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President Trump Heads back to Washington; Tornadoes Ripped Through Midwestern U.S.; Gibraltar Worries for Brexit Effects; Trump Addresses U.S. Troops Aboard Navy Ship In Japan; Stabbing Attack Kills At Least Two People In Japan; Israel Hits Syrian Anti-Aircraft System After Jet Fired Upon; Searching For Evidence Inside Clandestine Mission; Veterans Mentor Children Of Fallen Troops; Box Office Genie; Incredible Encounters In China. Aired 3-4a ET
Aired May 28, 2019 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[03:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. president hails his close ties with Japan. Mr. Trump has left Tokyo after a four-day state visit and thanking the U.S. military stationed there.
Plus, the leaders of Europe are facing some big changes as a parliamentary election weaken centrist parties and bring nationalist and anti-nationalist leaders to power.
Plus, 800,000 documents have been smuggled out of Syria in an effort to prove horrifying war crimes allegedly carried out by President Assad's regime.
Hello again and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. This is CNN Newsroom.
President Donald Trump is on his way back to the United States after a four-day visit to Japan where he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed the close alliance between their two countries.
Now, before leaving, Mr. Trump toured the Japanese Destroyer J.S. Kaga, making history as the first U.S. president to set foot on a Japanese warship. The president also visited American sailors and marines aboard on the USS Wasp docked near Tokyo during his final hours in Japan.
He thanked them for their service and marked the U.S. holiday Memorial Day, which honors fallen troops. He also touted his administration's efforts to increase U.S. military spending to build up the armed forces.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were depleted. It's the only word I can use to describe it. It was not a good situation, but we're very going to be close. Right now, we're very close. Very shortly we're going to be at a level the likes of which we've never been before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Senior international correspondent Ivan Watson joins us now from Tokyo. Good to see you again, Ivan. So, what is the overall assessment of how President Trump's four-day visit went in Japan and of course this problem between the two leaders of North Korea? They both at odds essentially over the short-range missile test that North Korea performed.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, I think this was a visit that was high on ceremony and symbolism and shows of friendship and the strength of this alliance between the U.S. and Japan. But it was a visit that was short on concrete substance, any major agreements that were announced.
For example, the White House had said for months in the run-up to President Trump's visit that it wanted a bilateral trade deal signed, and those trade negotiations have been postponed until at least after July of this year when Japan is scheduled to hold elections for the upper house of its national assembly, its legislative body.
So, we had the alliance of these two countries celebrated, an alliance that its pillar is on security and on trade and cultural and political connections.
But there were some dissonances there, and they revolved around North Korea as you mentioned. Very differing analyses of what North Korea's May 9th launch of two short-range ballistic missiles meant.
So, for instance, you had a restricted bilateral meeting that took place where there were four American and Japanese officials in the room, and of them, President Trump was the only one who did not believe that the launch of those missiles were a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Japanese prime minister, his national security adviser, and President Trump's own national security adviser all publicly said this was a violation, but President Trump demonstrated that he is all in on his diplomatic initiative, his one-on-one diplomacy with Kim Jong-un, and he's willing to overlook things like short-range ballistic missile launches if it will get him to his end goal of some kind of an agreement to get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons. And we don't know when or if that goal will ever be reached. Rosemary?
CHURCH: Ivan Watson bringing us that live report from Tokyo where it is just after 4 in the afternoon. Many thanks as always.
[03:04:59] So let's bring in Richard Johnson via Skype for his perspective. He is a lecturer in U.S. politics and international relations at Lancaster University. Thanks for joining us.
RICHARD JOHNSON, LECTURER IN U.S. POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, LANCASTER UNIVERSITY: Good morning.
CHURCH: So, President Trump's state visit to Japan has wrapped up, and the big headline that came out of it was the strong relationship between Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But at the same time, they don't share the same view on North Korea when it comes to Kim Jong-un's recent short-range missile test.
Shinzo Abe sees them as a violation of U.N. resolutions and U.S. national security adviser John Bolton agrees with Mr. Abe. But this is what Mr. Trump tweeted on Saturday if I could just read this out.
