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Kerry on Syria; Another Chemical Attack; U.S. Warships Near Syria; Effects of Syria's Chemical Agents; British Military Will Not Take Action
Aired August 30, 2013 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Breaking news on this Friday afternoon.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN's special coverage of the escalating situation in Syria.
Happening right now, we are learning at least part of what the White House knows when it comes to Syria. I'm talking specifically about the release of this. This is the U.S. government assessment of the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons specifically talking about August 21, 2013. This is a declassified, four-page report here - declassified -- that is serving as proof that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. We heard from the top diplomat in this country, the secretary of state, John Kerry, saying specifically, 1,429. That was the new number today. That's the number of people killed in that attack on August 21st of this year, hundreds of them children. Reason enough, according to Secretary Kerry, for the United States to do something about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's want and use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency. These things we do know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: This is, of course, just one of the huge new developments on Syria today. Keep in mind, we just heard in the last hour from Secretary Kerry. This hour, we will get news from the president. He is scheduled to speak. And we're expecting comments on Syria. That will happen sometime this hour. So stay tuned to CNN and special coverage for that.
Just this afternoon, we also learned of another alleged chemical attack in Syria. This is separate to the one, separate to this report, separate to what those U.N. weapons inspectors in country have been investigating. And here at CNN, we have the horrifying pictures. So if you need to turn away, just going to give you a minute, do so now, because I want to stress here, this video is extremely tough to watch.
BALDWIN: The cries, the screams, you see the skin here. This attack reportedly happened Monday at a school in northern Syria, as U.N. inspectors arrived in the capital city of Damascus. Opposition groups are claiming government forces unleashed the toxic gas on civilians. And to talk us through this absolutely horrendous video, we have our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon. She is standing by with that.
But first, I want to go to you, Jill Dougherty, our foreign affairs correspondent, because we have this intel report. We heard from the secretary of state this hour. I want you to just walk us through the new nuggets, the new details that we've now learned about the August 21 attack.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you'd have to say the numbers, you're right, 1,429 killed including at least, the secretary said, 426 children. And I was in that room when he was making this announcement, by the way. And when he referred to the children, you could actually hear his voice quiver a little bit.
Then he outlined what they say is compelling evidence that this attack was planned. That the troops on the side of Bashar al-Assad prepared themselves for a chemical attack by using gas masks. That after it was -- that it was very large. At least I believe he said 11 sites that they hit. And when it was over, worried that this would become well known very quickly because it hit the social media very fast, they began -- the Syrian side began to shell that area, the U.S. would allege to destroy the evidence. So that was really -- I'd have to say the intelligence part of it.
But there was a lot, Brooke, that the secretary was making in terms of a case that the United States has to do something. And not doing something, he argues, is also a risk.
BALDWIN: Yes. He was talking -- specifically he said, people are tired of war. I am tired of war. That's no excuse. He was talking about, you know, history and leaders who have remained silent.
I thought it was interesting, too, Jill, he said the primary question is no longer what do we know, but it's what are we in the world going to do about it.
DOUGHERTY: Right. And he is not saying precisely what the U.S. will do.
DOUGHERTY: But you know that they have been really drumming up as much support as they can, even rhetorical support, to condemn this because we know that British are not going to go along with it, the French, if there were some type of military action, say that they would.
And another thing that he was saying, and I think it's an important point, Brooke, is he was saying, look, people -- dictators around the world, other countries are watching what's happening. And he specifically mentioned Iran, Hezbollah and North Korea. And he said they will draw their own conclusions if the United States does not do something. So that's another part of the rationale that they're trying to put together and put forward for taking some type of action.
BALDWIN: Right. Jill Dougherty, thank you.
