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Civilians Caught in the Crossfire in Aleppo; Interview with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; 117th Army Versus Navy Game Saturday. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 9, 2016 - 06:30   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Citizens are running for their lives. Now, even though Russia says the hostilities have ceased, Syrian forces keep pounding.

[06:30:03] People are fleeing. They are desperate. The future of these people is going to be felt back here at home. We have a report from the battle zone, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take a close-up look now at the crisis in Aleppo. A wave of civilians desperately trying to flee as Syrian regime forces pound what's left of the city.

CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is live in Aleppo for us -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn. And, you know, the Russians had said yesterday that there was going to be a halt in fighting here in Aleppo today to allow civilians to get out of those eastern districts.

But I can tell you from being here on the ground, that simply isn't the case. We were seeing a lot of shelling and a lot of gunfire earlier today. In fact, I would say if anything the fighting has probably gotten worse than it was before.

But you're absolutely right. The people who are suffering the most are the many civilians who are trying to get out. They're tired, they're hungry, they're scared and we saw many of them. Here's what we found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): As the rebels increasingly lose their grip on Aleppo, Syrian armed forces continue to pound the besieged areas. Many killed and wounded in the crossfire.

We came to this frontline crossing just as a man who was being evacuated, claiming he was shot by rebels as he tried to flee.

"They shot me as I was running out", he says. "They don't allow anyone to get out. They said, are you going to the regime areas?" The opposition strongly denies its fighters would harm civilians, but the rebels do acknowledge they won't be able to hold out in Aleppo much longer. And that realization is leading to an avalanche of people trying to flee the rebel districts.

Syrian troops throwing some bread, but not nearly enough to quell the hunger of the many who have been starving for months.

(on camera): The Syria military has made major advances, once again, in the past 24 hours and we can see that as the army moves forward, more and more people are coming out of those former besieged areas.

(voice-over): Many of those fleeing, families with small children. Struggling to carry the few belongings they were able to take. Many overpowered by emotions. Some with barely enough strength to walk. Others too frail to walk at all.

The Syrian army has amassed a massive force of this front line. The local commander with a clear message to the rebels. "Look at the scene," he said. "These are your families. Surrender yourselves and drop your arms. Come back to the country and hopefully our leadership will forgive you."

But for now, the fight goes on. This family, one of the many to cross into government-controlled territory now in safety but still in agony.

"Things used to be good," this elderly woman said. "May god act out revenge on those who brought us these difficult circumstances and may God protect us."

And so they walk on, weak and traumatized, moving into an uncertain future.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: So, there you see the tragedy that's unfolding here in Aleppo with really more and more people coming out of those eastern districts, trying to get to safety. But, of course, many of them in very bad condition. At the same time, we can see how this fighting is continuing to go on and any sort of efforts to try and broker some sort of cease-fire, a longer term truce really at this point in time not bearing very much fruit. In fact, if anything, the situation is getting worse -- Chris.

CUOMO: The regime sees the request for a cease-fire as a chance to play to advantage. That's what is happening according to your reporting on the ground.

Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much for the courage and the coverage.

All right. So, should the U.S. overhaul its policy on Syria based on what you saw?

A new bill has been introduced in Congress that would make it illegal for the U.S. to arm or assist the extremist groups in any way. The bill's author is Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard. She claims U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria are assisting terror groups like al Qaeda and they're using our money to do it.

Congresswoman Gabbard joins us now.

Congressman, always a pleasure to have you on the show.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Thanks, Chris. Aloha.

CUOMO: Hadn't had a chance to speak to you since you met with the president-elect's transition team. Of course, these decisions will be in his hands once he assumes office in just a few weeks.

What is your feeling about the direction our policy will take?

GABBARD: Well, this is exactly why I accepted the invitation to meet with President-elect Trump, was to speak very directly about the situation in Syria and to call on him to do what I have been talking about in Congress now for years, and that is to end the illegal counterproductive regime change war that we have been fueling, along with countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, by pouring money and weapons and intelligence and other supports to these groups that are directly working with groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, groups that we are trying to fight and to defeat.

