year ago when he struck. He did the right thing, but it wasn't followed up with any kind of comprehensive strategy to take

advantage of the fact that we had used force in Syria.

AMANPOUR: You've been in the White House when these things - and at the State Department - when these things come to a head. From what you're

seeing now with President Trump canceling his trip to Latin America, he was meant to embark on Friday, with Defense Secretary Mattis canceling some of

his more far-flung US trips for the weekend, do you think that that's sending us a signal?

Do you believe something is imminent? How are these decisions made?

BLINKEN: Well, I think they're playing a game of massive catchup, which is to say this is not at all the direction his Syria policy was taking. In

fact, as you know, President Trump was trying to pull back, to pull out, to minimize our presence in Syria.

There was pushback from within his administration. This attack has now jumbled the entire deck. And they now have to run as fast as they can to

put some kind of plan in place to make good on the president's own rhetoric.

He's the one who said in his tweets that this is unacceptable, he's going to have to take action. And having taken action a year ago, he really

can't do anything less.

So, I think there's a mad race going on to figure out what the plan is.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, over the weekend, that he actually does now have to take action after promising a

heavy price would be paid by all, Syria and -

BLINKEN: He's tweeted himself into a corner, to some extent.

AMANPOUR: But the thing is many people say it's the right thing. Let me just play for you what the former commander of the Israeli Air Force told

me last night.


MAJ. GEN. EITAN BEN ELIYAHU, (RET) FORMER COMMANDER, ISRAEL AIR FORCE: With a very close support from the United States, we can launch more and

more and more attack and this will be the change between every once in a while, like every two or three months, if you do it almost on a daily basis


AMANPOUR: OK. So, very, very quickly, do you believe what many are saying that all the air fields should be taken out?

ELIYAHU: Well, yes, I do.


AMANPOUR: I mean, that was blunt. He does believe it. Do you think the United States and its allies has the appetite for that kind of sustained

strategic taking out of the airfields?

BLINKEN: Pretty unlikely. Look, if we were to do something like that, the president would have to go to Congress and get its support. That's exactly

what President Obama tried to do in 2013 and the Congress said, basically, it wasn't prepared to do that.

Ironically, the very same people who were denying President Obama the authority to use force in Syria are the ones who seem to be cheerleading

using force now.

That said, if it really does go to Congress, I doubt it. Then you have to find international legal basis to do it, theoretically.

So, I'm skeptical that we would go that far. However, I do think there's appetite to do something that goes beyond what President Trump did a year

ago. And there's clearly appetite to try to marshal all of our resources, all of our diplomacy not only to strike back at Syria for what it's done,

but also to isolate its patrons, Russia and Iran.

AMANPOUR: You're here in London. Famously, it was David Cameron's government in the parliament at that time which wouldn't give their


BLINKEN: That's right.

AMANPOUR: And that was also another sock in the - well, punch in the gut to President Obama. What do you think? Do you think Prime Minister May

can become part of a coalition? We hear that President Trump is talking mostly to the French president on this.

BLINKEN: Well, President Macron has been very forward-leaning, very out of his skis. He's made very clear - he'd made clear some weeks ago, if there

was another chemical attack in Syria, he would act. And so, I think he's clearly the partner of choice right now.

But it would be vital to bring Prime Minister May in and to bring the UK in. It would be vital to build a real coalition and we got to get some of

the Arab countries involved in this as well.

The fact of the matter is that Russia and Iran are complicit in the murder of Sunni Muslims in Syria. You would think that countries wouldn't take

that sitting down.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me play you what the Russian ambassador had said regarding all this.


VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UN (through translator): We already told you there was no witnesses to the use of chemical weapons at

all. There are no traces of chemical weapons, neither the victims, neither killed nor the wounded. Nobody turned up in the hospitals.

[23:10:04] The footage that was shown was clearly staged, which was provided by the white helmets.


AMANPOUR: And, of course, the white helmets are the - the group that goes into rescue people.

But, I guess, we know that they are muddying the waters, as we just discussed with the Syrian ambassador, but what if something does happen?

