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CNN'S AMANPOUR

Angelina Jolie on Haiti; Iranian Dissident and Expert on Iran's Relations with the World

Aired February 14, 2010 - 15:03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:03:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS, U.N. GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: It is as dramatic, if not more dramatic than you'd imagine on the scale and the complexity, certainly. It is absolutely the most complex post-disaster situation I think anybody, government or U.N., has ever faced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: This week, Haiti and the power of Hollywood. We have an exclusive interview with actress and activist Angelina Jolie.

I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program. Angelina Jolie is well known for her focus on children and her many international adoptions, but she's been on a special mission, this time for Haiti's children. A month after the catastrophic earthquake there, we talked to her about the children she's met, the growing risk of disease, and the urgent need for shelter.

Plus, Iran's unyielding president marks the Islamic revolution by declaring that his country is now a nuclear state and putting on a show of strength.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY SICK, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Repression does work. And they now are much more organized in terms of keeping things quiet and keeping the opposition down than they were before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: The American official who helped the Carter White House navigate the Iran hostage crisis maps out for us Iran's tangled political dynamics today.

Plus, a fascinating exclusive interview with a high-ranking Iranian diplomat on why he chose to defect.

And then, terrorists and their trials. We examine the heated debate over accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with writer Jane Mayer.

But we start with Angelina Jolie in Haiti. She told us that she has a passion for that country, and so I asked her how she could use her star power to mobilize real powers on behalf of Haiti.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program from Port-au-Prince, Angelina.

JOLIE: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: So you've been there for a couple of days. What have you noticed that's really struck you as an emergency as what needs to be taken care of right now?

[15:05:00]

JOLIE: Well, I think the thing that that maybe -- because we follow the news, we follow all the dramatic stories, but I think when you really get here, it is as dramatic, if not more dramatic than you'd imagine on the scale and the complexity. Certainly, it's absolutely the most complex post-disaster situation I think anybody -- government, the U.N. -- has ever faced.

But what is being done is extraordinary, and the Haitian people are so dignified. They're calm. They're helping themselves. They inspire me. I see many children with amputations who are smiling and strong and talking about their future. You realize that these people have suffered so much for so long that, in fact, they are so resilient. It's almost sad how used to struggling they are.

AMANPOUR: Right. Tell me what's motivating your visit at this time. What do you want to achieve at this time?

JOLIE: Well, there are a few different things. One, I wanted to understand -- I worked with UNHCR for a while, and they handle refugees, but they also handle internally displaced people of about 10 million internally displaced. So I was very curious as to how they're going to help to organize all of the people.

And, you know, as you know, this situation, the more I looked into it -- and I know a lot of the people watching the news -- we realized that even before the earthquake, three-fourths of the population had no education, this country had no primary school education, there was no civil registry, meaning no birth certificates, no land certificates, no death certificates.

So how exactly is everybody going to start to organize these people and even register them is a new challenge that everybody's facing.

AMANPOUR: I mean, you mentioned two big issues, the issue of children and protection and the issue of the internally displaced and the need for shelter. Look, you know there, because you've seen it now with your own eyes, that there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people living out on the streets in these tent cities that we saw when we were there.

They need major shelter. They need major tents. UNHCR is really good at that. Is there a way that you can help with your presence, motivate the arrival of tents, for instance?

JOLIE: Absolutely. I have been speaking with UNHCR, I've been speaking with all the U.N. agencies, and everybody is trying to race to kind of get this done in time.

But I've also spoken with people who are talking about shelters that have to be properly -- they have to get the proper certifications to withstand certain weather.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about the children? Now, the U.N., UNHCR has provided us with some of the video of your visit, including to SOS, a child protection organization.

Let me ask you, because children are very much in the news. And before I went there, the head of UNICEF alerted us on this program to beware of trafficking, to be aware of hasty adoptions. The prime minister told me a couple of weeks ago -- and really made a dramatic statement -- that already children were being trafficked and even organs were being trafficked.

And now, of course, you've arrived in the middle of this, let's say, legal case, where a bunch of Americans are being held because of -- because of charges of trafficking. What do you think needs to happen for these children to protect them even from people who might think they're doing their best for them by trying to take them out?

JOLIE: Well, I think we have to -- we have to enforce the law and work with the government. I know there's a new child protection cluster that's formed that's doing everything they can to kind of coordinate.

