tv Amanpour on PBS PBS April 11, 2018 6:00am-6:30am PDT
♪ welcome to amanpour on pbs. 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 assad? former u.s. deputy secretary of state anthony blinkin joins me in the studio. and the family of renowned war reporter marie kol vin joins me with what they say is evidence that she was deliberately killed by the syrian regime. ♪ ♪ ♪ good evening, everyone. and welcome to the program.
i'mhristiane amanpourn london. president trump has abruptly canced his upcoming trip to south america. the white house says he's focused on a forceful response to the suspected use of chemical weapons in syria. intense discussions are under way right now at the white house, at the u.n. security council, and nato, about how to respond to the poison gas attack in douma, where more than 40 people were reportedly killed. it is the third such attack reported since president trump launched a cruise missile attack on syria last april. he's nikki haley, america's u.n. ambassador speaking at the security council meeting yesterday. >> we are beyond showing pictures of dead babies. we are beyond appeals to conscience. we have 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. >> but russia denies any chemical attack occurred, and syria's ambassador to the u.n. took that a step further. >> 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. >> joining me here in london is anthony blinkin, the former u.s. deputy secretary of state and he also was a senior national security adviser to president barack obama, where he dealt with an earlier syrian chemical weapons crisis, that influenced red line used with sarin gas in august 2013. anthony blinkin, welcome to the program. >> good to be here. >> we'll talk about that missed red line 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
u.s. and the rest of the west believe, was like all the other, a chemical gas attack. >> look, unfortunately, russia has become a master at deceit, denial, and misinformation. 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 died. they said they were actors. bussed in from somewhere else. but all of the evidence 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 guarantee its security. >> which they haven't yet. they said their own syrian red crescent have gone in and said there was nothing there. >> that's right. and that's about as valuable as the paper it's written on. >> let's talk about president trump right now. 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 doesn'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. i guess i want to play this sound bite from a furious president trump and then ask you about compartmentalizing this. >> here we are 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. >> i mean, it's almost -- almost undignified for me to play that, when you're talking about a chemical weapons attack, but it's 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? you know, the clinton administration went through this when clinton hll his impeachment, all the women
scandals, and was sending cruise missiles into iraq at the time. >> 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 have 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 focusing on syria, not anything else. they're advising him. hopeful lee -- hopefully he's listening to them. he has to take account of what happened last time 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 having used force in syria. >> you've been in the white house and at the state department when these things come to a head. from what you're seeing now with
president trump cancelling his trip to latin america -- he was meant to embark on friday -- with defense secretary mattis cancelling some of his more far-flung u.s. trips for the weekend, do you think that's sending a signal? do you believe something is imminent? how are these decisions made? >> i think they're playing a game of massive catch-up, which ere was pushback from within s 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. having taken action a year ago, he can't do anything less. so i think there's a mad race going on to figure out what the plan is. >> 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. >> that's right.
>> by all, syria and -- >> he's tweeted himself into a corner to some extent. >> 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. >> with the 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 -- >> okay, so very, very quickly, do you believe what many are saying, that all the airfields should be taken out? >> well, yes, i do. >> 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? >> pretty unlikely. if we were to do something like that, the president would have to go to congress and get its support. that's 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. is that said, if it does go to coress, i doubt it. then you have to find an 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 marshall all of our resources, all of our diplomacy, not only to strike back at syria for what it's done, but also to isolate his patrons -- russia and iran. nge >> famously it was david cameron's government and apartment that wouldn't give their approval. >> that's right. >> that was also another 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. >> president macron has been
very forward leaning, ahead of his skis. he's made very clear, some weeks ago, if there was another chemical attack in syria, he wouldct. 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 have to get some of the arab countries involved in this as well. the fact of the matter is, russia and iran are complicit in the murder of sunni muslims in syria. you would think that countries wouldn't take that sitting down. >> well, let me play you what the russian ambassador has said regarding all this. >> 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. the footage that was shown was clearly staged, which was provided by the white helmets. >> and of course the white
helmets are 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 air strike? wh what do you think at this stage? >> this is why this is so incredibly complicated. you have multiple conflicts going on 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, israeli 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 directions. figuring out what the russians would do if we took military action is a critical piece of the puzzle. >> there's so many questions,
not enough answers right now. tony blinken, thank you very much for being here. >> good to be with you, thank you. 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 co-worker were killed. now her sister has already sued the government of syria and now they're asking a d.c. 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. h she lost her eye in a land mine accident on assignment in sri lanka. in february 2012, she was reporting from homs, syria, for london. after witnessing the horrific death of a baby boy, she called
in to anderson cooper's show on cnn. the video and her account were tragic then and they remain just as hard to watch today. >> it's a very chaotic room, but the baby's death was just heartbreaking. possibly because it was so quiet. one of the first talks, the grandmother had been helping in the emergency room and just started chatting, 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, you know, his little tummy heaving and heaving as he tried to breathe. it was horrific. i mean, my heart broke. >> marie, you have covered a lot of conflicts over a long time. how does this compare? >> this is the worst, anderson, for many reasons. the syrian army is holding the perimeter and there's far more
ordnance being poured into the 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 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, all they can do is hope it doesn't hit them. that's very, very difficult to watch. >> i know it's impossible to stay safe, but please try. thank you for talking to us. >> thank you very much, anderson. >> 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 worked in syrian intelligence, code name ulysses, and here's what he has said. the intelligence agencies regularly monitored television news broadcasts and newspaper articles, tracking down he's journalists balm journalists became a top priority. major general shi hada instructed all four branches to launch surveillance operations to locate the babaama media center and any foreign journalists. specifically he wanted to learn their location and take the necessary measures from stop them from reporting. i recently spoke to marie's sister cat colvin and to her lawyer 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. >> cat colvin and scott gilmore, welcome to the program. >> thank you. >> good to be here.
