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Gina Haspel and a reckoning over CIA torture; Rupi Kaur on identity, writing and social media. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 10, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, government sanctioned torture changed the view of America after 9/11. What's the message to a

watching world of President Trump's pick to lead the CIA, who ran one of the so-called black sites? I asked Alberto Mora, the former general

counsel for the US Navy and a public and early critique of torture techniques.

Plus, my interview with the millennial Instapoet sensation Rupi Kaur.

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

It is one of the darkest periods in America's post 9/11 national security policy. Government-approved enhanced interrogation, a.k.a. torture of

suspected terrorists.

The practice is in the past now, but the world is watching closely as a woman associated with that program, Gina Haspel, is nominated to lead the

CIA under a president, of course, who very publicly supports torture.

In a mind-bending piece of irony, the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, and is now held at Guantanamo

Bay, says that he wants to give information on Haspel to the Senate, which is likely to approve her nomination.

Few detainees have told their stories publically, but one, Ali al-Marri, is now coming forward. And alleging torture by other arms of the American

government, albeit nothing to do with Gina Haspel.

He admitted to conspiring with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and he served time in the United States. Now, CNN's Atika Shubert has tracked him down.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ali al-Marri, convicted al- Qaida agent. This rare 2005 video shows how he spent many of his 13 years in US custody. As an enemy combatant on US soil, a legal status that

placed him in military hands, stripped of any civilian rights.

ALI AL-MARRI, CONVICTED TERRORIST: You American, you took - you use the slow motion torture. You took me for 13 years.

SHUBERT: Now, al-Marri has spoken to CNN, his first US television interview since his release in 2015. He claims he pleaded guilty because

he was tortured in military custody on US soil. He now denies the evidence presented against him in court.

SHUBERT (on-camera): You trained at al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, is that true?

AL-MARRI: False.

SHUBERT: They say that you provided material support to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man believed to be behind 9/11.

AL-MARRI: False.

SHUBERT: They say that you had covert communications with him on email that were found on your computer.

AL-MARRI: False.

SHUBERT (voice-over): This was al-Marri's world for years. Solitary confinement in a 3 meter by 2 metre cell; his bad, a metal rack.

The Defense Intelligence Agency recorded his treatment and his interrogations in numerous videos and handwritten prison logs. Al-Marri's

legal team shared some of these with CNN.

Black-out goggles and sound blocking headphones were mandatory whenever he was moved, his arms and legs chained, interrogations could last for 10

hours or more.

On March 11, 2004, Al-Marri was woken up "every 15 minutes to make sure he is alive." Two FBI agents and a military officer attended, according to

prison logs.

The DIA wrote his wrists and ankles were shackled. Al-Marri was continuously chanting in Arabic. To silence him, cloth was used with 4 to

5 layers of duct tape not inserted in his mouth.

The DIA memo also states Al-Marri had no difficulty breathing and did not appear to gag. Interrogators padded and turned Al-Marri's face to look at

pictures of his family on the wall, but Al-Marri says what he experienced was more threatening and violence.

AL-MARRI: I was threatened again to bring my wife in front of me to be raped in front of me. They put their pictures on the wall in front of me.

SHUBERT: In our interview, Al-Marri named the FBI agent he claims led the interrogation. CNN cannot independently confirm his claims. A video of

the interrogation does exist, but remain sealed by a US court for national security reasons.

AL-MARRI: I was coughing. I was talking, I was throwing up.

[14:05:01] SHUBERT: The DIA refused to comment. The FBI also declined, but said in a statement "the FBI does not engage in torture and we maintain

that rapport-building techniques are the most effective means of obtaining accurate information in an interrogation".

Al-Marri insists that it was his treatment in military custody that led him to plead guilty.

AL-MARRI: Some people will say, they may say, this is not torture. It does not feel like this one. Listen, threatening my life, that's a torture

according to your law. But threatening to rape, to kill, to mutate, all of this isolation is a torture.