"North Korea fired off some small weapons which disturbed some of my people and others but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me and also smiled when he called swamp man Joe Biden a low I.Q. individual and worse. Perhaps that's sending me a signal?"
So, let's deal with the first part of that tweet. Why do you think Mr. Trump's downplaying Kim's short-range missile test, and how problematic could this prove to be for Japan and its relationship with the U.S. going forward?
JOHNSON: Well, if you look at President Trump's treatment of North Korea throughout his presidency, he sort of has gone through moments of running hot with them and running cold. And we're in this moment where he's sort of love bombing the North Korean leader. But we've seen also periods in his presidency where he's been extremely hostile to the leader of North Korea.
So, what I would say at this stage is that President Trump is probably thinking that if he says nice things to the North Korean leader, that there will be a little bit of shifting in leeway on this.
But we haven't actually seen a huge amount of give from North Korea for all of the president's attempts to be nice to them beyond the release of a couple of Americans earlier this year. We haven't seen Kim Jong-un move on this. So, I don't know how wise a strategy this is from President Trump at this stage.
CHURCH: What do you think Kim Jong-un's reading of that is? Do you think he sees that as a weakness on the part of President Trump, or is Mr. Trump correct when he says -- when he's talking about Biden, he's sending me signals? So, he seems to think they've got this rapport going on here.
JOHNSON: There is a concern that President Trump might be susceptible to flattery, that throughout not only his presidency but throughout his entire career, one of the ways that seems to work in terms of getting influence with President Trump is to say nice things to him about himself and nasty things about people he doesn't like.
And, you know, there is a concern that I would raise that, you know, if Kim Jong-un thinks that the way to get President Trump to play kind of nicely with Kim Jong-un is to say nasty thing about President Trump's Democratic opponents, you know, that's certainly not a strong foundation for diplomacy.
And it's really unusual in the history of American foreign policy that foreign leaders would use internal partisan politics in the United States as a way of getting influence. And I do have some concern that that's what Kim Jong-un might be attempting to do with President Trump.
CHURCH: Right. And let's look at that because we saw in the second part of that tweet that I read out, Mr. Trump agreeing with Kim Jong- un's view that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is of low intellect. Obviously, he's not.
Now, this is how Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger responded to the president in a tweet of his own. "It's Memorial Day weekend, and you're taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator. This is just plain wrong."
So, this congressman is just one lone Republican pushing back. We've seen a couple of others, but by no means are there many people lining up behind them. But what are the optics of a U.S. president criticizing one of his own rivals in actual fact, his political rival back home?
JOHNSON: Well, it's a long-standing convention in U.S. foreign policy practice that presidents and senior American politicians tend to leave partisan politics at the American shore. That's the saying that's often used.
So, President Trump clearly doesn't feel bound by that convention as with many conventions. He doesn't feel that way. It is important that he is getting criticism not only from Democrats but also from Republicans.
[03:10:01] And I think that's because there's something at stake here, which is that President Trump will not be president forever. And, you know, Republicans don't want a precedent set where then Democratic presidents go overseas and start to belittle Republican political figures.
But of course American politics is in such a fractious time that, you know, beyond a few sort of back bench Republican members of Congress, we don't see real senior Republican official officials -- the president for this and I do fear that whole convention is being torn up and that partisan politics will spread beyond American shores.
CHURCH: Right. I do want to just go back to the trip, his state visit to Japan, and just very quickly get your assessment on what Japan got out of this four-day state visit.
JOHNSON: I think Japan is quite concerned about U.S. trade policy, and President Trump in the last few weeks has threatened to place very high tariffs on exports from Japan and the E.U., particularly in the automobile industry.
And I think Japan is trying to do a bit of what I said, you know, Kim Jong-un was doing in the sense of sort of love bombing Donald Trump and flattering him. I think Donald Trump seems to have come off out of this trip quite happy about Japan, and I think we could be expecting, you know, some agreement between the U.S. and Japan on the car industry within the next few months. And I think then Japan will see that as quite a successful outcome of this visit.