As we mentioned, that second alleged chemical attack, we showed you the pictures. Arwa Damon, let me just bring you in, because as we look at these pictures, and really there are no words -- there are no words to describe what we're looking at. But tell me what you know about this attack. This is a purported attack five days after the August 21 attack in which we heard John Kerry detailing.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Brooke, how many times have we said that images coming out of Syria are just so difficult to look at and here we have yet another case of that. This attack happening on August 26th, according to the local coordination (ph) committees. At least seven people were killed. Tens more wounded. We do not know - we have no independently verifying what, in fact, caused these injuries. We do see in the videos up loaded to YouTube by activists the survivors. Many of them have huge burns covering their body. Doctors trying to treat them with creams. And no other visible external injury.
One survivor, a student in her teens, was describing in one of these videos how she was sitting in math class. They heard a strike, seeming to hear a building next door -- hit a building next door. They run outside. They can see aircraft overhead. Teachers decide to rush everyone back into the building. And that's when this one eyewitness says she didn't hear anything. But all of a sudden, she felt a burning sensation. She said she was burning, her friends were burning, people were frantically trying to rub sand to try to stop that incredibly painful burning. In the images, you hear some of these survivors, these teens, on the ground imploring the doctors to just stop the pain, stop the burning. And it is exactly this type of violence, which is why for so long, so many have been calling for some sort of international intervention to end the suffering of the Syrian people, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Arwa Damon, thank you. We heard from the secretary of state, not only just the victims, but the nurses, the doctors, the medics, they are victims here as well.
And we heard from John Kerry laying out America's case. We will spend this hour analyzing it piece by piece by piece, beginning with this -- Syria now is staring down the barrel of five Navy warships. Yesterday it was four, now five, in the eastern Mediterranean.
Plus, the U.S. is believed to have some submarines out there as well. All of those vessels can carry out cruise missiles able to strike targets more than 1,000 miles away with pinpoint accuracy. General James "Spider" Marks joins me now from Washington. He is a CNN military analyst, and Bob Baer, CNN national security analyst, and formerly of the CIA. Gentlemen, welcome.
General Marks, beginning with you here, tactically speaking, talk to me about these missiles. How exactly do they work and how can they be so accurate?
GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, Brooke, these things are incredibly accurate. Out to what we call ten digit level of granularity. That means it'll pass through a pane in a window, specified pane in a window, and not the lower pane in the window.
MARKS: It will hit the target that it's intended to hit. These things do not miss.
The challenge is, and this is where Bob's experience is so important, is that we have not had boots on the ground in the form of our own human intelligence assets that are doing some very good reconnaissance and surveillance on those targets. They are fixed facilities. And within those fixed facilities, we have to assume that what's inside, if it's valuable, it's been removed. And very sadly, and probably not unexpectedly, Assad may be moving women and children into those sites. So this could be a very, very difficult task that the United States -- it will be a very difficult task that the United States is taking on. But the cruise missiles will do the business that they're intended to do.
BALDWIN: So, Bob, I want you to also respond to what the general was talking about. But also, you know, as we hear the administration talking strictly -- I'm reading today, see the word limited strikes. That's at least what they're saying. Do you see any chance at all that they may actually take a shot at Bashar Assad himself?
BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is the problem. I just talked to Damascus today, some people in the regime, and this regime is panicking. And they've made it very clear that if any of these strikes look like regime change, if they hit, for instance, the fourth division, the president's brother's division, Bashar al-Assad will act irrationally. And that could be anything you could imagine, from attacking neighboring countries, to using more gas. I don't know what that means. But people in Damascus close to the president are moving their families out. They don't know what's going to happen next.
BALDWIN: There has been no criticism that a limited two-day strike, you know, would really just be a big wrist slap and not enough. Do you agree with that or do you think that limited strikes would do the job so far, not interrupt any kind of ground war, send a message that so terribly needs sending?
BAER: Well, I don't -- you know, I'm not sure what to do about Syria. And I don't - I don't disagree with the president, necessarily. We have to do something. It is getting out of hand. We're about two years too late doing something. Because when you use gas against civilian population, anything is possible. But, on the other hand, you have an embattled minority, the Alawites, they think that their survival is at stake and they will do stupid things.