They're talking a lot about reunification, talked to ICRC about this reunification program, because that's the most important thing, to try to track everybody. But as we said, very difficult without birth registrations.

It is a huge problem. Trafficking has been a huge problem, et cetera, for a very long time, and it's a very, very real problem. So I think everybody that means well needs to really take that very seriously and not get frustrated, but really work with the country.

And for myself, as somebody who's an adoptive parent, I understand the urge to assist in that way, but now is not the time. An emergency is not the time for new adoptions in anyway.

I'm personally going to assist in country organizations like SOS that, in fact, do raise orphans in country with widows. It's an extraordinary program, and they do it -- and they raise them for life. And it's one of the programs that's in 134 countries, and it should be scaled up. It's one of the best ways to help a child without removing a child from its home country. So the more we can scale up in country, the better.

AMANPOUR: Look, you've raised the prospect of yourself as an adoptive parent. Obviously, there's been a lot of speculation as to whether you will adopt from Haiti. Obviously, you're saying not now, but will you? Is that something that you're looking at?

JOLIE: I'm always open to children around the world. We're that kind of a family; Brad and I talk about that. But that's not what we're focusing on at this time, by any means. We're not here for that. We're here to see how we can help protect the children in country and scale up the needs here.

[15:10:00]

AMANPOUR: So when you went to SOS, you saw some of the children, correct, who had been -- well, who had been taken out or at least they tried -- the Baptist missionaries were trying to take them out, you saw some of those children at the SOS facility?

JOLIE: I did. I did.

AMANPOUR: And how were they doing?

JOLIE: And they seemed -- well, it's a beautiful facility. It didn't crumble to the ground. It's actually a wonderful, happy place for children. They seem very, very cared for.

I don't know how much you can talk about the discussions with those children, because it's an ongoing case. But I will say they did mention -- the two that I spoke to did mention their parents and their desire to see their parents.

AMANPOUR: Obviously you can't get into the legal ramifications of what's going on right now, but what is your opinion on this group who came and just wanted to take these kids out to the Dominican Republic and then maybe to the Unites States?

JOLIE: You know, I think there's been a lot of discussion about them, and I think they're being used as an example case. I don't know enough of the facts, and I don't know -- I think we all like to believe that people have very good intentions. And I don't -- I'm certainly not the one to say anything negative.

But there are real traffickers that we do know of and we do have to all take that into serious consideration for these children. And so, what is the big picture? How can we help the -- before the earthquake, there was some 380,000 orphans living in horrible conditions. There are many more now, but we don't know who is an orphan.

I've met women in the Dominican Republic in hospitals who were saying they haven't spoken to their children. They have no cell phones; they have no way to tell their children they're alive; they can't find them yet.

And so there's -- that's the most important thing that we can do, is just protect everybody, give them aid, start to register them and try to help them with reunification. And then we can discuss ways to help them beyond that. And we all need to be here -- which is the other discussion, we all have to help these children and this country for a very long time. And you know--

AMANPOUR: Well, on that note, I really do want to explore that long- term help beyond the sort of emergency, beyond the Band-Aid phase. We're going to go through a break right now, but standby. We'll be back in just a moment after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:14:27]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nation as a whole could be built back stronger in a more just society, in a more educated society, a society with better health care, a society with more clean energy and many, many more jobs, a society that ends deforestation and brings back real agriculture. We can do all that now, and I'm going to try.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So what will it take to make Haiti a stronger and better country? Joining me now again from Port-au-Prince, Angelina Jolie, who is also the UNHCR's goodwill ambassador.

[15:15:00]

Angelina, you just heard President Clinton talk about going beyond the immediate emergency and really trying to make this a serious long-term project. How can that happen? I mean, look, you're in the entertainment and media business. You know very well that a lot of Americans have a very short-term look at things like this beyond the disaster. What do you think about getting this place out of its poverty trap?

JOLIE: Well, I think -- I think, one, you know, it is our responsibility -- both of ours -- to try to continue to do stories. I know you will, but that is part of it. I think sometimes I often wonder if the media can handle more than one conflict at a time. I think the American people can.

I think the more we continue to give them information and remind them that it's important, they are a very feeling people, they are a very understanding people, and it's not their lack of interest, it's our lack of explaining why it's important sometimes.