What will Russia's position be? Will it stand by and allow a massive airstrike? What do you think at this stage?

BLINKEN: Well, this is why this is so incredibly complicated. You have multiple conflicts going on all at once, as you know, in Syria. The

conflict between the regime and the rebels. The conflict between Daesh and pretty much everyone else. The conflict between Turkey and the Kurds and

so on and so on. A proxy war in effect between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Israel and Iran and Hezbollah.

So, this is incredibly complicated to find a path forward because if you take a step in one direction, it's going to have implications in other


Figuring out what the Russians would do if we actually took military action is a critical piece of the puzzle.

AMANPOUR: There are so many questions. Not enough answers right now. Tony Blinken, thank you so much for being with us.

BLINKEN: Good to be with you. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And so, can Syria be held responsible for that or for the deliberate killing of the legendary American journalist Marie Colvin.

We ask because she and her colleague, the French reporter and photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in Syria many years ago during the beginning of the


And now, Marie's sister, Cat, and the lawyer, Scott Gilmore, have already sued the Government of Syria. And now, they are asking a DC federal court

judge to rule in their favor by default because the Syrian government has not showed up to defend itself. And they're providing new evidence that

they say proves Colvin was deliberately targeted.

Now, Colvin with her traditional and trademark eyepatch was no stranger to danger zones. She lost her in a landmine accident on assignment in Sri

Lanka. But in February 2012, she was reporting from Homs, Syria for "The Sunday Times of London".

And after witnessing the horrific death of a baby boy, she called into Anderson Cooper's show on CNN. Now, the video and her account were tragic

then and they remain just as hard to watch today.


MARIE COLVIN, THEN "THE SUNDAY TIMES OF LONDON" REPORTER: It's a very chaotic room. But the baby's death was just heartbreaking, possibly

because it was so quiet.

One of the first shocks, of course, was that the grandmother had been helping - completely coincidentally - helping in the emergency room and

just started shouting, "That's my grandson, where did you find him?"

And then, the doctor said there's nothing we could do. And we just watched this little boy, his little tummy heaving and heaving as he tried to

breathe. It was horrific. My heart broke.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC360": Marie, I mean you have covered a lot of conflicts over a long time. How does this compare?

COLVIN: This is the worst, Anderson, for many reasons.

The Syrian army is holding the perimeter. And there's just far more ordinance being poured into this city and no way of predicting where it's

going to land.

Plus, there's a lot of snipers on the high buildings surrounding the Baba Amr neighborhood. You can sort of figure out where a sniper is, but you

can't figure out where a shell is going to land.

And just the terror of the people and the helplessness of these families hiding on the first floor, just all they can do is hope it doesn't hit

them. That's very, very difficult to watch.

COOPER: I know it's impossible to stay safe, but please try. Thank you for talking to us.

COLVIN: Thanks very much, Anderson.


AMANPOUR: But Marie wasn't safe. She was killed the very next day. And just listening to her eyewitness report just shows how that horror is still

continuing from that day that she was reporting live to Anderson Cooper, the day before she was killed, to today where now we have to deal with a

suspected chemical attack, yet another one.

But Marie Colvin's family has new testimony from a defector who'd worked in Syrian intelligence, codenamed Ulysses. And here is what he has said.

The intelligence agencies regularly monitored television news broadcasts and newspaper articles, tracking down these journalists became a top


Major General Shahada instructed all four intelligence branches in Homs to launch surveillance operations to locate the Baba Amr Media Center and any

foreign journalists. Specifically, he wanted to learn their location and take the necessary measures to stop them from reporting.

I recently spoke to Marie's sister Cat Colvin and to her lawyer Scott Gilmore after they filed the new evidence and we can give you that

interview now because the judge has finally unsealed the evidence as the case proceeds.

[23:15:02] AMANPOUR: Cat Colvin and Scott Gilmore, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, can I - before we get to the news and the extra evidence that you have for your case, Cat, I just want to ask you on a human level,

it's been seven years since this war started, six years since Marie was killed, how are you coping at this point?