CUOMO: What were you met with by the transition team?

GABBARD: It was very substantive and it was a good conversation, talking directly about these issues. This is what my bill speaks to -- the Stop Arming Terrorists Act would make it illegal, would prohibit us from using any taxpayer funds from providing direct and indirect support to these groups that are directly, again, working with groups like al Qaeda or funneling that money through countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

CUOMO: Did you get any sense of whether or not the president-elect supports your bill?

GABBARD: Well, if you look at the statements that he has made even just in the last few days about ending our interventionist war policies, my hope is that this administration, that this will be an area that we can agree on, that we can take immediate action to again stop providing this funding, stop providing this support, stop this interventionist counterproductive regime change war, because that is what is critical to be able to address the humanitarian crisis that is on the ground there.

[06:40:07] We have to provide aid. We have to provide support to these people who have gone through such suffering and such trauma. But, first, we must address the cause of this crisis.

CUOMO: Well, so how do you address the understanding that the regime and maybe with the help of Russia, they are the ones responsible for what we're seeing on the grounds in terms of the humanitarian crisis and your bill would stop American support from the groups that are fighting against the regime and the Russians?

GABBARD: Well, just in your news report a few minutes ago, it talked about how these rebels are firing on innocent civilians as they are trying to flee these areas.

We have seen time and again how groups that we are supporting, U.S., American taxpayer dollars are supporting, are directly working with groups like al Qaeda and ISIS to try to over throw the Syrian government.

It is this regime change war that is driving this humanitarian crisis. We need to stop our support, stop this funding, stop funneling this funding through these other countries who for their own interest are trying to conduct this regime change in Syria to overthrow the government so that we can end this humanitarian crisis and allow the Syrian people in their country to begin to heal and to begin to rebuild their own country.

CUOMO: But what about the piece of what's been motivating the U.S. policy, that Assad is a tyrant, that he is an oppressor of his people and he needs to be taken out in the name of democracy? And if the people want that, America acts on the side of those who want democracy and freedom?

GABBARD: Well, this is the problem, Chris, with U.S. policy of thinking that we should be the world's police and going out and taking out secular dictators as we did in Iraq and as we did in Libya, and as we are doing now in Syria.

In each of these actions, a few things have happened. One is the people on the ground there, their lives have gotten worse. Human suffering has increased. There has been more loss of life.

We've seen more countries fail and we've seen our enemy, terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS grow stronger in the process.

This is why our focus must be on directly ending this counterproductive regime change war that we have been fueling and taking that money that we've been pouring directly into helping these terrorist groups in their effort to overthrow the government and putting it towards helping people like the Kurds. Groups like the Kurds who have actually been our strongest ally and partner on the ground in defeating ISIS, the group that actually poses a threat to us.

CUOMO: Congressman Tulsi Gabbard, thank you very much. It is important conversation. It's a complex conversation. Let us know what the future of the bill is. We'll stay on the story.

GABBARD: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Well, President-elect Trump will be in attendance when the Army and Navy clash on the gridiron for the 117th time tomorrow. Which side of the field will he sit on? "Bleacher Report", next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:47:17] CUOMO: The Army/Navy game. It is a big deal. Tomorrow is the 117th edition of this historic gridiron.

Coy Wire in Annapolis, Maryland, to cover the big game this weekend.

A lucky fellow.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I am, indeed, Chris. I'm here with members of the 13th Company who are getting ready to run the game ball 88 miles up to D.C. and then to Baltimore for the game, Army/Navy game.