AMANPOUR: So whenever people talk about -- and we try, we try to put the spotlight on. I do in my reports, you do. You're a big star, you're down there presumably for a reason, to try to bring real light to this. How do you get leadership then to turn this into something other than a temporary focus and a temporary spotlight, because it's going to be a lot more than a Band-Aid?

JOLIE: No, absolutely. And I hope, from what I've learned, the thing that's spoken about often is these eight unsuccessful attempts of intervening over the years.

We have tried many, many times and we have failed, and we have to understand why, and we have to work really closely with this government. I think that's key in that we can't just come and help them. We have to help them help themselves really in the biggest way, really help them build their civil society, really help them build their registrations, their schools, everything, and teach them how to continue to do it, so it's them that pulls this country through in the end. And we must listen to them.

AMANPOUR: You went to the MSF, the Medecins Sans Frontieres tent. You spoke to a little boy there. I heard you ask him about, how did he support himself on the streets? Obviously, everybody here has a lot of hardship, certainly after the earthquake and even before the earthquake.

But, again, I want to focus on what you can do, because you have a huge amount of power at your fingertips because of who you are. And there has been, you know, metric ton loads of dignitaries and celebrities and all sorts of people who've dropped into Haiti.

And yet, the question is -- obviously, you have the ability to sway people to -- to sway people. And could you come back and do you plan to come back to the United States and talk, whether it be in -- I don't know - - schools or in communities or in -- or on Capitol Hill, somewhere about what you're talking about right now and about what you've seen?

JOLIE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I -- you know, we're always shy about our own voice, so I certainly get that way. But I do feel -- I feel passionate about Haiti and the place and the people, and I'll continue to come back and I'll continue to express what I'm learning.

I'm -- I've been spending the last few days really just trying to gain information and put the pieces together myself and learn about best practices. And when I think I know what they are, I have a good sense of them, I'll certainly express them as strongly as I can to the people I'm in contact with, whether it be in the governments -- our government at home or in the U.N., you know, whoever I can speak to.

AMANPOUR: What are you seeing in terms of the health issues right now? When we were there, obviously it was the immediate, it was amputations, it was fevers, it was a need for antibiotics. What are you seeing in terms of diseases that may be cropping up or getting worse?

JOLIE: I haven't seen the diseases, but I haven't been everywhere, and I know there's a big TB clinic that has a lot of people very concerned. TB is a big concern. It's airborne, as you know, and a lot of people are crammed together. People are concerned about cholera. There's pretty much everything to be concerned about in this kind of a situation, especially with the sanitation issues and the floods coming.

But at MSF, I thought something that was extraordinary to me is not only the spirit of the people, because you see little kids that have lost their legs and you ask them if they are all right and they, "C'est va," (ph) and they're OK, and somehow they're able to smile, I think, says a lot about them.

But the reality of these children, especially with amputations -- and there are thousands and thousands of them -- there were many saved by great doctors, like MSF, in limbs saved, but there were many that had to be removed.

And as you know, with children, as their bones grow, they have to continue to shave the bones, they have to continue to get new prosthesis, they have to continue to learn how to function. They will have difficulty working. They will be different in society. This is a big, long-term concern that also has to be addressed.

So every time you turn a corner here, you're reminded of yet another, you know, quite complex problem to deal with.

[15:20:00]

AMANPOUR: Haiti has an amazing history. You were just saying, you know, you're wrapping your head around so many of the complexities of the issue, the first black republic, the first real independent black republic, before even the United States. As you know, it was occupied by the U.S., and there have just been years and years of damage by politics, as well.

Now today, you've heard all the promises from the U.N., you've heard them from President Clinton, you've heard all sorts of international financial organizations talking about a Marshall Plan and rebuilding, a lot of serious commentary. Do you think the U.S. has a moral duty to do something that lasts in Haiti now?

JOLIE: Well, I think we have a moral duty to do what we can for any country that's suffering in any way. You know, I'm that -- but, yes, specifically Haiti, as our neighbor and with our deeply-rooted history together, absolutely, I think we have a very big obligation to this place.

And I think in the end, it also benefits us. I think they're a wonderful to have, and they're an extraordinary people. So I think the positive side, if we can really do our -- do our good work and really make a big difference in this country finally, I think in the end this will be a country, hopefully, we can work with, trade with, visit and, you know, many positive things.

AMANPOUR: Certainly, a lot of people are hoping that, not least the Haitians. Can I ask you, finally, what has moved you the most in your visit there just now?

