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The End of Guantanamo?; Global Power Play; Imagine a World

Aired December 17, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

To close Guantanamo Bay Prison, that was President Obama's signature promise during the 2008 campaign and, in fact, he did quickly sign an executive order to that effect. But it never happened. And about 160 prisoners remain trapped without charge in Guantanamo's legal limbo, even though 82 have now been cleared for transfer to their home country.

And the place remains a horrible stain and a source of hatred against America. But in the last few weeks, several prisoners have been transferred because of a hunger strike this year by more than 100 prisoners, President Obama kicked this issue into high gear again.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is in efficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.


AMANPOUR: So that was eight months ago. And now even Congress is beginning to see reason. For the first time voting to loosen some restrictions on transferring prisoners.

Now money may be one critical factor, because Guantanamo is the most expensive prison on Earth. It costs the U.S. taxpayer more than $2.5 million per prisoner every year.

Joining the chorus of calls to close the facility is the U.N. Marine Corps general who was sent there to run it when it first opened in 2002. Michael Lehnert, now retired, recently wrote an article calling Guantanamo, quote, "a prison that should never have been opened."

So I asked him, what are the chances that it can be closed and why he's speaking out now?


AMANPOUR: Major General, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.

MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL R. LEHNERT, USMC (RET.): Thank you. It's good to be here.

AMANPOUR: It seems, if we can put it this way, that for the first time since Guantanamo was opened, it looks like Congress is moving towards making it easier to transfer these detainees.

Why is that happening now?

LEHNERT: Well, I think it's a combination of events.

First, we are beginning to see the possibility of a cessation of direct combat action for U.S. military forces in Afghanistan.

Secondly, we're into the second administration for the Obama administration, and as you'll recall, the president made the commitment to close Guantanamo.

So I think he's concerned about his legacy.

And finally, we're seeing bipartisan support.

So it looks right now that we have probably our best chance in a decade to close Guantanamo.

AMANPOUR: I want to play you a bit of an interview that I did with Carlos Warner, who's a public defender and has been defending several people, 11 of them, including a Kuwaiti who has lost more than 30 pounds in recent weeks.

And this, of course, is because of that incredible hunger strike.


CARLOS WARNER, PUBLIC DEFENDER: It leaves them in indefinite detention for life; it leaves them with the prospect of the only way we leave Guantanamo is death. And unfortunately, I think the men are ready to embrace this.


AMANPOUR: What is your reaction to what this public defender is saying?

And even if some of these detainees are now transferred, does that mean all of them are? Are they all going to leave Guantanamo?

LEHNERT: Well, the language that Senator Levin crafted would have them all leaving Guantanamo, either those that were cleared for release to go back to their country of origin.

And then there's approximately 80 others that have not been cleared for release, that would face federal prosecution or even detention in the United States. But at least we would be moving the process forward.

My specific reaction to the public defender is that I tend to agree with him. We need to move forward; we need to say that the Constitution doesn't stop at our water's edge and that we need to close Guantanamo.

AMANPOUR: Well, to that end, about the Constitution, I'd like to play you another bit of an interview that I did, this time with Col. Morris Davis, who was one of the chief prosecutors at Guantanamo.

This is what he had to say, precisely, about the Constitution.


COL. MORRIS DAVIS, FORMER CHIEF PROSECUTOR, GUANTANAMO BAY: Just to continue this charade of keeping Guantanamo open, on this pretense that it's necessary to keep the country safe, is a false narrative.

So we used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. We've been the constrained and the cowardly, and we need to act like Americans and lead by example.


LEHNERT: Well, Christiane, my reaction is, bully for him. I think he's exactly right.

You know, the objective of terrorism is to change the nature of their adversary. And it's to make us different and it's to make us afraid.

And I would opine that they've been successful. They've changed the way we've acted; they've caused us to walk away from the Constitution and they've caused us to act as if we were afraid.

We are not saying that releasing the detainees that have been cleared for release is going to result in zero risk. But we do believe that that risk can be managed.