SHUBERT: That argument doesn't work, says a former member of President Obama's Detention Policy Task Force.

ROBERT CHESNEY, LAWYER AND FORMER MEMBER OF U.S. DETENTION POLICY TASK FORCE: There was evidence including the computer of his which contained

communications with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a research file on possible chemical weapons and other extremist materials. So, any effort to deny

that he had anything to do with this is not terribly credible.

That's separate and apart from the question of how he was treated particularly while he was in military custody.

SHUBERT: In 2009, Al-Marri's enemy combatant status was reviewed and he pleaded guilty in a criminal court. But he received only eight years.

Reduced, the judge noted, because of unacceptable treatment in US custody, but the judge also told Al-Marri you do not truly regret what you did.

Al-Marri now walks free, one of the few former detainees who can identify his interrogators. His US legal options are closed, but he now hopes to

set a precedent by traveling from his home in Qatar to Europe to file charges here against the man he holds responsible for his treatment.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Amsterdam.


AMANPOUR: So, to be clear, Al-Marri does not claim that the CIA tortured him or that Gina Haspel had anything to do with his case. But Haspel did

run a CIA black site where detainees were waterboarded and she is connected to the destruction of videotape evidence.

She told the Senate on Wednesday that she would never allow the CIA to restart its torture program, but she did have trouble answering this



KAMALA HARRIS, US SENATE DEMOCRAT: It's a yes or no answer. Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral? I'm not asking

do you believe they were legal. I'm asking, do you believe they were immoral?

GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Senator, I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country, given the

legal tools that we were authorized to use.

HARRIS: Please answer yes or no. Do you believe, in hindsight, that those techniques were immoral?

HASPEL: Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.

HARRIS: Can you please answer the question.

HASPEL: Senator, I think I've answered the question.

HARRIS: No, you've not.


AMANPOUR: Alberto Mora has been leading the charge against Haspel for CIA director. He served as general counsel of the US navy in the Bush

administration and he was one of the first to warn top officials about unlawful abuse.

And he's with me now live from Washington. Alberto Mora, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, you really have been leading the charge and you do it from a very particular vantage point as a legal scholar, as a member of the US

government, the US military given that your general counsel at that time.

And you were a very early, if I might say, whistleblower against these techniques. What do you think is going to be the route for Gina Haspel?

Do you think that she can survive this kind of questioning right now?

MORA: She shouldn't. As we know, Sen. John McCain last night came out against this nomination. And I think when the senators reflect on that

position and the moral authority that Sen. McCain brings to this question, I think any of them who might be tempted to vote for her might reconsider

that position.

AMANPOUR: So, let us just read what he actually did say. "I believe that Gina Haspel is a patriot, who loves our country and has devoted to her

professional life to its service and defense. However, her role in overseeing the use of torture is disturbing and her refusal to acknowledge

torture's immorality is disqualifying." Of course, referring to that clip that we just played.

But I want to ask you this. Does it strike you in her favor that according to all the testimony by the CIA and all the officials who have been rolled

out now to promote her and speak about her, they say that it was even worse at this particular sight before she got there, that waterboarding was

happening hundreds and hundreds of times and she reduced it?

[14:10:04] MORA: I don't know that to be true. But the critical question - I would say the only question really with respect to this nomination is

whether or not Gina Haspel tortured.

Now, there are a lot of individuals who were associated with the CIA's torture program. Not all of them saw the actual torture sites and saw the

actual torture being applied to the victims.

The evidence seems to indicate that Gina Haspel did. It puts her in a different kind of category. So, she saw the pain, she saw the blood, she

saw the unconsciousness, she saw the techniques of torture being applied. That makes her torturer.

And I would argue, and do argue, that anybody who has that kind of title is unqualified not only to be CIA director, but unqualified to have any

position of responsibility anywhere in the US government.