CHURCH: Richard Johnson, thank you so much. Always good to get your analysis and perspective on all of these matters. Thank you.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
CHURCH: Well, whether it's tornadoes or heavy rain or flash flooding, the severe weather just won't let up for the U.S. Midwest. Millions in the region have faced weeks of dangerous weather, and there could be more in store.
CNN's Ed Lavandera reports from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holy cow.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Monday afternoon, residents stood and watched near Charles City, Iowa, as they captured cell phone video of a massive tornado churning its way through open farm fields in the northern part of the state. And in Oklahoma, deadly tornadoes are the story.
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GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): It's just unbelievable how violent, and you just can't imagine anybody being able to survive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt toured the site where an EF- 3 tornado hit a motel and mobile home park in the town of El Reno, just west of Oklahoma City.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STITT: When you look at it, people that are on the top floor of that hotel, it was just kind of wiped out. One had the floor there, but a lot of them just kind of -- it looked like they were blown up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: The tornado was on the ground for just four minutes before shredding its way through the buildings and killing two people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MATT WHITE, OKLAHOMA: It's a very trying time for us -- excuse me, and we're going to get through it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: But the worst may be yet to come. Now severe flooding is threatening 10 million Americans in the central states from West Texas to Illinois. Oklahoma's governor has signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in all counties.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STITT: We're not out of the woods yet. We're still monitoring the
inflows coming into the watershed and into the Keystone reservoir. So, it still could get worse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: The Tulsa County sheriff's office captured these images showing the extent of the flooding in this west Tulsa neighborhood and the difficulty facing first responders.
The Arkansas River here is expected to exceed record flooding levels in the coming days. The threat is forcing the army corps of engineers to accelerate the release of water to take the pressure off its levees.
Sunday's extreme weather comes after a brutal week of violent weather that already brought deadly tornadoes and floodwaters killing at least 10 people in the region.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITE: These guys have been working their tail off now. I mean we've gone through situation after situation after situation, and they have gone nonstop. During the flooding, they had over 40-something boat rescues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: So, after what's already been a long week of dealing with severe weather in the central part of the United States, it continues again this week. Here in this neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, these are the floodwaters. We are nearly a kilometer away from the banks of the Arkansas River, and you can see just how bad it is here.
We're told by residents here that most homes are taking on anywhere between one to three meters of floodwaters inside their homes, and it's possible all of this continue -- could continue to get worse, especially if there's a levee breach and even more floodwaters come spilling into neighborhoods anywhere here in eastern Oklahoma or western Arkansas.
That is the real concern that residents and emergency officials are dealing -- will be dealing with here over the next couple days.
[03:15:02] Ed Lavandera, CNN, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
CHURCH: So, let's get more on this and turn to our meteorologist, Pedram Javaheri. What are you seeing, Pedram? When is an end in sight?
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, for the flooding, Rosemary, we think sometime around Friday we finally see the rainfall at least stop across this region. For the severe weather at least another two days and really the past 24 hours among the most active in the past several days.
As much as nearly 50 tornado reports scattered about portions of the plains across into the Midwest. The tornado count now over a 12-day period, upwards of 321.
And notice about 17 states or so impacted by this. Really from the southern portion towards the plains, eventually on into the Midwest, just about every single state across this region impacted with tornadoes in recent weeks.
The most impressive of which in recent days at least has got to be what's happened across the Dayton area of Ohio. Population for the metro sits at around 800,000 people.
You notice on radar imagery, right after 11 p.m. local time across this region, we see what is known as a debris a ball signature coming up on radar imagery, which tells us quite a bit of debris lofted high into the atmosphere, which means damage certainly on the ground. We know they were using snowplows on the highway.
The Department of Transportation was to clean off some of the debris there to allow folks to drive -- at least rescue workers to drive across the city here in Dayton its northern periphery.