And we also believe that the fact that the Constitution, those aspirational goals contained in the U.S. Constitution, and in the Declaration of Independence, trump any particular risk that we might incur.

AMANPOUR: You're talking about the recidivism rate, the possibilities that some of these people might go out and harm Americans or others.

Tell me how you think that you can allay people's fears on that score.

LEHNERT: Well, Christiane, we have the best military in the world. We have very clear biometrics on these individuals.

And we have an opportunity to let them know before they are released - - and these are the individuals that have already been cleared for release, I might add -- we have the opportunity to let them know that if they decide to revert back to their old ways, then we're going to find them.

And our military is good enough to do that. And we believe that the things that we stand for, as the military, and the risks that we have taken as a military really were in defense of the Constitution of the United States and that the Constitution trumps any particular risk that we may incur.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you about your experience, because you went there. You were there for the first 100 days, I believe, to run the place.

When Guantanamo Bay was set up as a prison, did you think that we'd be in this situation, where neither national security is being served anymore nor is America's moral leadership being served anymore?

LEHNERT: No, initially I didn't think that that would be the case. I frankly thought that Guantanamo would be a short-term event.

But as I was down there, by about the second month, I realized that we were going to be in for the long haul. I also began to recognize that many of the individuals that had been sent to me probably never should have been sent there in the first place.

AMANPOUR: What did keeping these people for such a long time -- the whole nature of Guantanamo Bay is a real black stain against everything that America stands for.

What did that do to the soul of the military who was tasked with keeping these people prisoner?

LEHNERT: Well, I think that's a great question because my personal view is that the act of holding another person prisoner -- often a very necessary act -- is also a soul-deadening event for the -- for the jailer.

It's always important to remind these young people who have been tasked with this responsibility -- and who, for the most part, did a pretty darn good job, it's important to remind them that they are locking up human beings.

And that was one of the reasons why I made a personal commitment that I would be guided by and would follow the Geneva Conventions, because I felt that it was a very good and sound document that would allow us to at least have a road map for how we would operate.

AMANPOUR: Well, General, you may have been the only one, then, because if you remember, famously, your commander, your civilian boss, Rumsfeld there, Donald Rumsfeld, pooh-poohed the Geneva Conventions and said they did not apply to Guantanamo.

Was he wrong?

LEHNERT: Well, I would say that -- and history's going to judge whether or not he was wrong. And I would say that I was given the authority at the time to -- because there really wasn't much other policy - - to apply the Geneva Conventions. And I made that personal decision to do so.

AMANPOUR: And finally, I hear what you're saying, about all the practical reasons why Guantanamo should be shut down and people should be transferred or tried elsewhere.

But the truth of the matter is, that it's not really the moral case that's being decisive right now, is it? It's the monetary case. It looks like Congress has suddenly woken up and noticed that it's costing $2.7 million a year per prisoner in Guantanamo Bay.

LEHNERT: That's absolutely correct. Regardless of whether the individual has been cleared for release or not, the American taxpayers are paying $2.7 million per prisoner per annum.

Now to juxtapose that, a supermax prison in the United States costs, at the high end, $78,000 per prisoner.

AMANPOUR: So would you say the monetary aspect is what's, let's say, concentrating the minds of Congress right now, to say, OK, you know, we've been obstructing closing it down and now we're going to have to figure out a way to close it down?

LEHNERT: Well, Congress is made up of individuals. And different congress men and women are motivated by different things.

For some, it's the money. And for some, it's the moral issue.

Personally, I don't care what motivates them as long as it motivates them to move towards closure of Guantanamo.

AMANPOUR: General Lehnert, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

LEHNERT: Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk to you today.


AMANPOUR: And while the U.S. attempts yet again to take small steps away from Guantanamo, by contrast, America's oldest ally, France, has taken giant strides back onto the world stage.

Why has the nation that stayed out of the Iraq War practically done a 180 in conflicts from Libya to Mali to now the Central African Republic?