C. COLVIN: Honestly, it doesn't seem like six years. I still think of Marie every day. We were very close. And the pain is still fresh. But it

is hard to believe that war has been raging on for seven years now.

AMANPOUR: Cat, do you think that the court case in some way mitigates your pain and grief and gives you a purpose, you and the family, right now?

C. COLVIN: Well, when we started, my main motivation was definitely personal. I was angry at losing my sister and really wanted to do

something about it.

But as the evidence has come together that Scott and the CIJA have collected over the years. I've become much more angry about the silencing

of journalists and the ongoing bombing of civilians.

I really thought Marie's death would be sort of a watershed event and the world would take notice or the US government would find the targeting and

murder of an American citizen intolerable, but none of that happened. And so, I'm really incredibly grateful to CIJA to give me this opportunity to

do something.

AMANPOUR: So, let me ask Scott. If the US government allowed it to pass without retribution, you in the justice sphere are making sure that that

doesn't happen.

What is the latest? Give me an idea of the evidence that you have. We've already read a little bit of what you have from Ulysses, codename for the


SCOTT GILMORE, LAWYER REPRESENTING CAT C. COLVIN: So, the evidence that we are filing in courts provides really a detailed reconstruction of how

Marie's broadcast on CNN, what you just heard, was intercepted by the Syrian intelligence.

Her location was homed in on using the GPS coordinates and that information was cross checked against an informant's tip, where an informant had come

forward and contacted the intelligence services in Syria reporting that foreign journalists were staying at the Baba Amr Media Center, giving away

that location.

We're presenting eyewitness accounts not only from the perspective of survivors that saw the incoming rockets that were crashing around the

center, walking on to the target bit by bit encroaching ever closer. In addition to those eyewitness accounts, we're also presenting testimony from defectors, former members, including high level members, of the

intelligence services and other positions in the Syrian government that reveal not only that the regime meticulously planned and carried out this

rocket attack on the media center, not only that they knew that Marie was broadcasting that night from the center, but that that attack in fact was

not an isolated incident.

We have documents, confidential documents, collected by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability that are internal Assad regime

communications that reveal that the regime adopted an explicit policy of effectively censorship through the barrel of a gun.

In August of 2011, they issued instructions to launch military operations against people tarnishing the image of Syria in the foreign media and that

launched the whole campaign cracking down on the media, which really culminated in the killing of Marie.

AMANPOUR: Cat, you also must feel - well, how do you feel when you read in this increasing body of evidence that you are all collecting that actually

there was apparently a celebration after Marie and, of course, the photographer Remi Ochlik was killed than one of those responsible for

tipping off her location was given a reward of a brand spanking new shiny car?

C. COLVIN: Yes. That was actually the most horrifying piece of evidence that I read, the celebrations calling her American dog and blind (EXPLETIVE

DELETED) and celebrating and laughing and the reward of the car.

It's infuriating to me. It really is. And I think of the suffering that we're feeling and the fact that silencing journalists would prevent all of

this kind of brutality from becoming known.

We need to protect journalists today, not attack them, and this was just the most egregious example of targeting my sister and the other

journalists, so the news would not come up.

AMANPOUR: I'm not sure whether it makes any difference in the end, but Ulysses, your defector, who is telling you all this stuff also says that it

was a female informant who tipped off the authorities as to precisely where the Baba Amr Media Center was in that location in Homs.

[23:20:18] I mean, she was a woman. Marie, obviously, was a woman who spoke up for women so eloquently in her reporting.

C. COLVIN: Yes. Marie has always been a big supporter of women. I benefited from that growing up. She's always been a mentor to me and to

many women in the field. So close to the girls and women in my family, in particular, and to have a woman betray her like that does make it worse,

makes it personal. It's just very hard to imagine.

AMANPOUR: Scott, for Cat, obviously, and the family, it's incredibly personal, as she said, but also there is the bigger picture. But how do

you - what is the jurisdiction under which you can sue in an American court a foreign government who has shown absolutely no willing to respond?