But Montgomery County, that's where Dayton is located, 97 percent of the county without power at this hour because of not one but potentially two tornadoes that crossed near identical spots within a 30-minute period.
And of course, the severe weather threat as I mentioned continues for a couple more days, includes Wichita on into Kansas City over the next few hours and then Pittsburgh as well into the risk. Here notice even portions of the metro northeast even in line for severe weather.
So, it really has been a remarkable trend. And Rosemary, looking into the last 30 days, over 500 reports of tornadoes across the United States. Only four other times in recorded history have we had 500 tornadoes in a 30-day period, all of them in the last decade or so. So pretty impressive run right now across the U.S.
CHURCH: It's incredible. Thank you so much, Pedram, for keeping a close eye on that. We all appreciate it.
JAVAHERI: Thank you.
CHURCH: Well, the U.K.'s mainstream party saw their support diminish in the European Parliamentary election. What the win for the newly formed Brexit party means with the country still divided over leaving the E.U.
For now, trade and border crossings happen smoothly, but people in Gibraltar are worried that will all change after Brexit. A look at what's at stake for the British territory.
[03:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CHURCH: Well, the shape of Europe's new parliament is coming into sharper focus as smaller parties jostle for influence, and we wait to see which will become king makers. Parliament's centrist majority or grand coalition is gone, and fringe
groups are getting stronger with populist leaders and Eurosceptics loudly embracing big wins, notably in France and Italy.
What remains to be seen is how decisions will be made and whether lawmakers will feel the winds of change or stick to the status quo. Another key question, who will succeed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker when his term expires later this year. A majority of parliament will have to settle on a successor.
Well, in the U.K., the newly formed Brexit party was the big winner. Despite its gains in the parliamentary election, Nina Dos Santos reports the country remains divided over whether to leave the E.U.
NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPPONDENT: Just four months after being formed, Nigel Farage's Brexit party, which is campaigning for Brexit to take place as soon as possible, swept the board coming in in poll position with just under a third of the national vote.
It secured 29 seats in Brussels and Nigel Farage accepting his re- election here in the seat of Southeast England spoke to CNN from the city of Southampton, say that he wants to use this as a vehicle for steering those Brexit negotiations that the government is holding with the E.U. and also to campaign for changing the two-party system in Westminster thereafter.
DOS SANTOS: How confident are you that you can translate this into a national party?
NIGEL FARAGE, LEADER, BREXIT PARTY: That will depend to a large -- I mean the answer is yes, we can. How successful it will be will depend to a large extent on whether we leave on October 31st. Just as March 29th became seared in people's minds to this important date, October 31st is the same.
DOS SANTOS: To those who say you're a one-message man, what's your answer?
FARAGE: The most important message we've discussed in this country for over 300 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOS SANTOS: And that ethos is Brexit itself. But aside from campaigning for the cleanest, earliest departure for the U.K. from the E.U., it's not clear what a mainstream Brexit Party in Westminster would actually want to see on its manifesto sheet.
The other thing that we learned from the evening is just like back in 2016, the country is still fundamentally divided on whether or not Brexit should go ahead at all.
The second most important party making gains in these European Parliamentary elections was the Liberal Democrats, also the Greens had a good showing. Both of those two parties want to see Brexit called off altogether.
The real losers of the evening were of course the mainstream conservative and Labour parties, having a lot of their vote eaten away particularly among Brexit-supporting heartlands by the Brexit Party. The conservative party seeing its worst showing since 1832.
Nina Dos Santos, CNN, in Southampton.
CHURCH: Gibraltar voted solidly for the pro-E.U. Liberal Democrats in the parliamentary election. The territory has voted twice overwhelmingly to remain under British rule. But there is frustration over London's perceived lack of understanding of the stakes for Gibraltar in Brexit.
Isa Soares explains.
[03:25:00] NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPPONDENT: From this vantage point, it's clear to see what's at stake for Gibraltar. Its feet firmly in Europe but with its heart 2,000 miles north in the United Kingdom. The decision by the U.K. to leave the European Union has only reinforced this separation.