JOLIE: There's not -- well, there's so much to get overwhelmed in these situations. I suppose the boy that was on the streets. I think it's a reminder of -- he is such an example of these people that live here and children around the world. He's been on his own for so long. He's been a street child for so long. He's suffered so much. You know, he didn't even have family when he had to go to the hospital and broke his leg.

And when he's released from the hospital, he has nowhere to go, he has no one to take care of him, and he's going to have a very complicated future, because for as much as we work towards solutions for these children, it's going to take us a very, very long time. And we're not going to be able to help everybody as quickly as we should.

So you see children like that and you wonder where they're going to be in a year, and it's very hard to hear him talk and to not be able to do something immediately.

AMANPOUR: Well, thank you so much for joining us, and I can see that his story has moved you. And you spoke about using your voice, and I hope that you continue to use your very powerful voice mobilizing the kind of concerns and action that Haiti so desperately needs. Thanks for being with us.

JOLIE: Thank you so much. Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Angelina Jolie has left Haiti, and she says she is going to continue putting the spotlight on that country.

And next, we have a look at how it is battling to recover, but through the eyes of award-winning photographer Peter Turnley.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:25:00]

AMANPOUR: We all remember the terrible death and devastation in the immediate aftermath of Haiti's earthquake a month ago. But amid the ruins, there was also hope, as one of the world's best photojournalists, Peter Turnley, shows us in this personal essay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER TURNLEY, PHOTOJOURNALIST: I had previously been to Haiti, so I -- I expected that I would find great devastation. I was aware of reports of the number of people that had died, but I didn't have a sense and an expectation of how many people were going to be left homeless and displaced and also the magnitude of people that have been very seriously injured.

But what did strike me was glimmers, a texture of life beginning to come back not to normal, but to function and to move forward. I saw that in markets. I saw that in the way that people were organizing in their communities and in their neighborhoods.

They were going about on some level finding a work life, trying to be productive. I witnessed an elder man who had gone to the morgue at the central hospital to look for the body of his 32-year-old son, and he couldn't find it. And he had to suffer the traumatic experience of being taken inside the morgue and looking at each of the bodies that was laid there, and there were many.

And after witnessing that very, very sad and poignant moment, within an hour, I came across a woman that had just given birth to a child 25 minutes before, and she was holding that baby in her arms, and it was just incredible to see this juxtaposition of death and life.

It's also a process that does seem somewhat hopeful, and I think not only hopeful for the people of Haiti, but I think if the world will pay attention to the strength of this country and this people, that we all can learn a lesson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: To see more of Turnley's photo essay, go to our Web site, amanpour.com, where you can also watch a podcast of our program. And you can go to the Web site of the ICRC to see more about what Angelina Jolie was talking about, the reunification of families in Haiti.

And up next, powerful images from Iran. This time, the regime turns out the biggest crowds as it continues shadow-boxing with the opposition green movement. We'll talk with a high-level Iranian diplomat who's now defected to the West.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:33:30]

AMANPOUR: Welcome back. As Iran steps up its uranium enrichment program, a new U.S. intelligence estimate is expected to say that Tehran has resumed limited work on developing a nuclear weapon. This would revise a previous such assessment which said that Tehran had stopped its weaponization program.

This week, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran had produced its first batch of 20 percent enriched uranium. He made his comment during a -- during a massive display of support for the regime on Thursday during celebrations marking the anniversary of the Islamic revolution. In the speech, President Ahmadinejad declared, quote, "The Iranian nation became a nuclear nation."

But as he was speaking, Iran's security forces were beating back anti- government demonstrators nearby. Some demonstrators were calling for a referendum on Iran's future.

Earlier, I spoke with Gary Sick of Columbia University. He dealt with Iran for the Carter White House during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: Professor Sick, as we heard there, what do the people want? What does the opposition movement want, do you think, as it stands today?

GARY SICK, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, that keeps changing, and because initially what they wanted was simply a recount of the election in June. As the -- as the regime has cracked down harder and harder, they're getting better at it.

[15:35:00]

I mean, repression does work. And they now are much more organized in terms of keeping things quiet and keeping the opposition down than they were before.

As they've done that, however, the price that they pay for it is that the demands of the opposition go up.

AMANPOUR: And yet it really does seem that, since the June election, it's been a constant shadowboxing. Neither side has delivered a knockout punch. The regime has not crushed the opposition; the opposition has not changed the regime. Where is it leading?