A diagnosis from the French physician and former foreign minister, who helped found Doctors without Borders, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And now we turn to France, reenergized on the world stage. French troops are now in the Central African Republic where the U.N. says more than 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes as violence continues to rage.

Hundreds have been killed in the sectarian fight between Muslim rebels, who ousted the president in May, and Christian vigilante militias. France is the only country so far to intervene by sending 1,600 troops to help an African Union force there.

This comes after their mission to Mali, where French troops do remain after stopping the advance of Al Qaeda affiliated jihadists last year and remember it was only France that was willing to strike Syria after the Assad government's chemical weapons attack this summer.

Here's how the French President Francois Hollande explained this new hyperactivity to me when I interviewed him at the United Nations this fall.


FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): And the role of France is not to apply conditions all around the world. We have no intent of influencing or defending commercial or trade interests.

What we are fighting for are those principles, values. This is what gives France its specificity in the international family.


AMANPOUR: So this activity started under former President Nicolas Sarkozy and we're joined now by his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who also cofounded the organization, Medicins Sans Frontieres. And he joins me now from Paris.

Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: We have a little bit of a delay, so I just want to get to ask you, why is it important for France to be in the CAR right now?

KOUCHNER: Well, it's not important only for France. We have some historical reason to be there. But it's important for the rest of the world not to consider that we have nothing facing a bloodbath (ph), nothing to do.

And it -- we were there in Central African Republic in Africa because we had the clearance of the Security Council, the demand coming from the African Union and the demand coming from all the African country.

So were we supposed to let them die? We were facing an eventual or the beginning of a bloodbath (ph) and a souvenir of one that is present in Africa and present in Europe also.

Unfortunately, we are alone, not alone because some African troops are there between three and becoming back of three other thousand African troops, but it's a duty. We invented, in a way, the duty to interfere, the doctors, the French doctors.

Then have the right to interfere and there is international regression called responsibility to protect. So we are just applying this resolution.

AMANPOUR: You say that, and I know you were in Rwanda during 1994, the genocide. And you urged your country to intervene. We all remember that no one intervened in Rwanda and we remember what happened because of that.

You have criticized and you've just said that to me right now, Europe, for letting France be the only country to be there.

Do you really expect other European countries to engage or even the United States?

KOUCHNER: You're right, Christiane. I hope so. I hope that they will help us or come to help them also because this is normal. We are human beings, protecting human life. And the beginning of the bloodbath started before my -- let's say my consideration about the responsibility of protect is to act by advance, not after the bloodbath, not after the killing, the massacres. And we were led in Central African Republic. But we were there. And now this is difficult, but the French soldiers are doing a very good job. And they separate already the thurica (ph), that is to say the Muslim from the north, sorry to say, the Muslim. But they were.

And the question from the south, because they want to confront each other. And this is certainly not possible after a coup d'etat to let them do.

Meanwhile, Christiane, we are acting with African Union in order to prepare rapid forces or quick forces, African forces to -- because they are in charge of their own country men, not us.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about the big picture now, because I fully understand what you're saying about the Central African Republic. But you must agree that starting under President Sarkozy and yourself being there with the leading in the Libya intervention, then in Mali, then France being the only country in the end willing to actually strike Syria because of the chemical attack, you must agree that this is 180-degree turn. It's an -- it's completely new after the Iraq War for France.

Why is France taking this energized action?

KOUCHNER: You're right. You're right. But we are just applying the international regulation. And that didn't exist in Rwanda, not enough, not at all, not enough, exist a bit, just the beginning of the right to interfere.

And now we are, because this right to interfere, this necessity to protect human life was born in France among the French doctors and (INAUDIBLE) and Medicins Sans Frontieres. And so step by step, it has been accepted by all the countries in the general assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations.

So now, you don't -- we don't have to ask for excuses and to say, oh, sorry, but we are protecting human life. We have to accuse the other not to protect human life. You're talking about Iraq. Iraq was not -- you'll remember, Christiane, that it wasn't for bad reason that the American interfered in Iraq. There was no chemical weapons.