AMANPOUR: I want to sort of take you back to that incredibly heated, very difficult atmosphere that changed the face of America and how it reacted

after 9/11.

And you were in the Pentagon. You were in the military. You were the US Navy's General Counsel when the plane slammed in to the Pentagon on 9/11.

Take us back to what was the state of people's minds and their reaction and their fears at that time?

MORA: The atmosphere was - and particularly among the intelligence community and the national security community, which I was a part of, the

atmosphere was one of fear and fury.

The fear was, of course, that the second Al-Qaeda attack might occur at any given moment and more Americans would die. That was a very palpable

feeling that possessed all of us.

There was also fury that this savage murderous attack had taken place and there was fury at those who had perpetrated the attack and a desire to

defend the country, but also bring them all to justice. So, that was the atmosphere at the time and was for sometime after 9/11.

AMANPOUR: Well, I ask you this because - and I mentioned a lot of former CIA, those who really have not spoken, have not come out of the shadows,

have been rolled out to defend her nomination and she does seem to be universally liked amongst career CIA, including a former analyst Phil Mudd,

who told Jake Tapper on CNN yesterday that you have to put this in context of those times and that the attacks on her, he says, amount to hypocrisy.

Just listen for a moment.


PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Now that we don't face the same threat and that we have different senators, it's OK to attack one of my former

colleagues. I am pissed off. This is collective amnesia. We didn't do it. America did it. Get over it.


AMANPOUR: Alberto Mora, America did it.

MORA: That's ridiculous. First of all, I'll bear witness to this, many individuals at the Pentagon also were instantaneously opposed to the idea

of using torture as a weapon of war.

Every senior military lawyer I worked with during my entire five years at the Pentagon was of the view that the use of enhanced interrogation, as

they call it, was torture and was illegal and it was counterproductive to the war on terror, made America weaker, not stronger, and violated our

values and our principles.

That has all proven to be true. The torture program that CIA initiated infected other civilian agencies and the military and caused enormous

strategic damage to the country, including to our values.

Let's remember, when we defend the United States, we defend not only the people, we defend our freedoms and our values. When we tortured, we

damaged our freedom and our values and it brings to mind the saying of Albert Camus that in defending a democracy, we need to take care that we

don't adopt those weapons that would destroy what we're seeking to defend.

Torture is and was that sort of weapon.

AMANPOUR: So, what happens then when the president of this nation, Donald Trump, has said on several occasions that torture works and that

waterboarding works and, even worse, he would sanction? What does a CIA director do if she is then confirmed and then asked to continue this if

there is another such situation?

MORA: We have a pro-torture president who has appointed a CIA torturer to be CIA director. A CIA torture, by the way, who can't answer the question

whether the application of torture is immoral or not.

So, we know what she'll do. She will be inclined to use torture again. She will be inclined to support other countries using torture as weapons of

war or weapons to quell civil unrest or opposition and she's going to be an example of a country which uses torture occasionally, does not hold anybody

accountable for that, will not call it immoral and then we'll set an example of pro-torture nation to other countries who might be inclined to

follow the same kind of example.

AMANPOUR: You paint a very bleak picture, Alberto Mora, though. Thank you so much for bringing your moral authority and your experience to this issue

right now.

[14:15:04] And, of course, Gina Haspel has said that she would never reinstate torture. But as Mora pointed out, who knows in the future. And

she has been severely questioned about the destruction of the tapes of the torture that was happening at that black site.

Now, the post 9/11 world has also become incredibly hostile to immigrants. The fall out is felt in almost every corner of the globe.

My next guest has channeled her life challenges through her cathartic collection of poetry. She is Rupi Kaur, who at just 25 years old is one of

the brightest stars of her generation.

She was born in India. She moved to Canada with her family when she was just 4. And her poetry, which she first began posting on social media as a

teenager, has attracted a huge fan base. She's often labeled the Instapoet. And today, she has 2.6 million Instagram followers.