While there has had a long and tempestuous relationship with its neighbor, its economic success has been underpinned by access to the single market, and in particular, its close economic relationship to Spain.
Every day, 14,000 workers commute between Gibraltar and Spain with frontier workers, those living in Spain, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the jobs here in Gibraltar, everything from hotels to restaurants, even construction as well as the gaming industry. With Brexit, this crossing the fluidity of this crossing could get much more difficult.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we just put I.D. card on and passports and (Inaudible). If Brexit comes in, and then we have more travels with the crossing, I might have to reconsider the fact that I'm working in Gibraltar, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOS SANTOS: Well it seems he is not alone. Alvaro Espinosa is a restaurant owner here and tells me roughly 90 percent of his staff are Spanish. A hard border or prolonged delays at the border will see him lose much of his staff as well as his produce he says, so he's working on a backup business plan if Brexit negotiations go sour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALVARO ESPINOSA, RESTAURANT OWNER (through translator): We don't really know how things will be so we are already thinking of possible solutions for the different scenarios. We are even thinking if it will be necessary to go to Morocco to buy the produce with our own boats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOS SANTOS: No one knows the risks to the rock better than Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
FABIAN PICARDO, GIBRALTAR'S CHIEF MINISTER: That means 14,000 stamps in two hours in the morning, moving people from Spain to Gibraltar. Another 14 as they go in, in the evening. That's 28,000 stamps in one day. Multiply that by five. That's your working week. Multiply that by four, that's your month. We're going to run out of ink.
DOS SANTOS: There's a lot of talk right now about joint sovereignty. Would you support that?
PICARDO: Our answer to the claim of half our sovereignty is exactly the same as our claim to all of our sovereignty. Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOS SANTOS: His words are echoed by Guy Olivero, a local Gibraltarian businessman with several restaurants in the center of Gibraltar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUY OLIVERO, GIBRALTARIAN BUSINESSMAN: No. No. No. I don't want joint sovereignty. We don't want nothing with Spain or me personally.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
OLIVERO: And I'll tell you why, and I'll tell you why I don't want nothing to Spain. I love Spain. I've got my heart in Spain. I don't live there, but I go there, weekends and everything. I've got nothing. We don't trust the Spanish government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOS SANTOS: After years of living side by side as members of the E.U. club, it seems not even the fear what Brexit might bring can put a stop to decades of mistrust.
Isa Soares, CNN, Gibraltar.
CHURCH: Investigators say they have evidence of possible war crimes by Syria's government. Just ahead, CNN gets rare access to the group risking their lives to get justice. We're back with that in just a moment.
[03:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Rosemary Church. I want to update you now on the main stories we've been following this hour. U.S. President Donald Trump just wrapped up his four-day state visit to Japan by addressing American sailors and marines aboard the USS Wasp docked near Tokyo. He thanked them for their service and marked the U.S. Holiday, Memorial Day, which honors fallen troops. A 12-year-old girl and a 39-year-old man are dead after a mass
stabbing attack in Japan. Officials say 17 others including 15 children were wounded. The assault happened near a park in Kawasaki south of Tokyo. The suspected attacker also died from a self- inflicted wound.
The Israeli military says it struck a Syrian anti-aircraft system just hours after the IDF says that system fired at an Israeli jet. Syria says one of its soldiers was killed and another injured in the retaliatory strike. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later in a video his country will respond with strength and firmness against aggression.
Well, a recent escalation in violence in Syria's last rebel-held province has killed hundreds of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. The air strikes have destroyed schools, hospitals, and most recently an open-air market that left dozens wounded. International organizations believe some of these air strikes may have been aimed intentionally at civilian targets, which could amount to war crimes, just some of the many committed by all sides of the Syrian conflict over the past eight years.
CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and her team were granted rare access to a clandestine operation by a group of investigators risking their lives to collect evidence of alleged war crimes committed by the Assad government, and she joins us now live from Istanbul, Turkey. Good to see you, Jomana. And what all did you and your team find out when you met with these investigators collecting evidence of alleged war crimes?