And the result of the Iraq War -- I don't know for the result of Central African war, but this is not at all the same. We have been asked by all the African countries.

AMANPOUR: OK. I understand. Let me ask you -- let me just --


KOUCHNER: Christiane, I want to ask you -- I know that you have to ask some questions, but let's, please, were we supposed to let them die?

AMANPOUR: You've made that very clear. And I understand that.

KOUCHNER: There was no choice, no choice.

AMANPOUR: I fully understand that. And anybody who looks back at Rwanda can fully accept what you're saying.

My question to you is, is France, though, trying to be the policeman of the world? Is France now able to do this because America is, in fact, stepping back?

And do you feel that France may be overextending itself?

KOUCHNER: We'll see for the overextension. But, yes, we are -- we are not the police of the world. And you were, more or less, the police of the world for good or bad reason. But for good reason, certainly, President Obama withdrew, not from the ground, because we are still in Afghanistan. But you withdrew from Iraq. And you were right.

And I understand President Obama is a man of peace and he is not -- I don't see him sending other American troops all over the world to make police. And I understand quite perfectly that.

But you know, you are talking about Syria. We were the only ones supporting Mr. Obama, President Obama's ideas. And President Obama's decision, but meanwhile, it offer us to be close to the American in targeting Syria. He was negotiating with Iran.

So it's stopped completely. So it changed. It reversed. OK. This is certainly a good reason to -- not a good reason, but a good way to start having peace to Iran.

But that's very true, that the change of the American policy is obvious, that we are not arrogant enough to try to replace your country, not at all, not at all.

AMANPOUR: All right.

KOUCHNER: We are trained to do our best in -- at our level.

AMANPOUR: Let me quickly ask you then, how do you feel about the world's inattention or non-intervention in Syria and this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe there?

KOUCHNER: Yes. And I was in favor but they didn't follow me. I was in favor of acting at the beginning to protect the civilian population and to sort of deterrence (ph) with our British friends to eat some airport and some planes and et cetera, to protect the civilian population.

What is awful in Syria is that they are forgetting only civilian women and men and children and et cetera. But on the other hand, another reverse is certainly coming, that is to say that we prefer or we rather prefer the dictatorship of Mr. Bashar al-Assad, compared to the dictatorship of the coming people linked to Al Qaeda.

And this is difficult. We have to talk about that and explain to the people, this is a foreign policy.

AMANPOUR: Bernard Kouchner, former foreign minister, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

KOUCHNER: Thank you. Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And so while France pursues that path these days, the French are also au contraire in their attitude towards Liverpool's gift to rock 'n' roll, The Beatles.

Back in the day when the Fab Four were greeted by screaming mobs of teenage girls, the French gave a Gallic shrug. Said George Harrison after the group's return from Paris, "The audiences were a bit funny. You see, there were more boys than girls and we missed the good old screams."

In other words, the French listened.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And perhaps they're listening today as 59 bootleg Beatle recordings are being released for the first time to protect them from European Union copyright laws.

And after a break, the birth of democracy, not in ancient Athens, but in modern Tunisia, remembering the spark that lit the Arab Spring, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as the 160 prisoners at Guantanamo vividly demonstrate, even the oldest continuous democracy, the United States, still struggles to balance freedom and security.

Now imagine one of the world's newest democracies seeking to create a model of liberty and justice for all. People took to the streets in Tunisia today to commemorate the third anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring, which began when a 26-year-old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest political repression and his own personal economic hardships under the autocratic regime that had ruled Tunisia for decades.

However, this was not just a celebration today, calling it a day of rage, the demonstrators were also expressing frustration at continued high unemployment and political gridlock, which has sometimes taken a violent turn between the democratically elected Islamist government and the secular opposition.

Perhaps the politicians are listening, though. This past weekend, both sides reached a deal to establish an interim independent government until new elections are held next year.

Meanwhile, Egypt and Libya continue to ride their much rockier roads to stable democracy and the Syrians never had a chance as we've heard. They are still engulfed in the flames of a war that continues without an end in sight.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.