And number two, is I'm hearing whether, you know, the army may be disintegrating. But, in fact, these chemical attacks may have been carried out on the orders of lower level officers who are -- are -- I just don't know. An these are people in the regime who can't tell me. They assure me that Bashar didn't -- I don't necessarily believe them -- didn't order this. But if the army is disintegrating, that's even worse with these chemical weapons.
Spider marks, over the past couple days I've also seen stories about something called agent defeat bombs. Do you know about this? Essentially they're designed to incinerate chemical weapons? Do we have a weapon like this and does it work?
BALDWIN: Spider Marks, over the past couple of days I've also seen stories about something called agent defeat bombs. Do you know about this? Essentially, you know, designed to incinerate chemical weapons.
BALDWIN: Do we really have a weapon like this and does it work?
MARKS: Oh, we do. Thermobaric bombs. Those are not part of the initial strike. Look, I'm not privy to what this plan looks like.
MARKS: I'm not reading any classified cables. But I can tell you that cruise missiles are not the weapon system to be used in that kind of attack to go after chemical stockpiles and to minimize the collateral damage and the downwind hazard that would inevitably ensue. But we do have the capability to destroy chemical stockpiles and to keep it localized. What I understand the administration doing right now is to go after Assad's ability to deliver chemical weapons, not to strike the stockpiles. I certainly could be wrong at that. But if that were the case, then we'd have fixed wing aircraft over Syrian air space. And so the very first targets at the top of the target list needed to be Assad's integrated air defense capability and his command and control so that they can't strike back.
BALDWIN: General Marks, Bob Baer, thank you both.
Coming up next, John Kerry, in this last hour, mentioned the Syrian regime has stockpiled mustard, sarin gas, VX. We will explain to you precisely what each of these chemical agents can do, as we've seen in some of these pictures.
Plus, any moment now President Obama will be talking about Syria at the White House. We are all over this. Stay with me. This is CNN's special coverage.
BALDWIN: Once again I just want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN's special coverage. You see live pictures of the White House because at any moment now President Obama is expected to speak. Previously scheduled meeting with two leaders of other nations. But it is expected he will, of course, address the escalating situation that is Syria. So we're waiting, we're watching for that. We'll bring that to you live.
As we first heard sarin, we talk about these -- the chemical weapons, the effects. Today, though, the United States government detailed other chemicals in Syria's weaponry and spoke of how much Syria really has.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, we know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons program in the entire Middle East. We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year and has used them on a smaller scale, but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday's attack happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: More specifically, the U.S. government is saying this. Let me quote. "The Syrian regime maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin and VX."
Joining me now, our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.
Just explain to us, you know, as we hear these different words, mustard, sarin, VX, these are all nerve gases. What do they do to a person?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's say sarin and VX first.
COHEN: Because sarin we've talked about. It's been sort of - talking about it lately. VX is very similar. So they're both nerve gases. And they are highly fatal. They can kill within minutes if you get a high enough dose.
BALDWIN: Within minutes.
COHEN: Within minutes. Within minutes.
COHEN: And so it causes first your pupils go down to a little pinpoint, nausea, vomiting, paralysis and then finally death.
Now, mustard gas is a little bit different. Mustard gas usually is not fatal. But what it does is it causes blisters on your skin, your mouth, sort of all the way down into your lungs. And it can cause cancer later in life and it can also cause blindness. So it's a little bit different, but all of them, you know, extremely destructive and horrible.
BALDWIN: And we heard from the secretary of state saying it is this chemical weapon stockpile, it's the largest in all of the Middle East. We're talking -- just to make sure everyone's straight, there is the -- there is this government assessment, this intel report on this attack on August 21st. We just heard from Arwa Damon talking about a separate attack this past Monday. We saw these pictures. And you can see, it's the flesh.
COHEN: Yes. Yes.
BALDWIN: It's the -- it looks like burns on the skin. What do you know about that?
COHEN: You know, we showed those to some weapons experts and they felt like it wasn't one of these gases.
BALDWIN: Was not.
COHEN: They felt like it was not a sarin or a VX. They said it looked more like a burn that was caused by a fire.