First one was played in 1890, one of the oldest, most revered rivalries in all the sports. And it highlights men who don't just play for the love of the game and each other but for us to protect and serve our nation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Army/Navy game is the greatest game in college football. It's the greatest rivalry in sports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can play at a big stadium, you can play a big tag team, but when you come out for the Army/Navy game, it is a different feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you come on the field, the crowd is roaring, the midshipmen and cadets of Army. Everybody is going nuts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's awesome to go out there as the bunch of guys shared experiences with and go play each other at such a big stage and just do it for your country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As bad as we want to beat them, and as bad as they want to beat us, you still have great respect for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This game is a fight. It will be blow for blow. It's going to be 15-round heavyweight battle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: It's going to be a big game tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. President- elect Donald Trump has announced he is going to be there and in keeping traditions with presidents who have attended he will spend one half on Army side and one side on Navy side. I think I know who the favorite is around here.

Back to you from Annapolis.

CAMEROTA: Coy, it looks really fun and exciting and cold. So, thanks so much. It's going to be a great game.

All right. Back to politics, Donald Trump making the final picks to his cabinet, but some of his choices worry large swaths of Americans. One of our next guests calls the most anti-Muslim administration ever. Dean Obeidallah and Ben Ferguson here to discuss that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:53:33] CAMEROTA: President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet picks raising concerns. Many people asking why he's assembling a team that seems critical of the very agencies they are tasked with overseeing and there are other fears, as well.

So, here to discuss this is comedian and contributor of "Daily Beast", Dean Obeidallah, and CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson.

Let's just start with your article that you've written, Dean, about what your big fear is you see this as the most anti-Muslim administration ever. What is your evidence?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, COMEDIAN: Objectively speaking, we never had an administration that spew this kind of open anti-Muslim rhetoric, start at the top when Donald Trump said Islam hates us, saying thousands of Muslims cheered on 9/11 in New Jersey. Even Giuliani said it wasn't true.

CAMEROTA: Right, he won. He said all that. We know that.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Now, we still see people who are saying things, still.

OBEIDALLAH: He is building a dream team of anti-Muslim hate. Michael Flynn, national security adviser, who said, Islam is not a religion. I just watched the tape again last night. The idea that one of the Abrahamic faiths is not a religion, it's a political ideology, a faith practiced by thousands of Muslim-Americans serving bravely in our military now. It's stunning and shocking.

You've got Steve Bannon from Breitbart who gave a platform and breitbart.com to the most anti-Muslim bigots out there. People who are the equivalent of the Klan to our community, from Pam Geller to Frank Gaffney, to demonize us saying Muslims shouldn't be in the government.

So, it's a very concerning time and then Ben Carson, the newest one, who said a Muslim should not be president because Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution.

[06:55:02] You have this. And my fear is they turn this into policy and that anybody ginning up fear, we have a spike in hate crimes the last two months against Muslim-Americans. Just two Muslims in New York, MTA person and a police officer.

So, that's my fear that we go beyond this rhetoric and it does more than spike in hate crimes and turns into policy.

CUOMO: Ben, you laughed off this critique as Dean was giving it. Why?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's a lot of fear- mongering going on here with no policies that have been implemented or even advocated for that would give us any indication that any of this terrible, terrifying news he just said is going to become anything close to reality.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Hold on, Ben, the statements don't bother you?

FERGUSON: The statements that he's talking about, some of them have been taken out of context. When Flynn was talking about Islam, he's talking about radical Islam. He sees it through the perspective of being in charge -- let me at least finish -- with the military of actually dealing with real Islamic extremism.

And I think what you have here is you have an all-star team that has been put together to fight radical Islam, extremists, ISIS, al Qaeda, et cetera.

If there is a dream team here, it's a dream team that many Americans said, look, for eight years, we tried the other idea. Let's go around the world and apologize. Let's close down Gitmo and then people extremists will somehow not hate us as much. Let's pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and then somehow Muslim extremists will stop attacking us.

It did not work for eight years. You had the rise of ISIS and Obama said this week, yes, it caught him off guard because they didn't want to deal with the reality.