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Rosemary, we spent the past few months following this secret and really dangerous operation that has been going on for years now. You've got international criminal lawyers who are putting together these legal cases against the Assad regime, and you have this team of incredibly brave Syrian men and women who have risked everything to collect potential evidence and to smuggle it out of the country.
And this has become even more dangerous in recent years, in recent months as the regime has recaptured more territory, making it more difficult for them to move around and to get the evidence out of the country. And so they know that time is running out, but that hasn't stopped them. They are still carrying out this mission. And we must warn viewers that some of the images in this report are disturbing.
KARADSHEH: In a nondescript building in Europe is a room called the vault? Nearly 800,000 documents smuggled out of Syria are here, logged and translated, stored and preserved. Chris Engels heads the regime crimes unit at the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, known as CIJA, a nonprofit organization funded by western governments. In these boxes is potential evidence of alleged war crimes that could one day be used against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. [03:35:014] CHRIS ENGELS, DIRECTOR OF INVESTIGATIONS AND OPERATIONS,
CIJA: The documents cover a wide range of information and levels of command. They start from the highest levels of command that include information on the president and the policymakers at the national level. We're able to get quite a lot of clarity on how orders went up and down the chain of command, how the responsibility at the highest level for policy is then implemented in a way that we can see criminality actually take place on the ground.
KARADSHEH: There is no one document here that is a smoking gun, but in international criminal justice, it's about linking the crimes to those responsible. Documents like this 2011 order authorizing pay raises for military personnel signed by President Assad, the commander in chief of the armed forces, may seem innocuous, but Engels says even this is crucial evidence.
ENGELS: We have several documents that are similar to this with naming Assad and others, and demonstrate that they are in control and they have the power to direct the army and security services, and it is a fact that the army and the security services are continuing to commit crimes, and these individuals aren't doing anything to stop it.
KARADSHEH: CIJA has built dozens of cases against the regime, most relating to the early days of the revolution, the violent repression of protests, and the alleged torture and killings of thousands of demonstrators detained across the country.
Since 2012 in the shadows of a war that is unleashed some of the worst atrocities of our time, a network of more than 100 Syrians were recruited, vetted, and trained by CIJA. We get a rare opportunity to meet one of those document hunters. Adel, as he wants to be called, was a lawyer. Now he heads this team that has risked everything to save the evidence.
ADEL, CIJA INVESTIGATOR: All members of our team, men and women, have been subjected to arrests or beatings or humiliation, or danger. We are operating in a war zone. In most cases, we would enter areas as air strikes would be ongoing, but we have to go in to collect the evidence before it's damaged.
KARADSHEH: For Adel and his fellow evidence hunters, a treasure trove of documents has been left behind by the regime's infamous bureaucracy.
ADEL: After the free Syrian army captured locations from the government, like military or intelligence sites, our teams would be ready, and they would enter these sites. Their primary task, to preserve these documents or what is left of them because in many cases these documents would be destroyed.
KARADSHEH: CIJA has not only relied on evidence collected by its own network of investigators. In a number of cases, they've combined that with some of the most damning visual evidence of this conflict, 28,000 horrific photographs of dead detainees smuggled out in 2013 by a military defector, code name Cesar. CIJA has been able to cross-reference the identifying numbers seen in
these pictures with one in the smuggled documents, allowing them to identify some of the prisoners and link them to specific facilities and the security apparatus who are holding them. One of those photos, of those numbers, was 30-year-old Mohammed Al-Kholani, a newlywed law student detained in April of 2012. His sister, Amina, a survivor of government jails, now a refugee in the U.K. is a living testimony to the Syrian regime's brutality.
AMINA AL-KHOLANI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (through translator): When the Cesar files came out, Mohammed's photo was the first one. We went to issue a paper from the civil registry to confirm his status. They told us he died as a result of a heart attack. Our 34-year-old boy died of a heart attack.