COHEN: So -- or caused by something incendiary. So it's not clear what is causing it, but the experts we talked to felt that it wasn't one of these gas gases.
BALDWIN: OK. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, the U.K. parliament voted against action in Syria. It was very loud, very fiery, if you watched this play out for many, many hours yesterday. But will anything change in the wake of John Kerry's huge announcement? We're going to go live to London coming up next.
Plus, live at the White House. Any minute now we will be hearing from the president. He will be speaking specifically on Syria. Stay with me. You're watching CNN's special coverage.
BALDWIN: I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN's special coverage of the crisis in Syria. Welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world.
We show you live pictures of the White House as we can tell you that this hour the president of the United States is meeting with leaders both from Estonia and Latvia. A previously scheduled meeting, but we are expecting some comments as it pertains to Syria. And as soon as we see the president, possibly even taking questions, we will take that for you.
Just a short time ago, Secretary of State John Kerry, in Washington, said 426 children were among the more than 1,400 people killed in a likely chemical attack by Syria's government. Secretary Kerry was specific. He described the little victims' bodies wrapped up in white linen shrouds without a single drop of blood. And he also spoke about America's role going forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children. Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad's gas and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate. This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.
We also know many disturbing details about the aftermath. We know that a senior regime official, who knew about the attack, confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime, reviewed the impact and actually was afraid that they would be discovered. We know this. And we know what they did next.
I personally called the foreign minister of Syria, and I said to him, if as you say your nation has nothing to hide, then let the United Nations in immediately and give the inspectors the unfettered access so they have the opportunity to tell your story. Instead, for four days, they shelled the neighborhood in order to destroy evidence.
And it matters deeply to the credibility and the future interests of the United States of America and our allies. It matters because a lot of other countries, whose policies challenge these international norms, are watching. They are watching. They want to see whether the United States and our friends mean what we say. It is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something. They are watching to see if Syria can get away with it because then maybe they, too, can put the world at greater risk.
So let me be clear, we will continue talking to the Congress, talking to our allies, and, most importantly, talking to the American people. President Obama will ensure that the United States of America makes our own decisions, on our own timelines, based on our values and our interests.
Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve of us of our responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That was the secretary of state speaking in the last hour.
Again, as we are waiting for President Obama to speak from the White House, I want to take you to London because lawmakers there have voted down a proposal for military action. It is a huge defeat for British Prime Minister David Cameron. And our correspondent, Atika Shubert, is live in London for us with that.
And, Atika, take me back to yesterday. This fierily debate in parliament for hours and hours. What happened?
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a humiliating defeat. You might remember, in the days leading up to this vote, Prime Minister Cameron sounded very confident. He recalled parliament early, wanted a quick, decisive vote on military action. Instead, he's put in a watered down motion when he realized that the opposition was much stronger against this. And then was even defeated by 272 for, 285 against any military action in Syria. And the bottom line is, for many lawmakers, there was simply not enough evidence to justify a strike.
But also a lot of questions about what any military action would do. What would it achieve? What happens next? And with those unanswered questions, lawmakers, not just from the opposition labor party but from within his own conservative party, voted against him.
BALDWIN: Let me ask you this, just because I do think it's an important distinction. Britain is a good friend of the United States. And just because they voted down any kind of military action, no military campaign, that still wouldn't mean necessarily that the British wouldn't support the United States and their response to chemical weapons, correct?
SHUBERT: No. Britain still politically and diplomatically supports the United States, but it will not be able to participate in any military strike as a result of this vote.
BALDWIN: All right, Atika Shubert for us in London. Atika, thank you.
Coming up next, we will take you inside the mind of Syria's leader, Bashar al Assad, including his mood swings, his temperament and how apparently he's a fan of Phil Collins. We'll explain. We'll talk live with someone who's met with Assad multiple times. Do not miss that conversation.
Plus, once again, a reminder. We are waiting for the president of the United States to speak, specifically regarding the escalating situation in Syria. You are watching CNN's special live coverage. Stay with me.