There are extremists out there. They are doing horrible, God awful things around the world. So, yes, you do have a dream team of people that hate radical Islamic extremists and they're going to do a great job of going after them and that's what the American voters said they wanted.

OBEIDALLAH: Ben, there's no place to be apologist for hate. There's no place to laugh at people who are suffering for hate crimes.

FERGUSON: I'm not apologizing for hate.

OBEIDALLAH: You clearly are because you're saying radical Islam. Ben Carson didn't say radical Islam. He said a Muslim American should not be president because Islam, Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States. Michael Flynn, I watched his speech last night in totality. He said Islam is not a religion.

FERGUSON: Let's deal with Ben Carson for a second. Ben Carson, if you look at Sharia law, it is -- it does not co-exist, it cannot coexist with our Constitution. If you look at what he was saying in context.

OBEIDALLAH: Ben, you can quantify it. I don't want Sharia law in America. I don't want Christian law in America either. I don't want the bible or the Koran or the basis of the U.S. law. I hope you agree with that. The bible shouldn't be the basis of U.S. law either. That's a different discussion.

The reality is, Ben, people are suffering in this country. An off- duty New York police officer, this week, hate crime against her. A person was arrested calling her a terrorist. An MTA officer, worker, pushed down the stairs, a woman wearing hijab by guys that get out of this country.

FERGUSON: And let's be clear, I condemn that the same way you do, but you also have not mentioned any of the crimes that have been committed in this country whether it was the draw Muhammad event, whether it was the Fort Hood multiple shootings there, when it was other Muslim extremists who decided to do things out in San Bernardino, et cetera. You haven't mentioned those either.

CAMEROTA: We are talking about the cabinet.

OBEIDALLAH: Right, we are talking about the cabinet. There's been over 800 hate incidences, not all hate crimes --

CUOMO: But Ben is making an interesting point that you need to hear, which is he is countering what you are saying what is being done by Muslims by what is being done to white people in this country. That's part of the resolve of this election, which is white people feel like they're being victimized by Islam.

And part of the justification, unless I'm getting you wrong, Ben, is now it's our turn.

FERGUSON: Not just white people, everybody. You look at the people that have been shot --

CUOMO: Nobody more than Muslims, Ben.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: But Muslims that have done this, they have attacked all people. They've attacked young, old, African-American, white, Hispanic. They don't care who their targets are. And so, that's why this cabinet to me is not scary or the voters for Donald Trump.

OBEIDALLAH: This cabinet is horrific. One gets worse than the other. Steve Bannon shouldn't be there, we all know that, Ben, the number one victim --

FERGUSON: Give me one policy --

OBEIDALLAH: The number one victim of ISIS by far are Muslims. Over 95 percent of the victims of ISIS. We want ISIS defeated as much as everyone else's. Donald Trump rhetoric saying Muslims is hiding terrorists in our midst, we see bombs in people's homes, which is not true. Again, a figment of his imagination.

So, Ben, let's be shoulder to shoulder in the fight against ISIS.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: Let's be clear, the victims in the United States of America have not been 95 percent Muslim.

So, I'll go back to the core point here. This is fear-mongering. This cabinet has not put together and you cannot tell me one policy you're terrified of. You're just saying you're terrified of these people because they won and you lost.

CAMEROTA: That's not what we're saying.

CUOMO: Let's also be clear, there are no policies, Ben. The administration is not in office yet. That is a little clever and Dean's point is going to go to you are going to design policy based on what you believe. And there's a lot of concern and fear about Islam and Islamophobia in some of these picks.

But you're right. We have to see what they will do. But it's not wrong to discuss the possibility of what they might do based on what they seem to believe.

Ben, Dean, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

OBEIDALLAH: Thank you.

FERGUSON: Thanks.

CUOMO: There's a lot of news going on right now. Let's get to it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: By the way, are you glad I ran for president? I think so, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump will stay on as executive producer of "The Celebrity Apprentice".