KARADSHEH: Documents issued by the regime claim thousands held in its facility, all died of natural causes. Three other brothers from the Al-Kholani family were also detained. Only one of them Belal emerged alive. His gaunt face testament to the horrors inside government jails. According to CIJA's investigations, it's a story replicated thousands
of times over in Syria where torture is rampant and systematic and forced confessions are the norm.
Syrian government officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but the regime has repeatedly dismissed evidence as fake and insisted it was fighting terrorists, not peaceful protesters. Amina Al-Kholani still desperately calls for justice for her brothers, but like so many other Syrians, she fears she may never live to see the regime held accountable for its crimes, as Bashar Al-Assad seems to have defied the odds for now, surviving a revolution and is on the verge of winning the war.
[03:40:03] ENGELS: The tides changed, and what we're making sure of is that when the shift does come, when the discussion about justice does appear in five or 10 or 20 years, that there be evidence there.
KARADSHEH: Evidence collected by CIJA has already been used in individual trials in the United States and Europe. It has also led to the arrest in Germany of at least one mid-level regime member accused of torture. For Adel, this is just the start.
ADEL: I said good-bye to my wife and children and told them I am no longer yours. I am now owned by Syria and justice.
KARADSHEH: Justice, he says, is a duty from which there is no turning back.
KARADSHEH: And, Rosemary, this is the first time that evidence has been collected like this during an ongoing conflict. And some legal experts say that some of the evidence that has been collected from Syria against the Assad regime is stronger than some of the evidence that was used against the Nazis during the Nunberg (ph) trials. But you know, as we've seen over the past eight years or so, there's this unwillingness or inability of the international community to stop these atrocities that are unfolding in Syria.
So that gives little hope to the families of the victims that they will ever see the perpetrators of these crimes held accountable for the crimes that were committed. But, you know, one of those families, the woman we spoke to in our report, Amina Al-Kholani. She says, she may never live to see justice, but she promises, she will continue to speak out for the victims and for history, Rosemary.
CHURCH: Jomana Karadsheh, it is an extraordinary, but shocking report. Thank you so much for shedding some light on this. We appreciate it.
Well, military veterans are helping the families of slain U.S. troops. Coming up, the program showing gold star children they're never alone. We're back in a moment with that.
[03:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today is the day when all across America we pause to honor and remember those who served our nation, but did not come home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Larry was killed on mother's day 2005.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nicholas in Afghanistan on mother's day, May 8th, 2005. The same time of the day --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got the knock on the door.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nicholas and Larry are here, and all of the rows in front of them represent lives that were lost. And this is Memorial Day, so this is where we need to be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please don't forget the brothers and sisters in arms that serve beside these men and women.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHURCH: And those were scenes in the United States Monday as the nation paused to honor its fallen troops. Memorial Day can be a painful reminder for those who have lost loved ones, but one veterans group is dedicated to helping these gold star families. CNN's Jake Tapper has their story.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where do you want to go to college?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: West point.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Seven-year-old Tristan Kelly has some big dreams.
What's the best branch? And he always looks forward to talking about them with his best
You still want to be in the army?
TRISTAN KELLY, SEVEN-YEAR-OLD WITH BIG DREAMS: Yes. I'm still debating if I want to be in the military or not.
TAPPER: After all, former Sergeant Andrew Beltran knows a thing or two about service. He is gone to more than 10 countries with the marines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a big breath and then let it go, OK?
TAPPER: And Tristan says, he is pretty good at playing too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job.
TAPPER: Tristan and Andrew have come to this sprawling California dude ranch today for one of many visits throughout the year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: you know, one of the best things is Tristan will call me on Facetime and share a song he just learned on the piano. And that is just something special. I know that he would have shared that with his father.
TAPPER: You see, Tristan's father, Heath Kelly, isn't able to talk with him about the very dreams that he inspired.
KELLY: My dad was in the army so, I just feel like I want to be an army officer like he was.
TAPPER: Heath Kelly died shortly after Tristan was born.