SICK: Well, you know, we watched the Iranian revolution in 1978 and '79, and the reality is, you had no idea where it was going to go, and there was great difference of opinion.

And, basically, it kind of depends on who blinks first. The regime is trying very hard to give an image that it is unbeatable, that it's strong, that it can't be intimidated, and that it will give nothing, it will give nothing whatsoever to the opposition.

The opposition keeps increasing their demands, but, again, as you say, not able to deliver a knockout punch.

AMANPOUR: In the limited vision that we've had of what happened in Tehran and around Iran, how do you assess what the opposition achieved or what the government achieved?

SICK: I think the opposition -- certainly, it was there in spots in various places. The -- as I say, the government has gotten better and better at its repressive techniques. And they've identified paths and where the opposition was likely to come. They've closed those off. They have troops surrounding them. They use tear gas at the very earliest sight when their leaders began to appear. As we heard, they beat them up or scare them away or force them to turn back.

And as a result, I think -- it was very sporadic, and it was very isolated, in terms of what the opposition could do. So in that sense, I would say the -- the regime accomplished its short-term goals.

The problem is, the short-term goals of repression and holding things down oppose the long-term goals, which would be really long-term legitimacy and support, and basically they're losing that all the time.

AMANPOUR: Well, as they lose legitimacy, they're also publicly sort of attacking the descendents of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the revolution, who have clearly stood with the opposition, with the reform movement. Isn't that an irony today, 31 years later?

SICK: You know, it's really astonishing. But, you know, the people who were closest to Khomeini, with the exception of a very, very few people around Khomeini himself, those people have all moved to the reform side. They are all on the side of change, and they all believe that the revolution has not, in fact, met its goals, that it has cheated the people, in terms of what it promised and what it actually delivered.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Mousavi himself said he was very close to Ayatollah Khomeini. He was one of the first prime ministers.

SICK: Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi both have made statements saying, "You know, I was a true believer. I really felt that the -- that the revolution has accomplished great things, that -- a wonderful future." And both of them now say, "But I've changed my mind. It simply isn't true anymore."

AMANPOUR: The West seems to try to -- it seems to be stuck in how to -- how harshly to deal with the government over its nuclear issues, not knowing how it's going to affect and how it wants to affect the domestic political situation.

SICK: When President Obama originally came up with his idea of engagement and opening up, holding a hand out to Iran, that was -- it seemed very attractive to--

AMANPOUR: Would you say it's pretty much failed, it just hasn't worked?

SICK: Well, I would say that he was unwilling to quite follow through on what he said, and the reason that he couldn't really follow through is because of the elections in June, because the sudden uprise of opposition to government.

And so what do you do?

AMANPOUR: Many people -- some of the Iranian think-tank groups outside are saying, "You've been wasting your time, you in the West, talking just about the nuclear issue. Focus on democracy. Focus on human rights." Has the strategy been wrong from the start?

SICK: You know, it's nice to say those things, but what do you actually do? I mean, you want to support democracy in Iran. If the United States intervenes in any direct way to assist the people who were out in the streets trying to do something, we basically undercut their legitimacy, because then they really do look like Western stooges.

AMANPOUR: Going back to the -- to the other -- well, going back to the nuclear issue, Iran -- well, you heard President Ahmadinejad today declare that Iran is now a nuclear nation. Where do you think they stand right now? And how is this going to affect the international community?

SICK: Well, actually, they're not really any closer than they were two years ago. And, in fact, their centrifuges are not working very well. They have not made very much progress at all. And, of course, Ahmadinejad has been saying for years that Iran was a nuclear nation.

[15:40:00]

He can announce that every time there's a celebration, but the reality is, nothing much has happened. And if they've produced a gram of 20 percent enriched uranium, well, hooray, but, you know, it's not a great accomplishment, frankly.

AMANPOUR: To be continued. Professor Gary Sick, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.

SICK: Always a pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: I also spoke with a senior Iranian diplomat who's now defected to the West. Mohammed Reza Heydari was Iran's consul general in Oslo, Norway.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: What about when you resigned? Did you talk to other Iranian officials in diplomatic posts? Did you encourage others to follow your example?

MOHAMMED REZA HEYDARI, FORMER IRANIAN CONSUL GENERAL (through translator): I started a campaign of "green embassy," along with my friends who thought the same way I do. I had e-mails from different embassies. And so I told my friends to choose to side with the people before it's late, because the Iranian people are embracing all of us right now.