>> 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? >> you know, 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. >> 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? >> 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 cga 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 u.s. government would find the targeting and murdering of an american citizen intolerable. but none of that happened. and so i'm really incredibly grateful to the cga to give me this opportunity to do something. >> so let me ask scott, if the u.s. government allowed it to pass without retribution, you and the justice sphere are making sure that doesn't happen. what is the latest? give me an idea of the evidence you have. we've already read a little bit of what you have from ulysses, code name for the defector. >> well, the evidence that we are filing in court 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 honed in on using the gps accord nats, 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 babaama 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 onto the target, bit by bit, encroaching ever closer. in addition to the 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
anyhow 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 a whole campaign, cracking down on the media, which really culminated in the killing of marie. >> cat, you also must feel -- well, how do you feel when you read in this increasing body of evidence that you're all collecting, that actually there was apparently a celebration after marie and of course the photographer remy osh lick was killed, that one of those
responsible for tipping off her location was given a reward of a brand spanking new shiny car. >> yeah. that was actually the most horrifying piece of evidence that i read, the celebrations, calling her american dog and blind [ bleep ] and celebrating and laughing, and the reward of the car. it's infuriating to me, it really is. and you know, 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 out. >> 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 bamaama media center was in that location in homs. i mean, she was a woman. marie obviously was a woman who spoke up for women so eloquently in her reporting. >> yeah, marie has always been a big supporter of women. i benefitted 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 -- does make it worse. makes it personal. it's just very hard to imagine. >> scott, for cat obviously and the family, it's incredibly personal, but also there's the bigger picture. but how do you -- what is the jurisdiction under which you can see in an american court, a foreign government, who's shown absolutely no will to respond?
>> 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 and 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. >> 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?
>> 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 remy 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. and what he revealed was really that from the moment that marie called conroy and other journalists, arwa damon, as they were arriving in lebanon, there were intelligence sources tracking and reporting their movements to the head of the intelligence directorate. all of that was being channelled to the military and security officials that were overseeing
the armed operations in homs, with specific instructions that the intelligence forces were to track them down and capture them if possible, or otherwise kill them. >> 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 paperwork. >> 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 provide a brupt blueprint as to how that evidence can be used to establish the chain of command and prove the linkage between senior level syrian officials
and the crimes against humanity that we've seen. >> cat, let me just ask you, because it asks for financial compensation, $2.5 million in lost earnings, grief compensation and also punitive damages. do you believe you will ever collect? >> well, you know, 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 i look at it, i want to get the maximum award possible and i think that every penny i get out of assad regime and less they can spend on barrel bombs and chemical weapons. 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'll certainly
do everything i can to implement those punitive damages which i hope we'll win. >> and scott, any brief comment on how you would collect? obviously they're not going to give it to you from the banks in damascus. >> that's right. but historically there have been judgments that victims have won against the assad regime, and with some success, victimsave been able t take those judgments d enforce them. it 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. >> 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. >> thank you. >> thanks for having us. >> the syrian government did not respond to our request for comment on marie colvin's case,
but it has previously denied deliberately targeting journalists. and it is incredible to hear cat colvin's, marie's sister's saying anything they can collect would be one less cent the assad regime could pay for barrel bombs and chemical weapons. that's it for our program tonight. thanks for watching "amanpour" on pbs and join us again tomorrow night. ♪ ♪ ♪