TRACY KELLY, WIFE OF SLAIN SOLDIER: Heath always wanted to be a dad even before we got married. So, this is our first baby and anytime -- any spare time he had was really devoted to being with her. You know, and also with him too because, you know, he was born in July and unfortunately he passed in September.
TAPPER: Heath Kelly spent years overseas on act of duty and then became a major in the National Guard so he could be closer to his wife Tracy and their children, but soon after, a gunman opened fire at a local restaurant killing Kelly and three others while they were eating breakfast. His daughter, Kassidy, was only 4 years old at the time.
KASSIDY KELLY, DAUGHTER OF SLAIN SOLDIER: He was a really nice person. He always did the right thing, and he was a really fun dad.
TAPPER: Now through the nonprofit program active valor, gold star kids like Kassidy and Tristan can be paired with individual veteran mentors like Andrew.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It almost is the reason why I joined the military in the first place. The sense of brotherhood and taking care of our own. I'm never going to be in a step-in for his dad, but I will be a brother of his.
TAPPER: The program also gives peace of mind to parents such as Tracy.
T. Kelly: We want our kids to know that, you know, just because we lost our person, they don't have to go through this journey alone. I think that is kind of the biggest thing no matter what you're feeling, like somebody gets it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all so much for coming to our meet-up today.
TAPPER: Former Navy SEAL Perry Yee founded Active Valor in 2016 with a twofold approach to giving back.
PERRY YEE, FOUNDER, ACTIVE VALOR: You think about a big brother program for veterans. They get to actually use their skills and knowledge that they learned over the years of military service and now pass it on to kids that would have had access to that type of stuff if their parents were still around. So, it really just works hand in hand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Need proof? Thank you, man.
TAPPER: Tristan's handmade gift to Andrew says it all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for being my mentor. I have lots of fun when I'm with you. I'm grateful you're in my life. This is great, buddy. Thank you, man. I appreciate you.
KELLY: You're welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really good.
TAPPER: Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.
CHURCH: Supporting those wonderful families. And we're back in just a moment.
[03:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CHURCH: The new live action version of Aladdin is a box office winner. The memorial weekend haul in the U.S. is $110 million. Amara Walker takes us behind the scenes of the reboot.
AMARA WALKER, CNN NTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You likely know the songs by heart, but the live-action adaptation of "Aladdin" puts a new spin on those classics. Alan Menken composed the animated Aladdin.
ALAN MENKEN, COMPOSER: I have two jobs. One is keeper of the flame of the original. I've got to protect that. And the other is I'm the part of a new team that is going to do something new and I got to be part of that. Truly and whole heartedly.
WALKER: He recognizes the importance of original songs to the listener.
MENKEN: I am aware that a little bit of any of these songs is very powerful for people. So you know things you don't want to mess with, but, you know, also you make it fresh, like with "A whole new world," rather than playing -- also we're doing -- I can show you the world and it's just, oh, my god, you know. So the right rearrangement can be so huge in something feeling fresh.
WALKER: And the something new, Jasmine's song "Speechless," performed by Naomi Scott.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I won't be silent you can't keep me quiet. We tremble when we try it.
[03:55:05] WALKER: This updated take on Aladdin is one remake that is proving popular with longtime fans. One survey found that two-thirds of moviegoers say they would definitely recommend the new movie to friends. And nearly 40 percent of the audience said their love for the original was the main reason for seeing the movie. Amara Walker, CNN.
CHURCH: I have to catch that one.
And finally, a fully albino giant panda has been filmed in a bamboo forest in China, which we're told is unprecedented. Footage of this cub was taken back in April at a nature reserve in the Sichuan province, but was only released now. A researcher with Beijing's Peeking University told CNN no fully albino giant panda has ever been recorded in the wild before. The reserve plans to set up more cameras to observe the growing cub. Some great pictures there.
And thank you so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Remember to connect with me anytime on Twitter @rosemaryCNN. I would love to hear from you. And "Early Start" is next for our viewers here in the United States. For everyone else, stay tuned for more news with Max Foster in London. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a great day.