But tomorrow, when the people will define their own future, they will not accept any justification for our actions then. Right now, we see the government is easily killing our young people, trapping them, executing them.

It is unacceptable by the people for us to remain silent and to not show any reaction. And so I hope they will join the campaign that I've set up and to basically define what they want from the government.

AMANPOUR: But nobody has joined you yet, is that correct?

HEYDARI: Actually, a few friends have. But because of security reasons, their names have not been disclosed yet. And right now in our embassies, right now there's a chaos, and they are split. The diplomatic corps and the intelligence corps are split at our embassies right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And we have videos of Thursday's events in Tehran. To see them, go to cnn.com/iran, where we have a special section on the anniversary of the revolution and the latest unrest. And at amanpour.com, you can also watch a podcast of our program.

Coming up, political turmoil in the United States over the upcoming trial of the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:45:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We should not try these people in New York. We shouldn't try them in Illinois. We shouldn't try them in Phoenix. We should try them in the courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, and we should try them according to the Military Commissions Act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: U.S. Senator John McCain, as you just heard, has strong views about whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 plotters should be tried in a civil court. There is also controversy over whether those trials should be held in New York, which has been the target of many terror plots.

Joining me now is the journalist who's been investigating all of this, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker.

Jane, welcome to the program.

JANE MAYER, NEW YORKER: Great to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Now, you've been investigating and interviewing, of course, Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, on this very charged situation regarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's trial. What happened? What happened between when they said it would happen in New York and now they're saying not so fast?

MAYER: I guess what happened was what one person I interviewed described as a political riptide, that the attorney general, Eric Holder, got dragged into. I mean, he made a decision about trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that was made on the basis of the law. He looked at all of the facts in the case. He put two crack prosecutors on it, and they went through all of the evidence, and they decided on the basis of what would make the very best case and the swiftest justice, basically.

And so they chose the United States civilian court system, which has a long track record of putting away terrorists. And so just -- he was trying to be apolitical and just do it on the basis of what a smart lawyer would do, but in the process, he, I think, and the Obama administration, they kind of lost control of the politics and the message.

AMANPOUR: OK.

MAYER: And so it suddenly became defined by their opponents as a sign of weakness that the United States would actually use its own court system, rather than what was supposed to be a tougher thing to do, which was to use these military commissions that were set up.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's discuss that. Let's discuss that.

MAYER: Right.

AMANPOUR: Tell me the success rate on precisely these kinds of trials in the federal court system, the civil court system versus the military tribunals.

MAYER: Well, I mean, the irony is that the success rate is far greater in the regular old criminal court system and that -- and that it was the favored method of the Bush administration. So, basically, Obama has been defined as being weaker than Bush, but what he's doing is essentially what Bush did.

Bush tried something like -- and got 150 or so convictions of terrorists in the criminal courts. They tried three cases, a total of three cases in these kind of made-up military commissions they had down in Guantanamo, and they got three convictions and tiny sentences in two of them, both -- two of the people -- it's amazing. Two of the former, you know, alleged Al Qaida terrorists were freed by the Bush administration. One of them is now in Yemen and at large, and the other is home in Australia. So--

AMANPOUR: So you heard what Senator McCain said about how they should be put into some kind of military commissions. You've heard the criticisms by commentators who say that it was, quote, almost criminal, that Eric Holder had allowed the Nigerian, the alleged airplane bomber, Abdulmutallab, access to attorneys. Rudy Giuliani, the former prosecutor and former mayor here in Manhattan, why in God's name would you stop questioning a terrorist?

Give us the facts about Umar Abdulmutallab since he was arrested?

MAYER: Well, this is, as you say, the second issue, and they kind of got sort of mashed in together. Basically, the -- on Christmas Day, there was an attempt to blow up a passenger plane that was headed for Detroit by a Nigerian suspect who says he's aligned with Al Qaida.

And the fact that that -- that terror suspect was basically arrested in the usual fashion that we do in this country, which is you take a criminal and, you know, suspect and you read him his rights, that process became intensely politicized so that--

AMANPOUR: But isn't the fact, Jane, that he's actually talking now, whereas the critics say that reading him his rights, giving him a lawyer meant that he wouldn't talk anymore?

MAYER: Well, again, yes, absolutely. I mean, what -- there are these kind of political myths. It's really become kind of a political game, I think.