And she's the author of two books, "The Sun and her Flowers" and also "Milk and Honey", a "New York Times" bestseller which has been translated into 30


Earlier this week, I found out from Rupi that it's not been all smooth sailing. She joined me from her home in Canada.

Rupi Kaur, welcome to the program.

RUPI KAUR, POET AND AUTHOR: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: Let's just start at the beginning, you were only 4 when your parents brought you to Canada, right? Your father came as a refugee. What

was it like growing up in that sort of other environment, that other world?

KAUR: I think the biggest thing was growing up without my dad there. And so, what I do remember in when we landed at the Montreal airport and I was

4 years old and my dad was there to greet us, and I had no idea who he was.

And he was all like, oh, hello, daughter. And I was like, who are you, strange man, get away from me. And like, that was the start of my journey.

AMANPOUR: And, of course, you didn't start speaking English till fourth grade, which is around 9 or 10 years old.

So, let me just ask you to read, if you wouldn't mind, from - let's see, I want you to read from page 131 of the "The Sun and her Flowers". I want

you to read from your book, "The Sun and her Flowers", about the immigrant, about the other in the way you describe it.

KAUR: "Perhaps we are all immigrants, trading one home for another. First, we leave the womb for air. Then, the suburbs for the filthy city in

search of a better life. Some of us just happen to leave entire countries."

AMANPOUR: I'm really interested watching you say your poetry. And I know that when you go to bookstores or readings or when you're giving onstage

presentations, you are mobbed.

What do you think it is about the way you construct language, about where you come from that resonates at this time with that group?

KAUR: Before I was sharing poetry like this that you see in the books. I was more of a performance poet. And so, that's where I built my sort of

first connection with my readers.

And I think it's - I heard somewhere and it was many, many years ago when I first started writing. And I don't remember who said this, but the quote

goes something like, write what you fear the most, it's the thing that's most universal.

And at the time, there were so many things that I feared or that I was confronting, whether it was sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic

violence, like a great many things.

And that's all I wanted to write about and I was terrified of it. But I said, I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it. And I think that's why so

many people have gathered around my work because these are things that even though they seem like we're the only ones going through them, these things,

these emotions, whether they're sorrow, whether they're joy, all of the hardships, they are the things that are most universal regardless of race,

color, class and creed.

AMANPOUR: I want to then ask you again to read from your book, "Milk and Honey" from page 13, in fact, which is quite graphic in the language used

and the illustration that you use.

It is about the violation of a woman's body. And, I guess, as you know, there is a huge amount of concern about what's happening in India right

now, the rape of young children, the protests against it, the lack of accountability.

Read from this page because it is really quite profound.

KAUR: You have been taught your legs are a pitstop for men that need a place to rest. A vacant body, empty enough for guests, but no one ever

comes and is willing to stay."

[14:20:07] AMANPOUR: What were you saying there?

KAUR: From such a young age, I have been surrounded by - then it was girls and now they're women talking about sexual violence. These are things that

we have to whisper, right, because they only happen to a few people and we just don't talk about them.

But I remember that slowly, me and my best friends, we started to share our own experiences, whether they happen to our mothers, whether they happen to

our grandmothers, our aunts, our sisters. And suddenly, what I realized was this is way too common and this is not OK.

And so, in regards to what's happening in India and most of South Asia at this time, it's been happening for so long. I write because I think that

it's so necessary to heal from it, and that's the only way that we can like break the cycle and create real change.

AMANPOUR: You're really young. How much of this specific kind of writing is autobiographical? What sort of - have you had any encounters with

violence, with that kind of misogyny or sexism?

KAUR: Yes, I have. I think this is a question that I get the most because the work - I write in first person pronoun, and so the work is very


And so, "Milk and Honey" and "The Sun and her Flowers", it's not 100 percent autobiographical work, but I've had my fair share of experiences

with sexual abuse and sexual violence, which is why I think I empathize with other people so much who've gone through perhaps similar acts of

violence. And it's why for a majority of my writing career, I focused on that specific topic.