GILMORE: Yes. Normally, a foreign state is absolutely immune from the jurisdiction of the American courts, but there is one particular statute,

the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act which waives the immunity of a foreign state such as Syria, if it's been designated a state sponsor of terrorism

and if it engages in the deliberate killing of an American citizen in violation of international law.

And it's really that basis in jurisdiction showing that this was a targeted assassination of a civilian journalist in violation of international human

rights law and the law of armed conflict. That gives us the jurisdiction to bring this case in an American court.

AMANPOUR: Give us a little bit more detail then, if you can, about the testimony of Ulysses, who was in the military security complex. He was

there in Homs. First and foremost, how did you get him to talk to you and what did he describe point by point of the regime's silencing of reporters

and what they called negative publicity?

GILMORE: So, the process of discovering Ulysses was really the product of years of investigation, which started out from just sort of reconstructing

who was who in terms of the activists and fixers that brought Marie and Remi and other journalists into Homs and from there sort of working out and

expanding concentric circles to identify other activists, other rebels in Homs and eventually to start identifying deserters from the Syrian army and

the intelligence forces.

In what he revealed was really that from the moment that Marie, Paul Conroy and other journalists, Arwa Damon from CNN, Paul Wood from the BBC, as they

were arriving in Lebanon, there were intelligence sources tracking their movements and reporting all of this to Ali Mamlouk, who at the time was the

head of the General Intelligence Directorate.

All of that was being channeled to the military and security officials that were overseeing the armed operations in Homs with specific instructions

that the intelligence forces work to track them down and capture them if possible or otherwise kill them.

AMANPOUR: I suppose it's really lucky that the Syrian regime, like so many in that part of the world, are so bureaucratic and you have so much


GILMORE: Exactly. In many ways, this is one of the first cases to actually proceed to a trial phase where the evidence will be considered by

a judge, but it's by no means the last.

I mean, there really is a mountain of documentary evidence in addition to all of the witnesses of various atrocity crimes committed in Syria.

Our hope is that this case, Marie's case, will really provide a blueprint as to how that evidence can be used to establish the chain of command and

ultimately prove the linkage between senior level Syrian government officials and these war crimes, crimes of torture and crimes against

humanity that we've seen.

AMANPOUR: So, Cat, let me just ask you because the motion also asks for financial compensation. Specifically, $2.5 million lost earnings, $2.5

million in sibling loss, grief compensation and $300 million in punitive damages. Do you believe you will ever collect?

C. COLVIN: Well, what we were just talking about, the evidence, that is the critical aspect of this for me. If I could throw Assad in prison,

that's what I would do. I don't have the ability to bring a criminal case. I hope this evidence one day will be used in a criminal trial.

In the meantime, the way that I look at it, I want to get the maximum award possible and I think that every penny I get out of the Assad regime is less

they can spend on barrel bombs and chemical weapons.

[23:25:00] So, I would be looking for the maximum reward. I have to defer to Scott in terms of how we would collect it eventually, but I will

certainly do everything I can to implement those punitive damages, which I hope we will win.

AMANPOUR: And, Scott, any brief comment on how you would collect? Obviously, they're not going to give it you from the banks in Damascus?

GILMORE: That's right. But, historically, there have been judgments that victims have won against the Assad regime, and with some success. Victims

have been able to take those judgments and enforce them.

It's a whole separate legal battle sometimes, but it is possible to attach blocked assets, to even hunt around the globe for properties owned by the

Syrian regime and to try to enforce the judgment against them.

AMANPOUR: Scott, Cat, thank you so much. It really is an incredible story of crime and accountability. And we are going to be following what you can

do on behalf of, obviously, your family member, but also our colleague. Thanks for being with us.

GILMORE: Thank you.

C. COLVIN: Thanks for having us.

AMANPOUR: Now, the Syrian government did not respond to CNN's requests for comment on Marie Colvin's case, but it's always previously denied targeting


And it is incredible to hear Cat Colvin's final plea that any collection of any kind of damages from the Syrian regime will be, in her words, one less

dollar, one less cent that they could pay for chemical weapons and barrel bombs.

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


Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.