AMANPOUR: So where does it go?

MAYER: So -- so, basically, he's been -- he started talking right on the spot for 50 minutes. Then they -- then he stopped talking, and now the thing that's actually -- it's interesting. What's actually getting him to speak is that they've brought his family in from Nigeria, and some of his relatives have convinced him to talk to the government.

So he's cooperating with the government, telling them all kinds of useful things that are helping them understand Al Qaida's role in Yemen.

[15:50:00]

And yet the Republicans keep, you know, drumming up that this is some kind of, you know, weakness on the part of the Obama administration.

AMANPOUR: Jane, ironically, it was President Ronald Reagan, the icon of the conservative movement, who authorized then in the '90s terrorist cases in federal and civil courts.

MAYER: Right.

AMANPOUR: And a lot of those prosecutions happened. But where now does it go? What does the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, do, given that the Obama administration has put closing Guantanamo and moving away from these military tribunals so central to its case?

MAYER: Well, it's really in a big mess, basically, to put it in a non-expert way. Holder is looking desperately for a state in which they can hold a trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who -- it's been nine years, and he has yet to face justice, because the system down in Guantanamo was challenged in so many different court challenges.

So, basically, they're looking desperately for a venue where they can hold this trial. And if they can't find one, there's an article in the -- in the Washington Post today that suggests where Holder sort of hints that maybe they will have to go back to this whole military commission process, if Congress forces them to do it. So it's just a kind of a big embarrassing mess.

AMANPOUR: And how -- what does he tell you about how this has been allowed to develop within the administration, within the White House? There must be big struggles over this whole process.

MAYER: Well, I do think this has been part of the problem. Basically, the people who would have handled the politics here would be the White House political team. They call them the front office. And they would have maybe worked with the attorney general to try to sell this policy in New York and make sure that the trial happened. They were not on board, really.

Rahm Emanuel, who was the chief of staff and is the chief of staff to President Obama, always had -- he was always opposed to doing these trials in the usual civilian courts in America, not so much as a policy matter, but as a political issue, because Lindsey Graham, central Republican senator, was against these trials and wanted military commissions, and Rahm Emanuel wanted to please Lindsey Graham in order to work with him on other things, such as closing Guantanamo--

AMANPOUR: So, Jane--

MAYER: So it was a deal, basically, that he was hoping for. And he - - and so, when it fell apart, they weren't really on board.

AMANPOUR: And so why have they not been able to sell the very simple mathematical empirical evidence of the 150 to 200 terrorists who've been convicted in civilian courts versus the three who've been convicted in military tribunals, two of whom are now released? How is that not a simple message to sell?

MAYER: The thing is, they didn't try until it was too late. I mean, and maybe they can turn it around now. Actually, the White House is trying to push back. They've had John Brennan, who's the terrorism adviser, going out and speaking up on this and saying how disgusted he is to see it so politicized.

But it's awfully late to start selling it. They should have started long ago if they wanted to do this.

The other -- the other card that they never played was that some of the families of 9/11 victims are very much in favor of trying these cases in New York for symbolic reasons. They want to bring justice where that crime took place. And the White House never worked with them.

AMANPOUR: And yet -- and yet, the polls show that right now more Americans oppose the civil trials, which is probably part of the -- of the equation.

Anyway, a fascinating article in the New Yorker. Thank you so much for joining us, Jane Mayer.

MAYER: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

And next, our "Post-Script." An event 20 years ago that transformed the course of history, that's when we return.

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AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script."

Twenty years ago, the world was electrified by a remarkable moment in South Africa. Nelson Mandela walked to freedom after more than 27 years behind bars, with his then-wife Winnie Mandela at his side.

His release spurred the end of the racist system of apartheid, and it inspired political prisoners all over the world who heard about Mandela's release while they were still sitting in jail.

And writing in the New York Times now, Wei Jingsheng from China remembered, "Mr. Mandela's experience demonstrated that it is important to bear life's setbacks and to maintain unbending confidence in eventual success."

For Ko Bo Kyi from Burma, "Mr. Mandela's refusal to give up his principles during more than 27 years in jail was an inspiration to me and all the other political activists," he wrote.

And at 91 years old, Mandela continues to inspire prisoners of conscience all over the world today.

And that's our report. Thank you for joining us. During the week, you can watch our program on CNN International and you can see our daily podcast on amanpour.com. Goodbye from New York.

END

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