AMANPOUR: I just want to read out a few other lines from another of your poems and it sort of maybe goes to the heart of the #MeToo era that we're

living in right now.

You're writing essentially to women. And you say, "I want to apologize to all the women I have called pretty before I've called them intelligent or

brave. I'm sorry I made it sound as though something as simple as what you're born with is the most you have to be proud of when your spirit has

crushed mountains. From now on, I will say things like you're resilient and you're extraordinary not because I don't think you're pretty, but

because you're so much more than that."

It's gorgeous. That is so beautiful. And I'm sure many, many of your readers have responded to that. How have they?

KAUR: That is an all-time favorite. I feel like my readers are the best readers in the world because they'll recite that poem to me and they make

me like a total popstar. So, thank you to them.

That piece is really - it holds a really important place in my heart. I remember that I tried to not write that piece at all because I thought that

piece was just a little bit silly at the time. I wrote it years ago.

But it came to me, in my mind, and it sort of replayed like - those 13 lines or however many lines there are, they replayed in my mind like a song

on repeat. And I was trying to write about other things, but I like to (INAUDIBLE).

And after three months of hearing that poem going on and on in my mind, I was like, OK, I need to get this out of my system.

AMANPOUR: And I just want to go back to your mother as well because she was a stay-at-home mum. You were encouraged to speak Punjabi at home. And

at some point -

KAUR: We were only allowed to speak -

AMANPOUR: Only allowed. There you go. Well, great. You hung on to your culture. It's great. But you do talk about being embarrassed about the

accent, being embarrassed maybe about people seeing or hearing your mum speak.

And let me just read again to a beautiful illustration you've done of your mother. You say my mother sacrificed her dreams, so that I could dream. I

mean, it's so profound, and yet so simple and it sums up almost every refugee mother that I've ever encountered.

Do you appreciate now what she did for you then?

KAUR: Yes. I know this would sound so silly and it can even be a little bit cliche. But even like as you're saying these things to me, I can feel

it in my heart and in my stomach. It makes my stomach turn.

Like, her life, in the way that it's gone and the things that she's had to give up, so that I can have this life, it just moved me in so many ways and

it makes me feel bad at the same time because I remember being at the supermarket with her and being so embarrassed because I would be off, like,

buying some chips and candy and she'd be screaming my name - Punjabis are really loud people, you know.

And so, she'd be like, oh, Rupi, come here, in Punjabi. And I'd be like, oh, my God, I just want to disappear. And I would yell at her and I'd be

like, well, you're ruining my life. Dramatic teenager, of course.

[14:25:02] And I remember she would go - we would go to check out the groceries. And she would pull out like a Ziploc bag full of change. And I

would be like, the woman wants to ruin my life. Like, why mom? Why do you have to try so hard to be different? And not realizing that she wouldn't

buy herself a wallet, so that I could have a backpack.

And so, now it's like I reflect on that. And that's why I have an entire chapter dedicated to the story of my parents.

AMANPOUR: I want to go back to the beginning and circle back to the notion of Instapoet. You don't follow anyone back. What lies behind that

deliberate action of yours?

KAUR: There was a point a couple years ago, as I was gaining such a large readership, that so much of my time went into social media. And instead of

writing or doing the other things that I loved, I was absorbed in it. And so, that was my deliberate act of being like, I need to take a step back

from this and focus on what's important.

There's so much that comes with comparing your life to other people. And I think it was causing a lot of pressure and anxiety for me personally. And

I realized that my presence probably does the same to other people. So, I realized that I'm also a part of that issue, but I think the conversation

in the next couple of years needs to go around what social media does to the mental health of young people.

AMANPOUR: Well, on that note, Rupi Kaur, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

KAUR: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: And what a refreshing voice in these harsh times. That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast and

see us online at and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.